Enlightened witness reference in Lisa Carver essay
Thursday February 02, 2006
I linked a friend to alice-miller.com and he replied with a link to this
article by a favorite author. One part caught my attention; she was
describing an enlightened witness:
All About My Mother
by Lisa Carver
The ketchup incident
“Use … your … knife,” she growled, trembling with fury. I continued to
refuse blandly. She got up and came around the table. Instead of just
grabbing my knife and getting my ketchup out the way she wanted, she
grabbed both of my hands and made me get the ketchup out with my knife. I
was sort of fighting her, but not much – I didn’t want to make a scene.
Still, because she was shaking so badly, it was difficult for her to
maneuver, and it took a long time. She was hissing things at me the whole
time: threats, complaints, descriptions of my soul.
I happened to look up and see another diner stare straight into my eyes
with pity. Then he looked at my mother and shook his head, not bothering to
hide his disgust, and muttered about her. I wish I could meet that stranger
now, tell him what an incredible feeling it was for me to see someone so
blatantly side with me. I think I loved him.
Children don’t judge. They concentrate on the details of the terrain they
find themselves in, how best to navigate it. They don’t step back and
consider whether it’s good or bad terrain to begin with. At least I didn’t,
until that man in the diner made his judgment obvious. People had tried to
help me before – teachers, neighbors, doctors. But they had been subtle;
they couched their words carefully. They were sympathetic to my mother too,
to our whole situation – to poor people in general, to physically ill
parents in general, to families abandoned by the father in general. They
thought it was complicated. No one ever said, “This is bad. This is wrong.
These things should not be done to this little girl.” I looked at my
existence through that diner guy’s eyes, and for the first time, I
understood that parts of it ought to be different. But how to change? Where
could I go? I contemplated running away to California to become a movie
star or a prostitute. I settled on simply being surly.
Some weeks or months later, I was perfecting my new bad attitude, squatting
at my stereo and turning down the volume in exaggerated slow motion after
the fifth time my mother asked. She bashed me in the back of the head. I
was knocked forward, off my feet, face-first into the stereo. I whirled
around and started wailing on her – a response that had never occurred to
me before. My skinny arms were like windmill blades, driving her from my
I wish I could tell that stranger from the diner how different that was
from before, when I couldn’t even imagine driving her back: from my room,
from my body, from my (for lack of a better word) soul. I would say to him:
If you could have seen her face! In some ways, that act – hitting my mother
back – made life harder. It destroyed the careful balance I was, with great
effort, able to maintain. But it made life begin to be my own. She never
touched me again.
Thank you for sending us the thoughtful text about the importance of an empathic witness. We couldn’t open the site.