Tag Archives: physical abuse

To Be Seen

When you grow up with abusive parents, you tend to learn some hard lessons very quickly.  You learn by osmosis, without anyone speaking a word.  It’s there in the air.  You breath it in and just like that, you know.

One of the first, most critical lessons you learn, is that your parents are not there to care for you; you exist to care for them.  To meet their every need.  Or desire.  So, if you are to survive, you must see what can’t be seen, hear what hasn’t been spoken, perceive the intent of the heart behind verbalized words, and accept that reality and truth are cloaked by smiles and pleasantries.  You must read the shifts in mood and atmosphere.  React before there has been an action.  Anticipate danger so you can escape before everything explodes and falls out from under you.  You must recognize the monsters who live within, who are secretly watching and waiting, harboring ravenous, ungodly cravings, their presence masked by your parent’s innocuous faces.

You learn that certain things are expected.  Certain things are forbidden.  Certain actions are mandatory.  There are thoughts that must never be vocalized.  Questions you must never ask.  The abuse teaches you what you must and must not do.  Who you must be.  Who you must never be.  What you must say and must not dare to utter, not even if you whisper the words in your mind when you are alone in your empty world.  You learn.  When it’s safe to come out and when you should hide.  What is required.  Demanded.  How to earn the right to exist.  What you must do to protect the family.  You learn because abuse is a harsh taskmaster, painfully driving the points home.

By the time you reach the tender age of 4, you know all of this and much, much more.

You learn that being seen is dangerous.  Being known makes you a target.  If your parents don’t really see you, they might forget about you for a while.  If they don’t know your heart, they can’t gouge their sharp, cutting words into your weakest parts.  You come to understand their world is all about them.   What they want.  What they need.  They’ll find you when they want something from you.  If you’re fortunate, you’ll have some space, some time in between when you can breathe and recover from your encounters with them.  If you can protect yourself well enough, you just might make it through another day.

You learn to take soundless, shallow breaths and to expect nothing from those who created you.  Nothing but abuse.  Many different varieties of abuse.

You also learn that it’s dangerous to be seen and known by others, those you interact with outside the home.  You quickly realize any recognition requires quick thinking to effectively hide in plain sight.  Wearing a heavy, suffocating mask.  Smiling when you want to cry.  Not talking, not sharing, remaining a closed book with a pleasant cover.  You learn to wear silence like your own skin.  Because you must not tell the secrets.  You must never talk about the things that happen in the dead of the night behind drawn curtains and locked doors.

You must not be seen.  Known.  The truth must never be revealed.

You learn to live in a very dark space in a very lonely sphere.

Once you enter elementary school, you discover how different you are from your classmates.  They laugh from their heart and belly.  They smile with their eyes and their soul.  They are who they are and don’t yet have anything to hide.  No dark secrets to guard.  They are helium-filled balloons, fluffy white clouds meandering across a blue sky in the sunshine, butterflies, ice cream and rainbows.  They haven’t yet glimpsed the darkness of life.  They haven’t had to live in a perpetual, frightening nightmare where one wanders through thick fog, stalked by dangerous predators.

But you must appear to be the same.  The same as the untouched.  You must never let them see the you who lives inside.

Those lessons are driven deep into the psyche and personality.  They become who you are.  They shape everything you do.  They define and limit your possibilities.   The older you get, the deeper they go.

You learn to keep yourself to yourself.  To keep your feelings tightly bottled inside your innermost being.  To numb your heart in order to endure the unbearable agony of your existence.  You realize that who you are…the real you…is unacceptable.  No matter how hard you try, how much you give, how well you perform, you are defective.  Less than.   Shattered.  And because you are fractured, oozing from raw wounds, you are a burden and threat to others.  An unbearable weight.  A liability.  Toxic.

You have become an alien, forced to wear a disguise as you walk among the humans around you while desperately trying to avoid being discovered.

You learn.  That no matter how painfully you long to connect with someone in an intense, profound way, you can’t.  Because you can’t let them see you.  If they see how broken you are, how much “baggage” you carry, the ugly scars that crisscross your heart, they will turn away in shock and horror at even a glimpse of the real you.  You are too much of an encumbrance for anyone to bear.

To be seen.  For who you really are.  The greatest risk.  A risk you wish you could take.  Because it is also your greatest desire.

To be seen and loved for who you really are.  A wild, ridiculous hope.  The impossible dream.

There are too many secrets that must be kept.  Too many deep, dark secrets and foul deformities within you that must never see the light of day.


Brittle (brit·tle) – Hard, but liable to break or shatter easily.  Having hardness and rigidity, but little tensile strength.  Easily damaged or destroyed.  synonyms:         breakable, splintery, shatterable, fragile, frail, delicate, rigid.

There’s a procedure for hardening metal.  Just the right amount of heat. Quench.  Applying too much heat to steel or heating it for too long at a high temperature causes the metal to become brittle.

Interestingly, it works the same way with people.  We can take the heat, but then we need that quench.  The relief.  The time of rest and recovery.  Applying too much heat (trauma) or exposing us to that trauma over a long period of time causes brittleness.

Over time, after seemingly unending trauma, bad luck, hardship and heartbreak, after experiencing repeated rejection and injustice, suffering loss after loss after loss, it doesn’t take much to cause an irreparable break.  The little things that would not normally be a problem are suddenly insurmountable.  The small amount of stability you appeared to possess evaporates and is lost as your carefully constructed world crumbles…over nothing.

You don’t crack in the heat.  But afterwards, when you have a small window in which to breathe, all strength zapped, the tiniest bit of difficulty causes catastrophic collapse.

“What doesn’t kill me makes me stronger.”  –Nietzsche


Interestingly, increased pressure or heat, when short term and controlled, will actually boost the brittle strength of a material.  Even glass can be toughened effectively in this manner.  But if the pressure is too great or it is applied for an extended period of time, it fractures the material instead of producing additional strength.  If the heat is too high and prolonged, it weakens and deteriorates the material instead of fortifying it.

What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger…unless it pushes you too far. Unless it’s too much over too long a period of time.

If it’s utterly overwhelming or if the trauma lasts interminably, it weakens you, causing you to shatter more easily than ever before.  Instead of building your endurance, it destroys you, draining what little resilience you had, causing fragility, insecurity and brittleness.

