Tag Archives: emotional problems

If I Could

“If I could turn back time…”  So goes the song.  So sings my heart.  So cries my soul.

If I could…oh, if only I could. 
If I could turn back time, I would not keep secrets.  I would tell someone.  And I would tell someone else.  And I would tell another person and another and another until someone listened.  Until someone believed me and realized I existed within a tortured reality while attempting to act as if everything was normal and safe.  I would shout if I had to and tell the truth until someone heard, reacted and removed me from my parent’s home.  I would tell them about the sexual abuse.  The physical abuse.  The neglect.  The rejection and constant deriding.  The emotional abuse.  I would speak up and keep speaking until someone understood.  Until they took me seriously.  Until someone reached into the darkness where I was trapped and helped me escape.
If I could turn back time, I would do whatever it took to get help a lot earlier.  I would allow myself to believe I was worth the time and the money.  I didn’t believe it then.  I started so late.  So late, it was too late.  The brokenness had calcified.  Cemented into place; impossible to dislodge.  Instead of trying to figure it out on my own, I would find someone who could help me untangle the knots, put the broken pieces back together and mend me.  A gifted professional who could wade with me into the depths of pain flowing from the wounds created by my destructive childhood.  I would let them show me a different reality and how to wade out of that vicious current to the other side.  I wouldn’t put it off, thinking there was time…later.  I would pursue healing relentlessly, with extreme urgency, doing whatever I had to do to make it happen.  Because being healed would have completely changed the course of my life.  In a wonderful way.  It would have taken me into a new and healthy dimension where robust, genuine life was possible.  I would have sacrificed whatever I had to sacrifice early in life to pursue wholeness and not given up until I found it.
 If I could turn back time, I would never have gotten married when I was 17.  I was so young.  I felt old.  I felt like I had already lived a lifetime, battling to survive.  Going back, I would whisper in my own ear, “You have time…let yourself be young!”  I wouldn’t have given my heart to an 18-year-old boy who would ask me for a divorce a mere two weeks after our wedding. 
And I wouldn’t have married again at 25.  At least not the person I married back then.  I let him convince me he loved me and wanted to be with me.  I wanted so badly to be loved!  I took the bait, longing to be filled.  So, if I did again foolishly believe and marry him, when he told me a few months after we wed that he didn’t love me, I would have filed for divorce right away.  I wouldn’t have wasted a lifetime hoping he would someday, somehow come to love and want me.  I wouldn’t have hung on, believing he was the best life had to offer.  I wouldn’t have given him 22 years of my time.  I wouldn’t have allowed him to move into my soul, breaking my heart in the process.
If I could turn back time, I would have gone to college.  When I was young and just out of high school.  Lived on campus.  Had the whole experience.  Taken interesting classes and hung out with friends until I could discern a path that excited me.  I would have worked hard too.  I was always good at making the grades.  But I also would have torn down my walls, raised my expectations, explored, learned, laughed, figured out who I was and moved forward into the light of a promising future.
I would also relocate to one of the places I dreamed of living.  I would move there when I was young.  When it was easier.  When I wasn’t so encumbered with the burdensome responsibilities and debts of life.   I would have made my way closer to the ocean.  And started building my life there.  Not wasting time living where things seemed to fall into place, taking the path of least resistance.  I would move to a desirable location and find ways to stay as I created the existence I yearned for and dreamed about. Even if it was hard initially.  I would carve out a home in that space and finally find a sliver of joy.  I would spend time on the beach, listening to the soothing and calming voice of the waves.  Basking beneath glorious sunrises and sunsets.  Rejoicing in the warmth.  Greeting the day with gratefulness instead of reluctantly waking while bound by heavy disappointment and despair.
I wouldn’t have worked jobs that demeaned and demoralized me.  Not if I could turn back time.  I wouldn’t slave for bosses who didn’t appreciate me.  Who used me all the more because I was too unsure of my value to protest.  I would have pursued fulfilling work instead.  Pursued my dreams. While I still had dreams.  And hope.  And a future ahead of me. 
If I could turn back time, I would save more money and spend more on the things that create memories with those I love. 
If I could turn back time,  I would surround myself with those people…the ones who live in my heart and bring joy into my life by simply being.  I would work harder at staying real – even vulnerable – so I could truly connect with others in a deep and significant way.  I would take the risk instead of hiding and pretending and trying to fit in with the crowd.  I wouldn’t close myself away in darkness or shroud myself with shame that I wore like skin.  A skin I grew into while still very young.  Because of the abuse.  I would seek help.  I would tell myself over and over again that it wasn’t my fault.  I would tell myself until I believed it.  Until I knew without doubt that what was done to me didn’t mean I should be ashamed.  Didn’t mean I was disgusting and tainted.  My past wouldn’t be something to hide.  It’s my reality.  My history.  So, I would stop denying where I came from and what it had done to me.  I would acknowledge that past, embrace the possibilities of the future and begin to connect deeply with special people when I encountered them.  Meaningfully.  I would be transparent, unmasked, open and do what it took to build deep relationships.  Those connections would be my priority.  If I had another chance.  Another chance to do it over.
If I could turn back time, I would listen more to my heart and less to my brain.
I would try more things, even if I was afraid of failing, looking stupid and making mistakes.  I would kayak and kick-box and learn a martial art.    I would dance often.   I would visit the ocean frequently and let it sooth my wounds.  I would live where there was lots of sunshine.  I would ride in a hot air balloon, even if I had to save up for a long time to afford the pleasure.  I would take classes on subjects that were of interest to me.  I would sing more.  Write that book.  Publish those poems.  I would risk and not let fear rule my choices.
If I could turn back time, I would hold on to each moment.  Live it.  Fully experience each day.  The pain and the joy.  The fun and the difficulties.  I would be present in the present and tattoo each experience on my brain for later enjoyment.  For later contemplation.  I would fill my memory bag with experiences so when I looked back, the years would not have disappeared in an unending chain of monotony.  There would be more happy memories and less regrets.  More to recall.  More worth remembering.
I’m sure I would still make mistakes.  But I think I would make smaller ones, less costly ones, having learned some hard lessons the hard way.  I wouldn’t make so many of the huge, monumental errors that erode quality of life until there is no life left.  I wouldn’t let life…or the people in my life…tell me I didn’t matter.  I wouldn’t accept being a worthless object to be used and cast aside when inconvenient or if not operating up to user expectations.  No, having worked hard early on to find a place of wholeness, I would believe in myself and in my own worth.   I wouldn’t be beaten down, settling for simply being tolerated.  I would move on.  Cut my losses.  Find a healthier path.
If I could turn back time, I would understand the value of the minutes that were sifting silently through my hand and I would cling to each one.  I wouldn’t live for a blurry tomorrow.  I would live for today.  Milking each moment for every drop of happiness and meaning I could find.  I would dance in the rain and soak up the sunshine.  I would follow my dreams.  I would refuse to be numbed by the blows.  I would feel each emotion: deep, small, hurtful, joyful.  I would face the damage, tear it apart and rebuild when I was young, strong, more pliable.  And continue to rebuild throughout my existence, repairing, refinishing, refurbishing, restoring.  I would not settle.  I would not sleepwalk through the days.
I would give my heart only to those who also gave their heart to me.  Never casting my pearls before swine.  Understanding that even my broken heart was a pearl.  That life is a treasure.  And I need to spend this treasure carefully.  I would savor each one of those seconds while I was standing within them.
If I could turn back time, I wouldn’t now be sitting in a dark room alone but for my dogs, surrounded by regrets and loss and pain.  I would be a different person in a different place living a very different life.  Silence wouldn’t accompany me throughout my days.  Numbness would not cripple me.  There would be laughter and tears and conversation.  My world would not be empty.  It would be messy and full of all that results from a life well lived.   I believe I would understand so much more clearly what was at stake and would act accordingly.  I would discover the person I was meant to be…before the wounding, abuse, rejection and destruction.  I would be fully alive.  Finally. 
If only I could turn back time.  If only there was such a thing as a second chance.
 
