Darkness

Darkness is everywhere.  It comes in many forms.  Hides in plain sight.

Sometimes it is most extreme in the middle of a bright, sunny day.  When it is felt more than viewed with the eye.  Sometimes it is most profound in the middle of a cold, lonely night.  It creeps in during a too-quiet morning.  When a person responds harshly, in anger, in selfishness.  It comes on a stressful, chaotic afternoon.   On a rainy day.  Slinking in with the  setting of the sun.  The rising of the moon.  On the first rays of the morning.

Turning on the lights will not banish it.  Nor will smiling when in pain, ignoring it or willing yourself to disregard the overwhelming fear, loneliness and anguish that envelopes you.

When darkness comes calling, you can’t lock the doors to keep it at bay.  Nor can you run from it or hide yourself away.  It penetrates all barriers, breaks all locks, seeps beneath every defense.  When darkness targets you, nothing can save you.  It won’t rest until it has you by the throat, strangling you with long, cold, persistent fingers.

It wants to destroy you.  To imprison you.  To enslave you.

Darkness persists.  It permeates.  It putrefies.  It rapes, beats you and leaves you for dead.

It plants its seed deep in your soul.  The seed sprouts forth engulfing pain.  Anguish.  Terror.  Emptiness.  This unholy garden grows in the soul until it splinters you.  Then, it effortlessly harvests your hope and leaves you without a single spark of life in your eyes.

Darkness comes when least expected.  During a wedding.  In the middle of a church service.  At a Christmas party.  During a family reunion.  While you’re reading a book.  Taking a walk.  Shopping.  Suddenly it comes, out of nowhere, taking you by surprise, dragging you under the cold water, drowning you.  It sucks all the joy out of your world.  Your soul.  Tainting everything it touches.  Pulling you ever downward. Suffocating you.  Until you are ruined.

Sometimes it comes when you are a child, during an innocent afternoon spent with your father, your protector, the man you adore.  It comes.  It belittles and mocks you.  Breaks you. Until it finally destroys you.  Darkness reaches toward you with the father’s deviate hand when his perverted, horrible lust takes control.  When he touches your breasts.  Your clitoris.  Pushes his fingers inside of you.  Buries his penis in your mouth.  In your vagina.  Again and again.

Darkness comes.  It cackles with glee.  Gloats in its victory.

It takes you.  Has its way with you.  There is no escape.  And once you have been infected, impregnated, there is no cure.

Darkness comes when the man you love with all of your heart, the man you gave your life to, tells you he doesn’t love you.  And throws you away.  When he tells you that you are so much less than everyone else.  That you are inadequate, defective, disgusting.  When he tells you to keep the ugliness of who you are to yourself.  To keep it all inside.  Because he doesn’t want to hear it.  Doesn’t want to know you.  Doesn’t want to be bothered.

Darkness comes.  It comes cloaked in abuse.  In rejection.  In disdain.  And it, in turn, cloaks you in filthy shame while nothingness swallows you whole.

Light cannot penetrate this darkness.  Hope cannot endure it.

Darkness comes.  It destroys you; your life.  It steals away everything that matters.  Everything that was good about you.  Everything wonderful that might have been. It steals.  It destroys.  It takes.  It demands.  And it snickers with delight and triumph as it watches you wither away.  As you are consumed by numbness and emptiness. As you are utterly decimated.  Beyond redemption or restoration.

It rejoices while you are devoured by the dark seeds with which it impregnated you.

Wisdom cannot defeat it.  Nor can willpower.  Or logic.  Self-talk. Or fact.  Only love can overcome this kind of debauched, consuming, evil darkness.

But love can’t find you, cloaked as you are in shame, broken and decimated, hidden by the night.  And if love never finds you, you are doomed to dwell in that unbearable darkness forever.

And so, the years pass.  Your lifeblood flows from you, droplet after droplet.  The droplets form a river, an ocean.  Flowing and flowing.  Until time runs out.

Darkness comes; stealthy and persistent.  It comes.  There is no escape.  And it will never let you go.

 

 

Speak

I started talking in full sentences, or so I have been told.  No testing the waters with a half-formed “mama” or “dada.”  The first words I uttered, somewhat precociously when just over 8 months old, were “See da plane!”  And then I pointed to an airplane flying across the big blue sky as I laughed in delight.

Considering the amount of time my mother spent talking AT me, my articulate pronouncement becomes less impressive.

Until the day she died, my mother talked and talked and talked and talked endlessly.  Like a machine gun.  As she drew her last breath, she probably told God not to interrupt her.  She babbled on and on about indiscernible or irrelevant topics, often complaining about (mostly imagined) slights from childhood.  And then, there was her marriage.  Her husband, who had a wandering eye and hands to go with it.  And me, her colicky baby, who was a massive disappointment and energy drain.  The piles of poopy diapers.  Crying .  Needing to be held.  Having to be fed.  But she didn’t stop there, quickly skipping to all of her unfulfilled dreams.  Her unrealized fantasies.  She talked to her little captive audience, spewing her angry, disappointed, vindictive words over me like a heavy blanket.  She buried me with her words. Thus, my language skills developed early and my vocabulary was quite impressive by the time I reached my first birthday.

It didn’t take me too long after that to learn how to be silent.