I know this is true.  Because I used to be very, very strong.  I could take it.  I would always find a way to survive.  Maybe I had such strength because I believed the heat would end before it consumed me. The pressure would be alleviated before it crushed me.  I carried the weight and walked on, believing I would find relief before I splintered beyond repair.

Brittleness (brit·tle·ness) ) – The tendency to break without being significantly distorted or exposed to a high level of stress.  Easily disrupted, overthrown or damaged.

Now, I walk carefully and fearfully through life, praying nothing hits me too hard.  I know it will not take a crisis to shatter me.  I feel it deep in my bones.  Even “normal” stressors often become overwhelming and feel impossible to resolve or survive.  When the earth-shattering catastrophe does occur, I crumble inside, implode, fragmenting again and again until I am but a shell filled with dust that somehow continues to walk on without an intact soul.

 Even the little things, the day-to-day trials, feel immense and destructive.  Icy roads become an insurmountable barrier.  A threat I can’t defeat.  A challenge I can’t conquer.  The season of winter is wrought with stress and danger, presenting unsurvivable challenges and life-threatening trials.  Other people don’t lay awake at night wondering how they are going to successfully summon the strength to drive on hazardous pavement so as to fulfill work obligations and requirements.  Nor do they feel consumed with guilt if they decide to stay home for the day if they feel they are not up to the task.  They don’t judge themselves harshly for caring for themselves.  Nor do they label themselves as failures.  To them, it is a small thing.  Nothing to fret about.  They venture out…or they don’t.  It doesn’t crush them.  It doesn’t annihilate them.  It is not more than they can bear to face.

But I am undone.  Brittle, I fracture.  Outwardly, it may not be that obvious, if anyone notices at all.  But internally, I am destroyed.  Internally, I crumble and fall.

In a real crisis, I become numb; my soul frost-bitten.  I can no longer feel my extremities.  I can’t so much as raise my arms to protect myself from the blows.  Punch after punch, I am torn apart and laid to waste.

When I crumble, I have to withdraw, pull back, hide away so I can try to piece myself back together.  I have grown weary of piecing myself back together.  I have lost the ability to glue the shards and debris back into a whole person.  More than ever, my restorative efforts have left me deeply scarred, bearing a strong resemblance to a Picasso painting.  Or worse.

There is much guilt and shame associated with my lack of resiliency.  My brittleness of heart and soul.  The fragmentation of my psyche.  My inability to cope with the storms of life or the weather of the season.

Before the years of childhood abuse, the incest, the repeated blows of hand and word; before the rejection of a husband I loved, but who never loved me; before the injustices of the workplace where promotions are given to the popular and the masculine, the political players and manipulators; before my fear imprisoned me within walls high and mighty; before my mask fastened and melded to my face until I forgot who I am, I was pliable, hopeful, sensitive, loving and strong.  Before the furnace, the pressure, the unending stress, I was capable and undefeatable.  Before losing house and husband, friends and job, dreams and hope, I was tough, tenacious and undefeated.  I had not yet overcome, but I had not yet been overwhelmed.  I endured.  I fought.  I pushed through.  Damn the torpedoes…full speed ahead.

Brittle – From an unrecorded Old English adjective *brytel , related to brytan “to crush, pound, to break to pieces.”

I am now haunted by my former enthusiasm and tenacity.  By the choices that brought me to this point of desolation.

I have been crushed.  I have been pounded.  I have splintered and exploded into a million pieces.  I am horrified and thoroughly ashamed of the mess I have become.  Ashamed of my inability to bear the heat and pressure.  Cracked.  Weak.  Brittle.  Liable to break or shatter easily.  Splintery.  And useless.  Beyond repair.



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


The battle was fought in my own home behind doors that were kept locked with the intent, not of keeping the boogieman safely outside, but of keeping the terrible secrets that occurred inside safe from prying eyes.  For the boogieman was a resident of the house where I grew up.  He built it.  The locks were pathetically ineffective in providing any kind of protection.  The fox was guarding the hen house.  Instead, they trapped me inside with the monsters, never whispering a word of what transpired behind those heavy wooden doors they valiantly secured.

One word.


I had to maintain the highest achievable level of invisibility to survive the secrets.  I was a silent child, terrified of those who gave me life, only to metaphorically take it away.  I could not draw attention to my battle.  Record my name upon the wall to mark my passing.  To commemorate how I had fought and suffered.  Not then. No “Kilroy Was Here” was left on board or stone to prove I had struggled and been grievously wounded.  That I had existed, though I was no more.

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

The only one protected by the darkness was my abuser.  The only one protected by the locks securely engaged, barring entrance from the world outside, was my rapist.  My father.  The only people shielded by the blinds tightly drawn against the light were my parents.  They who made me, used me and destroyed me.

I could not leave a mark as witness of what I suffered at hands that devoured me to satisfy their whims.  I was an easy target for their anger, providing a temporary release for their rage.  I was at their mercy…and they had no mercy for me.

Yet, I could not speak of the atrocities.  Nor memorialize the tragedy.  No one knew of the conflict in which I so desperately struggled and fought.  I could not tell them, for I had no voice.  I was a prisoner of an unknown and unacknowledged war, held by an enemy hiding behind masks bearing my parent’s faces.

Even if someone suspected evil lurked within the fortified house where I was a prisoner, they did nothing but turn and walk away.  Preferring to ignore the abomination.  Preferring to remain blind, on the outside, untouched.  Safe.

It is too much ask someone to watch the decimation of a defenseless child.  To fight on their behalf.

“Kilroy Was Here” was a proclamation.  It was created as a visual symbol, one that would commemorate the GI’s presence.  What he had experienced.  He left it behind as a sign for those who would come after.  To let them know he had been where they now stood…and had lived to tell, if only for another moment or two in time.

I have no clever graphic.  No miraculous tale of glory, bravery or battles won.  I have only words.  Inadequate words.  Words that can never sufficiently explain.  That will never truly tell the story.

I leave them strewn here, these simple, inadequate words, scattered across this screen for those who will come after me.  This is my “Kilroy.”  The marker I place to commemorate the battles fought.  I was left to perish, a broken soul.  Wounded by those who were supposed to die protecting me.  I have staggered beneath the weight of every form of child abuse.  And like any soldier who endures and fights in horrendous conditions, attempting to survive the unrelenting attacks of a deadly, disguised, fanatic enemy, I have been forever changed by what I have endured.