 

Kilroy Was Here

The war in which I fought, the war that left its indelible mark on me, was not a major battle lauded by historians as a great victory or a lesson learned.  It was not researched after the fact, analyzed, viewed from various interesting angles and dissected by great minds with the intent of culling any worthwhile data it might provide.  Nor was it documented with video equipment and reenacted, or detailed in studious dissertations.  It was not noted at all, in fact, by any person alive on planet earth, either during or after the terrible war had essentially ended.  It is actually only briefly noted within a massive list of words and definitions by a single two-syllable word that resides in Webster’s Dictionary.  Just one word to explain the hideous events that changed my world forever.  That annihilated me, though I fought for survival ever so gallantly.  One word.

Incest.

The battle was fought in my own home behind doors that were kept locked with the intent of keeping the boogieman safely outside.  But the boogieman was a resident of the house where I grew up.  He built it.  The locks were pathetically ineffective.  The fox was guarding the hen house.

I had to maintain the highest level of invisibility achievable by a child who was terrified of those who gave her life, only to metaphorically take it away.  I could not draw my name upon the wall to mark my passing.  To commemorate how I had fought and suffered.  No “Kilroy Was Here” left on a board or stone to prove I had been, though I was no more.

I cloaked myself in darkness, but again and again, the darkness betrayed me.  For it did not hide me from my father who quietly sneaked into my room at night and took what he wanted from me, leaving little behind.  It did not soften the impact of being raped, abused and used.  It did not shield me from his warped lust.

I could not leave a mark as a witness of what I suffered at their hands as they used me to satisfy their whims or to release their raging anger.  I could not speak of the atrocities.  Nor memorialize the tragedy.  No one knew of the war in which I so desperately struggled and fought.  I could not tell them.  I was a prisoner of an unknown and unacknowledged war.  People do not want to hear, they do not want to know the ugly truth of the torture such prisoners endure.  Even when the war is supported, they turn their head and shut their eyes.

