Why I couldn’t be quiet, that time in the car with you guys

In my teens, Elisa’s parents once invited me and Gisele on holiday with them. I remember being restless on the drive there. Vocal. Loud. I insisted on mimicking a Pokemon over and over. Elisa’s father, who was driving at the time, got exasperated and threatened to kick me out of the car if I wouldn’t stop. Terrified that he would actually do this, I tried to shut up. But couldn’t. I remember the story being retold in my teens. How I wouldn’t shut up. People would smile a little when he retold the story. No harm done, it was a funny little anecdote. To me it never was. I’ve always felt deeply, deeply ashamed.

I know now why I couldn’t hold still or be quiet. For as long as I had lived, no car drive to any holiday destination had ever been free of screaming or fights. Every single drive to every single holiday destination would inevitably turn into hell on four wheels. It was inevitable. No matter what we tried, it would go badly. My father would start verbally assaulting my mother whenever something, anything she did, ticked him off. And my mother, despite good intentions and trying really hard, was incapable of reading any map. Not in the oh women are not as good as men at that, no in the no clue where on the map we are no matter how often you point it out to her. In restaurants, my mother would have trouble finding her way back to the table after visiting the bathroom.. Her spatial awareness is really really bad…

My brother, from age 6 or 7 or so, took the map from our mother’s hands and would read out the exits and destinations. I remember one drive to a holiday destination. My brother fell asleep. He was just a little kid after all. And my mother took that map again. And pretty soon, we were lost. My mother became hysterical, my father had a rage-attack. My brother woke up and said: Take the next exit. He knew where we were. My parents would repeat this story. How great my brother was at reading maps. Erm, no? How horrible it is that your kid can’t catch a break. Even asleep, his mind had to keep track of the route and where we were going, because he instinctively knew it would turn into hell if he didn’t. No wonder his spatial awareness is amazing. And so my brother took the map, memorized it and slept only very lightly… Meanwhile, I tried to entertain my mother and father. Kept their spirits up. Crack jokes. Make them laugh. No matter the price to your self esteem. You must make them laugh, or both of your caretakers will have a meltdown. No matter that when they inevitably get lost, they scream at you to shut up. You try to make the intervening time between meltdowns as long as possible. This only contributed to the anxiety: No matter how hard you try, it will go badly.

This is why I couldn’t be calm on a drive to a holiday destination with my friends. I was triggered. How ironic that Elisa’s father made the ‘threat’ to evict me from the car. Suddenly, what had merely been anxiety, turned into a confirmation: This is a dangerous situation. I didn’t calm down much until after we reached the destination…

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