I moved on, but found no path back to the world outside the locked doors of my childhood.  Those who should have cared never did.  Never will.  So I leave these meager words stacked upon this page as a memorial, a visible symbol of the inner destruction.

Kilroy was here.  A tiny child, alone in the chaos, tortured, twisted, despised and used.  That little girl I once was started life whole and hopeful, a living, joyful being.  It is she who is buried beneath the memorial stones I stack and shape with my imperfectly placed words.  For wars inevitably have casualties.  And children can die in a million different ways.


Ending Where I Began

The day is gloomy and cold, devoid of light or life.  Low clouds drip frigid drops upon the barren earth.  Weather fitting of the occasion.  It is not a day that heralds optimism nor does it hold any promise of new and wonderful experiences to come.  At least, not for me.   It is but another ending among many endings.  Yet another beginning that offers no fresh start.  Nothing has changed.

Years and years and years ago, the new year was welcomed with anticipation and hope.  I was enthusiastic, embracing the endless possibilities of the future.  I once thought each new year would be “my year.” My year for healing, restoration, wholeness and fulfillment.  My year to find love.  I was excited about the unblemished beginning laid before me.  Surely all I had to do was walk into it and receive it with open arms.  Something magical was sure to happen, finally, if for no other reason than it was terribly long overdue.

All too soon, I discovered the demoralizing truth.  There is no magic in this world.  And new beginnings are for those who are valued.  For those who are cherished, wanted, supported and esteemed.  Those who have appeal; who are worthy of the effort and investment of others…of their time, care, encouragement and love.  New beginnings are for the rare few, those who win lotteries, receive deserved promotions in recognition of hard work and unwavering loyalty, who are pretty enough to charm with a smile and who are vulnerable without being bothersome.  They are not, as I once foolishly believed, for someone like me.  Broken, embarrassing and deeply damaged.

For whatever reason, a clean beginning has always remained just beyond my reach, no matter how hard I worked for it or how desperately I stretched out my fingertips trying to grasp it in my praying hands.

I find profound significance in the fact that we greet each “new beginning” on one of shortest days of the year with the briefest period of daylight.  On a day when darkness rules, quickly claiming and quenching both sunlight and warmth.

Instead of hope on New Year’s Day, I now feel despair and grief.  Instead of anticipation, I feel a consuming emptiness.  I know the coming year will not be one that ushers in dreams come true nor answered prayers.  For I have watched new year after new year come, grow old and depart without attaining any promising change or precious progress.  Instead, I am found where I was left; exactly in the despicable spot where I started.  Waiting.  Hoping against hope.  Trying to survive each moment without essential connections nor reason to exist.  Without touch.  Without love. Without purpose.  Having done the work, having sought even the smallest of breakthroughs, only to find myself positioned again on the cusp of another untainted period of time, wretchedly unchanged by the days that have already arrived and departed.  I am trapped, without achievement or virtue, unable to move forward by even an inch.

I know I am broken.  I know my faults outnumber the stars.  I was shattered long ago, as a child.  Fragmented like fine, fragile china thrown at a brick wall, the shards then ground under foot until they were but powder.  But never did I believe I was forever shattered.  I didn’t foresee I would remain as shards and powered dust throughout my lifetime.  I trusted in tomorrow.  I truly believed all the pieces – or at least most of them – could be put back together.  I thought the damage could be repaired.

I have attempted the restoration without support, alone.  But I find I lack the  necessary vision to see myself from the outside.  I can only view my soul from the inside.  I see the overwhelming mess.  The damage and destruction.  This is also the picture repeatedly reflected back to me by those who have temporarily journeyed into my life.  Unworthy.  Too much.  Unlovable.  Without value.  So, this how I see myself.  It has become all I can envision. I simply can’t imagine nor begin to visualize the picture the pieces, once fit together, would form.

I desperately needed someone to help me find the unbroken child who once lived within me.  The one I was before I shattered.  But perhaps the fractured being I have become is the only version of myself that can now exist.  Perhaps this is my destiny.  The other, the one who might have been, is but a ghost who haunts me as I sleep.

There is only so much hope in the human soul.  Without nurture and reassurance, it runs low.  Then vaporizes.  Mine has been drained dry for several years now.  I was a fool to believe in miracles.  To believe in myself.  To believe myself worthy.  I wanted to be wanted, to have value.  But wanting doesn’t produce results, nor conjure experiences, miraculous or otherwise.  Nor does effort guarantee a positive outcome.

I have learned that most any wound can be healed if abundant love is applied liberally and consistently to a festering, damaged heart.  I have learned that no wound heals without it.

Another year comes to a close, wrapped in damp darkness with gloomy, gray, ragged clouds whipping across the sky, driven by unfriendly, piercing winds.  Tomorrow will be no different than today.  It will be cold.  Dark.  Empty.  For no “new beginning” comes prepackaged with the new year.  It is merely another turn of the calendar’s page.  A day that follows the day before.  That day will be followed by yet another. And when all the days of this year come to a close, it will depart having had no impressive impact or promising influence on my life.

What has been set in motion continues on.

My one remaining prayer is that this year will not be the year that injuries me so grievously and deeply, I am further fractured by its blows.  I pray it will not inflict additional mayhem nor wound again those places already painful and shattered.  I hope it will not weigh me down beneath a crushing burden that is more than I can bear nor deliver another smashing, annihilating blow.  I pray it will not be the year that takes more than I have left to give.  Requiring more strength than I can muster.  Destroying what little good remains, taking, demanding more than I can live without.  I pray this year will not be the one that finally kills the microscopic spark left smoldering within my soul.

If it does slaughter that one remaining flicker of a hope that is buried in the deepest, loneliest, emptiest places of my being, may it also eradicate the rest of what is left of me.  Shards, dust and powder.  Blow the mess away with a gust of cold wind and finally set me free.


Soul Whispers

I read a quote recently.  “Follow your dreams for they are whispers from your soul.” 

It caused some introspection. 

My soul no longer whispers.  I have no dreams to follow.  My pockets were once full of them.  I held them close, planning, examining them, viewing them with excitement.  I worked and waited for the day they would come true, one at a time.  I believed.  I heard them whisper to my heart, giving me hope.  Providing something to look forward to.  Something to live for.  A reason to keep trying.  Purpose.  Desire.