“Kilroy Was Here” was a proclamation.  It was created as a visual symbol to commemorate the GI’s presence.  He left it behind as a sign for those who would come after.  To let them know he had been where they are now…and had lived to tell.

I have no clever graphic.  I have only words.  I leave them strewn here on this screen for those who will come after me.  And sadly, there will be many more who come after.  More broken souls who start their life wounded by those who were supposed to die protecting them.  Staggering under the weight of every form of child abuse.  And like any soldier who endures and fights in horrendous conditions while attempting to survive the unrelenting attacks of a deadly, disguised, fanatic enemy, we are each one forever changed by what we have endured.

We may survive, but we don’t get out alive.

 

When the Bough Breaks

“Rock-a-by baby
On the tree top,
When the wind blows
The cradle will rock.
When the bough breaks,
The cradle will fall,
And down will come baby
Cradle and all.”

The wind blew.  It started blowing before I was born.  A cold, harsh, unforgiving wind.  Destructive.  It blew. Relentlessly.  Every day.  Without ceasing.  My parents were driven by it; directionless without it.  And the first air to fill my lungs as I cried out after birth was that of the powerful wind that haunted me and cut a vicious path through my entire life.

The wind blew without ceasing.

My cradle rocked.  Wildly.  Brutally.  And the bough broke.  Time and time and time again.

Who takes a baby up to the top of the tree, only to let them fall?

The wind whipped up emotional storms.  Violent fights between my parents.  Hitting.  Slapping.  Throwing.  Leaving.  And when I tried to intervene as a tiny child, the hits and slaps landed on me.  After the storm, when they had both walked out, I held my younger brother, told him everything would be okay and cleaned up the mess.  Picked up the tossed dishes (melamine doesn’t break), the silverware that was strewn across the kitchen and small living room of the trailer where we lived.  Gathered the scattered clothing.  Did what I could to fix the unfix-able.  Did what I could to survive the fall.

Sometimes, the storm hit me full force.  There was nothing to hold on to but the ferocious wind that tossed me to the earth, broken and bloody.  No shelter.  No way to escape.  Couldn’t put the pieces back together.  The bough broke.  I fell.  Hard.

The wind blew in the abuse.  Abuse of every kind, shape and color.  It howled and danced in frenzied glee at the havoc it wreaked.  This is what the wind does.  It tears apart.  It shakes everything that can be shaken.  It destroys anything that can be destroyed.

I was vulnerable.  A child.  I was easy to take down and rip apart.  Easy to destroy.

I lived in the wind, slammed down to the ground, tossed like a weightless feather.  Watching the earth fall out from under me.  Watching my world disintegrate as we smashed to the ground once again.  Standing against the ferocious gale was impossible.  Walking in it took every bit of strength I could muster.  There was no keeping my balance.  Up was down and down was sideways.  The debris crashed into me as I crashed into it.  The tempest never died down.  Never grew tired or lessened in force.  Never lost interest in breaking the bough I clung to with tenacity, even as it was ripped out of my hand.

When the bough breaks, you fall.  You fall through empty air.  And you know it’s going to hurt when you hit the ground.  There is nothing to soften the blow.

When a child is born into the arms of the wind of chaos, even when you run, there is no escape.  It’s within you.  You can’t get away from yourself.

I tried.  I ran when I was 17.  The squall chased me.  I thought getting out of the cradle my parents created, that cradle into which I was born, I oh-so-stupidly thought it would change everything.  But I had been changed by the wind.  I was powerless against it.  When I ran, I took that sadistic wind with me.  It had become a part of the very fabric of my being.

It has been with me every day since birth.  Endlessly raging.

The storm is in me.  And when the wind blows, I break.  Everything I cling to is ripped away.  I fall to the earth, screaming silently in the wind as it rips my breath from my lungs, howling in delight at my  raw, ferocious pain and unending agony.

All The Tears I Never Cried

Psalm 56:8  New Living Translation (NLT)

You keep track of all my sorrows.
    You have collected all my tears in your bottle.
    You have recorded each one in your book.

The message is clear; touching.  We have heard it repeated and expressed in many different ways.  Through songs, blogs, stories and in inspirational articles.  In sermons and poems. God has our tears.  Every tear we’ve ever cried.  Not a single one is lost.  Not a single one went unnoticed.  He collected them each one.  He recorded them in His book.  God is moved by our weeping.

But what about all the tears never cried?

All those tears I was never able to release.  All the pain still held behind my eyes.

Most of my tears haven’t been cried.  My eyes have stayed disturbingly and resolutely dry.  The dam I built when but a child remains strong.  No water is released, no matter how great the need for relief.  No matter how much the pressure behind it.

