So I eagerly bought and read Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World’s Most Dangerous Man by Mary L. Trump. Of the ever-expanding library of books on her uncle Donald written by burn victims and spurned former enablers inevitably left in his wake, Mary’s perspective as both member of his family and clinical psychologist piqued my interest. That Donald’s younger brother, Robert, was tasked to run point on behalf of their family to quash publication of the book only served to further whet my curiosity. And not just mine. The book sold more copies in the first week than Donald’s ghost-written Art of the Deal has in all the years since it was first published. Oh, and then Robert died — probably from complications caused by COVID-19 that his brother, the President of the United States, has barely acknowledged, completely failed to contain and has arguably made worse, given that any other cause of death short of overdose, suicide or embarrassing accident would not carry the shame with it necessary for a superficial family like the Trumps to cover up and deny in order to keep up appearances.
Though the book chronicles the creation of Donald and ultimately culminates in the emergence of the ruined creature we’ve all come to witness loosed upon our world, it’s more an insight into the monster makers themselves, the systemic forces that shaped him and the role Mary’s father, Fred “Freddy” Trump Jr., played in particular as a kind of catalyst. I’d wondered about Freddy ever since first hearing him mentioned by a piece PBS Frontline did on each of the 2016 presidential front runners; the eldest of Donald’s siblings scapegoated and ultimately driven to self-destruction — it resonated with me.
Over the past few months now Mother’s continued to send scrappy packets of childhood memorabilia and rediscovered photographs hewn from old family albums. And each time I respond with a simple “thank you” token of appreciation for the gifted materials. But sometimes I’m tempted to write a longer letter.
This is a photograph of me, “you’re so selfish” Sister, “you’re too sensitive” Brother and Mother’s adopted daughter obediently smiling for posterity. It’s one of a cache of similar nostalgia Mother stuffed into a Happy Birthday card that she appears to have begun mailing directly with a stamp and return address sticker before tearing off the return address, marking a black “X” over the tear where it was and, I assume, instead sent it through Father who dutifully left it on my doorstep to find. Pretty standard procedure as these things go.
The closest thing to validation I’ve ever received from a Family member or their extended group of acquaintances (the tribe, if you will) was from Sister. One day she called me and described how she’d witnessed, first hand, Mother shamelessly, repeatedly lying about any small thing, undercutting the parental authority of her husband in regards to their adopted daughter and in spite of confronting her on these untruths. Sister tells me it occurred to her then, “Now I know how Tarraccas must feel.”
And that was it.
I was a little suspicious of her motivations for telling me this but I appreciated that Sister connected a couple dots, attempted to understand and relate to my experience. But she couldn’t know how I felt because Mother wasn’t lying about her. She lies about me. And in spite of almost bonding over this briefly shared awareness, Sister believed those lies. Everyone in the tribe does. It’s more of a cult that way.
They just can’t believe, even with first-hand evidence, that Mother could or would hurt anyone, especially not one of her own children. Perish the thought! Which only leaves me. I must’ve misunderstood or I’m just too sensitive or too angry or too something — they never ask because they apparently don’t care what I actually think or how I really feel. That’s all bullshit. In any case, I need to forgive, forget and get with the program and that’s all there is to it.
[P]eople do not like disrupting the status quo, and if they get information that doesn’t compute with their experience of a person – it’s destabilizing, and it’s easier to doubt your reality then to possibly have to face a new one. Treat this as a wakeup call – don’t take your vulnerabilities to people who do this to you any longer, find more humane listeners who receive your difficult words with compassion.
For anyone who finds themselves betrayed by one’s tribe, those who we trusted to have our back only for them to stab us in it: these are not your people. Find a new tribe.
Mother called me by mistake – let that sink in – and left a brief voicemail saying that her younger sister, my aunt, had passed on.
Hi. This is mom. I thought I’d get [your father, my ex-husband]. Just wanted to let you know that [your aunt, my sister] Nancy died this morning. Okay. Bye.