The first dream I can remember was the little girl dream of becoming a ballerina.  Though not yet in kindergarten, I begged for lessons.  Saved and spent my meager allowance on a poster of ballerinas in watercolor tutus to hang above my bed.  Watched ballet on TV.  I was mesmerized.  Such grace!  Such beauty!  I felt the stirrings in my limbs.  My legs longed to leap.  My feet to frolic and skip and twirl. My arms desired to move in fluid dance, precise and lovely.  Perfection from my fingers to toes. Beauty in motion.

But there were no lessons.  My parents laughed, told me I was silly when I attempted to twirl and soar.  They dismissed my dream as childish and frivolous.  A bad investment.

The second dream I recall was to learn to play piano.  As a small child, I came to love music.  It somehow set me free from the chaos and pain of my unpredictable world.  It spoke the language of my soul.  Again, I begged for lessons.  My best friend was learning to play and she hated it.  Hated practicing.  But I would sit with her and watch her fingers on the keys, moving and speaking, however imperfectly, creating a language built on beautiful sounds that resonated in my heart.  I watched, but watching was all I was ever allowed to do.  My fingers never learned to dance on the ivory.  My parents didn’t bother to acknowledge my pleas.  They dismissed them as foolish.  Wasteful.

Most forms of heartfelt artistic expression were denied me.  But they couldn’t take the pencil from my hand and notebook paper was relatively cheap.  I wrote.  My first poem was created when I was in first grade and I have never stopped writing.  It became my lifeline.  Page after page after page, the pain of my heart was recorded, expelled, neatly summed up and stored away.  I began to dream of writing books that would provide profound insights, inspiration and deeply move people’s hearts.  I hoped to become an author.  But surviving consumed my all my energy, even as writing saved my soul.

Still I write. 

At one point, I wanted to be an actress, but I was a quiet and shy child. I believed I would be good since I had to act every day of my life.  Act as if everything was normal.  As if my parents were loving and nurturing.  As if they protected me.  As if they weren’t abusing me.  Destroying me.  I had to paint a smile on my face, disguise the pain in my eyes, laugh at the right times, mirror the behavior of my peers, behave like everyone else.  All to avoid discovery.  Because I had been warned. I had to keep the secrets. Telling would cause the family to be torn apart. If anything happened to the family, it would be my fault.  I was forced to be the protector.  The protector who wore a mask and went through the motions.  Who gave an academy award performance every day of my childhood. 

I was an actress whose life depended on no one knowing I was acting.  But the dream of making this my profession died early.

When I was 13, my music teacher aunt persuaded my parents to buy me a cheap acoustic guitar so she could teach me some chords and a few songs.  Thus, the dream of becoming a singer was born.  I was motivated to learn, though I never became a good guitarist.   I started writing my own songs, setting my poems to music.  I wanted to share my pain with the world in hopes of touching the heart of another lonely, broken little girl.  I longed to connect in a deep way, hoping to find I wasn’t alone.  To let them know they were not alone.  But the songs were never heard.  I sang them in the dark, alone in my room, doors closed, softly, so as to not be overheard.  I released a little of the turmoil and injury through the words and simple chords.  It was cathartic.  I decided I had finally found my calling.   The dream to end all dreams. And hope blossomed.

My voice was good, but untrained.  When I asked for lessons, my mother demanded I sing her a song.  She laughed when I was done and told me I sounded awful; nothing like Barbra Streisand.  Thus dismissed, I never asked for anything from them again.  I had been judged and found unacceptable yet again. After, I sang, but always in solitude, fearful of being overheard and rejected.  Even after I left my childhood behind, I never gained the confidence to share that part of myself with others.

As I matured, I longed to have a relationship with someone special; a heart connection that rendered words unnecessary.  I wanted to dive deep, far below the surface, to share those places we all hide.  Another dream.  A frivolous dream.  I fantasized about loving someone who loved me back with all of their heart and soul.  Someone who would keep me safe.  Who would cherish me.  Who would understand my pain.  And care.  Who would want me in spite of my deficiencies.

Foolish.  So foolish.

I dreamed of making a difference in the world.  Changing it for the better.  Doing something remarkable, something that would endure. 

More foolishness.

Whispers.  Whispers in my heart.  Whispers that gave me a reason to keep dreaming.

I dreamed of healing.  Of finally achieving a normal level of wholeness.  I worked hard for it.  Could almost see it through the haze. I even believed I could finally write that book, once I had achieved a state of stability and freedom, chronicling my journey in hopes of helping others who had suffered as I had suffered.  I wanted to help them find the path to well-being and encourage them during their own journey. 

I had less lofty dreams as well.  To live by the ocean.  To lose weight.  To ride in a hot air balloon.  To run a marathon.  Whispers.  “Keep going…there will be things that will make life worth living,” they purred. 

Whispers.  Quietly urging me onward.  Encouraging me to continue the journey.

I have never achieved the necessary Hollywood ending.  I never found my way out of the darkness.  And so, I have had nothing to offer.  The book remains half written.

Reality assailed and betrayed me again and again.  One by one, my dreams faded and died.

 I don’t know when the whispers faded into silence. But now, they are nothing but a memory. 

It is silent, here in my world.  In my heart.  No urgings.  No desires.  No hopes.  No dreams.  I can no longer imagine something positive occurring.   I stagger forward because I must.  Time requires it.  But there are no whispers within me.  Nothing to compel me to continue.  All I have left are these poorly written words, flung out into the universe, without hope of ever being heard.  No hope of connection.  Nor salvation.

My life ended almost as it began.  Hammered by fists.  Molested.  Slapped with hands and spiteful, selfish words.  Rejected.  Unwanted.  Never able to measure up.  Broken.  Raped by my own father.  Damaged and wounded, I tried.  I tried to do everything right, but I failed.  I tried to overcome.  I listened to the whispers and believed them.  But they lied. 

Life has always existed just beyond my reach.  Dreams are for other people, not for me.  I followed the whispers until they deserted me, left me here in the wilderness.  In this place of endless silence.  This in between place where I merely exist.   Just waiting for the final chapter.  For the end. 

