Tag Archives: neglect

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.

Shelter Animal

Wanted:  Good, loving, caring home for older female.  Has some idiosyncrasies and anomalous behavior as a result of early abusive treatment, worsened by continued rejection by prior owner.  In spite of the past cruelty, she is  loyal, faithful, and eager to please, though she has trust and fear issues that require consistent love and a strong commitment.  Doesn’t do many tricks, but is grateful for attention and has been housebroken.  Hates baths.  Affectionate.  If interested, please call. 

You may or may not have guessed…the older female in need of rescue is…me.

I remember as a young girl begging my parents for a dog.  I loved animals; dogs in particular.  I was the child with a tender, compassionate heart who brought home all the strays.  Cats, dogs, baby rabbits, even baby mice.  I couldn’t bear to see a defenseless, innocent animal alone, with no one to protect and nurture them.  I couldn’t turn away from their need.

But I never got to keep them.  My father was a hunter.  He didn’t value animals, other than for the food they provided.  I, on the other hand, often revived the fish he caught and brought home for dinner by placing them in the bathtub filled with water. Took sick woodpeckers to the vet.  To me, all animals were worthy of care (except snakes).   I did, however, feel a special connection with dogs. So, after having yet another stray taken away (and likely killed by my father), I started a campaign to win his permission to get a dog I could keep and call my own.

It took a long time to convince my parents.  I had to prove that I would be responsible for caring for a pet and that I wouldn’t tire of it after the novelty wore off.  I had almost given up when they finally and unexpectedly relented.  I was filled with joy and excitement the beautiful Saturday morning we set off for the animal shelter to look at the dogs that were waiting for adoption.  I was wiggling almost as much as they were as I went from pen to pen.  The dogs jumped and danced.  They licked my fingers and stuck their noses through the wire fenced cage gates.  I wanted all of them! 

And then, I saw Lady.

She was curled up in the back of her pen, tail tucked, looking sad and forlorn.  So sure was she of being rejected, she had given up all hope and stopped trying to gain attention.  I almost didn’t see her.

They let me in the pen with her because she wouldn’t come up to the gate.  I sat on the cold concrete floor and coaxed her onto my lap.  And I knew she was the one.  She needed me.  She needed my love, approval, and acceptance.  She was at least part Cairn Terrier, a wheat color with thick, wiry fur.  And she was a smaller dog, sweet, and affectionate, just the right size for cuddling and holding on my lap.  I was sold.  Hooked.  She was mine.

Lady was fairly young when she came home with me…they estimated her to be 1 to 2 years old.  She lived a long life.  I kept my promise and took care of her.  I loved her.  I even got into trouble occasionally because I couldn’t bear to stop petting her before school, which made me late.  She had such a great need for affection and I had a great need for her unconditional love.  Though she was an outside dog, I spent hours playing with her and showering her with attention.  I had to leave her behind when I left home, which broke my heart.  But by then, even my father had accepted her into the family.  She finally found a place where she was loved and wanted.

My story doesn’t have such a happy ending.

I feel very much like a shelter animal, hiding in the corner, no longer able to muster any hope of someone  discovering me and finding value there.  I long for someone to offer me a place in their heart.  To give me love and acceptance.  Make me theirs.  But I know it isn’t going to happen.  Time is no longer on my side.

I want to be able to open my heart to someone.  To feel safe for the first time in my life.  To give them the unconditional love I have coveted.

I have waited a very long time. 

Again and again, I am passed over.  Ignored.  Unnoticed.  Rejected.  Again and again, someone cuter, better, more wonderful, whole, healthier, and “easier,” with far less baggage, is removed from their pitiful cage and set free.  Taken home.  Loved.  I watch it happen.  I’m happy for them.  The others.  But I am so alone it hurts.  I stay in my corner.  I know this thing called love is not for me.  Acceptance is never to be mine.

Lady found love.  A home.  She was cherished, cared for and wanted.  She led a full life, in spite of her harsh, abusive beginning.

It seems that I am not so fortunate.  I fear I will die a shelter animal.  In my cage.   Alone.   Waiting for tenderness and affection.  Waiting for someone to see me, yet still want me.  Waiting for their love to rescue me.  To set me free.

