Tag Archives: childhood sexual abuse

Heartbeat

I do not feel.  Not now.  Not for a long time.  I numbed myself years ago.  To survive the volcanic pain I held in the depths of my heart.  The raging torrent that threatened to overwhelm and drown me.  I intentionally twisted the massive valve inside my soul until the flow of caustic emotions stopped.  Until only a trickle escaped.  Until I was no longer being ripped apart by its sharp talons.  Until the agony no longer crushed me with its unbearable weight.

Once closed, that valve is impossible to reopen.  I did not know this when I shut it tight.  Had I understood, I would have chosen to let the pain take me down and rip out my throat.

I have lived my life in this state of suspension, neither dead or alive.  I have talked about all the things that will never matter and none of those that did.  Or do.  I’ve worn my poker face carefully, as if my existence depended on it.   Said what was proper in each situation.  Laughed when it was appropriate.  Cried only in secret, if at all.  Told everyone I was “fine” and “great” while turning the spotlight away from myself because I feared what it would revel if anyone looked too closely.  I performed.  Kept walking.  Went through the motions.  Amazed by the lack of a heartbeat as I took one step and then another.   And another.

I absorbed each shockwave, each loss and trauma, without reacting.  Took the next step.  Feeling nothing.  Kept moving because that was what I was supposed to do.  What I had to do.  Because it’s what “normal” people do.

No heartbeat.

Empty.  Broken.  Shattered.  My only choice was to keep going somehow.  Or die trying.

But when I am alone, when the darkness of night swaddles me tightly, pinning me in its cocoon, when the silence screams in my ears until I fear I will go deaf or insane or both, when I have nothing to hang on to and hope is a distant planet, I write.  I search for words to tell my story because I have no voice with which to speak.  Nor do I have anyone waiting by my side who will listen.  I search for the perfect words to express all the things I would feel, if only I could turn that massive handle backward, reopening the rusted valve I closed so long ago.  I vent my emotions through vowels and consonants.  I use my pen to exorcize the decaying,  pent up, blunted, deadened feelings.  The words on the page are the only way I know I am still alive.  They speak.  Quietly and falteringly.  They attempt to make sense of the repulsive tale.  They are my tapestry.

I inject all of my buried emotion into those words.  Into each one of them…each word and phrase.  I don’t feel, so much as I write it out, then read what I should or would be feeling if only I could.  I write about what I might be experiencing somewhere deep beneath the surface of my frozen soul.   I pack the sentences and paragraphs full of descriptors, hoping to attain a reaction upon impact.   I long for a response from my destroyed soul.  Any response at all.  But no matter how well I capture the moment or paint the picture or weave the tapestry, my words do not cause so much as a tiny ripple in my heart.

And so, I continue to write.  Trying in vain to uncover even a microscopic sign of life.

I long for seismic activity.  For the volcano to spew forth the hot lava that burns my insides and eats me from within.  But there is no activity to detect.  Nor even so much as a bit of steam escaping from the throat of the volcano.   The fissure does not vomit out its contents.   There is no relief.  Only enduring silence.

I search for words I cannot find.  Attempting finally to release the noxious toxic gasses into the atmosphere.  But the crater is cold, sealed by too many thick layers and far too many years.

No heartbeat.  The valve can’t be reopened.  Time can’t be unspent.  There is no going back to do it differently.  All the paths not taken will never be traveled because I did not choose to walk them.  I did not take the risks I should have taken, nor did I dare to explore uncharted territory.

There is a crater where once was housed a soul.  There is a stone where I once nurtured a heart.  There is numbness and death where once there was breath and life.  And there are now only inadequate, insufficient, unmoving words scattered across the page where once there was a heartbeat.

My heartbeat.  Silent forevermore.

Liar, Liar

I’ve had a bad couple of weeks.  First, I fell on the ice.  It was supposed to be a warmer day and the back patio didn’t look wet or icy, so I was unprepared for slick pavement.  It’s the worst fall I’ve ever taken.  I hit especially hard, squarely on my right hip.  With all of my weight.  I was taking my dogs out before leaving for work, so I felt pressured to keep moving.  But I wasn’t sure I could get up off the ground.  When I finally did, after crawling back to the door, I discovered I already had a rather large, extremely painful knot forming.  Which concerned me.  I worried that I might have broken my hip, though I was relieved when I was able to walk, even if I kind of stumbled around.  I could put weight on it and took that as a good sign.  But the knot grew and grew until it was hard and huge; bigger than a grapefruit.  I let my boss know I would be delayed, called my sister-in-law, who is a nurse practitioner, and asked her to take a look to see if she thought I needed to go to the doctor.  Her shocked expression when she saw the knot pretty much said it all.

Turned out it wasn’t broken, but the doctor told me to stay home for the rest of the week…which wasn’t going to happen.  I worked 8, rather than my normal 9-1/2 to 10 hours a day, feeling guilty about “going home early” for a few days, even though I was in a tremendous amount of pain.  A week and three days later, it still hurts like crazy any time I touch it.

But that was just the first blow.

Next, came the ridiculously cold temperatures.  Down to -11 with a wind chill that was even lower.  Then ice.  Real ice.  The kind you could see.  Then the snow.  And to top it off, I developed a horrible sinus infection.  My hip was hurting so much, I couldn’t sleep at night and now my face felt like it was going to explode any minute.  I was getting disgusting, hard, green things out of my nose every time I blew, which was often, along with a lot of frothy green goop that made me want to puke.  Honestly, it was a bit alarming and incredibly gross.  I was miserable.

And then, the weekend ended.  I had to pull myself together enough to go to work.

You are probably thinking this is a stupid story, or, at the very least, an unpleasant and uninteresting one.  But I’m attempting to “set the stage” so you will understand what followed.

I was in pain, sick, dizzy, exhausted, cranky, couldn’t think and was so weak, I could barely stand.  Outside, we were going through a record-breaking cold spell, the roads were icy, or at the very least, snow covered and slick.  My nose felt as if I had a steel pencil rammed up my nostrils and my hip hit me with a zinger of pain every time I touched it.  Most people probably wouldn’t have felt apologetic about calling in sick, considering.