I have no dreams.  There are no whispers emanating from my soul, quietly breathing into my ear.  Not even their echoes remain.



I started talking in full sentences, or so I have been told.  No testing the waters with a half-formed “mama” or “dada.”  The first words I uttered, somewhat precociously when just over 8 months old, were “See da plane!”  And then I pointed to an airplane flying across the big blue sky as I laughed in delight.

Considering the amount of time my mother spent talking AT me, my articulate pronouncement becomes less impressive.

Until the day she died, my mother talked and talked and talked and talked endlessly.  Like a machine gun.  As she drew her last breath, she probably told God not to interrupt her.  She babbled on and on about indiscernible or irrelevant topics, often complaining about (mostly imagined) slights from childhood.  And then, there was her marriage.  Her husband, who had a wandering eye and hands to go with it.  And me, her colicky baby, who was a massive disappointment and energy drain.  The piles of poopy diapers.  Crying .  Needing to be held.  Having to be fed.  But she didn’t stop there, quickly skipping to all of her unfulfilled dreams.  Her unrealized fantasies.  She talked to her little captive audience, spewing her angry, disappointed, vindictive words over me like a heavy blanket.  She buried me with her words. Thus, my language skills developed early and my vocabulary was quite impressive by the time I reached my first birthday.

It didn’t take me too long after that to learn how to be silent.

Silence offered protection.  If I was quiet, my parents might not notice me.  Being noticed was, I soon realized, not a good thing.  Having needs was an imposition.  Requiring them to expend their limited resources on me was a clear indication of my selfishness, an observation and opinion they shared frequently and passionately with me throughout my life.  Silence was a shield.

Silence was protection from their rejection.  Calling attention to myself in any way led to being told how disappointing and self-centered I was.  They were supposed to be the center of the universe; not me.  I was to bow to them and be a constant reminder of how wonderful they were.  I was created to fulfill them.  Hiding in silence was my only guarantee of not having all my many failures and imperfections repeatedly thrown back in my face.

Silence also offered protection from being hit and slapped.  If I didn’t appear on their radar, their anger would be focused in a different direction.  At a different target.  Usually an inanimate one.  The wall.  Any object sitting within reach.  Though it terrified me when they threw and punched things, I couldn’t help but feel relief that I wasn’t the thing they were hitting and throwing.

It offered protection from judgement as well.  Being seen, noticed, meant being weighed,  measured…and found wanting.  I was forever failing to meet their expectations and requirements.  They were forever reminding me of this.

As I grew, the real attraction of hiding in silence came from a fearful need to go unnoticed by my father.  My father who began sexually abusing me around the time I turned 4.  If he didn’t hear me, he might not “see” me in that way.  And if he didn’t see me, he might not get quivery with lust ignited by my undeveloped body.  He might not suddenly transform into “bad daddy.”   I might be able to escape his penis for a whole day.

Though I didn’t understand how different I was or how abnormal was my childhood, I knew something was not right.  And just as surely, I knew I must never speak of it.  To anyone.

I swallowed my words.  Time and again, I held them in my mouth and forced them down my throat.  And the longer I swallowed them, the more they changed.  The letters rearranged, forming new sentences.  They became something they, at first, were not.  Toxic.

“Why don’t mommy and daddy love me?” became “I am unlovable.”

“Why do they hit me for no reason?” became “I am so bad; I deserve to be hit.”

“Why does daddy touch me like that and do those awful things to me with his hands, his mouth and his penis?” morphed into “I must be doing something to cause him to do this.  It must be my fault.”

“Why doesn’t anyone care about me?” turned into “I am a worthless object, not a person.  I am an object to be used and discarded at will.  Objects have no value.  Therefore, I have no value.”

“I wish someone would pay attention to me and want me,” became “I’m supposed to take care of everyone and everything around me.  I have to perform, to make everyone happy, to make them look good, to meet their expectations and fulfill their desires.  I am not supposed to have needs, but exist to meet the needs of others.”

When you swallow your words, they change.  And then they change you.

When I finally escaped my parents and later married, my husband only reinforced their message.  I didn’t speak the words I had swallowed, but cracked the door ever so slightly.  I warned him I was broken, that I grew up in an abusive home.   I took an enormous risk in telling him.  But he brushed my words away like you would shoo a fly that was buzzing around your head.

He told me he loved me.  But I learned quickly after we were married that he had deceived me.  He didn’t really care.  He told me point blank he didn’t want to hear my words.  He didn’t want to know what was inside of me.  He didn’t want to know my story or what it had made me.   What it had done to me. He wanted easy and smooth.  For me to keep myself to myself.  And so, as my fragile core shattered into a billion pieces, as I felt the life drain from me, I shut my mouth once more.

The door I had barely cracked slammed shut and closed tightly.  This time, I locked it behind me and threw away the key.  I tossed my hope into the wind and watched it scatter until every last particle was gone.

“There is hope,” became “It doesn’t matter.  Nothing matters.  I don’t matter.”

“Someone loves me!” turned into “Even God can’t find one single person on the face of this earth who can love me in spite of my flaws.  I don’t deserve to be loved.  I’m unlovable.”

“I can be real and connect with someone in a wonderful and meaningful way,” morphed into “I must hide myself away inside the dark places of my soul because I’m so hideous and unacceptable, I can’t let anyone see me the way I really am.  I’m too repulsive.  Too broken.  Too ruined.”

I have grown old while swallowing my words.  I have grown weary.  I am left with nothing.  It seems I now have nothing to lose.

And so, I write my story.  Week after week.  Piece after piece.  A fragment here and there.  I have finally given myself permission to speak.  To speak whether or not anyone hears.  To record the dreadful truth of my journey as a broken, abused being, crushed early and cast aside by all.  I will not hide in silence any longer.   I pull the foulness and pain out of the darkness where I have hidden it away and thrust it into the light.  Even if it isn’t pretty.  Even if it offends.  Even if it’s unacceptable.  I’m allowing myself to say those words I have for so long swallowed.  I record them here for others to read; to witness.  I present them, broken, twisted, despicable though they may be.  I release them from their cell into the universe.  Even if no one in that universe is listening.

I have decided I will not swallow another word.  I will speak.  And I will let the universe do with me whatever it will.



No Good Thing

A sliver of a moon

gives a sliver of light.

There’s a foul sign

in the sky tonight.