 

Mixed Messages

The world is confusing.  It is especially so for a young child.  Antennas are fully extended.  Nothing is understood.  Everything is happening quickly and it’s being assimilated, sorted, processed and classified just as swiftly.  A massive amount of information is being filed away in their vulnerable heart.  In their curious mind.  Coming to conclusions.  They are feeling their way along. Trying to avoid anything that explodes newly laid foundations.  Trying to avoid anything that is too scary or painful.  Trying to chew before swallowing.

They listen to the words adults fling back and forth around them.  The adults who are parenting them.  Who matter the most.  Those words they speak carry much weight.  Much more weight than the words of others…at least while they are young.  They listen.  Catch those words.  Ponder them.  And learn.

Yet, actions speak louder than words.  Which is why confusion descends, wrapping them in a thick, unrelenting fog.

Sometimes, the mixed messages cause so much dissonance, the child fractures.

“We love you so much!”  But in the dead of the night, the daddy sneaks quietly into her room and uses her as a living, breathing sex toy.  Or the mother slaps her and drags her by her long hair because she didn’t complete every chore on a 2-page list between the time she got off school and when her mother arrived home from work.

“We prayed for a little girl just like you!”  But her brother is the one who gets dental care, who is taken to the doctor when he is sick, who doesn’t even have to do chores.

“If only you would…lose weight, make better grades, smile, be more popular, clean the house without being asked, like the clothes I want to wear…”  “If only you had…blonde hair, a better personality, a prettier face, slimmer legs, a smaller butt…”  There are lots of “if only” messages.  If only, then we could love you, accept you, like you, be proud of you, want you.

We love you…if only.  We love you, but oh, you’re not as mature as we thought you were.  You’re not as resourceful as we thought you were.  You’re not as worthwhile, valuable, nice, pretty, smart…as we thought you were, thought you should be, wanted you to be, expected you to be, needed you to be.

We needed you to be so much more.

We love you…you were supposed to fulfill our dreams and meet our every need, make our life wonderful and make us happy.  Instead…you’re too much trouble, too much work, you’re a disappointment, you’re a failure, you’re making things harder for me, you need too much, you aren’t doing everything we want you to do, you’re not acting like we want you to act, you’re not performing up to standard, you’re not living up to our expectations…

We love you.  We hit you because you deserve it.  We abuse you because we own you. Because you owe it to us to make us happy. We reject you.  Your needs don’t matter.  We love you.  Smile, dammit!  Do what I say.  Don’t tell anyone.  Don’t look at me like that!  What do you want from me?  We love you.  Not now.  Leave me alone.  I have too many problems of my own to deal with without having to think about you.  You’re not making my life better.  Or easier.  What’s wrong with you?  You’re so fat!  Clean your plate!  I don’t care what you need.  Or what you think.  Clean the house.  Keep the secrets.  We love you.  Do you know how expensive it is to go to the doctor!  You had better be sick enough to justify all that money being spent on you!  Mow the grass.  Clean out the refrigerator.  Mop the floor.  Dust the paneling.  Clean the kitchen.  Vacuum.  Wash the windows.  Make me whole.  Make me feel good about myself and how I’m doing as a parent.  Fix my life.  Why can’t you be more like her?  You’re making us look bad.  Keep your mouth shut.  We love you.  How dare you!  You’re so disappointing.  We can’t be bothered.  Go to your room.  We love you.

The child tries.  Tries to sort through the words.  Tries to comprehend the meaning of what they are saying.  These very important people who are shaping them. Tries to make sense of their actions.  Tries to get the pieces to fit together.  Tries to find a way to make it make sense.

“Love” is nothing more than rejection hiding behind sweet words.  It is abuse, using, hitting.  It means being tolerated if you remain silent.  If you perform to standard.  Yet the standard is constantly changing for the bar is steadily moved higher when you come close to succeeding. You have to earn it, this thing called love.  And the price is high.

Being loved means being judged and found lacking.  It means having no value or worth.

