M aybe you’re too smart to fall for it, maybe you know that everyone gets her “pekel,” her challenges, and no one’s life is perfect… but a few years ago, I felt like I was the only one who had a challenging home life.

I suppose when I think about it carefully, I wasn’t actually aware that my home life was challenging. It just was. As a kid, you really don’t know anything different from the life you’ve been dealt… until you see the seeming perfection of your friend’s house and suddenly feel a sense of disquiet and unexplainable sadness.

Although it’s never been explained to me, I am well aware — have forever been well aware, even if I had been unable to articulate it at a young age — that my mother must have some kind of personality disorder. She’d be warm and friendly, cuddly and loving one minute, and the next minute be shouting her head off, hurling all kinds of mean accusations and verbal assaults at whomever was nearest. Sometimes she’d throw things, and hurt us physically, too. I would always run to do what she asked, never sure what would set her off.

We lived pretty close to school — just around the corner, in fact — and every day, on my three-minute walk home, I’d find my feet were walking slower and slower as I neared our house. I realized one day — it stemmed from outright fear. I wasn’t sure what mother I would have when I opened the front door.

I once tried bringing home a friend after school without letting my parents know ahead of time and realized quickly that was the worst thing I could have done. I’d thought it could ward off any negativity because my mother was so well-behaved in public, but I could sense the unspoken fury, like a soup slowly simmering hidden beneath the lid, and I was nervous for my friend to stay… and just as nervous for her to leave.

I loved my mother when she was warm and loving and I’d fold myself into her arms, wishing she were always like that. And when she wasn’t, I mentally closed off, ran to do her bidding, and kept quiet, shrinking down deep into a part of myself that I barely acknowledged.

One thing I did know was that I couldn’t talk about it. My mother was her best self in public, at school performances and events, and I loved going out to public places with her. Her scary face was reserved for the privacy of our home and I took the silence pact, along with all my brothers and sisters.

Except for one brother. This brother, Shmuli, is five years younger than me and seemed to lack the basic understanding that the rest of us internalized without any instruction. As soon as he could talk, he talked to whomever would listen. He’d tell his teachers, tell his friends, tell the school crossing guard. “My mommy potched Chanie last night with a shoe.” “My tatty yelled at my mommy to stop throwing plates at the wall.” “My mommy loved me this morning and said ‘Have a nice day,’ but yesterday she said, ‘Get out of the house,’ and I cried.” (Excerpted from Teen Pages, Issue 689)