Nighttime has always evoked mixed emotions.

I like the anonymity it affords.  You can hide in it.  Relax your radar, let your smile slip, cry if you need to, all without being detected, chastised, chided or rejected.  You can simply “be.”  Allow the shadows to swallow you.  Drop pretenses and remove the mask.  Release the pressure and breathe without being evaluated, weighed.

With the light of day comes scrutiny and judgement.  Demands are made, standards are set and must be met.  Flaws are exposed and magnified.  The worst is laid bare and probed, then mercilessly dissected.

The dark keeps your secrets.  And forgives all flaws.

But the darkness is also treacherous.  You never know when you are about to walk off a cliff or if you are taking your last step on solid ground before plummeting into a pit from which there is no escape.  It keep all secrets; not yours alone.  It hides all who come to it.  All are welcome to take shelter in its impenetrable folds.

Even the monsters.

When I was a child, I feared those monsters.

I was convinced that Medusa appeared in one corner of my bedroom each third night of the full moon.  Terrified I would look at her and be turned to stone, I kept my eyes tightly scrunched closed with my head under the covers in case I forgot and inadvertently let an eyelid raise just enough to see her waiting there for me.  I was terrified of the ghosts who gathered and danced at the foot of my bed, anticipating opportunities to eat any fingers or toes that happened to slip over the edge of the mattress as I drifted into a troubled sleep.   Waiting to drag me away into the place of forever darkness.   I heard their footsteps as they wandered through the rooms and across the rafters, restlessly pacing, impatiently awaiting an opportunity to do me harm. Or to do me in.  And I was terrified of the shadow monsters who lived in my closet and under my bed.  Monsters who blended into the darkness, who came to life as dusk turned to night.

I feared…everything.  Everything that lurked in the night.  For the night was full of wraiths and apparitions, specters and banshees, all with malicious intent.

As I grew older, I realized monsters were real and they didn’t need to stay cloaked in inky shadows, only coming alive only when they couldn’t be fully seen.  I learned that they hid in the daylight, in plain sight, without fear of discovery.  And two of them slept in the bedroom across the hall from me.

There are monsters…and then, there are monsters.

The most terrifying monsters in my house were the ones who were not supposed to be monsters at all.  They wore a pleasant mask to hide their menace and evilness.  They knew how to smile at the right times. To say the right things.  To appear to be harmless, or even kind.

But when the mask came off, I saw them for who and what they were.  Even if there was only a sliver of moonlight to guide me.  Even with my eyes scrunched closed tightly.  I saw.

I escaped that house as soon as I could and fled the town where I grew up.  I fled that place where I was forced each day to struggle with blackness and shadows.  What I discovered was this: if you grow and live in the darkness, it doesn’t magically go away when you do.  When you have soaked in it, it goes deep.  It permeates your being.  The night burrows far underground inside of you, takes root and flourishes.

The shadows became my skin.   I was doomed to live my life shrouded in a thick, gloomy fog.

I discovered that you can run away, but you take yourself with you wherever you go.  So, though I escaped the haunted house of my childhood, the house of perpetual darkness where evil ruled and roamed, I could not escape myself.  Nor could I escape what it had made me. What I had become.  I had to make peace with the night.  I had to learn to embrace the dim sliver of light and live with the dark phantoms who now resided in my soul.

I learned to survive with a sliver of light, in shadows deep and cold and empty.

I learned to survive where monsters danced and cackled in victory.  Where I was harshly caressed by their terrifying whispers.  Haunted by an unseen presence.  Tormented by their icy fingers squeezing my heart.  Forever changed by those hideous shadows that darkened the landscape of my life and stole the sun from the sky.


Buds That Never Bloom

Summer has surrendered to fall, vanquished to memories of warmth, laughter and light.  Darkness and dampness have taken over, heralding in a regime of cold drizzle, shorter days and longer nights.  The times are changing along with the bright colors boldly displayed by dying leaves.  Leaves that refuse to give up without a fight.

I walked around my yard this past weekend, watching my dogs happily running and playing together.  I have many Rose of Sharon in my yard, hearty bushes that do well in the heat or cold, seemingly thriving on neglect.  I am not good with plants.  I can only coexist with those who do not need me.  Thus, we have made peace.  They bloom profusely from late spring through early fall in spite of me.  Often, branches heavily laden with buds and flowers have to be tied up to keep them from bowing their heads almost to the ground.  They provide food and shelter to bumblebees, hummingbirds and butterflies.  I enjoy their pastel blossoms, the way they dress up, flaunting their stylish beauty all summer long.

But toward the end of the season, during the early fall, they remove their colorful garb.  Buds, the next generation flowers that outwardly appear ready to pop open, further weigh those branches down.  Now, only random, rare florets appear.  One or two on a bush, spaced far apart in both time and distance.  Some bushes without blossoms are completely filled with weighty buds.  They struggle with this substantial burden, severely stooped beneath a heaviness of sadness and despair.

Winter is coming all too soon.

The buds turn yellow; then brown.  Loaded with potential.  But something has gone wrong.  The conditions are never adequate for the delicate petals to break free of the outer shell that entombs them.  They don’t receive some critical ingredient needed to flourish.  Needed to thrive.

I stare, awestruck.   Transfixed.  Broken.

I am like the bud on that slender branch.  So much potential.  I was born to be a glorious flower.  I had two parents, branches who gave birth to me.  But the things I needed to blossom were not available.  I did not receive the nurture, the care, that was needed for me to grow and bloom.  And so, as time passed, I slowly died.

Instead of nurturing sap, I was abused.  Instead of encouraging warmth from the sun, I was burned and fried.   Instead of guidance, I was left to navigate harsh weather and changing seasons alone.  I tried.  I tried to bloom anyway.  I had the potential to do , to become, to be something beautiful.  But I was never able to overcome the deficiencies or escape the labels and limitations placed on me during a critical stage of development.  I was never able to break free and dance in the wind.  I was never beautiful.  I was but a bud that dried up and fell, providing no joy or entertainment.  A disappointment, hard and defective.

I am a bud that never bloomed.  That never will.

I wanted to become a flower.  I wanted to break from the walls encasing me and taste sweet, glorious freedom.  I wanted to bloom.  To live.  To flourish.

