***Trauma Trigger Warning***
Ever since the nightmarish story about the thirteen Turpin children hit the news, I have been trying to write a post about it. But until this morning, I was too emotionally paralyzed by the horror of it all, to write anything.
In many ways, the reports about the Turpin family hits me very close to home. I am the eldest of seven children — the eldest of thirteen children, including my step sisters and step brothers. The neglect and abuse in my childhood home was different, but in some ways similar, to the Turpin family, particularly during the two years between my mother’s first and second marriages.
There were just five of us children during my mother’s two years alone, as she had her last two children with her second husband, the man who already had six children from his first marriage.
I was twelve when my parents’ marriage came to a violent end, when my dad was arrested for trying to murder my mother. The four siblings I had at that time ranged in age from one and a half, to five years old. I was the only one enrolled in school during this time.
Every day while I was in school, from the time I was twelve until I was fourteen years old, my mother locked my little siblings in one small bedroom all day, with nothing to eat or drink. She did not even let them out to go to the bathroom, so they used the closet floor as a toilet.
At the end of every school day during this time, as I walked home from the bus stop, I would hear my two sisters and two brothers screaming and crying, before I even stepped up on the porch. I would walk into the house and see my mother lying on the sofa, crying about how she couldn’t take all the noise the kids were making. Either that, or she would be hiding out in her room, behind a closed door.
Every day when I came home, regardless of where my mother was, I went straight to the locked back bedroom, let my brothers and sisters out, let them go to the bathroom, washed them up, and gave them water to drink and food to eat.
But we had so little food. Like the Turpin parents, our plump mother was eating almost all of the food that came into the house, and every one of us kids were much too skinny. I did not get any school lunches during those years, either. There was “no money” for me to buy the hot lunches at school, my mother said. And there was never anything in the house that I could pack into a lunch bag, either.
Many times during those nightmarish years, my mother would grab a butcher knife out of the kitchen drawer and stand in front of the five of us kids, with the knife’s tip pressing into her belly, and scream that she was going to stab herself in the gut if my noisy, crying, playing, squabbling sisters and brothers wouldn’t be quiet. We all always cried and begged our mother not to stab herself. We told her we were sorry for being too loud and getting on her nerves. We promised to be quiet, we promised to be good. We always did this, every time, except that last time…. Oh my God. Oh my God….
The very last time that our mother pulled her butcher knife drama, we did not say a word to her. We did not cry, we did not beg “please momma, no, don’t do it!” We did not say we were sorry for getting on her nerves, we did not do any of that… instead, we just kept sitting on the living room floor like five skinny mannequin dolls and stared at the TV, as if our mother wasn’t standing right in front of us with a big steel knife in her hand, screaming that she was going to kill herself and it would be our fault….
I did not plan my silence ahead of time, as a strategy to try to stop her craziness. I certainly had not stopped caring, either. It’s just that, suddenly, I was too numb to say or do anything. I did not react, because I could not react. After so many years it is hard to be sure, but I think I may have been coming down with a flu at the time. I do remember that I had just gotten home from a really bad day at school, where I was constantly being bullied and teased for being so skinny, for being addle-brained and emotionally “weird,” and for wearing last year’s worn-out school clothes that were way too short and tight for me, especially as my body had begun to develop womanly features between my sixth and seventh grades.
As for why my little sisters and brothers also ignored our mother’s butcher knife drama that time, although they had always followed my lead before, crying and begging her not to stab herself — I did not understand it then, but looking back, I suppose they were once again following my lead. Either that, or all five of us had simply reached the critical mass of emotional exhaustion, at the same time.
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw how our mother reacted to our non-response. I saw at first shock, and then rage, wash over her face. Suddenly she shut her screeching mouth, she walked back to the kitchen and flung the butcher knife into the drawer, then she went to her bedroom and locked herself inside. And she never pulled the “I’m going to stab myself!” act again.
Instead of a butcher knife, the next time our mother felt suicidal, she attempted to take us all out with her, by trying to gas us all to death.
“I brought you kids into the world,” she told me afterward. “So I have the right to take you out of it. And I would be doing you all a favor by killing you, because life is so hard.”
Today I am in my mid-sixties and my momster is in her eighties. But even after more than half a century, and a lot of therapy, I have never completely gotten over the many neglectful and abusive things that BOTH of my parents did.
Of all the things that I don’t understand about neglectful and abusive parents, the number one thing I don’t understand is this: WHY, when birth control is readily available, do some women who don’t have even one maternal bone in their body, keep popping out so many babies???? My mother married a man who already had six kids, and together they had two more children. And this was AFTER my momster had already tried to gas the five children that she already had, to death! My youngest half-sister was born after I was married and pregnant with my first child. WHY????
You would think that a woman who has chosen to have seven or thirteen children must really love kids a lot, wouldn’t you? But no… No… NO! My mother did not love children At All. She said she did, but her actions said she did not!
I remember, though, how my mother loved all the attention she got for being pregnant! She loved being waited on, catered to, pampered, and babied, all because she was having a baby. Later, she loved having a bunch of little slaves to order around like she was Queen of the world. And, once her oldest child — me — reached a certain age, she no longer had to do all the work of diapering and feeding and watching babies. Oh no, I did that!
However, unlike the amazing seventeen year old girl who escaped from the Turpin house of horrors and called 911 for help, I was no hero. It was as if I had no tongue with which to speak — I could not tell anyone about the nightmare that was my childhood, until years after I was grown and gone.
By then, don’t you know, nobody wanted to believe anything I said about my childhood. Just like the Turpin’s fake Facebook images of a big happy family, my mother is an expert at portraying a sweet liitle old grandmotherly image, a precious Christian lady who wants nothing more than to save everyone’s soul from hell.
Can you imagine the disbelief that would surely have happened, if the evil in the Turpin family had never come to light until the parents were dead and the kids were all out of the house, and no evidence remained of their years of torture?
But why, Why, WHY do “parents” like these keep having so many babies???? Also, what are the odds of two people this evil and abusive and crazy, meeting each other and getting married and having a family together, so that together, they can perpetuate this unthinkable horror on their helpless, dependent children? Like the Turpin husband and wife team of evil, both of my parents were extremely abusive and neglectful.
My heart aches so much for the thirteen Turpin children. My siblings and I had it bad growing up. For me, things got really bad when I was twelve and my mother made me her number one scapegoat and target of hate, because I had dared to disagree with her idea about having the “right” to kill us all. My mother has never forgiven me for that gross insubordination.
But, as bad as we had it, by all accounts, the Turpin children have suffered much worse. And my heart aches….
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