I did.  I felt guilty.  I wasn’t certain I was “sick enough” to justify staying home.  I kept telling myself I could do it…I could force myself to get dressed and go to work.  Just needed to put on my big girl panties.  Driving in my fuzzy state would have been scary, but I wasn’t sure I had a legitimate excuse to stay home where it was warm and soft.  Where I could rest.

Eventually, I did call and I reluctantly stayed home for a couple of days.  But I was overcome with shame and terrified I would be fired.  Or they would look down on me.  I was sure they didn’t believe I was sick.  I thought they probably figured I didn’t want to chance the icy roads and made it all up.  So, you know what I did?  I took pictures.

I took pictures of my snotty Kleenex, green and bloody and yucky.  More than one picture.  Four or five of them.  And I took a couple of pictures of me with my Rudolph nose, slits for eyes and my massively swollen, black bruised hip.  To prove I was legitimately unable to compel myself to go work.  To prove I wasn’t lying.

I have had this fear, this doubt about myself, this feeling that I am not going to be believed, for most of my life.  It goes back so far, I can’t ever remember feeling credible.  I’ve always, always, always had this nagging trepidation in my heart that no one would believe me, even though I was telling the truth and nothing but the truth.  I never feel I have a right to take care of myself.   I’ve always feared everyone would think I was lying.  I’ve always felt the need to prove I was being honest, all the while doubting myself, even though I knew I wasn’t lying.

Somehow, in the midst of my misery, with excruciating sinuses, with a coal black bruise, swollen, throbbing hip and pressure so great within my skull I was certain my eyes were sure to pop out at any moment, a thought…a reasonable, logical, intelligent, shattering thought…occurred to me.

Lightbulb flash.   “Why do others not feel the need to present documentation to prove they are telling the truth?  Why do I always feel as if I’m lying, even though I know I am not?”

And the lightbulb flash became a lightning strike.  A blinding flash of comprehension.

I was an abused child.  I was abused from the time I was born until I left home at age 17.  Much of the abuse was emotional and verbal.  Lots of negligence.  But there was also a great deal of physical abuse.  And the sexual abuse decimated me.  I struggled mightily to survive.  It was a test of my mental and physical endurance.  A horrible nightmare.  An unbearable trial.  And I cracked exactly two times.  Twice.

I reached out for help.

The first time I cracked, I was 13.  A friend took me to an event at her church one evening to see a group that had presented a program at my high school about the evils of drugs.  They were college kids, caring and easy to relate to.  I was touched by what they shared that night at my friend’s church and I went forward to talk to one of the girls afterwards.  I confided in her. That I was being abused by my parents and sexually abused by my father.  This was clearly beyond her ability to handle.  She called the pastor.  He hurriedly took me to his office, excusing the girl I had talked with, sat behind his desk and proceeded to tear me to shreds.  He told me he knew my parents.  They were pillars of the community.  My father was a respected teacher.  My mother was born there, went to school and graduated from the same school I was attending.  How dare I say such evil things about them!  How dare I talk about my parents in such a disgusting way!  How dare I dishonor them!  Then, he told me to go home and to never tell anyone such repulsive lies ever again.

I was stunned.  Numb.  I left and kept my mouth shut for 2 full years.

The second time I cracked, I was 15.  I confided in my favorite teacher, told her about the abuse, both physical and sexual, just as I had the pastor.  She looked at me with a warry expression, sending me home that day with a neighborhood kid who was the closest thing I had to a friend.  She said she and the guidance counselor would talk about it and contact my father later.

Contact my father. Contact.  My.  Father.   My father who lied about what he did to me and put on his respectable mask each time he left my bedroom.  My father who hit hard and would certainly not hold back after learning I had betrayed him by telling the secret.  The big secret.  I reached out to them.  But they weren’t going to protect me.  They were going to talk to my father, my abuser, because they didn’t believe me.  They thought I was mentally ill, making it up and needed help.

I did need help.  But I wasn’t going to get it from them.

I told them to forget it.  And they did.  Because they never thought I was telling the truth to begin with.

The only people I dared trust enough when I was a child called me a liar.  In particularly painful ways. They were repulsed by what I shared and rejected me completely.  They were openly disbelieving and hard-hearted.  At the time when I needed them the most.

I needed help.  Needed it so desperately, my soul depended on it.  I needed someone to care, to protect me, to show me I mattered.  I needed someone to believe me.  And they didn’t.

The connection was finally made.  The circuit closed.  I understood.

No wonder I always feel I have to prove I am telling the truth.  Provide documentation.  Hardcore evidence.  And even then, I don’t feel confident anyone will believe me.  Because no one ever does.  Why should they, when I can’t even believe myself, in spite of the fact I am being honest?

That’s what happens when you tell the truth and the world spits in your face and tells you you’re a liar.  You believe them.  For the rest of your life.

Mistake

A little over halfway through my stay in my mother’s womb, I almost made an unexpected and early appearance.  It was, of course, considerably too soon for me to be born.  I was far too unformed.  My lungs couldn’t inhale.  Exhale.  I would not have been able to survive without that silent sac of amniotic fluid to sustain me.

The doctors gave my mother some kind of drugs to stop her contractions.  She was monitored, given even more drugs and put on bed rest for a while.  Eventually, the contractions stopped.  I survived.  She carried me full term, or close to it.  I made my appearance at the whopping weight of 6 lbs. 4 oz. somewhere slightly before my due date.

The doctors had predicted it was possible I would have a significant birth defect, their explanation for why she almost lost me.  They were as prepared as possible for such an emergency all those many years ago.  As prepared as possible for whatever horror emerged from her womb.  I disappointed them, much to the relief of my parents.  Parents who were unprepared to deal with a normal crying baby and poopy diapers.  Parents who couldn’t handle the ordinary needs of an average infant.  Because even normal, average, standard babies have a lot of needs.  And the only needs they were prepared to fulfill were their own.