It is the only way to get the mixed messages to fit into one coherent concept.  It is the only way to resolve the distortion, the startling clash between opposing perspectives.  It is the only way those opposing perspectives can exist together in the same room.  Or be spoken with the same breath.

For the other alternative, the one that CAN’T BE TRUE NO MATTER WHAT is that what they are showing you, what they are doing to you, what they are asking of you and demanding from you…isn’t actually love…at all.

Sacrifice

She thanks me for
the sacrifice
I made
so she could live her life
uninterrupted
by the truth
by consequences
or by pain
she’s grateful
that I kept it quiet
and that I do not
blame
her
or my father

It’s redemption
that she seeks –
she longs to know
they did not fail
and I turned out okay;
at least the parts that show
so they could not
have done too badly
after all
and surely
no one does the job
of parenting
the way they thought they would
surely
no one does it
any better

She claims
she’s always loved me
always will
and she prays
the love she has for me
will fill
the cracks
and wounds
unintentionally
inflicted

It’s in the past
she’s quick to state
where it should stay
but surely God
will use it
to bring good about
of that promise
there’s no doubt
so I should cast
my cares on Him
and let it go
these long ago
dark secrets
and get on with life
I did the right thing
when I made
the sacrifice

Yet –

something in
her rhetoric
disturbs me
in some deep
unsettling way
hard to identify
not visible
to the naked eye
it touches something
buried in my mind

What kind of love
thinks of itself
first
using a child
their own child
to fill their needs
or worse
taking
abusing
never noticing
the devastating blows
it is releasing
the devastating
wounds
it is inflicting

The damage
not intended
surely doesn’t count
against them
does it
I could not
hold it
against them –

and while I don’t
while I have worked
long
to forgive them
still I am a prisoner
of their sordid
ugly
“needs”
twisted desires
rejection and neglect
for I am
yet tangled
in the tentacles
of their abhorrent deeds
done in darkness

This “sacrifice”
she claims I made
was just a child
doing what she had to
to survive
their crushing abuse
a vain attempt
to try
to stay
alive

And even now she cannot see
in truth
they’re the ones
who sacrificed
me

 

 

A Cautionary Tale

I’m supposed to have most everything figured out by now.  When I was in my 20’s, not having my act together was acceptable, maybe even normal, predictable and somewhat endearing.  But I’ve reached the point in life where it’s no longer adorable.  Not even close.

Not only should I have figured out the mysteries of life by now, I should have implemented what I learned and lived the mystery in style.  I should even have a few words of wisdom to share.  Some insights.  Some nuggets of truth.  Observations that can save others from stepping in a few of the holes I fell in that nearly broke me or that caused me overwhelming despair and consternation.

Instead, I have only examples of what not to do.  I can only tell you a cautionary tale.  I’ve nothing with which to inspire you.  I have not overcome.  So the path I have wandered and the lessons I have learned only concern directions best not taken and decisions one should not make.

My lessons are tainted with regret.  And longing for a second chance.  If only I could try once more, I think I could get a few things right this time.

All I can offer you, since there are no second chances in life, is a warning to not do as I have done.  To not walk the way I have walked.  To not think the way I have thought.

With that in mind, I share what little I have to offer, hoping it will at least cause you to consider some of the things I didn’t consider at the time.

Lesson #1:  I was silent when I should have shouted.

I am probably much like many others.  As a child, I was timid, quiet, frightened of adults for obvious reasons.  I was perhaps even more silent than most, considering I was being abused by those who gave birth to me and who should have protected me from the very things they were themselves doing.  I swallowed the abuse and the resulting pain.  I swallowed it whole until it very nearly choked the life out of me.  I didn’t manage to whisper a word until I gathered my courage and talked to members of a Christian group visiting our town when I was 13 and badly broken.  I didn’t want to make trouble for my parents, but I did hope to get some help for myself because I was drowning in anguish and deconstructing with every punch, slap, penetration and harsh, cutting word of rejection.  I had been raped, forced to participate in the sick sexual fantasies of my father, fondled, molested, kissed, ejaculated in and upon, soaped up in the shower, made to dance nude, had fingers and objects inserted into me and there was nowhere for me to turn for help.  When I finally did reach out to this group from out of town, dared to speak the words I had been holding inside of me, telling them I was being sexually abused, they quickly, to my horror, turned me over to the pastor for follow-up.  I didn’t attend the church…that wasn’t something my family did.  I had gone that night with a neighbor.  So the pastor didn’t know me; not really.  But he knew my parents, particularly their stellar reputation within our community.  So when he closed the door to his office and turned to face me, he told me with unbending force and anger to go home and never tell a lie about my parents ever again.

