“Unlovable.” That’s what my mother described. “She said I was a stupid girl. She said I’d never amount to nothing but a hill of beans. Stupid. Stupid. Just stupid.”
I’ve walked in these shoes even before my mother had a stroke and was released from life while her youngest daughter smothered life from her body. Never was she charged with murder, or any crime. I grew up believing I would NEVER be loved by a man. My mother would send me on a walk – to the grocery store — without any money. Her request/order for me was, and I quote: “I need you to walk to the grocery store. See the manager. He really likes you. Flirt with him and tell him he must let you get some things for supper. A loaf of bread. Pork n’ Beans. I ain’t got no money, so I need you to work it well. I know he’ll allow you to get something good for supper. Don’t tell your daddy I ask you to do this. I asked you cause I know you have a way with men. They like looking at you, when you smile those men melt. Get what you can out of them. Men like you.”
Little did I know my good ole Southern mama was training me. Training me to get men to treat me well. She wasn’t training or teaching me LOVE. She thought I could use my looks, personality, charm and sexuality to get what I wanted in life. She said, “Men like you, Barbara Jean. They always have. Now is the time for payback. I produced a pretty girl. Maybe an actress with Southern charm. They’ll pay you lots, just to get what you want. Don’t you forget that you stupid child, Barbara Jean.”
I was 15-years-old at the time. Mama would give me old clothes and hand-me-downs from one of my cousins. The cousin who never wore the same outfit twice. Mama told me to wear the off-shoulder blouses and shorts. “You got some nice-looking shoulders and legs, Barbara Jean, and you’ve got the right amount of boobs. Men like that!”
Funny, I never realized my mother was encouraging me to become a hooker and I cringe, refusing to respond to anyone who calls me Barbara Jean.
When I was 30, my marriage to Garrett was choking me. Depression left me so unhappy I thought my entire world was crumbling. My therapist, a lovely, tiny woman who always wore her hair in a twisted bun with a sparkling comb, and a bright red rose tucked inside her blazer pocket, wanted to know about my childhood.
Looking at her, my mouth quivered. “My childhood? It was awful. Never did I feel loved.”
“What about your mother? Didn’t she embrace you and tell you she loved you?
“No. All she did was tell me to flirt with men. They liked me. I could get anything I wanted from a man, if I ‘worked it.’ She said if I dressed nice and showed my cleavage, men would follow me to the ends of the earth.”
“What’s interesting?” I asked.
“Your mother was encouraging you to become a hooker.”
“No. She wouldn’t do that. Good mothers do not teach their daughters to hook.”
Covering my mouth while choking back tears, I realized something I never thought as a young girl. My hands were shaking. “Oh, my God. You’re right. My mother thought I could become a hooker.”
My therapist scribbled on a pad. “I find it interesting you never think of your mother as abusive, cruel, or a bad mother.”
“She said she wanted the best from me. Only her best was not what I wanted to become.”
“It sounds to me like your mother wanted you to dress like a hooker. I always see you dressed as a lady wearing cultured pearl necklaces and earrings. Your hair and makeup immaculate. You don’t show cleavage. When you sit, you keep your legs together. Like a lady, or royalty.”
Glancing at my posture, I realized she was correct. My legs were together, not exposed. Sitting with my ankles crossed, I realized she was right. I’m sitting like a lady. Funny. I’ve never considered myself a lady.
“Can you share more of what your mother taught you?”
Covering my face momentarily with my hands, I mumbled yes, sharing the stories my mother taught me. Sharing how she wanted me to use my sexuality to get what I wanted from men. “She said men would want to be with me, and she said I would never find love from any man. She said Barbara Jean was unlovable and a stupid girl. Nothing more than yesterday’s trash. Never to be loved. Never!”