Silence offered protection.  If I was quiet, my parents might not notice me.  Being noticed was, I soon realized, not a good thing.  Having needs was an imposition.  Requiring them to expend their limited resources on me was a clear indication of my selfishness, an observation and opinion they shared frequently and passionately with me throughout my life.  Silence was a shield.

Silence was protection from their rejection.  Calling attention to myself in any way led to being told how disappointing and self-centered I was.  They were supposed to be the center of the universe; not me.  I was to bow to them and be a constant reminder of how wonderful they were.  I was created to fulfill them.  Hiding in silence was my only guarantee of not having all my many failures and imperfections repeatedly thrown back in my face.

Silence also offered protection from being hit and slapped.  If I didn’t appear on their radar, their anger would be focused in a different direction.  At a different target.  Usually an inanimate one.  The wall.  Any object sitting within reach.  Though it terrified me when they threw and punched things, I couldn’t help but feel relief that I wasn’t the thing they were hitting and throwing.

It offered protection from judgement as well.  Being seen, noticed, meant being weighed,  measured…and found wanting.  I was forever failing to meet their expectations and requirements.  They were forever reminding me of this.

As I grew, the real attraction of hiding in silence came from a fearful need to go unnoticed by my father.  My father who began sexually abusing me around the time I turned 4.  If he didn’t hear me, he might not “see” me in that way.  And if he didn’t see me, he might not get quivery with lust ignited by my undeveloped body.  He might not suddenly transform into “bad daddy.”   I might be able to escape his penis for a whole day.

Though I didn’t understand how different I was or how abnormal was my childhood, I knew something was not right.  And just as surely, I knew I must never speak of it.  To anyone.

I swallowed my words.  Time and again, I held them in my mouth and forced them down my throat.  And the longer I swallowed them, the more they changed.  The letters rearranged, forming new sentences.  They became something they, at first, were not.  Toxic.

“Why don’t mommy and daddy love me?” became “I am unlovable.”

“Why do they hit me for no reason?” became “I am so bad; I deserve to be hit.”

“Why does daddy touch me like that and do those awful things to me with his hands, his mouth and his penis?” morphed into “I must be doing something to cause him to do this.  It must be my fault.”

“Why doesn’t anyone care about me?” turned into “I am a worthless object, not a person.  I am an object to be used and discarded at will.  Objects have no value.  Therefore, I have no value.”

“I wish someone would pay attention to me and want me,” became “I’m supposed to take care of everyone and everything around me.  I have to perform, to make everyone happy, to make them look good, to meet their expectations and fulfill their desires.  I am not supposed to have needs, but exist to meet the needs of others.”

When you swallow your words, they change.  And then they change you.

When I finally escaped my parents and later married, my husband only reinforced their message.  I didn’t speak the words I had swallowed, but cracked the door ever so slightly.  I warned him I was broken, that I grew up in an abusive home.   I took an enormous risk in telling him.  But he brushed my words away like you would shoo a fly that was buzzing around your head.

He told me he loved me.  But I learned quickly after we were married that he had deceived me.  He didn’t really care.  He told me point blank he didn’t want to hear my words.  He didn’t want to know what was inside of me.  He didn’t want to know my story or what it had made me.   What it had done to me. He wanted easy and smooth.  For me to keep myself to myself.  And so, as my fragile core shattered into a billion pieces, as I felt the life drain from me, I shut my mouth once more.

The door I had barely cracked slammed shut and closed tightly.  This time, I locked it behind me and threw away the key.  I tossed my hope into the wind and watched it scatter until every last particle was gone.

“There is hope,” became “It doesn’t matter.  Nothing matters.  I don’t matter.”

“Someone loves me!” turned into “Even God can’t find one single person on the face of this earth who can love me in spite of my flaws.  I don’t deserve to be loved.  I’m unlovable.”

“I can be real and connect with someone in a wonderful and meaningful way,” morphed into “I must hide myself away inside the dark places of my soul because I’m so hideous and unacceptable, I can’t let anyone see me the way I really am.  I’m too repulsive.  Too broken.  Too ruined.”

I have grown old while swallowing my words.  I have grown weary.  I am left with nothing.  It seems I now have nothing to lose.

And so, I write my story.  Week after week.  Piece after piece.  A fragment here and there.  I have finally given myself permission to speak.  To speak whether or not anyone hears.  To record the dreadful truth of my journey as a broken, abused being, crushed early and cast aside by all.  I will not hide in silence any longer.   I pull the foulness and pain out of the darkness where I have hidden it away and thrust it into the light.  Even if it isn’t pretty.  Even if it offends.  Even if it’s unacceptable.  I’m allowing myself to say those words I have for so long swallowed.  I record them here for others to read; to witness.  I present them, broken, twisted, despicable though they may be.  I release them from their cell into the universe.  Even if no one in that universe is listening.

I have decided I will not swallow another word.  I will speak.  And I will let the universe do with me whatever it will.

 

 

Thanksgiving

Let the holidays begin.  Thanksgiving.  Family gatherings.  The annual celebration of abundance.  More food than anyone can possibly consume.  Stressing over the perfect turkey.  Meticulous meal preparation, timed to the minute.  Football.  Laughter…forced and genuine.  A time of setting aside differences. And of eating together.