At whatever cost to me.

No birth defects.  No reason for the early near-catastrophe.  I had a heart murmur.  The kind you outgrow.  No other physical issues noted.  No physical reason for me to have almost been spontaneously aborted.

Yet, it could be argued that I shouldn’t have been born.  For many reasons.

They should have never had a child.  Probably don’t need to go on.  That pretty much says it all.

I was told the story of how they nearly lost me when they were trying to convince me they truly did want a little girl.  I was told the story when I was very young.  They continued telling it until they died.  It was supposed to prove their love for me.  Their supposed gratefulness for my survival.  Survival.

But what I heard, because of the abuse I suffered while in their “care,” was that I should have never been born.  I was a mistake.  From the very first moment I took a breath of air.

What they did spoke so much more loudly than what they said.  What they did was deafening.

A mistake.  I was a mistake.  I cost them too much.

That feeling has remained with me my entire life.  It’s a big part of the reason I feel as though I have to do more, be more, perform better, give more, and justify being alive.  A mistake.  A disappointment.  A failure.  By birth.  Nothing can change the terrible thing that was wrong with me from the very beginning.

I have felt it in every relationship I’ve ever had…until I have almost stopped having them.  I can no longer get past the fact that I am defective.  That nothing will ever make up for my deficit.

I’ve felt it with every employer in every job I’ve held.  And I’ve worked harder, longer, faster, more diligently, burning out and nearly destroying myself as a result.  Trying to make up for the fact that I’m never going to be as good as the next guy.  I’m always going to disappoint, regardless of how hard I try.  I’m never going to win because losers never do.  Failures fail.  I will never have value the way everyone else intrinsically has value.  I can never be, do or contribute enough to have worth.

I should never have been born.  I can’t make up for that fact.  There has always been something so wrong with me, even my mother’s womb tried to reject me and thrust me out into the void.  Nature tried to cull me for a reason.  Not a reason that is visible to the naked eye.  But the flaw is so great and deep and terrible, my cells should have never come together.  I should not have been created.

A mistake.  That can never be corrected or redeemed.  Such a terrible mistake, the only way to right the world is to go back in time and erase me totally.

Oil & Vinegar

When we were kids, my brother and I ate a lot of Campbell’s Chicken Noodle Soup.  Our mother seemed to think she was providing us with a healthy meal, with something that was especially good for us.  But neither one of us liked the soup.  Specifically, my brother liked the broth, but not the noodles.  I, on the other hand, liked the noodles, but not the broth.  So, when our mother wasn’t looking, he gave me his noodles, I gave him my broth, and we were both satisfied.

He was oil.  I was vinegar.

He was the child who would not clean his plate, no matter what, unless he was hungry.  I was the child who cleaned my plate as quickly as possible so I wouldn’t have to sit at the table for a second longer than was absolutely necessary.  To me, it was punishment, having to sit.  My brother frequently fell asleep with his head laying in his food long after I was gone.  He never gave in.

From as far back as I can remember, he liked to wear dress shirts, ties, nice slacks and dress shoes.  I was the bell-bottom, peace-bead-wearing hippie child.  To this day, he wears dress shirts, suits, a tie and nice shoes…that’s his “casual” look.  He owns one pair of jeans.  I, on the other hand, have an eclectic “freaky” style.  I own one pair of dress pants.

He loves cats.  I love dogs.

I was a straight A student.  He bumped along making C’s.  Or even an occasional D.  If I made a B, I felt like a complete failure.   He simply wasn’t interested in most of the topics offered in high school and therefore, didn’t care enough to try to succeed.  When he was interested, he did well, which he proved in college, graduating magna cum laud.  I was driven to excel on general principle, to justify my existence.

I was the rebel.  He was the perfect child.

He drank Orange Soda.  I drank Grape.

He loved lemon drops and orange slices.  I adored chocolate covered cherries.  Or butterscotch candy.

I was badly abused.  He was coddled and protected.  But the “dysfunction stew” in which we grew had a significant impact on both of us.

Oil.  Vinegar.  So different.  But somehow, inseparable.

We were both imaginative children who created fantasy worlds and immersed ourselves in them.  So, though we were very different, we connected through our wildly active imaginations.  We even made our own board games because the “store bought” kind weren’t complex enough for us.  We retreated into our fantasies to survive.  For different reasons.

We did everything together. Riding bikes, playing with Lego, drawing intricate spy maps and then shooting our way through enemy territory to complete our missions.    Hitting the beach ball back and forth over the house, sitting in the tree house, pretending we were different people, climbing the cherry tree and devouring cherries, eating rhubarb and cucumbers from the garden.  Together.  We even shared a bedroom until I was nine and he was seven.

He is a cold weather person.  I hate cold weather.  He loves the snow.  I despise it.  He loves mountains.  My dream is to live by the beach in some warm or tropical locale where I can listen to the ocean all day long.

He’s spontaneous.  I like to have a plan.  For me, it’s survival.  He doesn’t need to survive because he’s living life fully.  And he’s fully alive.  I’m a walking dead person.  I have to make sure I have time in my schedule to recharge.  Alone.  Some time with no demands and with plenty of room to breathe.  I’m an introvert.  He is an extrovert. Never met a stranger.

He deeply enjoys classical music.  I’m rock and roll, baby!

My brother is the saver.  Me, not so much.  Even as a child, he kept whatever money he got for his birthday or Christmas.  Hiding it away so he would have it when he needed it.  I, on the other hand, didn’t see as much value in having money. It’s always been about what I could do with it.  Save a little, but enjoy what has been earned.  Not that he doesn’t treat himself, but he is very careful and only spends after he has more than enough set back to handle any emergency.  So, even though he’s younger, he was the first to buy a car.  A house.  And he paid it off.  But he is also generous with those in need.  He has a tender heart.  Mine started out tender, but I learned how to encase it in a hard shell.  I learned to numb my emotions to stay alive, if only minimally.

