Tag Archives: physical abuse

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.

I Hold My Breath

I hold my breath.  Hold it in.  It’s what I have to do.  To keep all the painful emotion inside.  All the disgusting yuck inside.   Inside where it must stay.  To inhale…to exhale…both would give me away.  Both would allow everyone to see my defects.  My brokenness.  The “yuck” that is me.  So I hold my breath.  I hold it all deep down in the depths of me.  Where it can’t escape inadvertently.

I hold my breath to keep from confirming everyone’s suspicions.  They know I am not like them.  They sense I’m different.  A different species.  Alien. They suspect there are things inside of me that aren’t inside of them.  Ugly things.  Dark things.  Things that need to be held in, never shared, that should never see the light of day.

I hold my breath because I’m not sure I deserve air.  I’m not sure I am worthy to partake.  That I have done enough to earn the right to breathe.

I hold my breath because I am afraid.  Of everything.  I wait, cringing inside, for the blow that is sure to come.  And I am afraid because I don’t know if I will be able to survive the next one.  I’m afraid because I’m not sure I will want to survive the next one.  I’m afraid of what the next blow will cost me.  For I am sure the price will be too high for me to pay, even if I find I want to pay it.

I hold my breath and smile.  Acting as if all is well.  Pretending to be who I was supposed to be, but will never be because that person didn’t survive her childhood.  Walking dead woman…can’t let it show.  Some secrets are not meant to be revealed.  Not ever.  So, I hold my breath.  Hold it in.  Even as it explodes inside of me.

I hold my breath and perform to the best of my ability.  Try to be good enough.  Try to do enough.  Try to do it all without breathing.  Without bothering anyone.  Without causing ripples or stirring the still, silent air.  Never daring to relax enough to cautiously take a tiny, simple breath.  A sip.  Never daring to let down my guard.  To let my mask slip.  To allow my fractures to show for even a second.

I hold my breath so I won’t offend unduly.  For I have come to understand, by simply existing, I offend.  I am a freak of nature.  Unspeakable.  Horrible.  If I hold my breath, I can almost remain invisible.  If I hold my breath, I can be a ghost.

I hold my breath because I’m not at all sure I deserve to live.  Nor am actually I sure I am still alive.  Dead things, you see, do not need air.  They can’t perish without it because they no longer require it to survive.  So, I have come to wonder if I’m holding my breath because I have finally died.    If the time for breathing has passed me by.  If I can finally exhale.  And finally let everything I have been hiding and holding in place for so many years…quietly go.

 

To the Left of Me

She lives just out of sight
to the left of me
I catch glimpses of her
from time to time
her battered wounded body
bruised and broken
a quivering mass
helpless
repugnant

My eyes do not linger long
not wanting to look too closely
not wanting to see too clearly
not wanting to know
what has been done to her
to make her appear
so horribly ruined
She is little more
than a pulpy mass of torn and beaten flesh
So grave are her injuries
she cannot escape the moment
where she is frozen
forever
in time

I’m not sure of her age
don’t know
her features
for I never look too attentively
Yet, even if I could bear to study her
I doubt I could describe her
in any detail
she is too badly fractured
she is too deeply wounded
she is too hideous to carefully observe

I do not acknowledge her
in those rare moments
when I catch sight of her
out of the corner of my eye
there to the left of me
I do not give her
even the slightest
friendly sign
Instead
I look away
turning from her
quickly
telling myself she is not my concern
not someone I want to get to know
or spend time with

Sometimes thoughts of her prick my mind
and I wonder about her
what she is like
why she is there
what happened to her
who she is
But I sense the answers are intensely painful
causing apprehension to shoot through me
like liquid ice
causing me to squirm inside
to sweat fear from my pores
So I quench the questions
before I can finish the thought
swiftly close the door
turn the key
in the lock
and I walk away

Yet when I am alone
in the deep darkness of the night
I can’t help but ponder
her
I can’t help but
contemplate her fate

I sense she is a child
with unruly golden hair
one who used to love to run with the wind
whose limbs were strong and growing
I believe she danced in the sunshine
twirled in the cool green grass
caught snowflakes on her tongue
breathed deeply the crisp fresh air
I believe she was alive once
inquisitive
sensitive
I think she must have laughed with delight
at the beauty she saw
in rocks
and leaves
in stars
and trees
in clouds
and fields
She was a child
who was fully alive
like the wriggly trusting puppy
she loves
with all of her heart

She was animated
and knew the joy of life
until
abuse stole her spark
left her dark
and pulverized
She could no longer dance
or laugh
and she watched the wind
run
without her