Afterward, people hang lights that sparkle on trees, both real and artificial, with smiles that are wide and hearts that are happy.  They camp out in the cold and dark waiting for stores to open their doors at midnight so they can shop deals as fake as the plastic pine tree sitting in their living room.  They wrap packages in fancy paper, tying them up with ribbons and bows.  Attend parties large and small with friends, family, coworkers.  Some, they want to hang out with.  Some they don’t.  They get extra time off work to celebrate, which almost makes up for the extended hours of darkness and the frigid weather.  The presents that were so carefully wrapped are picked up, shaken, weighed by excited children and hopeful adults.  Everywhere you look, lights twinkle in the night, chasing away the emptiness, burning electricity with great abandon from where they have been artfully strung across rooftops, around windows and along shrubbery and sidewalks.

Everything appears warm and welcoming. Shiny.  Happy.  At least on the surface.  And perhaps that is all we can ask of the season.

It’s a time of abundance and joy; or so we are told.  Sold.  The season of relationships.  Gatherings, recognizing and recounting all you have to be thankful for, expressions of love and appreciation.  A time of laughter, consuming, overeating, extravagant spending and connecting with those who matter the most to you.

Connecting.  Celebrating.  Counting your blessings.  Light.  Laughter.  Family.  Bonding.  Attachment.

Unless you have no family.  No meaningful connections.

When you are alone, the glare of the twinkling lights only serves to expose the void in which you exist.  There are no get-togethers.  No festivities.  Instead, it is deafeningly quiet.  Empty.

Thanksgiving is just another day off work.

Food can’t fill you.  Decorations can’t make the world you live in a pretty, appealing, palatable place.  And there is no one to connect with…or cook for…or camp out with on unforgiving concrete sidewalks while waiting for merchant’s doors to open so you can buy those you cherish the one thing they want more than anything in the world (this year) at a price that has been marked up twice and marked down only once.

If this is you, it’s likely you will find yourself standing in line, as have I, at one of the few restaurants open on Thanksgiving Day.  Waiting for the 200+ people who arrived before you to eat with their families and head home, finally opening up a table for you.  You inch forward, listening to the chatter and lighthearted exchanges.  The giggles and groans.  You are assaulted by a wall of sound.  All around you.  Indistinguishable murmurs and laughter produced by the people standing in the snaking line in which you are waiting.  A line of people who have people.

I’ve often wondered: What are they all doing at a restaurant on Thanksgiving Day, waiting in a ridiculously long line of people expecting to eat a festive meal?

They are not alone.  They are linked.  Kids, parents, grandparents. Cousins, friends, siblings. The line waiting to get in the restaurant isn’t the only line in which they stand.  They represent generations, the culmination of those who have come before.  Little pieces of their ancestors within their cells.  The line will continue.  The kids will grow up, having kids who will have kids who will have kids.  Lines.  Connections.  Continuity.

Unlike me, they do not represent the end of the line.  The last generation.  They have reason.  Purpose.  Meaning.  Love.

They wait in a line that forms all around me.  In front of me.  Behind me.  Little ones restless, playing together, running in circles.  Parents content to let them be.  Keeping their eye on them, but loosely.  This is a day to set aside worry and fear.  This is the season of light in the darkness.  A time of believing and being grateful.  A lull before a new year begins and the lights are extinguished.

Sound.  Laughter.  Conversations.  Some serious.  Some silly.  Motion.  Hugs.  Linked hands.  Arms entwined.  Moving slowly forward.  Together.  Chatting.  Hugging.  Joking.

I observe as they swirl around me.  I see, but do not belong.  I watch, but do not participate.  I listen, but I do not understand.  I am alone, frozen, dead in the middle of the living.  I watch.  But I am not a part of them, even though I stand in the middle of it all.

Even though I am in line with them, I am not with them.

When I am finally seated, I eat in silence. By myself.  And then I leave.  Unnoticed.

I walk away from it.  Full.  Empty.  I walk away, a solitary figure, lonely and isolated.  I walk away from those who are joined, linked and coupled.  Those who have much to celebrate.  They represent life; a life where I will never belong.

There is still a line when I leave.  People are yet waiting, but they wait together.  Thanksgiving Day at a restaurant.  The beginning of the season of connectedness.  And I am isolated.  Solitary.  Adrift.

I watch them out of the corner of my eye as I go, then turn away.  Enveloped by emptiness, I let it swallow me.

I see.  But I cannot touch.  And I remain untouched.  Though I am surrounded by a crowd of laughing, happy people, no one in the crowd belongs to me, nor do I belong to them.  I stand and sit and wait and walk alone.  Disconnected.  For no one in the orbit of my life deeply touches me.  My heart is not entangled with theirs.  Nor is anyone saddened to see me quietly walk away.  Assuming they see me at all.

 

Lies

“Truth is treason in the empire of lies.”

Ron Paul

One thing I have learned in life is this:  we lie.  Often.  And sometimes for no reason.  We human beings have a very hard time telling the truth.

We have reasons.  Or we convince ourselves we do.  If not reasons, excuses.  Very good excuses.

A lot of the time, we tell “white lies,” as if lies could ever be good.  Wrapped up in niceness.  Lies meant to spare the feelings of the person we deceive.  Or to gently let us off the hook.  Kind lies.

At times, we lie because we’re afraid to speak the truth.  We fear rejection, repercussions, ridicule.  We betray our heart and thoughts to protect ourselves from pain.  We hold our cards close and cringe at our duplicity.