But it is too late.  Frost nipped me in the bud.  And as winter approaches, I crack, turn dead brown and shrivel until little of the young, green sprout remains.  I am without life or beauty, grieving all the possibilities that will never be and dreams never realized.  I will not bloom.  And when spring comes, I will quietly fall from the newly wakened branch to which I’ve long clung, letting go of my last tiny ember of hope.  Thus, I will return to the dust from which I came.  I will depart without fanfare, making room for new tender buds that are yet to sprout, to bloom, to dance on gentle breezes, to flourish and thrive long after I have gone.




I have always been the “big” girl.  I’ve played that role, though against my will, for most of my life.  I’ve been the biggest of my classmates, my church friends, my coworkers, my (ex) husband’s friends wives.  I was always the person others observed while exhibiting an expression of disbelief and horror.  As if I had leprosy.  Or worse.  They rejected me for my outer wrappings.  And had pity for my ex.

I was the freak.  The one who didn’t fit in.  Because I was big.  And that made me ugly.  Unworthy.  Disgusting.

The first time someone told me I was fat, I was 7 years old.  They told me I couldn’t be the princess.  Princesses were little and pretty.  Dainty.  Adorable.  They weren’t big.  They weren’t a fatty.  Like me.

Big girls never get the prince.

I hadn’t considered my size.  Not until that day.  I still remember where I was.  In my grandparent’s driveway.  Riding my bike around in circles as we haggled for a star role in our pretend game.  And when they told me I was too big to be the princess, unacceptable to play the role of the fair maiden the prince would rescue and fall in love with, I rode away with tears running down my cheeks.  Hidden away in a quiet place, I thought about what they said.  I started to compare myself to them.  And I realized they were right.  I was bigger, taller, looked older. There was nothing spindly or fragile about me.   I was not petite, girlish or cute.  Certainly not worthy of being rescued or loved.

By the time I graduated from high school, I was well on my way to being seriously overweight.   My band uniform pants were the largest size they made for junior girls.  Even my feet and hands were big.  And though I was no longer the tallest in my class, what I lacked in height, I made up for in bulk.   If anyone saw me at all, they quickly turned away.  To talk to the cute, popular girls.  The girls who were a size 3.  The princesses.

My parents told me I would be such a pretty girl, if only I would lose weight.  My great hair was my only redeeming feature.  And your hair can only buy you so much acceptability, even with your parents.

When you’re the big girl, you’re nothing at all.  And nothing can compensate for your repulsiveness.

I went on a diet for the first time before I started Junior High.  And my life has been one long diet ever since.  An endless battle, shunning the foods I enjoy and eating salads without dressing instead.  Of eating very little, yet still gaining weight.  Of watching others devour in one meal at least three times the amount of food I consume in a day…but they were still princesses because they never got big.  I ate only one healthy meal a day and still packed on the pounds.  Denied and starved myself only to be transformed into the wicked witch.

When you’re overweight, people don’t believe you when you tell them you don’t eat that much.  They think you’re lying.  They smirk and assume you eat in secret; eat massive amounts of fattening foods behind closed doors.  But it’s not true.  If only they would be forced to exist on the quantity of food I consume!  Then they would understand.  Wishful thinking.  Where is karma when you need it?

I have only been princess-sized twice.

In my late twenties, I began to strictly control what I ate because I couldn’t control anything else in my world.  I started walking.  Then running.  And then, I was running 13+ miles a day.  I weighed and measured my food, counted every calorie, refused to eat unless it was at times I deemed to be acceptable and only allowed myself small quantities of food, none of which was enjoyable.  I even counted calories in the gum I chewed.

Miraculously, I lost weight.  When I hit 90 pounds,  I started to feel really good about myself.  For the first time ever, I wasn’t a big girl.  I didn’t have to be ashamed because I took up too much space.

But it only lasted 6 years.  I broke my hip in two places, the result of the strain from all the exercise.  Turns out, I didn’t have big bones.  Turns out, my bones were on the small side.  You could see them pretty clearly at 86 pounds, the lowest weight I reached as an adult.  And I loved to look at those bones.  Because it meant I could be the princess.  It meant I wasn’t a big girl.  Nor an abomination.

I had never heard of anorexia.   Wasn’t until much later that I learned about eating disorders.  Took even longer before I realized I just might have had one.  One that abandoned me when I needed it the most.  For after I was forced to stop running, I started to gain weight.

I got bigger and bigger and bigger.  No matter how little I ate, how much I walked, the pounds accumulated.   I hated myself.  Was buried under layer after layer of shame and self-loathing.

My ex was ashamed of me too.  After years of living with his rejection, disgust and shaming, he finally decided to do some running himself.  He left me for someone younger, blonde and much, much thinner.

The switch suddenly flipped again a few years after he dumped me.  But this time, I learned a new trick.  I ate like a lumberjack, but threw up everything I ate.  Sometimes 5, 6, 10 times a day.  And I lost the weight; it all but melted off.  This time, I was older.  My body wasn’t as resilient.  I began to have some major physical problems about the time I hit 92 pounds.  Problems like not being able to stand up or walk without falling over. Crazy cramps from potassium depletion.  Irregular heartbeat.  Unable to control my muscles.

I slowly realized how dangerous my new friend could be.  It took a while because I hadn’t had any physical problems “before,” during my first encounter with anorexia.  But I didn’t care.  I downed electrolyte enhanced drinks, ate teaspoonfuls of salt and kept losing.  Staggering along the treacherous precipice while attempting not to fall off.

Just as suddenly, after 10 blissful years of freedom, the switch flipped again.  And when it flipped, I gained.  My greatest fear became reality.   I was nothing but a big girl in disguise.  And I was being unmasked in spite of starving myself.  Can’t fight who you are.  Can’t hide it forever.

The ugly, worthless, disgusting big girl revealed herself once more.  The despicable, stupid, piece of crap fatty began to take control.

But I can’t.  I don’t have the strength to keep fighting.  I simply can’t.  I can’t be THAT girl ever again.  The girl who is too big to be the princess.  The girl who is repulsive to the prince.  The 7 year old on the bike, rejected and teased for her size.  The big girl.  I can’t. I can’t live in that body.  I have reached the end of my ability to deal.  I can’t go back to that place. I can’t go back to being that person.

I won’t.