He is more liberal politically, even though I was always the rebel.  He has relationships and a plethora of connections.  I connect with my dogs.  And I love him with all of my heart, grateful for what time he can spare for me from his busy life.

I left my childhood “home” at 17.  He lived at home until he was 23.  I couldn’t get out fast enough.  He didn’t want to leave when he did.  Had to be nudged out of the nest.

Different.  But connected.

When my world fell apart…again…when it crashed, smashed and burned, he was there.  He made sure I had somewhere to turn.  That I wasn’t alone.  That I had at least one person who wasn’t going to walk away when I had nowhere else to go and nothing to offer.  My tenderhearted little brother.  Who owed me nothing, but who gave me everything.

He is a child of the light.  I am a child of the darkness.

He is oil.  I am vinegar.

I can’t imagine vinegar without oil.

 

The Beating of My Heart

My heart is heavy.  It is so incredibly heavy, I’m not sure how much longer I can continue to carry it around within me.  It weighs a million pounds.  A billion.  The pain of it is unbearable.  Unbearable.  The immensity of the damage.  I can’t tolerate the agony, the excruciating pain of its weight.

I can’t start again.  I can’t tell myself it will be better tomorrow as a means of tricking myself into going on.  I’ve used that ploy too many times.  I’ve lost the ability to deceive myself in this way.  I know the lie.  I know it in my bones.

I’ve carried this mangled heart for years.  Lugging it.  Pulling it behind me.  Hoisting it up.  Negotiating with it.  The endless pep talks.  Telling myself I could do it.  Stand. Take another step.  Just one more.  I’ve duped it.  Told my ruined heart it could keep beating.  It could.  One. More. Beat.  And then another. I believed my words could repair my thoughts, sooth my soul and bring healing.  And when nothing changed, I told myself I simply needed to try harder.

But I’m so tired.  So tired now.  After years of picking myself back up, willing myself to breathe another breath of air, forcing my ravaged heart to pump another bit of life-giving blood, willing my muscles to move, to take another step, I am just too weary to march forward for another second of another day.  I’m done.

A new year stretches before me.  Blank pages and unbroken snow.  New possibilities, perhaps. Yet it isn’t enough to cause me to rally.  I’ve rallied too many times to no avail.  With no reward.  With no relief.  Finding no reason or meaning.  The beating of my heart is ripping me apart.  Every thud shreds me to pieces.  I can’t endure it.  I no longer care how the story ends.  I only care that it will.  Finally end.  Soon.

Let it all go on without me.  It no longer matters.  It is too late.

Year after year, I have pulled through.  Found enough conviction to muster.  I’ve launched out with hope beating in my heart.  Bought the lie.  I have told myself the story as if it was the gospel truth. As if believing would make it reality.  I’ve held it close to me.  Thought positive thoughts. Done the right things.  Said the right words.  Whispered lie after lie into my own ear.  Believing release was right around the next corner.  Hidden in the next minute.

No more.

It is too painful to continue to deceive myself.  It is too heartbreaking to believe.

This new year will be as the one before and the one that came before that one.  It will be comprised of 8,760 hours, 525,600 minutes 31,536,000 seconds, and each will hold a single one of my heartbeats.  A fragment of my being.  Of those increments of time, each will bring nothing more than the last one brought.  Nothing inspiring, nothing life-changing, nothing life-giving.  Nothing.  What is and was is all that will ever be.  And each one of those seconds, each fragment, is filled with pain, suffering, heartache, terror and unspeakable longing.  A longing for wholeness, purpose, connection and healing.

A longing for what will never occur.

If I can force myself to take the steps and walk through each of those seconds, a year from now, I fear I will still be standing in this same place.  At this very moment. Filled to overflowing with emptiness and disappointment. And regret.  I will stand on the same ground.  At the same point.  Just as I have been standing in this very instant each and every year that has come before.

Alone.  Broken.  Empty. Unfulfilled.  Without.

Hope has slipped away.

A hamster caught, running in the wheel.  Round and round and round.  Until it can’t.

The beating of my heart. The turning of the wheel. The only indication I am alive.

I Will Not Be Remembered

There will come a time when no one will care that a shy tow-headed little girl grew up in a small Missouri town.  They won’t remember the way she was afraid of the adults around her.  They won’t know how hard she toiled, trying to make sense of chaos, trying to find her footing amid the deadly earthquakes and terrifying explosions experienced daily in her unstable world.  It will not matter that she was physically, emotionally and verbally abused by her mother…her mother who looked the other way as she was sexually, physically, emotionally and verbally abused by her father.  No one will remember how beaten down and torn apart she was when she ventured out into the world at 17 years of age.  As she struggled to figure out how to live like a normal person with so many of her pieces missing or crushed.

They won’t recall her at all, nor will it matter.  That young girl who kept trying.  Who daydreamed and believed.  Her, trudging along with a heart that was shattered.  A soul that was torn and decimated.  No one will remember or care about her struggles, failures, disappointments or unrealized dreams.  She will not be remembered at all.  Her life was and is insignificant.  She never managed to accomplish anything great nor contributed anything approaching wonderful.  Her biggest victory was to survive.  For she survived in spite of the odds.  But surviving, in this case, means only that she has continued to breathe while putting one foot in front of the other year after year.  It is no great thing.

Her footsteps in the dust are even now being blown away and covered by the sands of time.

It is a harsh wake-up call.  A startling realization.  To be staring at the end of your life and to know you’ve done nothing, become nothing, are nothing, and that nothing you’ve gone through, none of the experiences or events of your life will be remembered.  By anyone. Because nothing done or achieved is in any way worth remembering.  None of it.

The realization is painful.  Everything I went through, all the things I learned the hard way, all the hopes that I had of finding love and healing, touching the world, making a difference…all of this, the essence of who I am and what I have felt…it will die with me when I take my final breath.  And it will not matter.  Not in the least.  I will not leave anyone behind who will care.  Or remember.   Or even know I once was.

Maybe that is simply the way it is.  We are all destined to be forgotten.