It wasn’t safe to let them flow freely; not when I was a preschooler.  Nor when I was in junior high. Not when married to the man who rejected me.  Who didn’t love me.  Never loved me.  It wasn’t smart to release them to form rivers that would drip from my cheeks and drop off the tip of my nose.  It wasn’t safe to feel.   I held them in and kept them sealed tightly inside, carefully hidden in the darkest depths of my soul.  Until I forgot how to open the floodgates.

There they remain.  Tears never cried.  Stagnant.

My heart has been in deep pain most of my life.  My journey hasn’t been easy.  It hasn’t had many ups.  But the major blows have been plentiful.  I’ve encountered too many difficult challenges that beat me to a pulp until I was too numb to respond.  Until it was all I could do to get up off the floor.  Take a step.  Then another.  I’ve had abundant reasons to cry and I’ve longed many times to weep uncontrollably.   But showing vulnerability has never been safe.  Feeling such raw emotions has proven to be foolish.  Letting someone see my heart has always been idiotic.  When I slipped and exposed my weakness, the repercussions were many and they were terrible.  So I have swallowed the pain.  And the tears.

They have remained dammed up behind a massive wall of numbness.  Repressed for years and years.  Every blow has caused the wall to be built higher.  Wider.  Stronger.  The ocean of tears to grow deeper.

What about those tears?  The ones I’ve never cried?

Are they of no significance?   Hidden and unexpressed, have they lost their authenticity?  Is unexpressed pain of no importance?  Do only the tears actually released have meaning?  Are they the only ones that count?  The only ones God collects and treasures?

The tears we cry matter. He sees.  Has compassion.  Wipes them away.  Holds each one.  Knows the reason for them; for every single one.  These are the precious tears that are kept in His bottle and recorded in His book.

Are they the only tears God cherishes?

If so…

I have a million uncried tears rotting in my soul and they will never have significance.  They are worthless. The battle I fought to contain them is meaningless.  The struggle I went through to carry them, to prevent them from inconveniently raining down on others, is inconsequential.   I carried them when sharing them would have been easier…if riskier.  I held them back and pasted a smile on my face to survive.  And when surviving became all I knew how to do, the uncried tears multiplied until they were legion.

They are legion still.

But they are not in His bottle.  They are bottled up in my heart, a painful reminder of all I have suffered alone.  Of how my life has left me with nothing more than regrets and toxic memories.

“He knows your name
Every tear you cry
He knows the pain
How you feel alone”

 (Moriah Peters, “No Shame”)

When I do not cry, is He unable to know my pain?  Does He not discern how alone I feel?  How the nights are empty and silent?  And the days are wrapped in rabid isolation?  Does He continue to absent Himself, uncaring of the hurt that rips me apart and stomps me helplessly into the earth where I am ground again to dust?

When I can’t cry, does He not care?  Is He untouched by my tearless brokenness?

I wish I could cry freely and let God collect the tears in His bottle and record them in His book.  I wish I could believe my pain moved Him, whether I managed to shed the tears or remained too afraid to let my guard down; to open my heart.  To be that vulnerable.  Revealing weaknesses through tears is risky.  It can give those who are intent on hurting you a way in to your most tender places.   Places where they can do the most significant amount of damage.  But I cannot cry.  I am imprisoned behind this wall.  I have waited too long to seek release.  The ocean of tears I have held in for a lifetime know the boundaries set for them so long ago and no longer cross the line.

They are contained in my bottle.  A dead sea.

All the tears I have not cried.  That I’ve held inside trying to survive.  That I’ve choked down while they almost choked me.  The only bottle my tears reside in…is the cavern of my heart.  I am drowning in them.  Their salt stings my eyes.  I taste them in my mouth.  But God doesn’t gather them.  He does not hold them in His hand.  There is no comfort to be had.  Only this ocean of sorrow.  Growing larger, deeper, wider with every passing moment.  And I do not know how to swim in the foul waves any more than I know how to weep until this endless sea of tears is finally drained dry.

The One He Loves

I always thought he would be able to love me if I could lose weight.  Be thin.  And trim.  But the one he loves has thunder-thighs and a poochy tummy.  She’s not as heavy as I was toward the end of our marriage, the time of ultimate despair and self-loathing.   But she’s not even close to small.  She has substance and heft.   Casts a shadow you can’t miss.  Certainly isn’t close to ideal societal standards.  She doesn’t puke up what she puts in her mouth.  She eats.

I thought if I could be pretty enough…so he could feel good about people seeing him holding my hand…he could find a way to love me.  I wasn’t pretty, but I did what I could to look nice for him.  Fixed my makeup and hair.  Did what I could to make myself presentable.  Yet she, the one he loves, she is not what one would call pretty.  She’s okay.  Kind of on the plain side.  Normal.  Average.  Not the “arm candy” type.  Not the type who possesses beauty that would inspire such great devotion.  And yet.  He is.  Devoted.  To her.