If I can’t be small enough to be the princess, I would rather die.


Brain Damage

I waited a very long time to get help.  This was partially because it took me forever to get to a point in life where I could afford professional therapy.  It was certainly delayed by the pressure  my (then) husband used to avoid involvement, unpleasantness or difficulty.  He told I needed to act “normal” and “keep it to yourself” because he didn’t want to be bothered with the darkness and brokenness inside of me.  It was also somewhat attributable to the heavy sense of shame I carried within me.  Shame for being defective and dirty.  For being repulsive and unsightly by simply being.  Because I wasn’t like everyone else.  And since I was working 10 or 11 hours a day as I tried to prove my worth to various employers, it was also partially due to exhaustion and an inability to make time for myself.

I learned early I was undeserving of space, care and acceptance.  Abuse, particularly when you’re a child, drives that point deep.

In truth, I didn’t make a serious, “all in” attempt at healing until a few months after my father died.  Suddenly, it felt as though the time had come to deal with the festering wounds I continually attempted to hide beneath layers and layers of makeup and masks.

At the time, I didn’t realize there was any need to rush.  I didn’t understand healing might not be attainable if the wounds were left unattended for a long period.  I didn’t know coping mechanisms, shattered perceptions of worth and self were being cemented more permanently into place as I aged.  I thought healing would happen “someday” when the stars aligned and someone finally valued me.  I certainly didn’t know my brain might actually be working against me as I slogged through all the ruin.

Did you know that child sexual abuse actually causes brain damage?

I didn’t hear about the results of this body of research or its implications until I was years into the healing journey.  I was in weekly “talk therapy” sessions with a gifted psychologist, giving the process everything I had to give.  I journaled, prayed, attended workshops, went through a few abuse and sex abuse recovery groups, completed 2 different yearlong Celebrate Recovery groups and allowed a couple of different psychiatrists to experiment on me by prescribing every different antidepressant on the market in various combinations and in ever higher dosages. Nothing worked.

The most frustrating part for me was expending so much effort when I had little energy to spare, yet it changed nothing, in spite of all I put into it.  In spite of the time and money spent.  I became dejected  and deeply dismayed, occasionally shedding a few tears because of the lack of progress or results.  I knew I wasn’t a stupid person, so why couldn’t I grasp the information I was being given and bring it to life in my soul?  Why wasn’t I being transformed?

I’ve always felt damaged.  Like I’m faking it, hoping to someday make it.  But it never occurred to me my brain was the part of me that had probably sustained the most damage because of my abusive childhood.

I was told by my counselor that I needed to reprogram my thought processes.  I tried.  For years.  But I slowly began to realize, what I needed was more encompassing than this.  In actuality, the sexual abuse, in particular, overwhelmed and fried the circuitry in my brain.  What I need is not to be reprogramed.  I can load new thoughts all day long and run them through my head again and again, but it’s never going to make a difference if the program can’t run properly.  And it can’t.  Because the problem isn’t so much the program as it is the wiring.  It’s been incinerated.   Nothing is going to process and transmit the way it should with smoldering, shattered and scorched wiring.

It was a small relief to learn I wasn’t a failure for failing to reprogram my thinking.  Though hard to believe and comprehend, I started to glimpse the real problem.  It was deeper than poorly written and executed programming.  I had experienced a circuitry overload that burned my brain, creating a philological barrier, changing how I process data and interpret experiences.  The two hemispheres of my brain aren’t as integrated as the brains of people who haven’t gone through the trauma I survived as a child.  Perhaps this is due to an engulfing need to compartmentalize and isolate.  Or maybe it’s simply the way brain development is affected by continual trauma, abuse and intense stress during childhood.  Regardless, I have begun to realize I’m not merely fighting old, wrong programming.  I’m fighting a brain that has been singed, seared and annihilated by severe, horrific child abuse.  It’s no longer capable of making the connections I’ve long tried to make as I’ve sought to be healed.

Trauma is biologically encoded in the brain in a variety of ways. Considerable and often negative changes in structures like the hippocampus, and the coordination and integration of neural network functioning have been identified. The nervous systems of children who are abused runs on a constant high because of the continual anticipation of further danger. There are documented alterations in cortisol production in children with histories of abuse and neglect. And this state of chronic ‘hyper-arousal’ persists throughout adulthood, so even when the abuse and violence has ceased and the environment is “safe,” adults who experienced childhood abuse perceive the threat to be present; their fear is maintained and becomes pathological.

The brain is so damaged, it begins to dismantle us.

The experiences of childhood abuse cause changes that are reflected in physiological, psychological and interpersonal experiences.  Adaptation to trauma, especially early in life, becomes a “state of mind, brain, and body” around which subsequent experience organizes. Research has even documented significant changes on a genetic level.  Every function of mind, body, heart, soul, emotions, logic and even cell structure is altered by the abuse experienced in childhood.

The brain governs everything.  And when the brain is damaged, certain functions become impossible.

When I say I was forever changed by the abuse I survived during childhood, or explain that my path was eternally altered, I’m not speaking metaphorically.  The damage is comprehensive, large-scale and wide-ranging.

Who I was and who I was meant to be was obliterated before I entered grade school.  That destruction changed every fiber of my being and shaped me into someone far different than the person I was created to be and become.  My life and an ability to truly live and enjoy life was massacred by abuse.  My brain has been extensively damaged on a physical, as well as mental and emotional level, just as surely as if I had experienced a horrendous car crash that fractured my skull, leaving me barely alive and unbearably traumatized.

Brains don’t bounce back.  Once damaged, the consequences will be noted in various aspects, both minor and momentous.  The entire personality is altered.  Health, both emotional and physical, is compromised as various bodily and cognitive functions are short-circuited.  This is the gift my parents gave to me.  This is what I have been fighting against and attempting to overcome.

No wonder I am weary.  No wonder the results have been limited and the path too difficult to traverse.  No wonder I feel as if I’m damaged goods.   A failure.  My heart knows, even if my brain can no longer comprehend the extend of the mutilation.

My wiring has been short-circuited.  I’m trying to change what has already been radically, fatally altered.  I’m attempting to transform myself into a normal, healthy person, but I am not normal and my health has been broadly compromised.  My brain has been unspeakably damaged.  And it’s quite likely healing isn’t a reasonable expectation or probable outcome.