I pulled inside of myself, growing up as an abused child in a nightmarish environment. But in a seemingly odd contradiction to my withdrawn persona, I also had all my antennas out so I could stay tuned to every one of my parent’s many mood and personality changes. I was attempting to detect and avoid “sick daddy” when he made an appearance or “mad mommy” when she showed up. Then there was the raging father, the not-able-to-function mother, the hitting dad, the slapping mom, the mean father, the self-focused mother, the woe-is-me mother, the brooding father, the crazy-babbling mother, the rejecting father. Lots of different moods and personalities to keep track of. Trying to avoid the land mines that accompanied each of my parents various states was pretty much a full time job. As a result, I became really good at reading people. I was observant. Insightful. I could feel the air and tell you when the slightest shift occurred. And I knew the difference between the changes, what they meant, what to expect, how to attempt to avoid danger. I also had to deal with my paranoid-schizophrenic grandfather who would rage and rant for days on end if you “got him started” and my poor grandmother who begged me to be quiet so as not to stir him up. There was no normalcy. No happy mommy and daddy. No capable adults. No loving, nurturing, caring people in my world. Actually, I had to take care of them, these inadequate caretakers. I had to try to fulfill them. To please them. To avoid them. To survive my encounters with them. I matured quickly. I was quite adept at feeling and discerning what was being said without words. What was going on in their insides. I was intuitive. I was perceptive. And still sometimes they caught me off guard, so quick was the transition. They could go from totally calm and “normal” seeming to raging in a microsecond. They could swing from helpless to viciously attacking even more quickly. It was a frightening world…one in which I feared what would happen next every moment of every day. I could not rest. I became hyper-vigilant. But what I have come to realize is this: For all my insight and intuition, for all my watchfulness, I didn’t really see things clearly at all. I was recently talking to a friend from high school. One of the few friends I had during that time in my life. She made a comment about how terrifying my father was. How mean he was. It set me back on my heels. Granted, I knew he was mean…to me, anyway. But to the world, he presented a very different face, or so I thought. He was always doing things to help people. He was a teacher who appeared to care a great deal for the kids he worked with. He was an English teacher, then a reading specialist during his career. It pained him that so many reached junior high school without learning to read. He paid to have one of his students teeth fixed. An expensive procedure that required surgery. But he paid. Out of his pocket. Even though they never once took me to a dentist (even when I injured myself in an accident when I fell on my face at age 6, knocking out several permanent teeth and splitting my lip wide open). He started a camera club because kids were interested and no one else wanted to do it. He reffed their games. He helped an elderly couple get a car. He taught classes at the prison in Springfield to help inmates be better prepared for the day when they were released to begin a new life. He taught English as a second language classes in the evening to immigrants who were trying to learn our language. For free. The cops in Mt. Vernon (the county seat that provided police protection in the small town where I grew up) loved him. Thought he was an upstanding citizen. He had many friends who stood up for him during various altercations when he was a police judge in our small town. And when he tried to close the alley in front of our house, shooting into the back of a car as it tore through the barricade he erected, those citizens and cops stood by him, talking endlessly about what a wonderful person he was. Yes, I knew the mean, sick, raging, ugly daddy. But I didn’t think anyone else ever caught a glimpse of him. I thought the real father was the one they saw…the wonderful, kind, giving, caring, sacrificing individual he presented to the world. So I was silenced and shocked by my old friend’s comments. She saw.
I thought he was the good person. I was the one who never measured up and who wasn’t a person at all. He was the hero, or so I thought, to everyone outside of the family. I was the disappointment, the worthless one.
My perception was that he was an amazing man who just happened to sexually abuse his unimpressive, not quite human daughter (me). I was his flaw. I was the problem. Not him.
My friend has made me wonder what the world really looked like back when I was growing up. Did others find him frightening and mean like she did? How did they view me, my family, the things we did? Did they, for example, wonder what life was like living under his roof? Did they ever have any nagging doubts about how he treated his family? Did they not say or do anything about those nagging doubts because they were afraid of him? I thought their seeming acceptance and worship of him meant he was the good guy and I was the plague. Was I seeing things clearly or is there distortion in my perceptions?
I’m now trying to reevaluate the world I grew up in. I’m trying to view it from the outside in, rather than from the inside out. That’s a challenge, considering everything I experienced was viewed through my internal eye. It was all filtered through my heart and broken soul. And my mind. I’m fairly intelligent, but what I’ve learned is that intelligence has little to do with it. Logic can so easily be distorted by what we think we see and what we feel.
For all my perceptiveness, I was rather blind. I’m trying, for the first time in my life, to see things clearly and not filtered through the web of my pain and woundedness. I’m slowly discovering a new world. One that doesn’t cast me as the bad guy while my parents play the role of upstanding citizens and good people. I’m trying to see with new eyes. And frankly, the blurry view I’m beginning to sort out and that’s starting to come into focus is shaking the foundation of my world.
That may not be bad, regardless of how it feels. Because maybe the perceptions my world is built on consist of a fault that is more shaky than the San Andreas fault in California. And shaking those perceptions may just crack my universe to pieces in such a way that I can finally run free and fly high.