I thought if I worked hard enough and made enough money to take care of us, he would find value in me.  Appreciate me and what I “brought to the table.”   But the one he loves works for a non-profit.  She’s not a big earner in any sense.  She lets him take care of her.  And he inherited a fortune from his parents.  So he takes care of her in ways he never even thought about with me.  Because he loves her.  And he never loved me.  No matter how hard I tried to give him reasons to love me.  No matter how much I tried to make things easy…or at least easier.

I thought if I dressed well, colored away the gray, looked put together, acted normal and was stylish, he would love me and be proud of me.  Or at the very least, be accepting.  Yet, the one he loves is sloppy.  Her hair is salt and pepper…mostly salt.  Frizzy, unstyled.  She wears no makeup.  Her clothes are haphazard and mismatched.  She looks anything but put together.   But he loves her.  The unfashionable and frumpy.  Because she doesn’t have to act normal.  She doesn’t have to try to have worth.  She just is.  She just does.

I thought if I was successful, he would see that there was more to being a good wife than cooking a meal every night (at which I failed miserably) and cleaning the toilets or dusting (yep, failed at that too).  He was the one with the low paying job and easy hours.  I was the one who was paying our bills and providing opportunities for him to enjoy and indulge.  I was working myself to death in an attempt to make something of myself.  But he left me.  And married her.  The one he loved and loves still.  Because she doesn’t have to do anything to deserve it.  She doesn’t have to earn acceptance.  She is cherished.  She brings a smile to his face.  No matter what she does…or doesn’t do.

That face once looked at me with utter disdain.  It was painted clearly across his disapproving features and reflected in those disappointed eyes.  What I was…it was never enough.  I wasn’t good enough.  Or enough.  Because I wasn’t someone like her.

The one he loves is accepted.  Cared for.  Appreciated.  Wanted.  Valued.  Important.  Beautiful in his eyes.  Everything I always wanted to be, but never could become.

Being thin, successful, hardworking, loyal, intelligent…none of it made a difference.  Because I was me.  And he really didn’t like me at all.

I wasn’t able to live up to his expectations.  I wasn’t able to change who I was inside.  I couldn’t make feelings I felt and thoughts that played endlessly through my weary brain go away.  I couldn’t fix the broken places.  I couldn’t be a different person.  I couldn’t change everything that was shattered and damaged.   I couldn’t stop being…me.

I’m glad he found her.  Truly I am.  But I do so wish he could have found something to love in me.

 

Kiss

He moved closer
closer
so close I wanted
to step back
but then he
suddenly pulled me
to himself
holding me fast
in his hungry grip
and he smiled at me
just before
his lips
touched mine

Gently at first
he kissed me
the shock of it
leaving me
paralyzed
and uncertain
frightened
stunned

His hunger grew
as he parted my lips
with his unrelenting tongue
I was so young
I did not understand

Sensing my resistance
he pulled away slightly
for a moment
looked at me with a wicked smile
playing on
those lips
that had just
devoured mine
“I’m teaching you”
he said
before quickly kissing me again
harder
deeper
more insistent
out of control

I wanted to tell him
to stop
I wanted to tell him
I didn’t like it
that it felt wrong
but I could barely catch my breath
barely breathe at all
my brain was frozen
and I could not make
my mouth
form words

Confusion clouded my thoughts
fear kept me from action
I pushed
in a weak attempt
to escape
his iron grip

“Please daddy…
please, no”
It was all I could say
once I was finally able to speak

He only chuckled
and said
“We’ll have more lessons
soon
many more lessons”
“I will teach you”
“I know what is best for you”

And then, he left me
standing alone in my room
unsure of what to do
feeling very lost
empty
and bewildered
feeling dirty
somehow tainted
and degraded
knowing something precious
had just been stolen
that parts of me
had been broken
into pieces
and shattered
from
having just experienced
my first
kiss

 

 

 

The Tree Remembers

There is much truth in the African proverb, “The ax forgets. The tree remembers.”

 

The ax forgot, if he ever acknowledged, the impact of his hands upon my prepubescent body, probing forbidden places; private, sacred places that fathers should never touch on their daughters.  Not in that way.  Not with lust dripping from his penis.  Lust that caused his voice to tremble, his breath to be short and quick, his hands to move with cold deliberation, his eyes to watch greedily.  The ax forgot, if he ever recognized, what it did to that daughter when he forced his hard, swollen penis inside of her as the pain split her apart.  When he came on her, covering her with his sticky goo.  When he came in her mouth, shooting his seed down her throat, causing her to gag.  The ax forgot, if he ever considered her at all, how it destroyed her when he made her strip and dance before him or forced her into the shower with him.  The ax forgot how it hurt when he hit her. When he knocked her across the room or to the floor.  His memory only lasted as long as the marks, if that long.  The ax forgets.  But the tree remembers.  To this day, she remembers.  I remember.