I wanted the pain to count for something.  I wanted the nightmares I lived through and the abuse I experienced to have a reason.  I wanted to leave something behind that would help others find their way through the darkness.  I wanted to leave a mark. I wanted to accomplish something worth noting.  I wanted to do something worth doing.  I wanted to be worth remembering.

But I will not be remembered.  I haven’t found answers or knowledge to share with those who are coming after me.  I haven’t accumulated great wisdom that can be passed down.  I’ve done nothing spectacular, significant or news-worthy.

I live in isolation.  My life is hollow, void of meaning, purpose, joy.  I am nothing and I have nothing to give.  I am not worth remembering.  My heart still beats.  My lungs still inhale and exhale.  But I am not truly alive.

I started my life broken, but believing.  Believing I could overcome.  Believing I would find my way and have an impact.  I near its end still broken, but out of hope.  Without dreams.  Without spirit.  This is not at all what I expected or where I expected to be at this stage in my life.  I expected to come to the end with something in my hands worth leaving behind.  But as I open them and bare my palms, my hands are empty.

I am already all but forgotten.  For I have lived an utterly forgettable life.

 

The Ghost of Christmas Past

It’s the most wonderful time of the year…

But only for some.

For others, it’s a lonely, painful time.   A haunted time.  Haunted by the ghost of Christmas past.  Shrouded in shadows.  Cold and lonely.

It’s a time of unfulfilled expectations.  Of laughter that never reaches the heart.  Happiness that never makes it to the soul.  It’s supposed to be a time of families and close friends joyfully gathering, celebrating, sharing love, magic, joy.  But some of us paint a smile on our face and pretend.  We nod our head and act as if we belong.  As if we “get it.”  Because this wonderful time of the year, for many, is just another empty, disappointing day.  One that feels even more empty than normal because it’s supposed to be full and magical.

Those of us who see the ghost know the dark side.

I have a memory of when I was a young child.  It’s Christmas break.  My father was a teacher, so he was home with my brother and me.  It was a few days before Christmas and it had snowed…a big, deep, delightful (when you’re a child) snow that turned the world into a frosted, glorious wonderland.  My father was born and raised in Michigan.  It snowed a lot there.  And while this wasn’t a major snow by Michigan standards, it was pretty significant for Missouri.  The snow was knee deep in the shallowest of places.  It was thigh deep in the drifts.  My brother and I could barely contain ourselves, we were so excited.  We bundled up and rushed outside to enjoy the dreamy land that spread out before us.

My father didn’t often play with us.  But even he seemed enchanted by the beautiful snow that shrouded the world in clean, frigid white, like icing on a cake.  Being from a state where a heavy snowfall in the winter was an everyday affair, he knew lots of outside winter games.  He asked us if we had ever played fox and geese.  We both shook our heads “no,” shivering with anticipation, as well as with the cold.  Excited because he was spending time with us.  At our response, he smiled and the fun began! He instructed us to clear a big circular path in the snow in an open area of our yard.  We kicked and dug and packed and tramped, working up a sweat.  Once the circle was complete, he had us make two more paths through the circle, dividing it into 4 equal quadrants. 

He was the fox.  We were the geese being chased around and through the pathways we had created in the snow.  The goal of the fox was to catch a goose.  Once tagged, the goose would then become the fox. We ran for our lives!  Laughing.  Falling.  Laughing some more.  It was so much fun!  We played until we were soaking wet, freezing cold and totally exhausted.  Then we all tumbled back into the house to change into dry clothes and to warm our frosted, runny noses, red ears, and stiff, numb fingers and toes.

This is where the memory changes for me.  This is where the darkness made itself known.  Where the shadows become a heavy blanket of fog that blocked out the sun.

 I was in my room, having just opened my dresser drawer.  I was trying to decide what sweater I wanted to wear.  As I poked through the 3 or 4 sweaters I owned, I was startled when the door to my room opened and quickly closed.  My father entered, an odd expression on his face.  He was acting strangely.  I was confused.  Time stood still.  An eerie silence enveloped me.

 In that moment, playful daddy turned into what I later labeled “sick daddy.”  He sucked the air out of the room with his heavy breathing.  Stood quivering with anticipation.  I was filled with an overwhelming sense of dread that didn’t make sense, no matter how hard I tried to understand.

 “Let me make you warm,” he said quietly but firmly with an odd, trembling voice.

Then he removed my clothes as I pleaded with him not to.  Begged him.  But he didn’t stop.  He seemed not to hear me.  He kissed, fondled, groped, invading me.  And when he was finished, he said, “There, now isn’t that better?  Don’t you feel warmer?  Get dressed and come on out to the kitchen.  I’ll make us all some hot chocolate.”

 Then he was gone.

 I remember standing in my room, unable to move for what seemed like a very long time.  I watched the shadows dance all around me.  Finally, I picked up my discarded clothes and placed them in a pile.  I dressed quickly.  Quietly.  I felt numb.  Frozen by ice that was colder than the snow that covered the ground outside.  Once dressed, I picked up my wet things to put them in the laundry and cast a glance back into the room before walking out the door.  I wanted to make sure everything was in order. As if anything could ever be put back into order.

 But what I most remember…vividly remember…is seeing myself still there in my room, hopelessly broken, barely breathing, laying on the floor.  Bloody.  Splintered.  I remember leaving that shattered little girl behind.  I left her there, a pile of gore and broken bones, crushed spirit and ruptured heart, dumped where my wet clothes had been laying, hideously destroyed, fractured beyond recognition.  She wasn’t able to walk out of that room.  She wasn’t capable of facing the monster that waited down the hall with hot chocolate and marshmallows.  She couldn’t pick herself up and go on; couldn’t stop screaming.  She was in a million pieces and I left her there to fend for herself, half angry with her for leaving me, for making me walk out into the dangerous world alone.  I saw her body, ripped, torn, decimated.  And instead of rushing to her side and comforting her, I turned away.  I walked out of the room.  Closed the door.  And joined my brother and father as we sipped steaming mugs of freshly made cocoa.  As if nothing had happened.  As if nothing had changed.

