And boy, is there a lot of it.
But it starts with the night my father died.
He had died maybe a half-hour ago. I was sitting next to his body as we waited for the ambulance to come and take him away, because I didn’t want to leave him alone, in the corner of the living room where my brothers had shoved the hospital bed almost as soon as he was gone, before most of them scattered to various other rooms.
I was listening to my sister-in-law having a jolly conversation with the hospice nurse, not 10 feet away. Susan is also a nurse, and they were merrily talking shop, and laughing, as though nothing of any significance had just happened.
I had already left the room once, and gone down to the basement, tacitly accepting that their sociable small talk took precedence over my wishes at my father’s deathbed. With the help of my husband, who followed me, I decided that I would regret not having stayed by my father if I didn’t go back. So I went back, and listened to some more laughter and happy chatter.
I finally got up the courage to say, “Excuse me.” They were so loud, I had to say it twice before I could get their attention.
I asked, “Could you take this… this chat into another room?”
I don’t remember which one of them said it, but the response I got was, “Oh, we’ll just keep it quiet.” Of course, within minutes they were laughing and talking as loudly as before.
I said nothing more to Susan then. The ambulance finally came and took my father away, wrapping blankets even over his face, which bothered me. I remember one of the ambulance attendants saying something about, “He’s a long one.” I muttered so only my husband could hear, “TALL. He was TALL.” He had been six feet even. Now he was “long”.
I waited until the next morning, when Susan’s husband, my brother Joe, was alone in the kitchen. Almost everyone else was out of the house, either at church or their own homes.
I said to him something like, “I wasn’t happy with the way Susan acted yesterday.”
Immediately, Susan came running into the room — she must have been eavesdropping, and immediately seized the chance to be the “third man in” — and the two of them began yelling at me, shouting in my face things I thankfully couldn’t make out between the two of them. I must have started looking down at the floor in an effort to shut them out, because I remember Susan actually bending down, the better to shout right into my face.
[ETA: another brother was still in the house. He recently told me he came up the basement stairs and saw me sitting in a kitchen chair. I have no recollection of sitting, but he said he saw Susan bend down to shout into my face. He also said he thought she was going to grab my shoulders and shake me, she was so enraged.]
… any challenge, disagreement or even mildly negative remark from another person is considered criticism, rejection or mockery. Narcissists perceive these as an all-out assault or total betrayal, and go to war with the person who dares to do that to them. A mere slight is apt to result in shouting, screaming, and making absurd accusations against the victim for having such atrocious intentions and actions.
I now know this is called a “narcissistic rage attack“, but that day I had no idea what was happening. I was just completely shocked. My husband had come into the room, and I looked to him for help, but he was just as shocked as I was.
I fled the house, only to find later (years later) that this gave Susan and Joe the opportunity to spin the whole thing as being my fault: to say that I had started the fight, that I had “criticized” her and her job when I had asked her to go talk in another room, that I had been emotional and over-reactive. This threw me for another loop. I had no idea that anyone I knew, let alone a beloved brother, could lie so deliberately and viciously. I now know this is called “character assassination” and it is a favorite tool of narcissists.
Unfortunately, due to other circumstances in my family, it worked perfectly. Everyone else was only too happy to accept their explanation of what had happened. Not one person, out of five older siblings and their three spouses, asked me about what had happened — although I did get told by one brother that I “should have approached Joe alone first.” This is what should have started giving me the clue that what everyone was told, and what everyone perceived, was not the truth.
The therapist I eventually went to never did understand why no one defended me — why no one told Susan, “Hey, lay off her. She is our sister, and she is grieving. Cut her some slack.” My therapist once said, mystified, “You’re not even allowed to defend yourself.”
Even weirder — in the 3 days leading up to my father’s death, absolutely everyone in the house agreed on two things (or said they did, at any rate):
- I was going to take Dad’s death the hardest.
- We all need to cut each other some slack during this difficult time.
As my husband said in the sole group meeting we had after all the shit hit the fan (which Susan did not attend) —
You were all saying that you knew she would take it the hardest, so why were you so surprised when she did?”
Over the years I have found out some of the reasons why it all happened the way it did. Some of it is just a “Perfect Storm”. Susan is a toxic narcissist, and I am the family scapegoat who allows Susan (and everyone else) to pretend there is nothing wrong with her and her toxic behavior. In much the same way, my mom was able to blame my dad for everything her whole life, and thus pretend there was nothing wrong with her.
You see, while from my point of view, this is a hugely complicated mess of a family problem that will probably never be resolved due to certain people’s issues and their resistance to working on them — from their point of view, it’s really, really simple. This sad, tragic family rift exists entirely because I “refuse to let bygones be bygones”.
In reality, I just refuse to quietly accept the blame for the results of Susan’s vicious behavior, and the pain that behavior caused me — which is what created the “bygones” in the first place. And I seem to bear a lot of other blame for the results of a lot of other peoples’ actions and choices, as it turns out.
The Susan Incident is what started this journey. This website is part of the journey, and its purpose is to help me break the bonds that still hold me to the people I have known the longest: the people from whom I first learned about love and trust and what “family” means, the people who ought to have protected and taken care of me, especially as the baby of that family — and who have chosen not to protect me now, nor allow me to defend myself.
They refuse to listen. I have a right to be heard.
The next part of the story.