I’ll always remember my aunt being an excitable, little woman. She resembled Mother but with black hair instead of blond and smaller. Actress, Juliette Lewis, and singer, Cindi Lauper, remind me of her.
She married several times — at least twice. I remember two of her husbands: Uncle Eli and Uncle Mark. Both good people as far I knew them. Very patient. No children.
If there is a god and a heaven as my aunt believed then I hope she is made whole and finds peace and rest from suffering there.
I’ve apparently been sent a “gift” for Christmas from Brother through our father. Earlier this year Sister also used our father to deliver a “gift” on my birthday. These are two people who have expressed nothing but contempt for me in the past, have nothing to do with me in the present and for whom my future has no place. People who don’t like me, don’t give me things. But these do. So what I am to make of this seemingly conflicted, crazy-making behavior?
It’s never overtly spelled out but I think I know what I’m supposed to do, what my prescribed role is and what my unspoken expected response should be in all this: forgive, forget, move on (which is to say, reset back to default) and receive this “gift” in lieu of acknowledging, much less resolving any of our problems and, further, as a down payment to justify future abuse. This is giving a “gift” the same way a fisherman “feeds” a fish — always with strings attached.
The first strategy Sam mentions is the child isolating themselves from the narcissistic parent, reaching away for and adopting other, more suitable parental figures. This has become my strategy by consequence as much as by choice.
I’ve always said that my siblings and I essentially raised ourselves, Mother being more like an absent roommate than a parent and us, mere meal tickets used to wine and dine her boyfriends on the child support garnished from our father she unceremoniously discarded. Brother went to school wearing shorts and rubber boots, whatever he could find. I, myself, duct taped my shoes and tried to modify old clothes. Sister was excellent at scrounging for edible things not deemed off limits to create inventive food items from. All while we were berated as ungrateful, spoiled brats that didn’t do enough for Mother if we were paid any attention to.
One of the final exchanges Mother and I had from several years ago, illustrating a narcissistic response to boundary-setting and probably drawing to a close this series of blood-letting.
At this point in my recovery, the anger that fueled my interest in understanding narcissism in order to heal from and move beyond the destructive role it’s played in my life seems to have been more or less exhausted. Oddly enough, EMDR therapy seems to have helped diminish the bad feelings and ruminations or maybe that happened to be coincidence. Perhaps the shared experience of Donald J. Trump exemplifying to a staggering degree textbook traits of a severely malignant narcissist as he stumbles about on the world stage to everyone’s horror has led to demystification of the disorder through sheer burnout. In any case, the dull ache of loss and emptiness I once felt has become a quiet space.
As such, this entry has been collecting dust with my waning motivation to develop it but I feel that it’s important to complete this dysfunctional family portrait in their own words if only to see it all laid bare, ending properly with the source from whence this transgenerational madness flows and revolves around.
When I was first introduced to Mother’s boy-husband, Motherfucker, in my early teens, he was a chill dude. Pulled up in a Volkswagon van, followed The Grateful Dead. Earlier same day her and a co-worker of theirs – I think his name was Bernie or something, had a lazy eye – were tonguing their goodbyes as she had apparently settled on this one of many suitors. That’s how chill Motherfucker was. And, when he was stoned, he returned to that chill, half-decent state of human-beingness. It was almost nice.
But as the years with Mother progressed, he became an increasingly neurotic, insecure, extremely passive-aggressive rageaholic. Even when Mother visited with female friends, this guy would take a day off work to monitor her behavior. Her friends hated him. My friends hated him. In the mornings, he would just silently glare at me with this angry eye I could see through the crack between my partly opened bedroom door and the frame, clenching his jaw. Weird. My siblings and I would make ourselves scarce when he arrived home from work because we didn’t know what kind of mood he would be in but a bad mood was a safe bet. He didn’t like us and moved out once because he couldn’t stand us.