 Why do I remember this particular memory so clearly; so vividly?  It wasn’t the first time my father sexually abused me.  Nor was it the last.  It wasn’t one of the worst memories that haunt me.  Certainly, there are far more horrible recollections of perverted things he did to me, things I couldn’t blot out or from which I couldn’t disconnect. So why is this one day, this one event, etched so deeply and perfectly in my mind?  Why can I still see it as if it happened only yesterday?  Only seconds in the past?

 Several things seem pertinent. 

When my father began sexually abusing me, I was around 4 or 5 years old.  The memories I have of that time are veiled in fantasy.  I didn’t have the maturity to understand what was happening.  I didn’t like it.  It scared me.  It felt wrong.  But I didn’t have the ability to grasp or process what he was doing or the implications of his actions.  I was able to create a make-believe world and escape into it. 

As an older child, this became more difficult to execute.  I finally reached an age and a point of understanding where it was no longer possible to ignore, warp, or wrap what he was doing to me in an imaginary world.  I could no longer deny or fictionalize the abuse.  And when this happened, I shattered. Completely shattered. 

I believe the crystal-clear memory I have, this memory that haunts me still, is of the day, the moment in time, when that horrible shattering took place.  So, even though what he did that day was not the vilest thing my father would ever do to me over the years he abused me, it was a significant moment in time because of the internal impact.  It was the moment my soul was utterly obliterated.

I didn’t stop loving Christmas.  Though I hate snow.  But Christmas was never a carefree or magical time for me afterwards.  I find myself looking over my shoulder.  Waiting for everything to morph into some unspeakable reality.  The holiday has never again been wonderful or innocent.  There remains a hidden razor’s edge, cutting into my deepest and most vulnerable parts and wounded places.  There is now unbearable pain mixed with fleeting happiness.  Fear mixed with the shallow laughter.  Terror mixed in with the carols that are exuberantly sung.  And I have stopped expecting Christmas to be special.  Because everything that was once special has been stripped away.

Magic no longer exists.  The lights are not as bright, the ornaments aren’t as shiny. 

 A hideous monster hid beneath the bows and colorful paper that covered the gifts under the tree.  I knew the monster.  And the monster knew me.  He watched me, waiting, pouncing, taking.  Christmas that year was when I finally understood what he was.  And seeing, I firmly closed the lid on the brightly wrapped box with which he disguised himself, stood, walked on trembling legs, and carried on, acting as if everything was as it seemed.  As though nothing evil lay beneath the tinsel, glitter and lights.  As if nothing foul had happened.  Pretending the Christmas snow was yet unmarked and undefiled.

He is long dead now, this vulgar, unclean monster.  This ghost of Christmas past.  But he haunts me still.

Childless

I don’t have  children.  It was a choice…one I often regret at this stage in my life.  It was a painful choice.  It is more painful now, looking back.  Now that I understand with more clarity why I did what I did.  Life is like that.  It’s often easier to see the truth when looking in the rear-view mirror.  It is easier to see paths you should have taken instead of the ones you did.

I made the decision to remain childless when I was 16 years old while sitting in American History Class one afternoon.  I hated history.  My mind often wandered to more profound topics.  Which is what happened on this particular day.  The memory is extremely clear.  I was daydreaming, writing out a list of names I liked, potential names for the daughter I hoped to have someday.  Madison, Zoe, Heather, Hannah, Michaela, Addison, Maddie, Mackenzie…I had a long list.  I was imagining what she would be like, this child I vowed to love with all of my heart.  Would she adore words the way I did?  Would she have any of my features?  Would she have the same kind of intuition and insight I often had; a maturity beyond her years?  Would she love the water?  Love to run?  Enjoy learning?  Love dogs?

As I wrote, some nasty persistent thoughts kept interrupting my pleasant musings. And I couldn’t quite banish them to the back of my mind.

I began to think about something I had recently read, a story about how abused children often grew up to be abusers themselves.  Finally, the thought captured my full attention.  I stopped writing.  Contemplated the implications of the research.  Looked over the names I had written.  Thought some more, as everything began to come together.  It was an important moment, one that is indelibly etched in my mind.  Frozen in time, sharp and clear.  It was one of those moments when reality is revealed and something very deep and significant results.  A shift takes place.  In an instant, the course of one’s life forever altered.

I knew in my heart I wouldn’t abuse a child.  I could never hurt anyone the way I had been hurt.  But in that moment, I became acutely aware of the big holes in my soul.  And I feared what I lacked and the ways I had been damaged might prevent me from being able to give a child all the things they would need to grow into a happy, healthy, normal adult.

Sydney, Whitney, Madison, Holly, Lexie, Jillian, Sadie…

The more I thought about the risk, the sadder and emptier I felt.

Marne, Haley, Willow, Quinn, Jordan, Quincy…

I stared at the list, rereading each name until the sadness was overwhelming.  And I began to grieve.

I remember feeling hollowed out.  I pushed my pen aside.   Finally resigned, I quietly but firmly folded up the paper that contained my list of special names.  I placed it between the pages of my notebook.  Tucking it away.  And I knew, with an understanding that defied logic, I would never use any of those names because I would never have a child.  I couldn’t take the chance.  I couldn’t risk it.

And just like that, the decision was made.

I never really looked back.  There was a time in my early 30’s when I gave God permission to change my mind.  I didn’t think I had made a mistake, but I wanted to make sure I had been thinking clearly when I originally made my choice as a daydreaming 16-year-old girl in American History class.  He was silent. My heart did not condemn me.  I took that as agreement.

But sometimes it really hurts.

I have never been pregnant.  Never felt a child move inside of me.  Never held my baby in my arms.  Never been able to pour myself out for another being I loved more than life itself.  Never had the chance to protect a little one, to guide them, to help them learn and grow.  And nothing of myself will be left upon this earth when I am gone.  No one will remember me.  Or care that I once was.

