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Love is Not a Word

My parents were abusive.  They were abusive in my ways, on may different levels, all of them destructive, demoralizing and debasing.  I was something they owned and a thing to be used for whatever purposes served them at the time.  I could never live up to their expectations, nor did I ever manage to earn the air I breathed while growing up in their house.  I failed them time and time again.

My parents told me often that they loved me.

I generally tried not to think of these two opposing points because I could never allow the  opposites to exist in my mind at the same time without feeling as if my head would explode.

When I couldn’t ignore the nagging thoughts any longer, I would ask them the most obvious question.

“Did you WANT to have children?”

Regardless of how many times I asked and they answered, their response always caused additional bafflement.   And confusion.  For they assured me with very convincing words that they had wanted a child with all of their heart and had been crushed when told it might not happen for them.  Having a baby had been an answer to their prayers.

It was difficult to believe.  They were abusing me and treating me as though I was a worthless mutt who ever lived to disappoint.  They seriously wounded and treated me horribly, making it challenging to reconcile their actions with their explanations.  Why would they abuse and discard me if they had wanted me?

My brain, frantically in search of a logical justification for the incongruent data supplied, settled upon the next plausible motive for their abuse and neglect.

“Did you want a boy?”

Their response never wavered.  “Oh, no, we were hoping for a little girl.”

I couldn’t understand.  For it was at this point they usually told me they loved me, their own little miracle, their first born.

Thus, I learned to ignore my “gut.”  I learned to distrust my intuition.  My feelings.  I listened to their words.  I came to the conclusion that they were telling me the truth and love was very painful indeed.

Being loved was like being mauled by a bear.  Someone was going to get hurt and hurt badly.  And the bear was going to amble away, living to maul another day.

If love is painful, if it’s a destructive force, one that demands, takes, uses and demolishes, it’s not actually something you can cozy up to.  Walls have to be built and maintained.  You have to protect yourself from that kind of a presence.  You can never let down your guard.  And if you don’t do exactly what is expected of you at any given moment, love will turn on you and rip you to pieces.

That’s the only conclusion I could settle on.  Love took and never gave.  You needed it, but the price you had to pay was astronomical.  My parents wanted me.  They loved me.  And I wanted their love. So being loved was what caused the damage and abuse.  It was so painful, it could barely be survived.

The problem, I finally realized, was found within my definition of love…what it really means to be loved.  I was well over 40 before I realized the flaw to my logic.

I began to consider the facts once more and was startled to realize I had the equation all wrong.  I had begun with the answer and built my case on it.  But I had not started with the correct answer.

If my parents loved me and my parents used, neglected and abused me, then love, though necessary, though hungered for, was painful and wounding.

If parental love + parental abuse = “True Love”

  • Then true love is nothing more than abuse, rejection, never-ending demands and disgust, among many other hurtful and appalling actions.
    • Therefore, abuse, rejection, never-ending demands and disgust are what is deserved, because this is true love.
    • I didn’t deserve anything beyond what they provided because I was asking for more than love.  I was worthless, a failure who never met their expectations, an object (not even a person).  I wanted and needed what I should not want and need.
    • They were justified. They acted out of love so their actions were what I deserved.

I created a Boolean loop.

But, what if…

What if they didn’t actually love me?

What if the way they treated me wasn’t love?  What if the things they did to me were indications of their lack of love for me?  What if those hurtful actions revealed their true motives, their own selfish desires and their narcissism?

What if love is not a word?  What if it is a force that comes from the heart and propels one to take actions or motivates certain behaviors that are totally, absolutely, conclusively not like those actions and behaviors I experienced with my parents?

If saying you love someone doesn’t equal love…?

This is when the world turned upside down .  Or maybe, more accurately, it’s when it began to turn right-side up again.

I think they loved the IDEA of having a child.  But loving the child was another thing altogether.  That was the part they couldn’t do.  And the lack of love for me was unmasked and evidenced by their acts and deeds.

I let myself be deceived.  I believed their words, discarding my own observation, intuition and understanding.  I thought I had to be wrong because they told me they loved me, proving my feelings and conclusions were inaccurate.  But what if my observation, intuition, understanding, feelings and conclusions were dead on and their words expressing love for me contained the lie?

What if love is not a word?  What if love is more…so very much more?  What if it’s not a bear that mauls you, but a puppy that can’t stop kissing your nose because you are their whole wonderful world?  What if being loved doesn’t = being abused?  What if my parents lied so I would never look too closely at their actions or question their harsh demands and judgements too carefully?

I am still working at undoing all the faulty logic in my brain.  All the thoughts that were derailed and discarded because I started with the wrong conclusion.  I believed their words and not their deeds.  But I think I am on the right path now.  I think I knew in my heart that they didn’t really love me, which caused me to probe and question them repeatedly.  In trying to fit WORDS OF LOVE and ACTIONS OF ABUSE together in a way that made sense and didn’t rip me to pieces, I allowed myself to believe their lie.

