Late

For as long as I can remember, I have had to be early.  Not just on time.  Early.  Preferably by at least 15 minutes, but more is acceptable in most circumstances.  I would rather be 45 minutes early, for example, rather than be 2 minutes late.  It’s not just that I’m being polite and respectful of others time, although I am.  No, it’s a need.  An obsession.  A driving force. I literally become panicked if I even think I’m going to be a few minutes late.
 
I first became aware of this compulsion back in high school, though it may have started earlier.  I remember many, many, many days standing in the frigid cold on the playground, trying to find a corner of the building where I would be protected from the wind as I waited for the doors of the school to finally open.  That’s what makes me think I started earlier…the playground…the elementary school playground.  Waiting in the cold by that building.  Later, the junior high playground.  A different building.  Still later, standing in front of the high school.  But the first time I remember actually thinking about my need to be early was in high school.
 
From the time I was very small, I was in charge of getting myself off to school.  I controlled the time I left the house and I knew how long it took me to walk to the school building.  The drive to arrive early was so strong, I preferred waiting in the freezing cold and snow and wind over sitting at home where it was warm.  Considering how much I hate the cold and winter weather, this is saying a lot.
 
I’m usually the first person to arrive for an event.  The first person in the sanctuary when I go to church.  I start the day at work at 6 a.m., usually arriving at 5:45.  I am always at least 15 minutes early for a doctor’s appointment.  I’m usually 20 minutes early for any kind of test or procedure.  If I say I’m going to meet a friend at 10:30 on a Saturday morning, I’ll be there at 10:15.  Maybe earlier.  Heaven forbid that I would be late!!!
 
There have been times when traffic has presented a barrier to my need to be early and it has literally thrown me into a panic.  Seriously.  Almost out of control.  Freaking out.  It’s not pretty and it has puzzled me greatly.  Because, let’s get real, most of the time, what difference does it make if I get there 20 minutes early or arrive right on time?  As long as I’m not late, why is this such a HUGE issue?  As long as I’m doing my best to be respectful of the time of others, planning in such a way that I’m a few minutes early and calling them if there’s an unforeseen delay, why the crazy, out-of-control freak-out?
 
I have literally pondered on this from time to time for years and years.
 
Recently, it suddenly became clear.  Out of the blue.  It made sense.
 
You see, my father, the teacher, my abuser, would always leave for the school where he taught (he had to drive 25 miles to another city) fairly early.  He always left before my mother’s ride arrived (she carpooled with a couple of other ladies because she didn’t know how to drive).  She left quite a bit before I had to leave for school.  My brother always went to my grandparent’s house before or at the same time my mother left. So I would have at least 30 minutes to myself before I had to leave in order to arrive on time for the first class of the day.
 
But sometimes he came back.  My father.  To sexually abuse me.  He would wait until after he knew my mother would be on her way to work.  I was alone.  He could do whatever he wanted to me without worrying about being interrupted.  He simply wrote me a note excusing me from missing school that morning.  And then he was gone.  Leaving me to pick up the pieces and walk to school.  Late.
 
I first realized I had a problem when I was 15 and my mother stopped working.  She decided our time together in the morning should be a fun “bonding” time.  She was appalled that I left so early and angry that I resisted her attempts to have some “nice” mother / daughter time together.  Forget the fact that she was herself abusive.  Not sexually, but physically and emotionally.  Forget that the “bonding” was all about her and what she wanted and needed and had nothing whatsoever to do with me.  Those things would have been par for the course and could have been managed.  The thing I couldn’t manage was being “late.”  I literally crawled the walls, coming unglued, when she forced me to stay home with her beyond the time I felt like I needed to leave.  Thankfully, she gave up fairly quickly.
 
I didn’t understand it then.  I finally get it now.  He came back for me and the only way I could be safe was if I was not home when he arrived.  So I went to school 30 to 45 minutes early and stood in the snow or freezing cold rather than taking the chance of being found home alone by my father.
 
I continue to arrive early.  I can’t help myself.  At least now, I understand why.  Just another gift from my father.  Just another thing that being sexually abused has contributed to my life.  Guess I should be thankful that this one is relatively harmless.    Some people would even call it a virtue.
 
 

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