I was horrified.  Shattered.  I shut my mouth and kept it that way most of my life.  I shut my mouth and swallowed the rancid toxic waste that flowed through me, keeping it to myself lest I infect someone else.

I should have shouted.  I should have screamed at the top of my lungs until someone listened and got me out of that unbearable situation.  I should have talked and kept talking until someone heard what I was saying and did something about it.

Which brings me to…

Lesson #2:  I should have done whatever it took to get the help I needed when I was young and malleable.

I didn’t reach out until I was almost 50 years old.  By then, the damage had not only been done, it had been cemented into place.  It was cemented, nailed down, buried under tons of soil and I had built a massive brick building over it.  I couldn’t even remember what I had buried down there, so far beyond the earth, where light and air didn’t penetrate.

Trying to undo what had been done at that stage was a difficult, hopeless, unproductive battle.  Simply put, it was far too late.  It would have taken a miracle to help me at that point.  But miracles are in short supply.  If they aren’t, in fact, extinct.

Had I thought I had worth, if I’d had a clue I might actually be a “real” person, I might have done more, fought harder, stood up for myself and gotten what I needed to heal.  And that brings me to the next point in my cautionary tale.

Lesson #3:  Don’t let anyone tell you that you aren’t worth loving or don’t deserve to be loved.

I was told I was nothing.  An object.  An object who continually failed to live up to expectations.  I listened to what I was told, as most children do.  I believed it.  Swallowed it whole along with everything else I was forced to hold inside and it swallowed me whole in return.  I became invisible.  Nothing.  A non-person.

It took me nearly all my life to even begin to consider I was a “human” just like everyone else.  I felt completely inferior.  So utterly lacking in value, I didn’t realize I was a living being.  I could only see that I was contaminated and worthless, so surely everyone was justified in shunning me and throwing me away.  When it happened — again and again — I thought this was all I deserved.  Being tolerated was all I could ask.  How could I expect more?  I was lucky to get a scrap that fell from the table.  Eating a meal was not in the cards.  I did not deserve nurture.

I let them beat me down and destroy my belief in myself.  Their abuse had the effect of dismantling my confidence, self-worth and demolishing my person hood.

Had I not gone quietly, had I instead done everything in my power to get the help I needed, had I been able to see my own value, I would now be able to be that inspirational example I’ve always longed to be.  I would have stories worth sharing, words worth saying.  I would have wisdom and encouragement to give you.  I could have lived instead of existed.  Thrived instead of survived.  Overcome instead of under-achieved.  I wouldn’t be stuck in the darkness, broken and without hope, still trying frantically to paste the fragments of my soul back together again.

I could have lived a vibrant life.

If you can learn anything from me, if I can inspire you in any way, learn this.  Hear and grab hold of this.

Don’t swallow yourself.  And don’t let yourself be swallowed by emptiness.  Don’t let anyone shut you up.  Don’t choke down your pain and allow the darkness to strangle you…not without a fight.  Shout from the rooftop until someone pays attention and helps you get whatever help you need.  No matter the cost.  Do whatever you have to do to heal, to learn to deal with what has been done to you.   Do it now.  Early on.  Before you are so numb you can’t even remember what it is like to have emotions.  Never allow anyone make you feel that you aren’t important enough.  Don’t let them steal your value or diminish your humanness.  You are worthy of being loved.  You deserve to be cared for.  You have worth.

Don’t follow in my footsteps.  Don’t let life kill you before your body is ready to die.  Live your life.  You deserve to live.  As did I.  A lesson I learned too late.

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.

My Story

I may be foolish. Beyond foolish.  I may not be deserving.  Probably, I am not.

