by Elizabeth Stephens
Enter the Stepmother
“Life is an ungentle stepmother; she drinks tears and feeds on human grief”
A Russian Saying
Again, our world had changed. When David began working for a construction company, he ended up meeting the owner’s sister, Selma who ran the business office. She was to become my new stepmother and within a year after Helen’s death David married her. Selma was a Russian Jew and a divorced woman, quite unusual at that time. She had also graduated Summa Cume Laude from Florida State University with a degree in Psychology. David and Selma’s blended family reminds one of a “Yours, Mine and Ours” an old movie, minus the traditional family values. She had three children from her first marriage. Adrian and I attended the wedding in Las Vegas with some of the relatives, but I have no recollection of the event.
After they married we moved into a small apartment on Barrington Avenue in West Los Angeles, California. There were seven of us. Adrian and I were barely three and four at the time and Selma’s children were older. From the outset, Selma resented the fact that one of her offspring had to live elsewhere, in the home of her rich brother because the apartment was too small. She never let David or anyone else for that matter forget it. I have no childhood pictures of my own of David and Selma together or of Adrian and I with any family members. Although we all lived in the same location, that was all we shared. We were raised separately, as it were in a different dimension from the rest of the family. It was established from early on that Adrian and I were not to be part of Selma’s new blended family.
Selma was a very troubled woman. To the outside world she looked normal and came off as very gracious, much like the stepmother in Cinderella. But behind closed doors, Adrian and I grew up in a very dark prison like setting. The emotional scars are still in place in much the same way as someone who had been on drugs or suffered from post traumatic stress disorder and experiences flashbacks. Time is a funny thing. Though it has been many years, some current event can trigger a memory that is so very clear. Immediately I am transported back to that house in West Los Angeles with no way out.
Whatever Adrian and I did or did not do, Selma always found fault with and used it to dominate us. But nothing could be compared to what she did to us mentally on an ongoing and premeditated basis. Looking back on my experience I truly felt Selma wanted to kill us and not be held responsible. Remember though, we were small children at the time and had no idea what was taking place or that our treatment was out of the ordinary. We had nothing to compare our relationship to since we were systematically isolated from the family and outsiders.
We were instructed down to the smallest detail of our day. Selma planned out everything, nothing was left to chance. From our hair to the clothes we wore, to the food we ate, to the words we spoke, our thoughts, to all of our comings and goings, we were told what to do and when to do it. We were under constant scrutiny during every waking moment. Even when we slept, I’m sure Selma told us what we should dream. I later studied some psychology, but never found any parental examples as controlling as Selma, not even when I read Mommy Dearest, a daughter’s biographical account of the terrible abuse she endured from her mother, the well-known celebrity movie star Joan Crawford, another troubled soul.
As it turned out, Selma’s brother was very wealthy, and Selma desired a life of ease demanding that she be well provided for, including all the trimmings she had become used to. David never seemed to be at home as she kept him working, sometimes as many as three jobs at once to provide for his new blended family. Selma had her own favorite phrase, it was, ‘I don’t know how we are going to live,’ and ‘there is not enough money.’ Selma kept David on a tight leash. Independently, he would save his small weekly allowance and every once and a while he would defy Selma, drive to Las Vegas and gamble away his few dollars. Then he would come home with his tail between his legs.