They say a mother’s love is all a child needs. No harm could befall an infant wrapped in the safety of her mother’s arms. I wouldn’t know. My mother wasn’t the typical stay-at-home mom. She had better things to do. A welcome addition to any social event, she was the life of the party, regularly waltzing around the room. And like all the other mothers in her circle, she hired help. There was a nanny to take care of my newborn brother, and there was the live-in housekeeper who cooked and cleaned and also had charge of three-year-old me while my mother enjoyed tennis, golf and weekly luncheons.
Every day during my nap, the nanny and housekeeper would have their lunch together, sharing their life stories and gossiping about all the Beverly Hills ladies. I mostly did as I was told, but I would occasionally have a bad dream and awaken in my bed, frightened and alone. That’s when the real nightmare would begin.
One afternoon, awakened from a disturbing dream, I left my bed in search of comfort. I remember standing at the swinging kitchen door, holding onto one of my favorite stuffed animals, a Collie with a sparkly collar and leash. I listened to the chatter on the other side of the door, well aware I was not permitted to leave my room, but at that moment I needed to be held and comforted.
I wanted my mother but would settle for the safety of another caring adult. I must have whimpered because the door suddenly swung open and there stood the nanny, towering over me, her face dark with anger. A minute later I was back in my bed, tied to the training rails with my Collie’s collar now fastened around my neck and the leash looped through the bars, restraining me. I was terrified. I was screaming and crying, but no one came. I felt only mindless panic, abandoned and alone. Finally, after the lunch hour, it was the housekeeper, the more sensible one, who came to release me from my safe bed that had become a prison.
They say that memories from infancy and early childhood under the age of three are unlikely to be remembered. People sometimes suspect they may have been abused as a child, but they can’t clearly remember events or are told things that contradict their memories. For me, some of the details are missing. I only have a few images and a confusing wash of feelings. At the time, no one spoke of it.
Years later, I asked my mother about that day and my haunting memories. Did she appear shocked? Did she throw her arms around me and proclaim that she never knew? No, she floated around the room with a smile, acting as if I hadn’t even spoken, as if I hadn’t just told her I had been abused as a child. When I pressed her to respond, she said she didn’t know what I was talking about. She said it must have been a dream. She said, “Why do you want to talk about such frightful things?”