Many lie because they seek to shift blame or to avoid consequences.  We know we deserve condemnation, but we don’t want to have to pay the price.  Thus begins the deception.  We tell ourselves we aren’t truly guilty.  But we know.  We know what we’ve done.  Yet we do everything we can to talk our way out of it, even if it means making someone else look as if they are responsible.  Letting them take the fall.  If we have a conscience left, we may feel bad for a few days.  If not, if our conscience has been destroyed by our selfishness and narcissistic views, we may not give those lies a second thought.

A handful have become pathological liars, being dishonest even when the truth would benefit them.  They have somehow lost the ability to speak factually, or to know the truth, or both.  While compulsive liars are motivated by the desire to paint themselves in a favorable light, pathological liars habitually lie, typically to gain attention or sympathy.  They weave stories that are grandiose or fantastic in scope, making themselves the heroes or victims of the stories they concoct.

“The closer to the truth, the better the lie, and the truth itself, when it can be used, is the best lie.”

Isaac Asimov

We all lie, whatever our reasons, however frequently or infrequently.  At some point, we take a grain of truth and weave a story around it that is full of fiction.  A tapestry.  Sometimes others believe us.  Sometimes they don’t.   But we stand on the grain of truth encased in the falsehood, insisting we are being honest as we try to sell our tale based on the tiny sliver of reality we’ve buried at the core of it all.  We sell it to ourselves first, refusing to look our falsehood in the eye.  We tell it to ourselves again and again until we can no longer discern where the truth ends and the fabrication begins.

Of all the lies we tell, we tell our biggest lies are not told to others, but to ourselves.  In fact, we lie most frequently not to someone else, but to ourselves.  We don’t even need to speak the words.  We whisper them in our own ear time and time again.  Until finally, we believe wholeheartedly.  And those lies becomes our reality.

“There are two ways to be fooled. One is to believe what isn’t true; the other is to refuse to believe what is true.”
Soren Kierkegaard

The biggest lies I tell myself were taught to me when I was young and impressionable, perhaps by parents who were pathological liars, selfish, narcissistic and hell-bent on making themselves look like the hero.  “You’re such a disappointment.”  “You could be pretty if only…” If only I was thin.  If only my hair was blonde.  If only I would dress a certain way.  “You’re so much trouble; you’re too needy.”  “People would like you more if you would smile.  Stop being so serious.”  “Be quiet and stop bothering me!”  “You’re not the kind of person we hoped you would be. “  “You can do anything you want…well, not that…or that…”  You’re not (fill in the blank).  You aren’t going to amount to anything.  You’re not good enough.  You’re a failure.  You’re not easy to like.   You were supposed to…but you’ve let us down.

They were abusive in may ways.  The way they used their words has greatly contributed to my destruction.

Their displeasure stacked up.  Walls built with pain as mortar.  Built word upon word.  Disappointment upon disappointment.  Rejection upon rejection.  Demand upon demand.  Unfulfilled expectation upon unfulfilled expectation.  Each one of them a poison dart to the heart.  They told me how worthless, unlovable and unacceptable I was.  And I believed their lies.

At least, I hope they were lies.

“The lies we tell other people are nothing to the lies we tell ourselves.”

Derek Landy, Death Bringer

I read the words of the Bible, telling me God loves me; that He doesn’t reject me. Loves me so much He died for me.  But I hear the words my parents spoke over me and I cannot believe this thing called love is real.  I can’t grasp the concept nor believe love could ever be given to me.  That I would be worthy of it; not have to earn every morsel and scrap tossed in my direction.  I have lived nearly a lifetime without it.  How can it be true when it violates what I was trained to believe and what I have experienced throughout the years I have walked upon this planet?  I have learned to be content with tolerance.  Being tolerated has become for me what being loved is to most.

Though I know logically I can’t be the one exception to what God has spoken, my heart cannot accept this truth.  The lie has become who I am.

“Handle them carefully, for words have more power than atom bombs.”

Pearl Strachan Hurd

The atom bombs my parents dropped on the flourishing landscape of my soul when I was a child laid waste to all that was good, blooming, and becoming.  My soil was made radioactive and so it remains.  Nothing grows but the words with which they bombarded me.  I ceased to be a living soul and became what they spoke over me.  Their words have shaped me and my destiny.  I have carried them with me every moment of each day and they pepper my dreams as I sleep each night.  I haven’t been able to recover.  I believed their words.

They told me I was nothing and nothing I became.

The lies have become the truth.  The truth has become the lie.  And all that might have been has been wiped away as if it never was.

 

Winter in Disguise

Fall is but winter in disguise.  Painting over death with vivid, lovely colors, masking the ruin and decay that destroys all it touches even as we watch.  Hiding beneath the leaves, it stealthily moves in, takes over and proceeds to strangle Summer, showing no mercy or remorse.  Slowly turning down the temperature until we abruptly realize the world around us is desolate and very cold.  Uncomfortably dark.  And frozen.

Winter wears a mask of pumpkin spice, cozy fires and soft, crystal blue-sky days.  But once the glorious orange, yellow, red leaves have fallen and turned crunchy brown, we begin to understand.  Only then can we grasp the depth of his deception.  That is when the mask is ripped away and the cold-hearted demon is revealed.