The ax forgot the pain of her slaps on her daughter’s face and the humiliation of her angry, cutting, degrading words.  The fear of being dragged by the hair as that mother raged and ranted.  The ax forgot how cutting her words of rejection and disappointment were to the ears of her eager child; the child who longed to please her, who wanted to be accepted and held and wanted.  The ax forgot what it meant when she averted her eyes, refusing to see, as that same timid child was being sexually used by her husband.  When the daughter looked to her for help, but found only denial, demands and dismissal.  The ax forgot.  But the tree remembers.  To this day, she remembers.  Yes, I remember.

The tree is forever altered.  Laid to waste.  Barely able, if able at all, to remain standing.  The tree no longer flourishes.  No longer lives.  All of its energy and lifeblood is spent attempting to heal the ghastly, horrific wounds that resulted from the ax as it hacked deep into her soul.  The tree longs to forget.  Longs to overcome.  Longs to be whole again. But the wounds of the ax have done the unspeakable.  Those injuries are unbearable, horrifying and atrocious.  The ax has forgotten.  The ax moves on. The tree cannot forget.  Because the tree is not what it was before and it will never be what it would have been had it not been so dreadfully wounded by the vile ax.

The ax will go on to wound again and again in many abominable and staggering ways.  Over time, the scars in the bark of the tree are so many, the tree is deformed, stunted, disgusting.  The tree cannot forget because the tree cannot escape the effects of the ghastly blows.

The tree tries to survive. Gone are the dreams of thriving.  Of providing shade for the birds and shelter for the squirrels.  The broken, wretched tree is ruined.  Injured beyond repair.  The ax forgets.  But the tree, the tree cannot forget no matter how hard she tries.  She lives with the brokenness.  She carries the stink of her defilement.  She cannot leave it behind her because it is woven into every cell and memory.

So profound.  The ax doesn’t have to live with the damage it created.  Its steps, are not hindered by the crippling blows it meted out.  All that came before.  It’s over.  In the past.  But the tree cannot escape the damage.  It cannot leave the destruction in the shadows of yesterday.  It has been shattered and dismembered.  It will never be what it was meant to be.  The ax doesn’t understand why the tree won’t “get over it.”  Why it doesn’t simply go on. But the tree doesn’t know how.  It doesn’t have that kind of magic in its limbs.

The ax forgets.  The tree remembers.  It longs to forget.  But it can’t.  It remembers everything.  In pieces and fragments, like watching a movie, with memories fading in and out of the darkness, but it remembers. 

Oh, how the tree wishes it could forget.

Ghost of Christmas Past

It’s the most wonderful time of the year…
For some.
For others, it’s a lonely, painful time.   A haunted time.
It’s a time of unfulfilled expectations.  Of laughter that never reaches your heart.  Happiness that never makes it to your soul.  Because it’s supposed to be a time of families and close friends getting together, celebrating, sharing love, magic, joy.  Perhaps for a lot of people, that’s what happens.  But for many of us, it’s just another empty, disappointing day.  One that feels even more empty than normal because it’s supposed to be full.
 And then, there is the dark side.
I have a memory from 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 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 thigh deep in the shallowest of places.  It was almost waist 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 miracle.
 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 snow in the winter was an everyday affair, he knew lots of outside winter games.  He asked us if we knew how to play fox and geese.  We both shook our heads no, shivering with anticipation as well as with the cold.  And so 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 an “x” path through the circle, dividing it into 4 equal quadrants. 
 He was the fox first.  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 and freezing cold and totally exhausted.  Then we all tumbled back into the house to change into dry clothes and warm our 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.
I was in my room, having just opened the drawer to my dresser.  I was trying to decide what sweater I wanted to wear.  As I poked through the 4 or 5 sweaters I owned, I was startled when the door to my room opened and closed.  My father entered and he was acting strangely.  Playful daddy had turned into what I later came to know and label as “sick daddy.”  He sucked the air out of the room as he entered, breathing heavily.  Quivering with anticipation.  I was enveloped by an overwhelming sense of dread that I didn’t understand.
 “Let me make you warm,” he said quietly but firmly in his new odd voice.
He removed my clothes as I hopelessly pleaded with him.  Begged him not to.  Kissing, fondling, groping, invading me.  And when he was finished, he said, “There, now isn’t that better?  Don’t you feel warm now?  Get dressed and come on out to the kitchen.  I’ll make us all some hot chocolate.”
And he was gone.
I remember standing in my room, unable to move for a time.  Then picking up my discarded clothes and placing them in a pile.  I dressed quickly.  Quietly.  I felt numb.  Frozen by ice that was colder than the snow that covered the ground.  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.  But what I most remember…vividly remember…is seeing myself still there in my room, hopelessly broken, barely breathing, laying on the floor.  I remember leaving that shattered little girl behind.  I left her there, a pile of gore and broken bones, shattered spirit and heart, 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 go out into the ugly 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 I have.  Certainly there are far more horrible memories of perverted things he did to me. 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?
Several things seem pertinent.  For one thing, when my father started sexually abusing me, I was probably around 4 or 5 years old.  The memories I have of that time are shrouded 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.  Because of this, I created a fantasy world and escaped into it.  As an older child, this was becoming more difficult to execute.  And I believe I had 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 a make-believe world. Secondly, having come to an age where I could no longer deny or shroud in fantasy what my father was doing to me, I shattered. Completely shattered.  I believe the memory I have is of the day, the moment in time, when that horrible shattering took place.  So even though what he did to me that day was not the vilest thing my father would ever do, it was a significant moment in time because of the internal impact.  It was the moment he utterly obliterated my soul.
I didn’t stop loving Christmas.  Though I hate snow.  But Christmas was never a carefree or magical time for me afterwards.  I was always looking over my shoulder.  Waiting for everything to morph into that other unspeakable reality.  It was never again wonderful.  There was a hidden razor’s edge, cutting into my deepest and most vulnerable parts and places.  There was always pain mixed with the happiness.  Fear mixed with the laughter.  Terror mixed in with the carols that were sung.  And I stopped expecting it to be special.  Because everything that was special had been taken away from me.
Guarded, posing in front of the Christmas tree at age 12.
Me in front of the Christmas tree at age 12.
Magic no longer existed.  The lights were not as bright, the ornaments weren’t as shiny.  A hideous monster hid behind the bows and colorful paper that covered the gifts under the tree.  I knew the monster.  The monster watched me, waiting, pouncing, taking.  Christmas that year was when I finally understood what he was.  And then, I closed the lid of the brightly wrapped box in which he hid and smiled, carried on, acting as if everything was as it seemed.
He is long dead now, this ghost of Christmas past.  But he haunts me still.

