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Profound Silence

I live in a world of silence.  Silence so profound, it beats upon my eardrums and screams at me until I fear for what is left of my sanity.  It is all I can hear.  It is the voice of my nightmares.

It is a silence nearly complete.  Almost unbroken.  It consumes everything in its path.

Within my world, an overpowering silence reigns.  My dogs occasionally bark.  My phone infrequently rings or a text announces its arrival. Rarely, I play music or turn on the TV to try to drown out the droning voice of the persistent emptiness that envelops me.  I have been captured and am held a prisoner in this intensely silent world.  This place of nothingness.

There is no one to talk to other than my dogs and they don’t have much to say in response.   There are no conversations, dangling or otherwise.  No laughter.  No chatter.  No friends who want to get together.  Nothing to break the stillness or to challenge the powerful quietness.

I occupy myself by reading books, playing with my two dogs, poking around on my laptop.  I post on Facebook and long for responses so I can convince myself I have friends.  Connections.  I write my blog.  You can hear the tapping of the keyboard as I type, the distant traffic noises and children playing in the street outside the window providing minimal relief from the deafening, endless, pulsing silence.  In spite of these brief intrusions, there is a prevailing quietness to my existence that presses down on me, forcing the air out of the room.  Leaving me gasping and longing for a reassuring word or touch.  Suddenly, I see clearly, painfully aware of how utterly alone I am.

A small dose of silence can be good for the soul, providing time to reflect, to examine new thoughts and ideas, to consider alternate perspectives.  I can take a fairly hefty dose of it.  But it can become unbearably oppressive when it is a near constant companion.  It crushes.  Tears one apart with sharp teeth and razor claws.  In excessive quantities, it is excruciating. Even deadly.

Essentially, silence is exceedingly noisy.  It never stops.  Never shuts up.  Never relents.  It weighs on you, pressing your breath from panting lungs.  Destroying hope.  Revealing a reality that is intolerable.  It beats you up until you are frightfully bloody and broken beyond repair.  And it takes everything from you, creating a vacuum that is agonizing, dark, terrible, excruciating.

You’ve heard the term “deafening roar?”  Silence is like this.  It roars.  ROARS!  And the roar is so horribly loud, it causes even the bravest to cover their ears and run.  That deafening roar is overwhelming and oppressive.  The sound of it tears the soul into tiny fragments, leaving nothing behind but dust.  It generates immeasurable terror and eternal desolation.  There is no escaping the overwhelming soundless emptiness.

Whoever said silence is golden likely didn’t have it as a near constant companion.  Didn’t live with it day in and day out.  Didn’t have to come home to it, dine with it, sleep with it, drive with it, bathe in it.

When profound silence and a suffocating emptiness is all you have to look forward to, all you have to live for, you find, essentially, you don’t have anything for which to live after all.

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.

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.

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.

 

Broken Body, Broken Mind

Broken bodies are easier to heal than broken minds.  For the most part.

There is a point of no return for both.  Obviously.

But bodies can be horribly broken, yet still heal.  Scars will write the painful story across once torn skin, once broken bones, once mangled ligaments.  But pushed too far, ripped too badly, the pieces can’t be knitted back together.  Loose too much blood, the heart will have nothing to pump.  Lungs will cease to infuse the cells with air. The brain will begin to die without oxygen.  Life will end.

Minds can be terribly broken and sometimes heal.  Sometimes.  But not as often.  Bones are programmed to repair.  From a molecular level, cells are programmed to rush to the sight of wounds like tiny nano-robots, providing whatever is needed to stop bleeding, fill in burnt and missing skin, seal over gouged, ravaged flesh.  Bodies are worth healing.  We will go to great expense and take incredible risks to get our bodies back to a functional state.  Billions of dollars are spent on researching ways to replace limbs, make people walk again, heal brain injuries, replace organs and create artificial skin.

Broken bodies are nothing to be ashamed of.  People may look the other direction because they are afraid if they look too closely, something similar might maim them.  They fear being mugged by fate or bad luck.  But the person isn’t blamed for their injuries or resulting struggle.  It is seen as something that happened to them, something hard to think about, but that certainly isn’t their fault.

But when what is broken isn’t related to the body…it’s a different story.

Broken things.  We throw them away.  We even get angry with them for letting us down.

We view broken things as being unworthy of repair.  Not worth the money.  Not worth the energy.  If our phone is damaged, we get a new one.  If our TV stops working, we head to best Buy or some other electronics store and pick up another.  If our computer crashed too many times, we replace it with the latest, greatest model.  The only things we fix are those big ticket items.  Cars.  Houses.  And even then, they reach a point when it isn’t worth it to us to shell out the funds to fix the damage.

The only things we try to repair, regardless of the damage, are bodies.  If we break a bone, we get it set by a doctor who has spent many years learning how to heal us.  If we have cancer, we undergo extensive treatment to destroy the cancerous cells or have an operation to remove the malignant tumor…or both.  If we are cut, we tend to the wound, be it a large gaping one that requires massive surgery to patch us back together or a minor cut that only needs to be cleaned and protected with a Band-Aid.  We disinfect and tend our wounds to create a healing environment.  We take heroic measures to restore badly damaged flesh.  Sometimes, we don’t know when to let go.