Winter knows it will not be welcomed by most with open arms, so it sneaks upon us wearing a glorious, vivid cloak that promises cozy connections made around a roaring fireplace, sipping warm cider while cocooned in fuzzy, comforting sweaters.  When Winter touches our cheek and Fall’s concealing cloak is removed, we encounter an endless, frigid white blanket that covers the once lush earth.  When there is no longer a need for pretense, it comes quickly and without warning.  Before we can adjust.  Before we can escape.

Nature goes through endless cycles.  Season after season.  They come and go.  Fall ushering in the cold and death of Winter.  Concealing the shadows that are to come.  Giving Winter the jump on us.  But we count on second chances.  We know if we can hold on, survive the pain of this frosty season, Winter will be dethroned and banished.  Warmth will return and life will be restored.  As will hope.  For Spring will come to the rescue with rising temperatures and gusty winds that blow away the darkness, melting the icy fingers Winter has long twined around our neck.

Winter is to be tolerated, not embraced.  Endured.  Days counted until Spring kicks its butt and slowly brings the world back to life.

Fall is but Winter in disguise.  The trickster, deceiver, master of the sleight of hand.

We humans go through the cycle only once.  We get one shot.  No second chances.

We begin our journey in the lovely Spring, then run head-long into Summer as fast as our legs will carry us.  There, we stand and survey our world, full of ourselves and our dreams of the future.  We linger and relish the Summer sunshine, basking in the warmth of the time we burn. We think we will live forever.  Never dreaming the fire will someday scarcely smolder or the flame be extinguished entirely.  Fall is a distant, unformed concept.  Winter a delusion.

But there comes a day when the delusion becomes reality.  Then, we sorrowfully discover, just when we desperately need our fire to glow even more brightly and vigorously than ever before, we no longer have time to burn.

I watch the falling leaves, lovely confetti dropping all about me, until only a few stubborn rebels remain.  They know, as do I. There is no going back.  And once they let go, decay will follow.  There is nothing but a bleak, stony emptiness ahead.  Twilight.  A cold, damp ground.  An even colder decline.  Nothing ahead but a Winter that will not be followed by Spring.

 

The Shadow Over Me

“Child abuse casts a shadow the length of a lifetime.”
Herbert Ward

I have lived my life in shadows.  In murky darkness and gloomy twilight.  Those shadows have clouded my vision, eroded my soul and short-circuited my thinking.  Memories have been whisk away into their depths, swallowed whole, emerging in bits and pieces at inopportune times, only to be digested yet again.  I cannot recall my past in a single linear timeline.  Instead, I see fragments reflected in shards, like a broken mirror scattered across the floor.  Nothing fits together, nor is it easy to grasp.  The sharp edges cut me deeply and I bleed profusely from the wounds.

But I bleed in secret.  I promised I would never tell.

I didn’t speak about the shadows until my father died.  With him gone from this world, there was no damage I could do him by reaching out for help.  I lost decades to the darkness with my mouth zipped shut and my heart surreptitiously oozing.  By the time I decided to tell, I had forgotten how to speak.

It has been a struggle for me to tell the story.  I can only reveal it a shard at a time.

When one exists in an opaque cloud, seeing oneself and the world realistically is an impossibility.  Experiences are distorted, as is self-image, if indeed, you are lucky enough to be left with one.  I was not left with a sense of self.  I believed myself to be nothing but an object, and not one of honor.  I was an object to be used and cast aside when the user was done with me.

Rebuilding a heart and soul is a quest akin to Don Quixote, charging windmills.  I have fought giants, attempting to put my world right, but the true monster is not the windmill I charge and fail to slay.  The true monster fathered me before striking me with fatal blows that changed the course of my journey forever.   It is much easier to hoist the lance and charge all manner of imaginary menaces than it would have been to face the one who abused and destroyed me.  I was but a child.  And then, when I escaped the monster’s grasp, I was a messy adult.  One who couldn’t speak the unspeakable.  And so, the unspeakable monster who did monstrous things walked free while I served time within my tiny, dark, and lonely cage, trying to slay the windmills that turned relentlessly within my own mind, blades slicing me into smaller and smaller pieces.

The shadows have grown long and darken with every passing year.

I longed for the warmth of a summer day filled with sunshine and soft breezes.  Instead, I have stooped and groveled beneath a cataclysmic eclipse that forever blocked the sun, freezing my heart and stealing my hope away little by little until not a drop remained.

Everything in my world has been darkened and drained of joy because everything inside of me was damaged and twisted by the fiend of a man from whose seed I have come.

I walk in the shadow of the valley of death.  My life has been spent in this valley, seeking refuge and escape.  The shadow has followed me through every day, every moment, every year, every occasion and it has spoiled and stolen every dream I ever had.  I have mounted my horse again and again, picked up lance after lance, charged and taken aim, only to find I was attacking a phantom without substance or form.

The only one I have managed to slay is me.

 

No Good Thing

A sliver of a moon

gives a sliver of light.

There’s a foul sign

in the sky tonight.

 

Nighttime has always evoked mixed emotions.

I like the anonymity it affords.  You can hide in it.  Relax your radar, let your smile slip, cry if you need to, all without being detected, chastised, chided or rejected.  You can simply “be.”  Allow the shadows to swallow you.  Drop pretenses and remove the mask.  Release the pressure and breathe without being evaluated, weighed.