Two Worlds

There are two worlds.  Two worlds that exist side by side here on this planet that revolves endlessly around the sun as it hurtles through space.  A planet that is but a pinpoint of light in a deep and endless darkness.  A galaxy filled with light year after light year of eternal night.

This is where our lives play out.  On this speck of a planet surrounded by a deep airless void.

Two worlds.

One where love is.

One where love is not.

Two worlds.  They exist side-by-side.  But they’re worlds apart. Touching shoulders with each other.  As different as night is from day.  Neighbors.  But not friendly neighbors.  Distant cousins who have never met.  Who don’t want to meet.

I come from the 2nd world.  The really dark one.

In my house, on the side of the street where I grew up, there was a lot of yelling, hitting, anger, pain and rejection.  There were so many expectations, I couldn’t keep up with them.  Fix my parent’s life.  Fix my parents.  Make all A’s.  Be popular.  Be silent.  Don’t cause trouble.  Have blonde hair.  Be cute and petite.  Don’t be a bother.  Don’t ask for anything.  Don’t need.  Do the dishes.  And homework.  Keep the secrets.  The many secrets our house held.  The secrets the curtains cloaked, shielded and guarded.  Don’t tell.  Don’t call attention to yourself.  Act normal.  Do what you’re told.  Make everyone happy.  Make everyone feel better.  Make the hard stuff go away.  Solve all my mother’s problems.  Be her confidant.  Affirm her.  Take care of my little brother.  Shut up.  Smile.  Don’t ask questions.  Don’t stir anything up.

An endless list.  Nothing was ever removed from the list.  Much was added…often daily.  Much was expected without being spoken or defined.

In my world, the world where love wasn’t, acceptance was never achieved.  If I made all A’s, I should have made A+’s.  If I got all the housework done and done well, it was never good enough.  I was  always at fault and deficient.  Because I was defective.  I was a failure.  Flaws could easily be thrown in my face.  And of course, I couldn’t solve their problems, fix their lives or make them feel better.  Nor could I make the darkness go away.  Instead, the darkness swallowed me whole.  And refused to spit me out.

I was fat, ash blonde and getting darker by the minute.  I wasn’t popular or petite.  I didn’t have answers.

I saw the kids who came from and lived in the other world.  I saw them daily at school.  They were foreign to me.  I couldn’t begin to imagine all of the ways in which we were different, but we were very, very different.  They were better.  I was inferior.  I was worthless.

They laughed without restraint.  They had confidence.  A voice.  They mattered.  They were special.  Wanted.  Worth caring for.

I was not.

I did keep the secrets.  That’s one thing I did extremely well.  One area where I exceeded expectations.  The people from the other world never suspected what I endured behind the closed and locked doors of my parent’s house.

Abuse.  Constant.  Abuse.

Where there is abuse, love is absent.  And there was always abuse.  There wasn’t much, if any, love.

They told me they loved me.  Then hit me.  Slapped me.  Knocked me down.

They told me they loved me.  Then demeaned and used me.

They told me they loved me.  Then rejected me.

They told me they loved me.  Then ignored me.

They told me they loved me.  Then neglected me.

They told me they loved me.  Then my loving father sexually abused me.  Raped me.

They told me they loved me.  Then detailed all the many different ways I disappointed them.  How I let them down.

In my world, winning was no more of an option than was being loved.