I’m finally starting to get it.  Slowly.  It’s beginning to take shape in my soul.

Love is not a word.  I have never known love.

Someone Has to Pay

Someone has to pay…and the price is high.

It costs all the years when children innocently dance the days away, safe and secure, chasing after fireflies.  Chasing after dreams.  Laughing from the belly; giggling with a carefree heart.  Running with the wind as it blows through their hair.  Jumping, leaping, straining to touch stars.  Twirling beneath a warm blue sky and falling into the soft green grass.  Life is magic.  Nothing is impossible.  Worries are for another day.

It costs the years when young teens take their first tentative steps into the future, full of a sense of adventure mixed with trepidation, looking forward while still looking back, because “back” isn’t all that long ago.  Reaching for a parent’s hand even as they struggle to let go completely.  Whirling in the midst of all they have been taught, the foundations that have been constructed, carefully and lovingly.  Testing them.  Finding their own way.

It costs all the years of young adulthood, when tentative steps solidify into ever more confident strides. When life begins to come into focus.  When dreams start to mature, decisions are made, hopes are stored into tomorrow’s treasure chest.  Ideas become plans.  Goals come into focus.  True friendships deepen and childish things are put aside, though not forgotten, for old memories are still to be enjoyed as new ones are made.  Meaning and purpose is sought and slowly found.  Life is being built a step at a time.

It costs the years of middle life, times of growing, achieving, gaining wisdom and understanding.  Times of learning what is actually important.  Connections.  The giving of your heart to others.  Commitment to a spouse.  Transparency and joy, raw vulnerability and finding a place of safety within the heart of others.  The birth of children ushers in pain beyond imagining.  And love beyond anything and everything that has ever been before.  Love so deep, your heart aches with it, throbs with it, cries with it, laughs with it, prays with it, embraces it, cherishes it.  You tremble with wonder and the fear of it as you hold it gently inside like a rare and delicate butterfly.  The world is no longer only about you.  It expands.  And the happiness of others becomes even more important to you than your own.

Such a high price.  It costs every hope.  Every dream.  Every joy. Every bit of meaning and all trust. It exacts a price every moment, stealing your soul, infusing your heart with anguish, stripping you of normality.  It purloins all sense of worth.  Damages so deeply, nothing can grow in the wasteland within.  Nothing can thrive or live in that shadowland where all has died.  The wounds and scars will mark the graves forever. The land is left toxic, poisoned and desolate.

When parents take from their children, rape their children, make their children objects to be used and abused, it costs the child everything.  All of this and more.  Though the parents refuse to acknowledge what they have destroyed, what they have stolen away, the child is the one who loses the world.  The child is the one who pays.  They pay with their life, with all they should have had but never knew and all they could have been but will never be.  They pay the price.  They pay with their heart and their soul.

They pay an exorbitant price every day until the day they finally die.

Monsters

Years ago, in small town USA, where locking your doors was optional and leaving your keys in the car as you ran into the tiny grocery mart that served the community was common practice, people never once gave monsters a thought.  They didn’t dream they existed in real life.  You didn’t read about them in the weekly 6-page newspaper; nor in the paper from the small city 30 minutes to the east.  They were the things of a young child’s imagination, of story books and badly done horror movies.  Good for a thrill or a scare, but they had no substance, nor were they something to be feared.

The monsters of that day wore a mask and walked among us.  They went to church and served as volunteers for popular worthy causes.  They held down respectable jobs, bought nice homes, laughed with their coworkers and prayed before meals.  They hunted and fished and bowled.  Sat in the bleachers at neighborhood baseball games while child after child struck out amid giggles and chants, not worried about winning while having a great time playing.  They blended in, vigilantly hiding their true character and motives beneath carefully crafted facades that wholly concealed their ugliness.  Their selfishness.  Their lust.

So, it makes sense that the monsters in my house didn’t hide under the beds, disguise themselves in dark corners or conceal themselves behind closet doors.  They weren’t afraid of the daylight; didn’t worry about needing to stick to the shadows to remain undetected.  Nor were they worried about being exposed by someone who thought they caught a hint of something nightmarish behind their broad smile.  Why fear detection when no one believes you exist?

My monsters sat with me at the dinner table.   But no one else saw them for who they were.

I did try to rip the mask from their faces a couple of times, in hopes of saving myself.

I told the pastor of the local Baptist church, only to be chastised, humiliated and sent home with a stern warning to never lie about them again.  He would not listen to my pleas or hear the description of what I knew from experience truly reclined behind their disguise.  They were, after all, respected members of the community.  I was nothing more than a troubled child.  Sullen and sensitive.  Shy and strange.