With the light of day comes scrutiny and judgement.  Demands are made, standards are set and must be met.  Flaws are exposed and magnified.  The worst is laid bare and probed, then mercilessly dissected.

The dark keeps your secrets.  And forgives all flaws.

But the darkness is also treacherous.  You never know when you are about to walk off a cliff or if you are taking your last step on solid ground before plummeting into a pit from which there is no escape.  It keep all secrets; not yours alone.  It hides all who come to it.  All are welcome to take shelter in its impenetrable folds.

Even the monsters.

When I was a child, I feared those monsters.

I was convinced that Medusa appeared in one corner of my bedroom each third night of the full moon.  Terrified I would look at her and be turned to stone, I kept my eyes tightly scrunched closed with my head under the covers in case I forgot and inadvertently let an eyelid raise just enough to see her waiting there for me.  I was terrified of the ghosts who gathered and danced at the foot of my bed, anticipating opportunities to eat any fingers or toes that happened to slip over the edge of the mattress as I drifted into a troubled sleep.   Waiting to drag me away into the place of forever darkness.   I heard their footsteps as they wandered through the rooms and across the rafters, restlessly pacing, impatiently awaiting an opportunity to do me harm. Or to do me in.  And I was terrified of the shadow monsters who lived in my closet and under my bed.  Monsters who blended into the darkness, who came to life as dusk turned to night.

I feared…everything.  Everything that lurked in the night.  For the night was full of wraiths and apparitions, specters and banshees, all with malicious intent.

As I grew older, I realized monsters were real and they didn’t need to stay cloaked in inky shadows, only coming alive only when they couldn’t be fully seen.  I learned that they hid in the daylight, in plain sight, without fear of discovery.  And two of them slept in the bedroom across the hall from me.

There are monsters…and then, there are monsters.

The most terrifying monsters in my house were the ones who were not supposed to be monsters at all.  They wore a pleasant mask to hide their menace and evilness.  They knew how to smile at the right times. To say the right things.  To appear to be harmless, or even kind.

But when the mask came off, I saw them for who and what they were.  Even if there was only a sliver of moonlight to guide me.  Even with my eyes scrunched closed tightly.  I saw.

I escaped that house as soon as I could and fled the town where I grew up.  I fled that place where I was forced each day to struggle with blackness and shadows.  What I discovered was this: if you grow and live in the darkness, it doesn’t magically go away when you do.  When you have soaked in it, it goes deep.  It permeates your being.  The night burrows far underground inside of you, takes root and flourishes.

The shadows became my skin.   I was doomed to live my life shrouded in a thick, gloomy fog.

I discovered that you can run away, but you take yourself with you wherever you go.  So, though I escaped the haunted house of my childhood, the house of perpetual darkness where evil ruled and roamed, I could not escape myself.  Nor could I escape what it had made me. What I had become.  I had to make peace with the night.  I had to learn to embrace the dim sliver of light and live with the dark phantoms who now resided in my soul.

I learned to survive with a sliver of light, in shadows deep and cold and empty.

I learned to survive where monsters danced and cackled in victory.  Where I was harshly caressed by their terrifying whispers.  Haunted by an unseen presence.  Tormented by their icy fingers squeezing my heart.  Forever changed by those hideous shadows that darkened the landscape of my life and stole the sun from the sky.

 

The Last Innocent Game

I don’t remember the very last time my brother and I built a world out of Lego and played there in that imaginary land for hours without awareness of our actual surroundings.

I couldn’t tell you when we hit the beach ball over the roof the final time, whacking it as if it were a soft, enlarged version of a volleyball and the house was the net.

Nor do I recall the last time we donned Army surplus helmet liners and matching, tattered, green Army packs stuffed with hand-drawn maps, rock hand grenades, snacks (rations) and official orders compelling us to embark on mysterious adventures.  Pipe gun weapons with sanded wooden stocks were firmly clasped in hand by dirty fingers as we ran the neighborhood in search of spies, traitors or treasure.

I have no idea of the last time we climbed the cherry tree and sat hidden among the branches and leaves, munching ripe, juicy cherries while shooing daring, hungry birds away.  I can’t recall the last stalk of rhubarb we stole from our grandparent’s garden, the last time we sat in the middle of their blackberry bushes gorging on those delicious delicacies as our fingers and tongues were stained purple by the juice.  I don’t remember when we took our final summer bike ride through the back roads that snaked across the countryside surrounding the small town where we grew up.  I don’t know when we stopped creating our own board games because the “store-bought” versions were not challenging enough for our tastes.  Nor do I remember when we last said goodnight before setting off to our imaginary castles built high in the clouds in a distant, kinder world where we would sleep and dream innocent dreams as only children can.

I can’t remember when I played with my Barbie dolls for the last time.  Or the last time I ventured up the ladder of the tree house to travel through time while fighting many battles with the forces of evil.  Or perhaps it became a ship that sailed the seas.   I don’t know when I jumped rope the last time.  Dodged that final ball in a spirited game of dodge ball.  Kicked the last soccer ball down the football field next to our elementary school.  Climbed my last tree.  Drifted on an innertube down a crystal clear creek, never to again relax so completely.

I didn’t know these things would never happen again at the time.  I figured I would climb up into the tree house another weekend, ride my bike another summer, save the world when I accepted my next mission.  Yet somehow, without notice or ceremony, the Barbie dolls were stored in boxes that were never opened, the balls slowly deflated beneath the workbench in the garage, the tree house ladder rotted, and helmet liners were inexplicably misplaced, never to be found – or thought of – again.