Two worlds.  Worlds apart.  Vastly different.  Day and night.

My world lacked air.  Warmth.  Light.  The laughter that existed was forced, guarded, cautious.  Required.  No belly laughs.  No joy.  Not even a little sliver of happiness.

Lots of caution.  Silence.  Darkness.  Cold.  Anger.  Disappointment.  Fear.  Anguish.  No one to turn to and no safe harbor.  Danger lurked.  Lunged.  Ripped me to pieces with razor sharp claws.

There was no escape.

I endured.  Survived.

When I left home at the age of 17, I tried to leave that shadow world behind.  But growing up there had damaged me on a cellular level.  There was no leaving it.  I left the slaps, but not the rejection.  I left the sexual abuse, but not the lack of love.  I left the darkness, but the darkness grew inside of me.  It stunted me.  Left me broken and empty.

Two worlds.  I drew the low card.  The short straw.  I came from the wrong one.  I could see the other world, but I couldn’t touch it.  It is and has remained forever out of my reach.

Two worlds.

One where love is.

One where love is not.

My world is the one where love is not.

Keep Walking

You would think by now, after all these years of trying to understand and find my way, to fit the shards back together, I would be able to find the right words to describe what happened and how it affected me.  You would think I would be able to easily pull the memories out of the distant past, touch the emotions, paint the picture of my life and make sense of it all.

Yet, more often than not, I find myself without words.  Unable to speak.  To verbalize a single thought.  Unable to write.  Unable to adequately explain why my world is so shattered.

I find myself without a reason to continue the journey.

This endless void where I reside in a place of numbness and isolation is an inescapable prison.  I cannot connect.  I cannot breathe.  I cannot connect because I can’t even begin to identify the real me standing in the lineup.  I’ve hidden within roles for so long, I’ve lost who I truly am.  If, indeed, there is enough left of me behind the mast to count as still being human.  If existing counts.

The masks I wear are not worn to deceive, but rather to deflect.  There is a difference.  They’ve been worn to protect others, to deflect their eyes away from the ugliness so they won’t be horrified or offended.  To protect others from me…and maybe to protect me from myself.

I try to pretend that I am someone I clearly am not because I can’t get beyond the fact that who I am is not acceptable.  Not normal.  Not good enough.   Of little or no value.  So I pretend I am someone who is worth of hanging out with.  Worthy of being hired by a good employer.  Worthy of talking to and getting to know.  Someone who isn’t a broken, empty, utterly shattered shell of a person.

I leave the abused part of me at home.  The unacceptable and toxic prat.  The part that can’t function.  Just as I left the little girl who shattered into a million gazillion pieces behind in my bedroom when she could no longer endure the sexual abuse and unnatural demands of her sick father.  The child who endured the demeaning, destructive words both parents were so often known to spew.  I walk out the door now, just as I walked out of my bedroom door when I was a child.  I go on.  Even if it’s without my heart and soul.  I keep walking.  Even if I don’t have anything to walk toward.  Or anyone to walk beside me.  I walk.  I do.  I function.  Simply because I don’t know what else to do.

Really…how does one give up?  What would that look like?  Would I stay in bed and refuse to talk?  What good would that do?  No one is going to take care of me.   No one is going to lend a shoulder for me to lean on.    They have their own burdens.

So if I stop walking, I won’t have food.  I won’t have money to pay for a house.  No clothes, no car.  I won’t be able to take care of my dogs or get my teeth fixed or go to the doctor when needed.  I don’t know how to give up, even as I don’t know what to do next.  Or if there is anything to do next.   I’m not sure there is a next step.  But I take it anyway.

Collapsing is only going to make things worse.  And so, I keep getting up.  I keep going to work.  I pay my bills.  I adore my dogs.  I take the trash out.  I pick up around the house and even clean occasionally.  Including the toilets.

It requires that I ignore my soul.  I’ve gotten good at it.

Yet, over time, continually denying who you really are, pretending to be a “normal” and functional person, corrodes your identity until there is little left of one’s person-hood.  I no longer know what I hope for or if I have any dreams left.  It becomes impossible to determine if there is anything left ahead to make it worthwhile, much less wondrous.  I’ve strangled myself and now, I can’t imagine there is anything good.  I no longer know what matters because I’ve left too many little pieces of my heart behind.

All I know to do is to keep walking.  Keep putting one foot in front of the other.  There is no viable alternative.  I’m letting my feet take me wherever they will because I don’t know what direction I should go.  I keep taking one step at a time up this mountain that stands before me because there is nothing else to do.  I don’t know how to stop.

I will keep walking until my body simply won’t go any further.  Not because I believe in the grand ending or that there will be roses along the road.  Not because of any glorious view I expect to see from the mountain top, should I ever reach it.  But simply because quitting is not an option.

And so I take a step.  I get out of bed.  I go to work.  I do what needs to be done.

A step.  And then I take another.  And then another.  Even if I’m not going anywhere.