When I was a teenager, I started having nightmares. My fears were never monsters or bad guys chasing me or trying to hurt me.
No, my greatest fear was someone making fun of me or saying mean things to me while my mother stood by and watched without intervening on my behalf. The worst nightmares were the ones in which she actually egged on those who were taunting me.
Invariably in the nightmare, the person hurting my feelings was a family member of some stripe -- usually a faceless person I understood to be family, not necessarily someone in particular. The star of my nightmare was always my mother, either standing by or encouraging the insults.
I often had these nightmares for a week before I returned home from college or from living far from home, which I most of my adult life.
You could say I have been living out my nightmare lately.
When I take a big step back, it makes perfect sense that what I hold on to the need to protect myself and the dread of vulnerability.
Though what people may see when they see me is a tough bitch, I have tiny little helpless feelings, and they are easily trampled. In the waking hours I was called sensitive, moody and dramatic. If I had a problem with it, it was because I could not take a joke. When I learned to stand up to the taunts, I was mean and bossy or the favorite of all favorites: angry.
I almost never ear for my personal safety. I have lived in some of the so-called most dangerous cities in the country and not felt unsafe. I appear to be confident, in charge. Even when walking in a strange city, people ask me for directions.
Still, my family knows exactly what to say to make me feel vulnerable, alone and in danger.
I fear that there is only so much dirtying of one's soul that any person can take -- and I don't want to know what I will become trying to fend off the current dangers.