Photo of 'Matilda' courtesy of TriStar Entertainment


On My Own: What It's Like To Be A "Real-Life Matilda"

An excerpt from 'How to Be Alone'

by Lane Moore

In her new book of essays, How to Be Alone: If You Want To, and Even If You Don't, Lane Moore recounts what it was like to grow up feeling disconnected from the people closest to her, and how that type of isolation led her to attempt to make connections in unorthodox ways. It's a book full of humor and heart, sadness and triumph. Below, in an exclusive excerpt, Moore reveals what it was like to navigate an abusive upbringing, and how to differentiate between the people who are "evil" and "complicated."

I grew up a real-life Matilda: surrounded by biological family who, in constantly rotating ways, couldn't be bothered. I can see all of the origin stories of my family members now and can empathize with them, understand the reasons why things played out that way. But as a child, I just wanted my parents to live somewhere else without my ever knowing they existed so I could firmly be what I already was, albeit not legally, albeit not technically, albeit not on the surface: alone in a way you can never quite describe to people. But I'll try.

In the very, very earliest years of my life, maybe around five, I remember my mom telling me she believed in me. I don't remember what it felt like, but I can see it in pictures, and remember it in that hazy way you remember things from when you were too young to remember things. My mom loved me. And in the years that followed, she became so shattered from my dad's abuse, as we all had, that it was like she was dead. So the only voices in my head were my dad breaking me down to nothing and stepping on the pieces, and the constant fear I would die, we would all die, whenever he felt it was time. And even though my mom didn't have the same kind of viciousness, no one in my family was supplying any alternative views on my worthiness either.

I reached out to my mom and my sister at the end of writing this book, and I can see now the truth of what happened to all of us was heartbreaking. My mom (and later my sister) coped with my dad's maliciousness by leaving her own body and mind, resurfacing only to, as if possessed, repeat many of the same things he'd said and done to her, to us. They don't remember most of it, which for years I thought, Bullshit. But the more I talk to the women in my family, the more I know they truly don't remember a lot, and they are horrified they passed on his behaviors. And I understand that because I don't remember a lot. But I remember more than they do, even though I wish I didn't. I say this because it is essential to me to convey the shattering I feel in my chest when I think of your holding my father and mother in the same camp. Because they are absolutely not.

Calling my mom and my sister was the first time I was able to release some of the anger I had, instead of living in a constantly conflicted state because they were victims of the same abuse I was, they just handled it in a different way, so could I be angry at them, even though they were victims too? Was it cruel to be angry? And the answer is no, it was not cruel to be, and yes, I could be angry. I told them as much, and they were in tears, both horrified and baffled by how they'd treated me, a response I can tell you my dad has never remotely displayed with any of us. It doesn't erase what they did, and they know that, and though the wounds all feel the same, I know they are not.

I know this is why most people who have similarly conflicted relationships with their family members will smooth the paper when they speak of them. They will tell you they're close with their family, they love them so much, so perfect, so great. And then, just maybe, if you get them alone on a certain day, they'll tell you they always felt alone, still feel alone, their family wasn't great. And the very next day they might deny this, to you and everyone else. And if you do this, I want you to know I know why you do it. Particularly if one of your family members was just evil, and the rest were . . . complicated. Because you know there is so much goodness in some of your family members and some days, years, lifetimes, it's easier to forgive the deep pain they've caused you, when you know that humanity and compassion lives within them, and why, FUCKING WHY couldn't they have shown it to you sooner? And the answer might be that someone else in your family had tied their hands behind their back and they couldn't. And it will only make you feel worse. Ah, what could've been.

How to Be Alone is available for purchase here.

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