Those Eyes on the Back of Her Head

Mom found my journals—oh my!

Mary Baidenmann

10/22/20235 min read

Pansy flowers
Pansy flowers

Mom’s favorite thing? Assigning us chores.

She loved watching us kids from the kitchen window. You’d never guess she was blind, and her clearest vision was blurred shapes. She liked to watch us play or toil away at our chores. We learned quickly that Mom being blind didn’t mean we got away with any shenanigans. She claimed she had eyes on the back of her head and saw everything we did, but to my estimation, she was a gifted psychic. My attempts to circumvent her scrutiny always ended with more chores added to my list.

Chores cropped up when we displeased her. She knew the instant I put down my garden rake to fake a broken leg and beg for mercy. If I feigned dehydration and headed to the water faucet while weeding the garden, she’d tap on the kitchen window and shake her finger. That finger had a vast vocabulary. It could scold, “Get to work”. It could whisper, “I’m watching you”, or crook to say, “Come here”. To be fair, Mom’s fingers often said “I love you” as she caressed my hair and sang. In my estimation, her hard-working fingers needed a sense of humor.

I worried a lot about those eyes on the back of her head. Once, I peeked under her French braided hair to find those hidden eyes. She’d fallen asleep in a chair, so I took a quick look. Nope, no eyes in the back, but my tiny movements alerted her psychic eyes. She rewarded me with a soft bop on top of my head for disturbing her nap.

Yep, just as I suspected, I lived with a psychic mom.

We didn’t realize how her vision affected her. We just thought our clumsy mom waxed sarcastic and called herself mean names such as “Blindy” if she bumped into something.

Sure, we knew she used a half-inch-thick magnifying glass to read our schoolbooks end-to-end. Mother being Mother. But living with her dulled our sensitivity to her low vision. We were used to it.

Believe me. My schoolbooks and her reading glass created endless lists of chores—she read every word of every book I brought home. She saw to it that I perused only the purest documents, sending me packing back to the library if a book smacked of suspected evil or juicy romance. The road to that library smoked if I brought something home that she couldn’t see with her reading glass.

Once, I tried hiding the magnifier when I brought home a teen magazine. I feared she’d strip that magazine from my hands and banish me to kitchen work for life if she spotted me reading something she considered garbage. I’d just turned twelve, so I figured such mature reading was garbage to her.

She did everything she could to carve us into the perfect specimens she envisioned. If that meant she banished books back to the library and assigned new chores, so be it.

The contraband magazine somehow surfaced in her hand. Disallowed, it was sent back to the hole it slithered from. The chores piled high. The kitchen sparkled extra clean for a few weeks.

To put the final touches on, I had to pray in church that God would take away my sins and make me into a new creature. Actually, the new creature part inspired me, and I wrote a couple of spooky stories about a girl who couldn’t stop turning into mountain lions or dancing ballerina dolls.

The real problem between Mom and me was that she read everything I wrote. One day, I found her in my bedroom, tears in her eyes, holding her magnifying glass in one hand and one of my journals in the other. I nearly fainted. That journal detailed my hopes and dreams, but it also had a long list of my frustrations with her. It delved into the details of how I wanted to run away or become a lifetime hermit out in the woods.

Her tears slashed me to the core with sharp guilt.

She loved me. I knew that. She didn’t deserve those journals of mine. Why hadn’t I hidden them better? Truth was, I’d hidden those journals at the back of my closet. She’d picked through my entire room for signs of me heading down a “road forbidden”, and, sure enough, she’d found evidence of my waywardness. I hung my head, sorry that she’d found them. I’d scorched the paper with heated complaints without entering a single word describing my honest admiration and love for her.

I knew the power of words. At that moment, my words built a mile-thick wall between her world and mine. Lips trembling, she stood in silence, then handed over my journal and hurried from the room.

I prayed in church willingly that day and begged God for redemption. My heart still aches, even now.

Later, it dawned on me that she searched my room regularly. My face turned hot. How many other journals had she found and read over time? That epiphany turned me frozen and angry.

So on that sunny day in May, I started writing poetry. Metaphor and I became best friends. I obscured my most anxious feelings by writing about nature. Since I wrote profusely, many pages contained happy little flowers and butterflies. Waterfalls, trees, and deer represented joy or grief. In no time, I started writing horror and fantasy fiction. Anxiety floated through my mind the way fog drifted through our valley and came out as obscurely worded stories. I painted many intricate, poetic mindscapes of my teenage self on a quest through puberty’s confusion.

After a while, Mom stopped searching my room. She’d found only sappy poems about sparkling forest fairies or squirrels, sometimes a spooky ghost who lived in our apple tree. I never again trusted straightforward language for expressing things I wanted to say.

One day, I found a huge hollow tree in the woods. It made a perfect cave. A quiet fortress where I could ponder my innermost thoughts. I brought branches to cover the entrance. Once inside, my anxieties melted away.

Since she was blind. She couldn’t find my hideaway.

She didn’t need to…

My fresh interest in running out into the woods for hours didn’t escape her notice. She got it into her head that I was meeting a boy from town (disallowed), but she didn’t track me to find my secret.

She enlisted my brother to follow me. He never did figure out that I caught him stalking me on day one.

I trained myself to stay silent in the woods, or stand still, and to leave no tracks or trails except far from my tree. Keenly aware of everything around me, I trained my dog to stay quiet, though he almost got us caught a few times by charging after deer or squirrel.

When I let my brother catch sight of me in the woods, I staged concerts for him. Standing on a huge cedar stump halfway up the hill, I sang church songs in my loudest voice. Then I preached a short version of the sermon Dad had preached on Sunday. At the end, I bowed to my audience and ran down the hill. Most often, I got home before he did. She still didn’t trust me, but they didn’t find my tree hideout. I believe old journals filled with strange poems still await my return.

After I found her crying, I sank lower in my estimation, and she stood taller, a hero. Life had dealt her terrible blows, but she used every one of those “disadvantages” as strengthening tools. I imagined being born blind. Orphaned at thirteen, put in charge of four younger siblings, and struggling with homelessness. I thought about surviving a rural village, which spurned orphans and drunkards as if they were the same flesh then rebuffed by relatives and landlords.

I realized how lucky I was that she funneled her powerful efforts into shaping my fussy teenage self into a productive human being. That I resented her efforts didn’t matter—my resentment joined her list of objects to overcome.

She never gave up on me.

I never gave up on writing.

I don’t think she wanted me to give up...