On another occasion when depression and fear sought to eat me whole, I confided in an admired teacher at my high school.  But she also didn’t believe me and rejected my desperate disclosure, acting thereafter as if I weren’t even in her classroom, refusing to acknowledge my presence, much less my suffering.   I’m not sure what I expected, considering my father was also a teacher.  And he taught in that small city to the east of my tiny township.  The city where all the small-town teachers longed to for a classroom.  Where resources were plentiful and the pay was superior, though not yet enough to provide a livable wage.  In retrospect, it was rather foolish of me to expect to be rescued by someone who secretly envied and related to him.

Experience and rejection taught me to stay silent.  I learned not to tell.  To keep my mouth tightly shut and my heart numbed to the pain.  I learned to walk silently, to ask for nothing and to fear everyone.

I learned that no one else could see the monsters.

But they were (and are) there.  Hiding in plain sight.  Smiling at the neighbors.  Tipping the waitress.  Picking up their mail from the post office.  Raking leaves.  Washing the car.  Pretending to be nothing more than the disguise they have carefully constructed and religiously maintained.

I couldn’t escape them.  At best, I hoped only to survive.

Abuse exacts a toll.  Survival comes at a cost.  They stole almost everything of importance from me.  My trust.  My innocence.  My hope.  My value.  My dreams.  My soul.  My heart.  They twisted my thinking and broke me down into jagged, shattered, hurting pieces.  Hitting me.  Rejecting.  Demanding more.  They were selfish and judging.  Withholding acceptance, medical care, touch.  Except to touch me in places they shouldn’t.  In ways I shouldn’t have been touched, especially by a father.  At ages when I was too young to even begin to understand what was being done to me.

That’s when the facade failed.  That’s when I saw them for who they were.  When they dripped with evil passion and allowed lust and self-centeredness to control them.  That’s when I realized monsters were real.  And far more frightening than any horror movie had ever portrayed.

I still feel them lurking.  Watching.  Not the monster parents who gave birth to me, for they are long dead.  But others.  I catch their reflection in a window glass.  Out of the corner of my eye as I walk by.  I see it in the way they look at a child.  In unguarded seconds.  I see it in their expression.  In their eyes.  Monstrous wickedness.  Painstakingly veiled.

You will see them too, if you dare to look.

The only way to stop them is to expose them.  But to expose them, you have to be willing to see the unthinkable instead of turning away.  You have to be able to acknowledge their existence rather than writing them off as an illusion while telling yourself they only live in the realm of twisted imagination.

There are monsters among us.  Monsters who are worse than your wildest nightmare or most hideous fictitious devil.  Lurking.  Plotting and planning.  Preying.  You still don’t read about them all that often.  But they are there.  Shopping for groceries.  Mowing their lawn.  Stopping at red traffic lights.  Singing in the choir.  Biding their time.  Waiting for the perfect moment to pounce.

Seasons

Seasons come.  Seasons go.  Time passes so quickly, speeding by at a frenzied pace toward the cliff in its haste to carry us to our final end.

When I was a child in the spring of my life, seasons held no meaning beyond the climate associated with each of them.  Days became warmer as we moved toward summer.  Leaves unfurled, beautifully adorning once barren trees.  Flowers blossomed, proudly showing off their magnificent colors.  The sky was blue more often than it was gray.  Once brown grass slowly turned a lush green.  Gentle breezes and sweet air caressed my skin deliciously.  And the sun reigned, banishing the consuming darkness of winter to a shorter, more bearable time span, allowing just enough time for refreshing sleep.

Even during the summer years of my life, I didn’t see the seasons as painting my story, echoing the doomed trajectory of my life.  I didn’t see the parallel.  I had an abundance of time stretching out before me.  There was no need to worry if a year seemed to slip away unobserved or barely experienced.  Or that all I managed to accomplish was to survive. I basked in the sunshine, in my youth, in the possibilities of tomorrow.

It was as I approached and moved into the fall of life that I began to sit up and take notice.  It was at this point I began to panic.

It dawned on me suddenly that my time was now limited and supply was dwindling.  I was utterly stunned to realize there were far more years behind me than probably remained ahead.  My skin began to sag, no longer firm and smooth.  Wrinkles appeared beneath my eyes, around my mouth, as if time was using my face as a canvas with the intention to mar and mock.  I woke tired after a night of sleep.  The days turned colder, unwelcoming and short.  All the things I believed I would accomplish by this point in life were yet undone.  Not achieved.  The damage from years of childhood abuse crippled me and I was left struggling to overcome the destruction in hopes of someday thriving.  I had to work harder to get to the line where others started their journey and I was never able to catch up.  Fall was not friendly.  But it whispered of even worse days to come.