But I want someone to know my story.  The whole thing.  The dark horrible secrets.  The secrets I’ve never shared.  The horror I’ve kept to myself.  I want them to know how it began.  My life.  Born into chaos, confusion and instability.  Sensitive and shy child.  How never been good enough, never being enough, never being wanted or treasured wore me down and eroded my soul.  How abuse, neglect, judgment and denunciation affected me so deeply and negatively.  How it broke me.  How I wound up where I am today.  I want them to grasp what happened to me that made me who I am.  This hollow shell.  This ghost of a human being.  This inadequate mess.

I want someone to know me and to know why I am who I am.

I want someone to know my story and I want the knowing of it to matter to them.  If only as a cautionary tale.

I want someone to see clearly how the innocent little tow-headed girl I was so long ago, after experiencing the painful traumas I have experienced, became the tired, numb, disillusioned old woman I am now.  I want them to comprehend why I did the things I did.  Why I made the choices I made.  Why I felt and saw things the way I felt and understood them.  Why my life’s journey has been such an ordeal.

I want them to see through my eyes, just for a moment.  To hold my pain within them for a second or two.  I want to be more than tolerated.  I long to forge a connection.  One that brings understanding and acceptance.

I want them to feel the roughness of path I walked and I want them to experience it as if it forms the surface of the trail beneath their own feet.  To understand the difficulty I encountered and lived through.  I want them to know what it is to walk that ruthless path.  To taste the dust.  To comprehend the harshness of the journey.  To be touched; moved because of the knowing.  To give me a small nod of respect for having survived as long as I have, even if I haven’t done so gracefully.

I want at least one person in this world to understand those steps I took in order to survive.  The steps that I struggled to take when I felt as if I couldn’t go one step further.  As I attempted to find my way.  Small steps taken.  One at a time.  Pierced by agony, fear, shame.  I long for them to realize the reasons.  The injuries I had to overcome.  To fully comprehend the progress I’ve made in spite of the odds.  And to recognize why there are some things I have never managed to overcome.  I want them to hear me.  To feel my heart beat.  To connect.  To experience what it has been like for me to carry on with these wounds; to act as if nothing has happened, nothing is amiss, to bear the weight I have carried.  To survive the emptiness and torment.

I want them not to criticize me quite so harshly.

I want them to embrace who I am and why I am who I am without judgment or revulsion.  I want them to accept me rather than to reject me offhand because I am flawed and damaged.  Or because I am different.  I want them to feel a crumb of empathy when they see my scars.  Not pity.  But sorrow for what was lost and who I would have been if I hadn’t been abused, beaten down and loathed.  Hadn’t  been starved from lack of love.  Sorrow for how little love it would have taken to save me.

I want them to know what it’s like to believe you aren’t good enough to deserve the air you breathe.

I want their understanding of my journey and my challenges to change how they view the world and others who fight to endure.  I want there to be a purpose for the anguish I have experienced.  I want the pain to be redeemed.  The darkness to be turned into light.  The hurts to be made into diamonds.

I used to want more.  Much more.

But now, there aren’t many minutes of this excruciating excursion left before me.  The opportunities, and time, have slipped through my fingers, in spite of how diligently I have attempted to grasp them both.  I have failed, but not for lack of trying.

I want one person…just one person…to understand.  And to find some value in the pitiful and uninspiring story I have to tell.  The story of my life.  I want it to matter.  Just once.  I want it to matter to someone who will look at me and see me for all that I am.  Who will see something good in me, in spite of the mess and gore.  Someone who will recognize how painstakingly I’ve worked to keep from being  who I have become.  Someone who can appreciate how hard I’ve tried…not to be a bother or a burden or a disgusting disappointment…and see some value in the effort I have made.  Who can give me credit for how intensely I’ve fought, even though I have not prevailed.

Someone who can finally forgive me for never measuring up.  Who won’t demand that I make something up; something less dreadful and depressing.  Someone who can forgive me for being a failure.  And who can forgive me for not having a more pleasant, worthy, inspiring story to tell.

