When I was 17, having just graduated from high school and packing up my few belongings in preparation for leaving my parent’s home, I thought I was finally being set free. I had a sense of accomplishment, having survived their abuse; having made it successfully to graduation. I had hope that my future, the one I was about to embark on, would be glorious and ever so much better / different than my nightmare past. What I didn’t realize and didn’t count on is the fact that, regardless of where I went or what I did, I took myself with me. And I was damaged goods.
The abuse had taken a steep toll. I didn’t know I was a person. I didn’t believe I was even human. I didn’t think I was loveable and I certainly didn’t think I had any value. Still don’t. Oh, I’ve come to realize I’m at least semi-human and that I am some form of a person. Not like other people are, but I’m of the same vague species. But I’ve never experienced the security that comes from being loved and wanted, nor have I ever been able to see that I might have worth. When you couple that with having been married – twice – to men who didn’t love me at all, ever, I’ve had the message that I wasn’t anything of value ground into my soul until it has become extremely deeply embedded.
The fact is, I received a life sentence. My parents were the ones who sentenced me to this lonely and empty existence. They were the ones who taught me I was worthless, who brought my personhood into question, who beat and used and neglected and verbally attacked me. They taught me I was nothing. That I was “bad” if I had needs. That my only value, should I ever have any at all, came from performing up to expectations…their expectations, specifically. And I have spent my entire life trying to earn some degree of worth. Hoping against hope that someone would value me at least a little bit. But I’ve never been able to earn acceptance or approval. Not on a personal level. Not even at work. I am simply never good enough, no matter what I do or how hard I try. I’m always weighed and found lacking.
Though I didn’t know it at the time, they sentenced me to life with no chance of parole. Their abuse, verbal, emotional, sexual, physical, destroyed me. Forever.
Back then, I didn’t believe the sentence was that weighty. I truly believed I could heal and that I was, in fact, escaping. I left and never looked back. But in spite of years of hard labor, in spite of all of my effort, I am still broken and serving my sentence in solitary confinement. I’m ever so much older, but none the wiser. I left home, but didn’t escape. The damage done could never be undone, though I didn’t realize that for a long, long time. I am in prison, a prison that I carry with me wherever I go, whoever I am with, whatever the situation. I hadn’t a clue that I had lost the battle before I even had the opportunity to fight.
Now I know. There is no escape. No reprieve. I will die in my jail cell, the one that confines my heart and traps my thoughts in never ending spirals. The sentence stands. I will serve my time and then I will die. The world will go on and it will not matter that I was ever here. The mark I hoped to leave has already been erased. It was over before it even began. And I will always be alone in the darkness, struggling to find enough light to take one more step before death catches me and smothers me in his arms.
The sentence was life with no parole. And there is nothing I can do to change it; nothing I can do to alter my destiny. Abuse had the last word. I’ve tried to scream, but my voice has been silenced. And even now, I reach out through the bars of my cell into empty, unbreathable air.