In the summertime, everything is alive, growing.  Fruit hangs from the vine and weighs down the branches of lush trees.  Flowers dance in the warmth.  Trees and shrubs and plants put out new shoots and increase in stature.

I experienced summer as a season, but I never lived during the summer of my life.  I never emerged from the darkness.  I never reached a point where I was fully alive, much less flourishing.

I blinked and summer was gone.  Just.  Like.  That.

Now, each year I survive comes with the understanding it could be my last.  Though I am not bent and ancient, if I continue to breathe, I am not as far removed from that coming stage of life as I am from my youth.  The end is clearly in sight.  And it’s terrifying.

I have walked.  Oh, my, how I have walked.  Many steps.  Many years, putting one tired foot before another.  I have left footprints in the dust where I longed to leave them in stone.  In cement.  I wanted to leave something lasting behind me.  But the wind has swept away the dust as quickly as I have passed through, leaving no trace of my coming and going.  Even the air that once caressed my youthful skin does not recognize or remember me.

I have walked.  But I have gone nowhere.  Looking back over the years and seasons, though I know the path taken, I cannot see any sign of my ever having existed.

Someday, winter will arrive, harsh and uncaring.  My home will be left empty.  The contents will be given or thrown away.  Every word I have written will be discarded, for no one will care to hear what I had to say.   Winter will strip me of the few leaves I managed to produce and will bury me under mounds of icy snow.  I will be wiped from the face of the earth.

Winter is coming, hard and fast and frigid.  All that I am and all that I have hoped to become will vanish without a trace beneath the cold hands of time.   The harsh touch of the darkness will erase me completely. Nothing I leave behind will make a difference to anyone who comes after.

I can feel the chill.  I was plunged into eternal darkness by my parents as they abused me and I never escaped the impact, nor got to enjoy the light of long summer days.  I was too numb.  Working too hard to persevere.

A time is coming when I will not see another season unfold.  When spring will blow in like a lion, but I will no longer breathe the fresh air…or any air at all.  The summer sun will not warm me or my dry, brittle bones.  Fall will have nothing else to take from me, for I will not be required to die yet again.  Only winter will want me.  The icy winter will hold me in frosty arms.  My eyes will not see, my heart will no longer cry in pain or be torn by unbearable regret.  I will be frozen in that final moment.  And in that moment, I will begin to return to dust.  Dust that someone else will walk through as they leave their footprints trailing behind them.  Hoping, as I once did, to leave their mark.

The Ax Forgets

“The ax forgets. The tree remembers.” African Proverb

The ax.  Cutting.  Destructive.  Powerful.

The ax forgot, if he ever acknowledged, the impact of his hands upon my prepubescent body, probing forbidden places.  Touching private, sacred places that fathers should never touch on their daughters.  Never.

The ax stands and cuts, with lust dripping from his penis.  Lust that coursed through him, caused his voice to tremble, his breath to come short, jagged and quick, his hands to move with cold deliberation, his eyes to watch greedily.  Hungrily.

The ax conveniently 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 uncontrollably.

The ax forgot, if he ever considered her at all.  He forgot 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 threw her to the floor.  His memory only lasted as long as he stood in the moment.  Only until he got what he wanted from her.  It lasted only as long as the marks he made upon her body, 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 and told her how badly she failed to live up to expectations.  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 child who sought her love.  The ax forgot what it meant when she averted her eyes, refusing to see, as that same timid child was being sexually used, abused 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.  Though the tree kept the secret, she remembers.

To this day, she remembers.   I remember.

The tree is forever altered.  Deeply damaged.  Laid to waste.  Barely able, if able at all, to remain standing.  The tree no longer flourishes.  No longer lives and breathes.  All of its energy and lifeblood is spent attempting to heal the ghastly, horrific, oozing 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, 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, it is permanently deformed, stunted, hacked apart.  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, now 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.

It is who she has become.

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.  By all that came before.  It’s over and never thought of again.  Everything…all of it.  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.  Misused.  It will never be what it was meant to be.  The ax doesn’t understand why the tree doesn’t “get over it.”  Why it doesn’t simply go on. But the tree can’t undo what has been done or change who the ax has made it.  It doesn’t have that kind of magic in its lacerated limbs.

The ax forgets.  The tree remembers.  It longs to forget.  But it can’t.  It remembers everything.  In pieces and slivers, like watching old, damaged film, memories fading in and out of the darkness.  But it remembers.

It remembers, though it tries to go on as if nothing happened.  How the tree wishes it could forget.

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 Beating of My Heart

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No more.

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

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

A longing for what will never occur.

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

Alone.  Broken.  Empty. Unfulfilled.  Without.

Hope has slipped away.

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

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

I Will Not Be Remembered

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Ghost of Christmas Past

It’s the most wonderful time of the year…

But only for some.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Then he was gone.

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

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

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

 Several things seem pertinent. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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