At some point, without realizing it, a page had been turned, a milestone had been reached, a chapter had been completed.  And I played for the very last time.  One by one, the games of childhood dropped like leaves falling from the trees in autumn.  Until suddenly, the tree was completely bare.

It is the nature of time.  With its passage, we quietly transition from children to adults.  But when we take that last step as a child, we don’t recognize the significance.  We don’t even notice that the final thread of the cocoon has been cast aside and left behind.  We don’t understand that something has been done that can never be undone.

I do know the last time I played “fox and geese.”  It was a moment of passage, one I didn’t recognize so clearly at the time.  But, looking back, I can see this was the day I left the last vestiges of my childhood behind.  The day I surrendered to reality.  The day I could no longer pretend.

Most of my childhood memories are fractured.  Fading in and out.  Darkness between moments of chilling clarity.  This memory is no different in many ways.

It was almost Christmas.  My brother and I were on Christmas break, as was my father, a teacher at a school in a nearby city.  We woke to a beautiful, deep, delightful snow.  And we were appropriately thrilled, vibrating with excitement as we dressed for the cold with layers of socks, sweaters, pants, then boots, coats, hats and gloves.

My father, who was from Michigan, and who knew all the best winter weather games, was the one who suggested we play fox and geese.

He had to teach us the rules.  He, the teacher of so many lessons.

Afterward, we were cold, wet and exhausted.  We pulled off boots, shook the snow from our coats, laid soaked gloves on the washer and dryer along with socks that were damp in spite of our attempts at weather-proofing.  Then we headed to our rooms to change into dry clothing, with the expectation of later enjoying a warm mug of hot chocolate.

I remember the game, this game that I played only one time in my life when I was 10 or 11 years old, because of what came next.

This was the day I could no longer mask my father’s sexual abuse in fantasy.

In younger years, I created a caravan that came to my room each night.  The caravan was led by a man who always stopped to visit with me as the heavily-laden camels, laughing children, beautifully dressed women with bells on their fingers and toes, dogs, and other shadowy men slowly crossed the blankets of my bed.  The bed had somehow become endless stretches of sand that warmed beneath a hot sun.  And the line of the caravan stretched as far as I could see into the distant heat waves that rose from the  burning sand. When the final plodding camel had passed and the caravan was fading into the darkness behind me, the man would take his leave with a wave, a bow and a promise to return the next night.

The first time I saw these miniature people walking toward me, I was a terrified 4 or 5 year old child.  They visited for years and I slowly came to accept their presence.  But I never saw them again after playing fox and geese with my father.  They could no longer protect me from the truth of what he was doing.  The kisses, caresses, fingers in my vagina.  And worse.  Over time, he became more and more perverse.

That day, as I dried off in my room, he came in behind me.  And with promises of warming me, he did what he had been doing for years.  This time, I couldn’t fade into the desert sand or hide with the other laughing children of the caravan.  This time, the blankets were only blankets.  And I disintegrated.

That day, the child I had been was decimated, fragmented, destroyed.  And as I walked out of my room to claim my mug of hot chocolate, I left the broken child, along with the remnants of my soul, behind, laying on the floor in a bloody pile of shattered gore.

Whatever came after is lost in the darkness of the deep wounds I sustained.  Numbed by trauma, my world became about survival.  Even a castle in the clouds couldn’t protect me.

I don’t remember when I took the final step from childhood into adulthood.  I can’t recall the age at which I stopped building a town in the dirt in the crawl space beneath our house.  When I put the Mouse Trap game in the closet for the last time.  When I stopped believing in the magic of Christmas.  But I do know when the child in me finally succumbed to reality and there died an ugly death.  When the fantasies and lovely worlds my brother and I created in our minds were not enough to protect me from the damage, the knowledge, the truth.

I know the day I played my last innocent game.  That day when I learned to play fox and geese, realized I was the goose, and saw my soul devoured by my lustful, ravenous father.  The fox in disguise, unmasked.  The day my whole world turned upside down.  The day I lost everything.

 

Buds That Never Bloom

Summer has surrendered to fall, vanquished to memories of warmth, laughter and light.  Darkness and dampness have taken over, heralding in a regime of cold drizzle, shorter days and longer nights.  The times are changing along with the bright colors boldly displayed by dying leaves.  Leaves that refuse to give up without a fight.

I walked around my yard this past weekend, watching my dogs happily running and playing together.  I have many Rose of Sharon in my yard, hearty bushes that do well in the heat or cold, seemingly thriving on neglect.  I am not good with plants.  I can only coexist with those who do not need me.  Thus, we have made peace.  They bloom profusely from late spring through early fall in spite of me.  Often, branches heavily laden with buds and flowers have to be tied up to keep them from bowing their heads almost to the ground.  They provide food and shelter to bumblebees, hummingbirds and butterflies.  I enjoy their pastel blossoms, the way they dress up, flaunting their stylish beauty all summer long.

But toward the end of the season, during the early fall, they remove their colorful garb.  Buds, the next generation flowers that outwardly appear ready to pop open, further weigh those branches down.  Now, only random, rare florets appear.  One or two on a bush, spaced far apart in both time and distance.  Some bushes without blossoms are completely filled with weighty buds.  They struggle with this substantial burden, severely stooped beneath a heaviness of sadness and despair.