Like old appliances, we throw emotionally damaged people out with the trash.  They are nothing but a ripped shirt.  A broken calculator.  A microwave oven that no longer heats or defrosts.  If the wound is to the psyche, the person is discarded.  They are expected to repair themselves or stay out of sight.

The emotional wound may even have been obtained in an honorable pursuit.  Think of the war hero struggling with PTSD.  Had he lost his legs while serving his country, he would have been labeled a hero.  People would say it was tragic, but they wouldn’t have doubted he was a worthy warrior deserving of a medal; deserving of acceptance and assistance.  But since he “lost his mind”…and his direction…he is considered defective and deformed in a way that simply can’t be tolerated.

We will do what we can to heal the damaged body.  But we shame those who struggle with depression or any of the many other mental and emotional illnesses.  They are too heavy a burden.

I don’t understand this.  But I see it and feel it every single day.  If you have a mental illness, you are shamed into hiding it.  You are told not to talk about it, to snap out of it, to pull yourself up by your bootstraps, to get on with your life and to stop feeling sorry for yourself.

Why, if the damage is physical, is it considered a disease or an injury?  Yet if the damage is emotional, it’s considered a defect.

Why is the physically damaged individual not required to hide their wounds, but the emotionally damaged is expected to function normally in spite of theirs?   We adapt the environment to the needs of the physically disabled, but we expect the emotionally disabled to think themselves into being another person altogether.  We expect them to walk without legs.

The abused and broken have had their brains turned into mush.  They suffered a debilitating wound that has changed them forever.  Are they worth less because it is their mind that is broken instead of their physical body?

Broken body.

Broken mind.

One we nurture and embrace.  The other, we shame.

Shame is a very heavy burden to carry alone.

 

 

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.

No Sanctuary

Years ago, I watched a movie called “Logan’s Run.” The message continues to cause a significant amount of introspection and reflection.
I like science fiction and the movie falls into this category.   It has been years since I watched it, but the way I remember the plot, a remnant of civilization exists in a utopian society within a massive dome.  Their enclosed world is experiencing a terrible shortage of food and what is left to them of the planet can no longer sustain life long term.  For this reason, the computer that controls their lives has everyone fitted with a computerized clock to monitor their age.  A police-like military group oversees the city where these people live, enforcing the computer’s rulesand demands.  When a person’s life-clock reaches 30, they are taken to a large chamber where they undergo a ritual called “Carousel.”  During this ritual, they begin to float upward and disappear upon reaching the top of the chamber.  Everyone is told these people are being reincarnated and that they will never have to grow old.  The citizens are told they will all be renewed in this manner when their life-clock runs out. 
What the average citizen doesn’t know is that everyone who reaches 30 is being killed in the rooms above the chamber and their remains are being converted into food.  And this is the food that is being supplied to the remaining people within the dome.  It is keeping them alive.
Logan is one of the soldiers who keeps order in the city and who has terminated those who have tried to escape this fate.  To force him to go on a secret mission, his life-clock is moved forward from age 28 to 30 by the computer.  And he will be required to participate in Carousel with a group of suspected rebels who form a secret society.  They are being monitored and are expected to attempt to escape, as more than 1000 have reportedly successfully done over the years.  This group wears a symbol to identify them and some have been overheard talking about a place called “Sanctuary.”  They are planning to try to find this place of purported safety.  For they do not believe in the ritual of renewal and rebirth.  They are certain they will not be reincarnated, but will instead be destroyed.  So, they are going to run and Logan is to run with them.  Hence the title, Logan’s Run. 
Logan is to go with the group as they attempt to find the mythical Sanctuary. Once found, he is to report back and provide the computer with the location so their rebel fortress can be destroyed.
During his “run,” Logan learns the truth.  He sees what is happening to the people who reach age 30 and who are swept aloft in the massive chamber during the ritual.  Clever propaganda has been used to hide what is being done, but Logan now sees proof that it is nothing but terrible lies.  He realizes everyone is being killed, their remains processed and stored to provide sustenance to the remaining residents.   Disillusioned, frightened, his escape becomes much more than an undercover mission he was forced to accept.  It is now a genuine attempt to flee with the group of rebels upon which he is supposed to spy. 
What he discovers outside the dome is deeply surprising.  In unexpected ways.
Eventually, as he returns to let others know about his startling discoveries, he is recaptured by a fellow “sandman.”  His fellow soldiers, who have become his enemies.  They hook him up to the massive computer that runs all life within the dome and maintains compliance, balance and order.   He is interrogated.  They show him no mercy.  They spare him no pain. 
He is asked if he has completed his mission.  Then the question, “What is Sanctuary?”   Logan responds honestly.  Without deceit.  He has discovered the truth while outside the dome.
“There is no Sanctuary.” 
The answer is unacceptable, so the computer asks again.  Again, Logan responds, “There is no Sanctuary.” 
Again.  “There is no Sanctuary.” 
Yet again, and again, and again, the computer prods.  Logan can only tell the truth.  He can only report what he has come to know…there is life outside the dome, but there is no Sanctuary.  And this response, given while he is tortured, is the computer’s undoing.  It can’t process what it is being told.  Things begin to come unraveled within its circuitry.  Within the dome.  Things stop working.  Vital processes cease.  Things explode.  Seals release.  Cracks eventually develop in thick walls and finally the dome is split apart and crumbles.  Their world is forever altered as life within the confines of that sphere fail and come to a catastrophic end.  Because there is no Sanctuary.
I think I have finally learned this lesson.  And it’s a hard lesson. Not that there is no sanctuary, specifically.  But there is no place of being okay.  No safe haven.  No space where healing is accomplished.  Where all the wounds of the past are finally made well and health is restored.  Where things are put right.  Where the chains that bind are broken and one is set free.  There is no Sanctuary.  No magical spot or time where wrongs are righted and happy endings begin.  Not on earth, anyway.
Life is hard.  It does things to you.  It is harder for some than for others. 
My life has been a hard one.  Abuse…physical, emotional, sexual…riddled my childhood.  I didn’t learn many of the foundational lessons that others learn, so things that come easily to others are very difficult for me.  And the damage that was done to me at an early age goes deep.  It messed me up.  Changed me forever.
No one gets through this journey unscathed.  Or at least most don’t.  We are all walking wounded.  Some of our wounds are ghastly.  Others are relatively minor.  But we all get hurt.  There is no Sanctuary.  No safety.  No place of freedom.  No guarantees.
And once the damage has been done, nothing is going to undo it.
Looking back, it seems so simple.  There is no sanctuary.  There is no healing.  We are left with a cracked, demolished life that will never be what it could have been.  All we can hope to do is go from where we are and learn to live outside the dome.
It’s taken me a lifetime to realize I have spent years seeking something that doesn’t exist.  It’s terrifying to suddenly comprehend that life, the way it is, is what it is and that this is all it will ever be.  It isn’t going to get better.  There will be no sanctuary.  There is no better place, no better day, no moment of freedom, no time of healing. No putting the pieces back together.  No restoration.
I am what my life, what those who raised me, made me and there is to be no unmaking.  The damage resides within my cells.  It’s part of me.  I can only try my best to go on from here as I am.  There is no Sanctuary.  And finding meaning in this wild, terrifying world, a world where we grow old and are not renewed or restored, is no easy journey.