I never got to go through the ups and downs, rediscovering the beauty of life, enjoying their innocence, their puzzlement, seeing them experience the world.  Never got to observe those first steps, their first love, their first kiss, graduation, marriage, jobs.  Never held them when they cried.  Never bandaged scraped knees.  Watched the stars and the moon with them.  Taught them to drive.  Helped them to be strong and confident and secure.

I never received a Mother’s Day card.

I never got to see their face or look into their eyes.

I will never know the joy of having a grandchild.

It hurts because that child who might have been will never be.  The first time I was on the maternity ward of the hospital, it was to recover after having a hysterectomy.  I did not experience giving birth to a new life.  I let that opportunity slip through my fingers because I was afraid I would not be the kind of parent I needed to be.

When I die, no one will cherish my belongings, holding some worthless trinket tenderly in their hand as they remember me.  No one will want the poems and songs I have written or care about the struggles of my life; my victories and defeats.  No one will miss me.  My passing will not impact a single soul.

To the child of my heart, the child of my dreams and imagination, I can only say this:  I loved you enough not to have you.  I was afraid, I admit it.  Afraid I couldn’t be a good enough mother to give you all that you would need to grow strong and whole.  There were so many things I didn’t have that I needed.  So many things I experienced that damaged me.  I didn’t know if I could overcome the damage and still equip you to be a resilient and confident individual.  I was afraid my lack would cause me to fail you.  I was fearful of deeply hurting you.  Injuring you.  So even though I dreamed about you, longed for you and wrote out lists of names that I thought would express how special you were, I realized I needed to think of you first.  It wasn’t about me and what I wanted.  It was about your heart, your life, your wholeness, your soul.

When it came down to it, it was all about not taking the chance of hurting you irreparably.  It meant not having a baby, a child for my satisfaction and fulfillment.  It meant thinking about you, your needs, what I could give you, what I might not be able to give you, and making a decision that was best for you.

I would have rather died than hurt you.  And I was terrified I would severely wound you the way I had been wounded.

Oh, I felt certain I wouldn’t do the things to you that had been done to me.  But did I have what you would need?  Could I give you a stable, healthy, loving foundation?  I was afraid I would fail you too many times and in too many important ways.  Destroy you unintentionally.  Shatter you.  Break your spirit.  So, I gave you up.  I gave up the hope of having a little girl.  I tucked my dreams away in my notebook along with the list of special names I had written.  And I never looked at either of them again.

I suppose in the end I failed you, regardless of the choice I made.  But I did what I did because I felt it was the right thing.  For you.  I was trying to be unselfish.  Even though it hurt.  I wasn’t confident I could give you strong wings that would carry you high and far and allow you to soar, especially considering I had never flown myself.

It seems we both paid the price of the childhood abuse I suffered…abuse that resulted in my shattered soul and broken wings.  Because of this, we both lost our life.  And neither one of us will ever fly.

 

Teacher, Teacher

My father was a teacher.

He first wanted to be a pastor, a revelation that was quite surprising, considering neither of my parents attended church and only spoke of God when they wanted to restrict my behavior or forbid me from participating in some activity.  Everything fun was a sin.  So, at best, I learned of a rejecting and small-minded God.

Drinking was a sin.  Getting drunk was a dire and unforgivable sin. Cursing was a sin.  Disobeying my parents was a sin.  Selfishness was a sin if I was guilty, but oddly enough, it wasn’t a sin when my parents were guilty. Lying, particularly to my parents, was a sin.  As was dancing, skating, smoking, going to movies, hanging out with friends.  Wanting cool clothes and caring about how one looked was also a sin…vanity.  Sin was not permitted.  It was very, very bad. God hated sinners.  He sent them to hell.  He only accepted the perfectly obedient.

Sex before marriage would send you to hell.  But somehow adultery never made the list, perhaps because it was my father’s specialty.  That and a few other sexual sins.

Considering these shaming conversations were the only ones “about” God that were heard in my house as I was growing up, the thought of my earthly father leading a church service was incongruous, to say the least.  Thankfully, the pastor gig didn’t pan out.  And when it fell apart, he moved toward what he considered to be the next best option.  He became a teacher.  Of 7th and 8th grade English.   And when he received his Master’s degree, he added Reading Specialist to his title.

This “next best” option still gave him power and access to fairly young children.

He was a Sergeant in the Air Force and for the rest of his life, everyone who knew him called him “Sarge.”  He earned the nickname.  Wore it with pride.  My father was a man who demanded absolute obedience.  Like God.

Though I am unsure of my age when he first started sexually abusing me (childhood trauma can play havoc with memory…and the soul), by the time I entered elementary school, I was already showing signs of long term abuse.  Torturing my dolls.  Sexual awareness far beyond what was normal for a 6-year-old.  Fear of adults.  Withdrawal.  I carried secrets no little girl should ever have to carry.

My father the teacher taught me many things.

He taught me to fear.  To disregard my own intuition and perceptions. To hate myself.  To despair.  To distrust.  To expect the bad.  For you could always depend on terrible things happening.

He taught me to disassociate.  To hurt.  Feel agony beyond what I could bear.  To hold in my tears, even as they ripped me into pieces.  To numb my emotions. To live in a vacuum void of any life-giving elements.

And he taught me about sex.  He told me he was doing it for my own good.  To help me.

My father the teacher was very, very helpful.  When he wanted something from me.

My greatest fear is that he also taught other little girls.  And if I had found my voice when he was alive, I might have been able to prevent him from taking on other “students.”

I pray I am wrong.  I pray I was the only one.  But the odds are against my prayer being answered.  I wonder often if the day will come when I encounter another child he personally tutored the way he groomed and tutored me.

He was such a “good” teacher, the lessons he taught me have been difficult to unlearn.  The numbness persists.  As does fear and despair.  My memory is full of black holes and brief flashes.  I cannot put the few memories I do have into any kind of order.  They pop into my head and play behind my eyes randomly, then fade away just as quickly.  I struggle to believe I have value unless I prove myself to be useful again and again.  I must earn the right to live and breathe, unsure I am even a person. I see my Heavenly Father through the same lens as I view my earthly father.  I fear Him as I feared him.  I don’t know how to trust Him, just as I knew I could not trust him.  I feel His rejection and displeasure just as I felt his rejection and displeasure.  I feel used by Him much in the same way I felt used by him.  My earthy father broke me, smashed me to pieces, shattered my soul.  My Heavenly Father allowed it…and He has not bothered to put me back together.