Winter is coming all too soon.

The buds turn yellow; then brown.  Loaded with potential.  But something has gone wrong.  The conditions are never adequate for the delicate petals to break free of the outer shell that entombs them.  They don’t receive some critical ingredient needed to flourish.  Needed to thrive.

I stare, awestruck.   Transfixed.  Broken.

I am like the bud on that slender branch.  So much potential.  I was born to be a glorious flower.  I had two parents, branches who gave birth to me.  But the things I needed to blossom were not available.  I did not receive the nurture, the care, that was needed for me to grow and bloom.  And so, as time passed, I slowly died.

Instead of nurturing sap, I was abused.  Instead of encouraging warmth from the sun, I was burned and fried.   Instead of guidance, I was left to navigate harsh weather and changing seasons alone.  I tried.  I tried to bloom anyway.  I had the potential to do , to become, to be something beautiful.  But I was never able to overcome the deficiencies or escape the labels and limitations placed on me during a critical stage of development.  I was never able to break free and dance in the wind.  I was never beautiful.  I was but a bud that dried up and fell, providing no joy or entertainment.  A disappointment, hard and defective.

I am a bud that never bloomed.  That never will.

I wanted to become a flower.  I wanted to break from the walls encasing me and taste sweet, glorious freedom.  I wanted to bloom.  To live.  To flourish.

But it is too late.  Frost nipped me in the bud.  And as winter approaches, I crack, turn dead brown and shrivel until little of the young, green sprout remains.  I am without life or beauty, grieving all the possibilities that will never be and dreams never realized.  I will not bloom.  And when spring comes, I will quietly fall from the newly wakened branch to which I’ve long clung, letting go of my last tiny ember of hope.  Thus, I will return to the dust from which I came.  I will depart without fanfare, making room for new tender buds that are yet to sprout, to bloom, to dance on gentle breezes, to flourish and thrive long after I have gone.

 

 

Don’t Slow Down

When I slow down, when I let the silence linger, turn off the TV and the chatter in my brain, when I stop streaming music or reading an endless flow of nonsensical, sometimes manipulative updates, occasionally deceptive posts and scams that plague Facebook, the pain corners me. Has its way with me.  Forces me to experience the full power of my raw, excruciating emotions.

I am very good at running.  When it comes to plastering on a smile and making it look like everything is wonderful, Facebook has nothing on me.  I am very good at telling myself lies so I don’t have to face reality.  I’m a master at running my brain around in circles, at circumnavigating the truth without touching it.  I’m very good at avoiding the pain and sidestepping the regret.  The disappointment.  The shame.  I’m good at convincing myself my life is worth living.  Until the silence stops me in my tracks and rubs my face in the emptiness of my existence.

In the darkness and silence, everything I’ve dreaded and deftly avoided captures me.  Surrounds me.  Body slams me into a wall and forces me to feel the agony and desolation I’ve strategically evaded.

Quiet is the enemy.  For silence is no fool.

Silence knows how to move in when distractions are at a lull.  It knows how to take advantage of the moment, sneaking up on me, overcoming all defenses.  And it uses its advantage to shine the truth like a laser beam that slices without mercy, taking aim through the smoke, shooting deadly arrows straight into the foundation of my fabricated reality.   It drives those arrows home where they deeply penetrate, massacring the most vulnerable places in my psyche.

The subconscious speaks in the quiet.  It speaks in a voice that can’t be drowned out.  Determined to be heard at last, it screams out, reverberating far into the cavernous regions of the soul.

When surrounded by the laughter of coworkers, the busyness of work and the white noise of life, nothing profound can penetrate those unfathomable regions of my being.  But when all the noise that masked the emptiness suddenly goes deadly still, the thoughts and feelings that were hidden and buried are jolted awake by that scream and then bubble to the surface where they slap me around.  Punch me in the gut until I can no longer stand.  They perforate my heart and pummel my weary mind.

There are no shadows to hide behind in the stillness.  No walls can protect.  No defenses can deflect the blows.  Clarity can be a curse.  Comprehension a lightning bolt that strikes hard and fast, stopping and felling me in my tracks.  Taking me down with one tremendous flash.

Thankfully, the beating doesn’t last.  The emergency protocol is initiated.  Well-oiled defense mechanisms operating on auxiliary power spring into action, numbing and plugging holes.  Turning up the white noise.  The blows become softer.  Clamor is restored.  Eventually, I’m able to get up and move on as if nothing terrible happened.  The pain is quickly returned to the deep grave from which it was aroused, once more carefully buried in the chasm where it can be contained without my heart sustaining further damage.

I do not mark the grave with a tombstone.  No headstone is placed above ground to remind me of what rests beneath the layers of my soul. Remembering is not the goal.  The goal is to forget.

I pick up the pace, running swiftly from the scene in spite of residual soreness, determined to distance myself from the truth Imprisoned within me.  I turn on some music.  Check Facebook as if my life depended on it.  Play a few mind-numbing computer games.  Stay busy.  Running faster and faster now.  Leaving the deafening silence in my dust.

My mind circles are humming once more.  I repeat a mantra as I gain speed.

Don’t slow down.  Keep moving.  Don’t look back.  Don’t slow down…

The World Through My Eyes