Excerpts from the award-winning memoir, The Box of Daughter
Follow my journey to recover my self-esteem and create an authentic life after healing from emotional abuse and family bullying in childhood.
From Chapter 1, Looking Out for Number One
The September wind is chilly and damp. It slices through my jacket, raising goosebumps on my stick-thin body as I stare at the tombstones marching silently in rows between the trees and down the hill, like frozen soldiers with no battle left to wage. My fatherís ashes are freshly buried beside my motherís. The time has come for the final goodbye.
I donít have words for all I need to say. My parents used up so much of me throughout my life that I donít know who I am. The part of me that thought I had to die so my parents could live stands bewildered that I made it through. After seven years of caregiving, thereís nothing left of me. I feel as if Iíve fought a battle for my life.
I push my anger aside for a moment to say a prayer for my parents, as I have done so many times before. Indescribable relief washes over me as I realize that after fifty years of living in the box of daughter and struggling to escape the abuse, Iím free at last to find myself and live my life.
Iíve been unraveling the tapestry of my childhood for two decades now: combing through the warp and weft, the tightly knotted patterns of my familyís dysfunction; examining the colors of the tattered threads and the roots of the design to finally stumble on and understand the place from which Iíve come. For twenty years, Iíve struggled with every fiber of my being to find out who I am beneath the tangle of ideas and beliefs and rules and regulations I was taught.
And as I turn away from my parent's graves and take my first step toward freedom, I realize that my journey has only just begunÖ
From Chapter 6, Family Photos
ÖAunt Mae and Uncle John were always tickled pink when we came to visit, and I felt pretty pink about it myself. When we visited, it always felt like we were a real family. I got as much attention from them as my parents did; not like at home, where my mother had to have all the importance. I felt as important as everyone else to Aunt Mae and Uncle John, and it was a wonderful, warm feeling.
Their front door would be opening just about the time we pulled into the driveway next to Uncle Johnís Cadillac, as if theyíd been watching for us through the window. By the time we opened the car doors, Aunt Mae would be down the steps and waiting at the bumper, with Uncle John a few feet behind her.
ďWellllll, look whoís here!Ē she would say, her voice so full of pleasure and her face so bright and smiling that I wanted to wiggle like a puppy.
ďItís the Mayfields!Ē Uncle John would boom, by this time shaking my fatherís hand and clapping him on the back. Aunt Mae would crouch down and kiss me on the cheek and say, ďWellll, arenít you pretty today?Ē They sure knew how to make guests feel welcome.
Aunt Mae and Uncle John had never had children. I never knew why, but I always felt like a treasured child when I was with them.
Aunt Mae was a true lady in every sense of the word. She wore elegant, tasteful dresses and suits in lovely, deep colors like blue and burgundy that somehow went perfectly with her reddish hair, and she always dressed her clothes with a pretty, graceful pin or bracelet which matched or harmonized with understated but unusually designed earrings. Her wing-tip glasses had tiny jewels in the corners. When we went out to eat, she opened a beautiful flowered compact right after dinner, and powdered her nose and reapplied her lipstick at the table. She spoke and moved in a very gentle, refined way, and had a ready, genuine smile. She was a gracious and welcoming hostess, and if you needed anything Ė anything at all Ė she was happy to provide it as best she could. She never had a bad word to say about anyone, though my mother once told me that Aunt Mae had suggested that my father was a tightwad. But I could never be sure if my mother was telling the truth or not.Ö
From Chapter 12, The End of the Road
ÖI look around the grayish beige room for the first time. Itís a standard institutional room with one window, serviceable furniture, and a small, tired picture of flowers hanging above the bed. The oxygen machineís hum is loud in the small room. It gives a slight cough every now and then, like a small plane with one half-dead engine.
I sit and wonder how I can wrap up almost fifty yearsí worth of a difficult relationship, if not together with my mother, then at least for myself. There are no distractions in the room. Iím left alone with the stark reality of the disconnectedness weíve always lived in, for all of my life, and more than half of hers.
My mother is so still. Iíve never seen her not moving. Her hands, her eyes, her face, her mouth were always moving. Itís eerie, and as the oxygen machine drones along, I feel almost like Iíve been transported to some other dimension.
There are things I need to say, and Iím surprised by the opportunity the oxygen machineís loud hum offers me. I came expecting to give comfort and solace, and to take my own feelings back home to deal with later, as I always have. I hadnít expected the freedom to speak my heart. Somehow it seems to be the right thing to do. So much needs to be expressed. I ache with the need for peace and comfort, for some kind of resolution to it all.
I clear my throat and try to begin, whispering under the whine of the oxygen machine. I canít even hear myself, but it doesnít matterÖ
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