Could be the healing I have sought hasn’t come because of the lessons my father taught me.  Such a very “good” teacher.  I can’t seem to change the way I see my Father and I think this hinders me in my pursuit of wholeness.  Not only did my father shatter me with his lessons, he shattered my ability to trust the One who might be able to help me.

He stole my hope.  Derailed my future.  Defiled me.

The problem with being defiled is that I am the one who got dirty.  He walked away unscathed.  Unlabeled.   He got away without enduring a single consequence.

What he taught me did not help me.  It did not prepare me for life.  Instead, it crippled me.  His lessons have been something I must constantly struggle to overcome, not something I can build and stand upon.

But he taught me. Teacher, teacher.  He taught me lasting lessons.  Written indelibly on my heart.  Infused into every cell.   And I walk this dark and empty path he set before me though I have tried desperately to leave it behind.  I walk this torturous, desolate, poisoned path every single moment of each and every day.

I have been perfectly obedient.

 

Walking on My Hands

“Sometimes your world turns upside down and you need somebody to show you how to walk on your hands before you can find your feet again.”  Karin Slaughter

 

I don’t know if it happens to everyone, but it happened to me.  My world inverted in an instant.  “Normal” vanished in one startling moment.  I lost my balance in a frightening flash.  Was never able to regain my footing.  Never experienced solid ground beneath my feet at any time during the years that followed.  The rug was pulled out from under me, sending me cascading unceremoniously onto my butt.

People laughed.  No one reached out with a helping hand.  They turned away instead, chuckling to themselves about how odd I was.  How pathetic.  How lost.  How unworthy of attention.  Or love.

Being a bit of a klutz, walking on my hands didn’t come naturally.  And since I never found my feet again, I’ve spent years navigating life while trying to do handstands, to get up while falling, crawling, sometimes even rolling, but never gracefully moving forward nor even progressing clumsily in a straight line.  Progress has been haphazard.  I’ve half-cartwheeled, flinging my limbs in an uncoordinated spastic seizure in a terrifying attempt to find my way forward.  Out of the mess.  Back to land.  I’ve rolled backwards instead of forwards.  At best, I’ve done a bang-up impersonation of a drunk who is so far gone, they can no longer stand at all…but they keep trying.  It’s not the least bit pretty.  Only the very mean can enjoy watching.  Only they find something so pathetic to be entertaining.

I’m trying to find my feet again.  I’ve been trying to find my feet again since childhood.

Before my age had reached double-digits, the abuse was well underway.  My world was a place of darkness, terror, pain, rejection and chaos.  I never knew when the bottom would drop out.  But even at that young age, I knew it would.  Probably when I lest expected it.  Laughter turned to anguish with the flip of a switch.  Daylight to terrifying darkness in the blink of an eye.  Normal to abnormal in a breath.  Reality melted in an instant and revealed the horror hiding behind the gilded facade.  There was nothing to cling to.  Nothing to stand upon.  Life was a free-fall and there was no parachute.  You knew it wouldn’t end well.

I prayed for someone to save me.  Someone to see what was happening to me behind closed doors.  To see the truth that lay hidden behind the bright smiles plastered on my parent’s faces.  They were good monsters.  Good at disguising themselves.  At hiding in plain sight.  No one ever suspected.  Or if they did, they didn’t care enough to show me how to walk on my hands.  Certainly not enough to rescue me.  Thus, my ungraceful, ineffective efforts to keep going when I couldn’t do anything more than tremble and watch in dread.  Limbs numb and asleep.  Frozen by panic and shock.

I needed someone to see.  To realize my world had been turned upside down and to show me how to walk on my hands until I could finally find my feet.  But I was alone in the nightmare.  Alone in my struggle.  Alone, without air to breathe.  A horrid earthquake was rumbling wildly beneath me, throwing me here and there and upside down again and again and again until I was too dizzy to take a single faltering step.

The earth yet trembles.  Not as crazily now as it did then.  But I am still dizzy.  I still cannot find my feet.  I stagger on my knee, my palm, one shoulder to the ground, trying to find stability.  Trying to turn the world back over.  To right it. To make sense of the senseless.

To no avail.

How can one make sense out of a father who sexually abuses his pre-school, elementary school, middle school aged daughter?  How do you make sense out of parents who strike their child with fists and slaps that knock them to the ground or into the wall across the room?  How do you make sense of parent’s words telling that child they are a disappointment, are letting them down, are a failure, could do better, had better do better? That they are too much trouble, cost too much money, are supposed to make them happy and make their life better, were born to fulfill them, to meet their every need.  How do you make sense of any of it, especially when they tell you this is love?

When your world turns upside down, when your toes can no longer find even a small patch of shifting sand on which to stand, you’re going to go down.

Whether you ever get up again depends on whether anyone notices your fall.  Whether they think you’re worth the time.  The time to show you how to get through the earthquake; to survive until the ground stops shaking.  It depends on whether anyone reaches out a hand to steady you. Whether they believe in you.  Believe you have value.  Believe you matter, even if you’re shaking and can’t stand.  If they show you how to brace yourself with your hands until you can get back up on your feet, your chances are good.  You’ll likely walk again.

But if you are forced to stumble alone, to roll, crash, crawl and careen forward on your own, especially if you are shamed because you can’t find your feet and move like you are inebriated, you may never again find solid ground.  You may never walk another step.

And the shame will make sure you stay down…down where you belong.  Down below eye level, so others are not continually confronted by your hideous, disturbing spasms.  Down and out of sight, so you won’t be a bother.  So you won’t disturb.  So the rest of the world won’t have to acknowledge that monsters roam the earth wearing masks, holding down good jobs and covered in nice clothing.  And that the damage they do to their child may be irreparable.