Trickster

I first lived in my mother’s womb

A dark and silent place I swam

This is where it all began

In this lonely, empty tomb

‘Til thrust into chaos and cold

I cried in agony, fear and fright

Harshly slapped, pain was my plight

Fate sealed before I was a minute old

 

Life is a series of dirty tricks.  A master trickster.

 It’s short.  Time is limited and moves quickly.  Yet we have to spend more than a third of it sleeping.  At minimum.  And we spend another third working to pay bills, to afford a house in a decent neighborhood, to buy a reliable vehicle, to pay for utilities and to obtain food to sustain us.  Oh, and to purchase our smart phones and internet connections, which have now become a necessity.  Then, we spend a total of 4.5 to 5 years cleaning that house and cooking the food we bought with hard earned dollars.  70% of our life is spent in front of some kind of digital media.   Not to mention the time we spend raising the next generation who will repeat the cycle.  What little is left over, after this and other obligations have been handled, is ours to do with as we please.  Ours to enjoy…that small remaining slice of pie.  There’s never enough time left at the end of the day.  The clock is ticking.  We struggle to balance all the things that are crammed into our overloaded schedules in a desperate attempt to survive…and then we die.

 Life is very short.

And life will tell you all kinds of lies.

 That things are going to get better.

That you’ll finally reach a place of financial security.

 That if you work hard, you’ll be recognized and rewarded.

 That love endures.

 That things will turn out all right for you in the end.

 That you can achieve anything you put your mind to.

 Lies.  Life is indeed a dirty trickster.

 We are thrust from the relative safety and comfort of our mother’s womb into a cold, frightening, hostile environment against which we have no protection.  If we’re fortunate enough to have loving parents – or even one loving parent – our chances of adjusting, coping, learning, thriving and growing to be a healthy and strong person are good.  If this is our scenario, we might even enjoy the journey.  If we do not have parents who nurture and protect, guide and love us, we don’t stand a chance in hell.  Our fate is sealed.  For, you see, there are a multitude of ways in which we can be broken.  And the broken have to expend great energy – using even more of that sliver of pie that is left over after everything else is completed and achieved – to try to put themselves back into a semblance of working order.

 Or faking it.  Because life breaks us and then penalizes us for being broken.

 Certainly, we are physically vulnerable, and some parents release their anger and frustration on their children by beating, slapping, punching and knocking them across the room.  But beyond this obviously abusive experience, our soul is wide open and can easily be violated in a mad variety of ways, trashing us beyond repair early on.  All it takes is a recipe of neglect, rejection, demands and unrealistic expectations, coupled with blatant selfishness mixed with a steady diet of verbal demoralizing put-downs.  The result is severe damage to an innocent and trusting child, stunting and crippling them for the rest of their lives.  Stir in some sexual, emotional or physical abuse for seasoning…doesn’t matter what flavor…and you can ultimately utterly devastate their curious minds and adoring hearts, crushing and fragmenting every particle of their spirit and soul,  grinding them into nothingness and dust.  In fact, their mind can be twisted to such an extent, the unprotected, abused child will be blind to the reality others live in.  They can’t even fathom that other reality, a reality they can’t begin to comprehend, let alone see.  And so, they begin to perish even as their child bodies grow.  They quietly die inside before they have had the opportunity to enter 1st grade.

 The education starts early and the lesson plan is harsh and unforgiving.  No one passes the trickster’s class because they don’t live to tell.

 The trickster declares everything will somehow magically get better someday, if only we will keep trying and hang on just a bit longer.

 And the trickster laughs manically with wild glee as we near the end, suddenly realizing we have been duped.  We’ve been a fool.  We believed the lies.

 The trickster always gets the last laugh.

 Always.

 And we never see that the laugh is on us…not until it’s far, far too late.

 

Perfect Teeth

I can vividly remember the day I learned I was supposed to brush my teeth. Every day. At least twice a day. For the rest of my life.

I was in 5th grade. I know most kids learn to brush their teeth long before this time, but, as was often the case, my parents somehow “forgot” to tell me about important,  general, basic requirements like this. As if I was somehow supposed to intuitively “know.”  They taught me many lessons…awful lessons.  But they neglected to teach me so many of the average ones. Like how to tie my shoes. How often to bathe. And that I, along with everyone else in the world, was also supposed to brush my teeth.

