i don’t like this word because it reminds me of one of my mom’s biggest hang-ups: that she was stupid.
she grew up in a family of overachievers, of loud arguers, where she reported that she always felt different. she wasn’t as quick on her feet, wasn’t as sharp with her tongue, felt like she didn’t belong. she felt less smart than everyone else, and she hated it.
enter me, her firstborn. not a genius, by any stretch, but somewhat precocious. reading at three. writing lengthy stories shortly thereafter. musical and funny and sassy. i didn’t stand a chance.
i remember, from a pretty young age, the accusations that i was trying to make her feel stupid. her face centimetres away from mine, her spit spraying my cheeks, her breath hot on my face (ugh i’m feeling all of it typing this, scared and confused) as she screamed at me. grabbed me roughly. sometimes she accused my dad too, both of us together, that we were conspiring to make her feel stupid and not enough. she refused to play certain games (trivial pursuit was one that really upset her, i remember) and i learned, very quickly, to curb my intelligence in her presence, so as not to anger her. i made myself smaller and more dim and less sparkly.
i was rewarded for good report cards, because being smart in school was desirable, being smart in school reflected well upon them, they were known in the community and it was good to trot out my achievements. but my intelligence was not a thing of pride, it was something i kept quiet – except at school, where, like pocketbrit, i was a pleasure to teach and a delightful student and a bright and inquisitive child. despite this praise, she rarely missed a chance to knock me down a few pegs, to assert her superiority, to demonstrate her power over me. to let me know that she knew who i really was, that i wasn’t so smart after all.
i remember being accused of falsifying my interests, because clearly i just wanted to impress people, i wanted attention. i was just doing it for show, to make her look bad, as one-upmanship. i write all of this now and it’s fucking insane to remember back, and it hurts, too. it was such a deliberate act: to make me tiny, to tamp down my light, to make my desire to learn and grow a personal affront. her unadulterated, unfiltered, unaddressed shame splattered all over me, like the spittle from her mouth.