Eighteen years is a long time to keep silent about how narcissism ruined my 1998 High School graduation ceremony. What happened on that awful day highlights how narcissists steal the limelight at every event and celebration…if humanly possible.
Completion of The Project
So when my coworker said, “You aren’t a person to your parents, Lenora. You’re just a project,” I denied it sixteen ways from Sunday. But his words stayed with me. Haunted me. And when I read them, almost verbatim, in the closing statements of the judge who sentenced Aravindan Balakrishnan to thirty years behind bars, I almost threw up.
Being called “a project” brought 1998 into sharp focus. That was the year I was scheduled to graduate from High School (homeschool). It was also the year that my parents upped the ante to finish their “Lenora To Do List” and complete The Project…me.
Balakrishnan’s daughter didn’t escape ’til her thirties, just like me. Veddy interesting “coincidence”!
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- Lenora often doesn’t hear well. Disregard her past trauma from a horribly conducted hearing test. Force her into an appointment with an ENT for a hearing test.
Result: Success. Yep, she’s deaf.
- Scream at her, for the millionth time, to stop her OCDesque skin-picking (dermatillomania.) Tell her you are not going to waste the money to have her facial sores Photoshopped out of her upcoming graduation pictures.
Result: So-so. Damn disobedient daughter!!!
- Drag her off for professional pictures. Lie to the Proex staff by saying, “No, these aren’t graduation pictures.” That way you don’t have to waste money on their “Graduation Pack” with three poses in three different outfits. Remind Lenora only to smile a small demure smile, not show her teeth and not squint.
Result: Pics are okay. But on the way home from Proex, scream at the top of your lungs “YOU IDIOT” when she makes a driving boo-boo. Smash your fist into the car door in rage, permanently breaking the ash tray.
- Schedule appointment for Lenora to take her on-the-road driving test and get her drivers license.
Result: EPIC FAIL. Lie down in a darkened room for an hour to recover from your daughter’s first, public failure. What will the relatives think!?! Without her license, she’s a deadbeat!
- Discover Lenora has ravaged her complexion…again.
Result: Lie on the bed, alternately weeping and yelling at your daughter.
- When The Project asks what the new rules are after she graduates, don’t tell her! Position her so you can enjoy shaming her, telling her “no” and yelling at her whenever she steps over an invisible line.
Result: Stockholm Syndrome! She’s not stupid and she’s not a baby. Asking “permission” and being denied is far more painful than just staying home.
- Rehearse for Lenora’s graduation ceremony. You plan to monologue on the glories of the education you gave The Project. She will sit next to you, a sickly dissociative smile on her OCD-ravaged face. On cue, she will recite or sing to demonstrate what a great educator you are.
Result: 1.5 hours of monologuing.
- Graduation Day dawns bright and sunny. Your monologue goes well. The Project performs well proving she remembers every song, poem and Scripture verse you drilled into her head from age six.
Result: Damn! You’re a kick-ass parent and educator.
- Unfortunately, the relatives upstage you with their graduation gifts. They give kindly and generously. But like all narcissists, you bought not what your daughter wanted, but the gift you would’ve wanted. After working her guts out for twelve years to maintain a 4.0 GPA, you dished out a paltry $25 for her present. She loves trillion cut Swiss blue topaz…and you knew it. Instead, you buy a cushion-cut sky blue topaz…on sale! Bless her heart. She sure tried hard to be grateful and like that damned ring. For the same price or a little more, you could’ve gotten her what she really wanted…with what you saved on tuition, field trips, school clothes, school shoes, a class ring, a letter jacket, etc.
Result: All proceeds from the eBay sale of gifts received from narcissists goes towards my therapy and legal fees.
- Time for the post-party criticisms. Your three little nieces squirmed way too much during your monologue.
Truth: They were impeccably well-behaved.
The Worst Summer Ever
The Summer that followed May 1998 was, without a doubt, the worst Summer of my life.
First, I found out that working like a fiend to achieve perfect grades for twelve years didn’t mean squat…not diddly squat! A complete waste of time and energy. The prevailing attitude was that it was time for The Project to get to work. What the fuck did they think I’d been doing for twelve years!?! I’d already had a twelve-year career. I was tired and needed a vacation.
But I was also excited to get my first job and get on with my adult life.
Being too shell-shocked to learn how to drive from my screaming father, I took the initiative to hire a professional driving instructor. My shock at not being forbidden to hire him was only equaled by my shock when the guy showed up in a white Camaro with a cocker spaniel in the backseat. Awesome!
As I didn’t have my driver’s license yet, my parents came up with a new plan for my Summer activities.
Taking the bus to a job was O-U-T. Staying home to fix up their house was I-N.
You see, it was my fault their house had gotten rundown because they were so busy raising The Project. So for a bribe of $200 I found myself spending that beautiful Summer in the basement, wracked with rage, doing laundry and repairing windows.
Each time I put in a new load of laundry, Mom yelled down the stairs, “Did you remember the detergent!?” I’d forgotten once. Once! But that was excuse enough for her to insult me with her “reminder” for every damned load I washed.
My days in the basement were punctuated by weekends spent outside, alone, with Dad. Painting this. Repairing that.
But why did he always bring up the subject of S-E-X!?! I recall one memorable time in the car when he assured me that I wouldn’t enjoy sex, at least, at first. W-T-F!?!
Eighteen Year Later…
I no longer have my High School Diploma. I burned it…laughing with fiendish delight as the parchment browned, curled, blackened and was reduced to ashes. I gloried in the destruction of something symbolizing untold pain..until my husband mildly asked that I close the firebox door because the house was filling with smoke.
In 2000, I had my second chance to have a proper graduation. My technical college held their commencement in the Metrodome. How cool was that!?!
But I wasn’t allowed to go.
After all, the narcissists had no part of my success in attaining my Graphic Design diploma. And Dad didn’t go to his college graduation in 1982. So, why should they…or The Project…go!? It doesn’t matter, I was brainwashed. Means nothing!
Being forbidden from driving highways or going downtown per the two-page contract I was forced to sign in order to drive their second car…I had no way to get to the Metrodome myself.
So my diploma arrived in the mail.
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Robbed of not one, but two commencements. The pain is more acute today than it was then. Because now I know what was going on. I see their narcissism clearly. And eighteen years later, I’m finally in therapy to grieve and heal from the ravages of narc abuse.
If only I could burn the memory of the worst month of my life as I burned my diploma. But alas, it’ll be with me ’til death or Alzheimers…whichever comes first.
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