Shallow Lives

‘Tis a shallow life we live without connection.  Without purpose.  Without someone to grieve the loss of us when we are gone.

Shallow.  Without someone to tell us we matter.  At least to them.  Someone who actually believes we do matter in some little way.

Without someone to carry us in their heart.  Without someone for us to carry in our heart.

Bumping along.  Alone.  Reaching out and finding nothing much to grasp a hold of.  And so, we bump.  Along.  Aimlessly.

Isolation is a harsh task master.  A cruel dictator.  Isolation breaks the invisible bones of the soul.  It torments us, tortures us, keeps us bound tightly in a soundless cage designed to imprison us as we serve our life sentence, without relief, without interruption.  No visitors allowed.

I find that I derive meaning only from being a “mother” to my two Schnauzers.  They tether me to this earth because I don’t want to leave them behind, helpless and alone.  It’s a fragile tether, this lifeline they provide.  The moment it is gone, I am sure to drift far into outer space where I am doomed to perish.

Though I have learned to survive without air.  Without a great deal, in fact.

I was led to believe life was rich and deep and wide.  Worth living.  Worth gripping with all of my might, never letting go.  I have found pain to be so.  I have also found disappointment and loneliness to display these characteristics.  But life?  No, not life.  Life has been hard,  It has become a constant struggle that leaves me weary, without hopes or dreams.  Life has left me empty.  Trapped in a shallow grave.  Having shallow conversations.  Shallow encounters.  Unfulfilled.

Mouth moving.  Ears searching for something worth hearing.  Mind seeking something worth listening to.  Tongue hoping to have something worth saying that someone will want to hear.  Heart desiring a connection worth fighting for.  Worth protecting.  Worth living for.

But no one wants to see beyond the mask.  No one wants to view the imperfect face and soul that lies beneath the perfect plastic.  ‘Tis best to keep it light.  Keep it shallow.  Don’t dig too deep.  Don’t dig deep at all.  Smile.  Say the right words.  Move along.

Barely tethered.  Ready to let go of the balloon.  Float from this empty existence to the emptiness beyond.

‘Tis a shallow life we live without connection.  Hard to believe the glass contains more than a few droplets of water.  No question about whether or not it’s 1/2 full or 1/2 empty.   A drop or two rolls around on the bottom as I turn it side to side.  I cannot bear it a moment longer.   I dash it to the floor.  Watching it shatter.  Staring at all the tiny pieces no longer connected.  Fragments.  Isolated.  Capturing a tiny piece of me in each broken shard.