On that day in my 5th grade classroom, we had a visitor and everyone was excited because that visitor was passing out gift bags. I was disappointed when I realized the bag contained a toothbrush and toothpaste. But it also held some little bright red colored pills that looked like they might be candy. Of course, every kid in the room began tearing open the clear crinkly packaging and popped a pill or two in their mouth. And we were rewarded because they actually did taste like candy! The room went near silent while 28 kids chewed the sugary tasting little red treats. The visitor watched us patiently, smiling at our delight.

Then, there was a burst of giggles that started in the front and moved like a wave across the room. Before long, everyone noticed. The candy had turned everyone’s teeth red!!!

The man laughed too, then shushed us and began to explain the “candy” was actually a red dye that adhered to plaque on our teeth. He told us plaque was the enemy, explaining how it attacked our tooth’s enamel and that this would cause us to have cavities. Cavities were bad.  We had to do everything we could to prevent them.  Which was why we had to brush our teeth.  Every day.  At least twice a day.  For 3 minutes.  The candy would tell us when we had brushed long enough and show us if we missed any places.  We could use the little red pills until brushing properly became a habit.

While a lot of my classmates nodded with understanding and agreement (or perhaps boredom), I sat and listened intently, embarrassed and slightly stunned.

It was disturbing to me to realize my classmates already knew about brushing their teeth.  This wasn’t news to them.  Nor was it new.  It made me uncomfortable to find I was the only one in the room who didn’t seem to already know what this man was so patiently explaining to us that day.

It was disturbing to me too, because I realized, while my brother had been instructed to brush his teeth and had been to the dentist several times in his short life, no one had ever mentioned that this particular requirement also applied to me.  I had shrugged it off, thinking it must be something boys had to do, but not girls.  I had never been to the dentist. Not even when I knocked out 4 of my front teeth and loosened many more to the point I could barely eat after I fell mouth first onto the concrete sidewalk when I was 6.

After that day at school, I started brushing my teeth – most of the time . But I was never taken to the dentist while I still lived with my parents. In fact, my first experience with a dentist was when I was 21 years old.  I finally went when I had a very painful toothache.  By the time I went, it was too late to save the tooth.

I never had braces, even though I clearly needed them.   There were many things I didn’t get that I clearly needed. That was the way life went for me when I was a kid.  It was as if they forgot about me and didn’t really notice me until they wanted something or were angry and disappointed with me.

My teeth today are in bad shape. The early years of inferior care certainly didn’t help, nor did my eating disorder or the asthma inhaler I had to use for several years after a severe sinus infection triggered breathing problems. I will never know what it’s like to have perfect teeth. To be able to smile without embarrassment.

I work hard to smile with my mouth shut.

I also work hard to hide my other imperfections.

No, I will never have perfect teeth.  The opportunity for that experience has long ago come and gone.  Nor will I ever be a perfectly together, whole, self-confident individual who believes they have value and are worth loving.  That option was taken from me in childhood by my parent’s abusive, selfish, lustful hands.  The parents who rarely took me to the doctor; who never told me I needed to brush my teeth like my brother and everyone else on the planet.  The parents who knocked the life right out of me and crushed my soul. 

I have lost much because of their abuse of me.  There are things that can’t be recovered or redeemed.  Not at this late date.

I’ll never be the person I might have been had they nurtured, cared for and loved me.  Had they done the things most parents do instinctively.  Had they done those things instead of hitting, demeaning, sexually abusing and neglecting me.  The potential of a fulfilling life was not in my cards.  That’s not the hand I was dealt. 

My crooked, messed up teeth are a lasting reminder of what they took from me, how they destroyed someone as surely as if they had aborted me while I slept in my mother’s womb.  How they stole every hope of me having a meaningful future.  These pathetic teeth are a symbol of all that has been taken.

I will never have perfect teeth.  My imperfect teeth will forever struggle to chew what life has provided to sustain me…and to somehow survive on those meager, tasteless and hard-to-swallow provisions.

