This story was published on aaagnostica.org in December 2018.
By Alex M.
Growing up as an only child in an alcoholic family was the perfect incubator for an isolated, selfish, self-centered life. My father shared his alcoholism with his mother, and with many family members before her. He was a callous, abusive drunk, whom I rarely saw sober. I was grateful he ignored me, since I was terrified of his rages and unpredictable behavior.
My mother was a narcissistic, aggressive, controlling woman, the daughter of a nomadic World War I veteran. Her love was conditional on how I behaved rather than who I was, and was withdrawn if I failed to measure up to her standards. She had a mean streak, with a hand so fast that she could slap you before you knew it was coming. You did what you were told, kept quiet and never argued. A secluded silence was the safest defense.
One of my earliest childhood memories was sitting at the top of the stairs in my house, watching my enraged mother chase my drunk father round and round the first floor. Both would whiz by the bottom staircase, picking up speed, dishes and pans flying, and I always wondered if they would ever run so fast they would just melt away and disappear.
The rest of my family was secretive, insular and somber. None were genuinely affectionate. We were a family bound by blood but not by love: no touching, no emotion, no tears. I quickly learned to “don’t talk, don’t trust, don’t feel” at an early age. We rarely visited each other, although we would occasionally attend church together during the Christmas and Easter holidays. No matter how often I sat in those cold pews, I never came to believe in the enigmatic, ethereal God those people worshipped. I was an atheist before I knew what the word meant.