It Doesn’t Matter What I Want

I have learned this lesson.  Time, experience and life events have conspired to teach me.  They have taught me well.  Very well.

It doesn’t matter what I want.

I wanted love.  To be loved.  To be with someone I loved.  To be with someone who loved me.  To deeply connect.  It doesn’t matter.  Love was obviously not in the plan for me. I don’t know why.  But I know it…all too well.  Love is not within my reach.  The thing I desire the most is not to be mine.

What have I learned from this?  It doesn’t matter what I want.

I wanted security.  A degree of financial security.  Enough.  Enough to make it without having to worry, to panic, to struggle paycheck to paycheck. I worked hard for this.  Had it snatched away again and again, in spite of my diligence and focus; in spite of going above and beyond time and time again.

I also wanted a degree of personal security.  A feeling of safety.  That the world was not against me.  That there is solid ground on which I can stand without fear of everything repeatedly falling out from under me.  But life doesn’t care.  It doesn’t matter what I want.

I wanted to not have to work quite so hard, especially by this point in life.  But even when I was younger, I dreamed of not have to perform so perfectly.  I longed for a degree of mercy…that which is normally extended to most human beings.  Of being accepted even if I didn’t live up to rigid, demanding standards.  I wanted to be acceptable just as I am.  Even if I didn’t do everything just exactly right.  But it doesn’t matter what I want.

I wanted meaning.  Purpose.  The ability to touch the heart of another and to be touched by their heart.  Closeness with others; vibrant relationships.  Fulfillment.  The ability to contribute in a meaningful way. Contentment.  I wanted a reason to be alive.  To stay alive.  But. But.  It doesn’t matter what I want.

I don’t know why.  I only know the truth of it.  What I want, no matter how desperately I want or need it, simply doesn’t count.  Not in the least. Not even when I give it every ounce of my strength and work diligently to make it come to pass.

I wanted someone to stand up for me.  To fight for me.  Defend me.  Both as a child when I was being terribly abused by my parents, as well as in adulthood when I wasn’t being appreciated or treated well by employers.   I wanted someone to be by my side and say, “Wait a minute…this isn’t right!  No more!”  Or, “Let me help you.”

I also wanted a partner who would have my back and who would look out for me.  But I have ever and always been alone without a hand to hold onto or an arm to encircle me. 

It doesn’t matter what I want.  What I need.  My desires don’t carry any weight.  Life does what life does.  It goes however it goes.  Sometimes it gives.  Sometimes it give a great deal to certain individuals.  But that has not been my experience.  Mostly, it takes.  It demands.   It goes on.  One tormented voice, one heart-rending cry, does not distract it or cause it to deviate from its predetermined course.

I pray for something good to come my way.  For doors to open.  I beg God.  I plead for mercy and blessing.  But my need doesn’t matter.  My heart doesn’t matter.  My pleas don’t matter.  It doesn’t matter what I want. 

Honestly, there are times when I don’t always know what I want.  I don’t always know what is best for me.  Often, I’m open and I am rarely demanding.  But when it comes to the things that feel like basic necessities, I find it disturbing that so many of my needs and deep desires have gone unmet.  This makes me feel inconsequential.  Worthless.  Less than everyone else around me.

I want to matter.  But even that doesn’t matter.  Even that.

Life is not a place where dreams come true.  Not for me.  It is not a place of happiness.  It is a place of toil and struggle.  If anything good comes to you, you have been blessed indeed.   What we want…all the goodness that can be had if you are somehow fortunate enough to find the golden path…is of no consequence.  For God has some bigger, more important plan.  A divine plan.  The goal is not for us to be happy and fulfilled.  We are to learn.  Supposedly, we are being shaped and refined by all of our trials.  Supposedly, they will make us better.

I am tired of being shaped and refined.

What I have come to know is this:  In God’s eyes, it seems that everyone matters.  Yet no one matters.  And without question, I don’t matter.  It doesn’t matter what I want.   What I long and hunger for.  I’m supposed to be content to be a nothing and a nobody.  Forever seeking.  Never finding.  Broken and alone.  Unwanted and unloved.