I think she withdrew
deep within herself
in a vain attempt to protect herself
from the crippling blows
the horrible physical
emotional
sexual abuse
the violent environment
the nightmare of her world
The lack of love and nurture
broke her
into a zillion pieces
annihilated her
mutilated her
decimated her
crushed her
and left her as she is
today

She is bloody
trapped
isolated behind her walls
She is deathly quiet
shunning oxygen
existing on emptiness
surviving
but not thriving
not living
not alive

What does she want from me?
Why is she there?
I feel her watching me
feel her pleading eyes follow me
as I go about my day
She is like a scratchy sweater
too warm and too tight
pricking, itching, scraping me
binding, squeezing, restricting me
I am so uncomfortable with her
uneasy
wary
wanting her to go away
wanting her to leave me alone
to release me from her prickly
painful touch

I fear her
for I am afraid
she is not simply an elusive ghost
haunting and unsettling me
dwelling where I can’t quite see her
to the left of me
I am afraid
if I look too closely
I will find
she wears my face
shares my heart
sees with my eyes
cries my tears
tastes my fear
and that it is my blood
she is bleeding
my blood
running through her veins
spilling from her wounds

I can’t bear to look at her too closely
because I fear
this broken
horribly disfigured child
is me

My Normal

When I was a child, I didn’t have any clear plans for my future.  I had the kinds of immature dreams (being a famous mega-star) that most kids do.  No magic path seemed to appear before me and there was no clear direction.  But I did believe my life would go well.  I just had to survive my childhood first and then I could get on with it, whatever “it” might entail.

Part of that “it” was to experience some kind of normal.  I wanted to fall in love and give my heart to a partner I could walk with through life.  I longed for love and a deep, significant connection.  One where I could be vulnerable without fear.  Where we would take care of each other, both emotionally and physically.  Where we shared burdens and rejoiced together during the good times.  I wanted to make a difference in the world, as well as in the life of that person I was joined to.  I wanted to matter.  To touch hearts and change lives.  To touch his heart and be a major part of his world.

Problem was, I couldn’t reach my own heart or change my own life.  I couldn’t make me different

I struggled to build some kind of a future that held purpose and meaning.  I worked hard at jobs, sacrificing many long hours and weekends to meet the demands of greedy employers who didn’t even believe women should be in the workforce.  But I didn’t have a choice.  My ex didn’t want to work hard and he didn’t much care about building a future together.  He thought I was overly materialistic to want a savings account and a 401(k).  He didn’t understand my need for some security and stability.  And he rejected me because I wasn’t the ideal woman; the kind of person he desired.  I wasn’t the perfect wife. The woman of his dreams.  So, he never loved me.  And since I didn’t live up to his expectations, he didn’t feel bad about it.  He pretty much thought I was getting what I deserved.  What I earned.

I pretty much thought that too.

My normal became one of trying to justify my existence.  Of trying to be good enough.  Good enough to be accepted and loved.

That dream, like my childhood dream of being a mega-star, never became reality.  In fact, it turned out to be pure fantasy.  Laced with a hefty dose of deception.

Years later, he finally walked away, leaving me to try to put the pieces of my world back together.

When that happened, I didn’t just lose him.  I lost all hope of being special to someone.  Of being wanted and adored.  Or of even being tolerated.

And I lost all the things I had worked so hard for or thought I would someday achieve.  I lost my job, money, my retirement fund.  As a result, I lost the ability to retire at a point when I was young enough to enjoy living…along with the ability to perhaps volunteer instead and do something I loved.  Maybe work with a ministry that reached out to kids who had been abused the way I had been abused.  To give them the support I never had.

Maybe then, with that kind of freedom, I could finally do something that truly mattered.  Make a difference the way I had always hoped.

Since he left and my dreams died, since I lost my savings, my home and my belief in a positive future, I find myself living in a dead and dark place, unable to see any end to the drudgery.  I get up only because I must.  I must go to work.  I will have to keep a paying job for the rest of my life, however long that might be, because I have nothing.  And it’s far too late to rebuild, be it a relationship, a 401(k), a career, or a tiny stable place to stand on this earth until I die.  I do the things I do because I have to do them simply to minimally meet my basic needs.

My dogs are my only source of joy.  I have no deep connections, other than the bond I share with them.  I am not a significant person in anyone’s life.  I haven’t made a difference in even the smallest of ways.  In fact, I have little to offer and am far too broken to be desirable to anyone who is in their right mind.

My normal is a place of darkness and emptiness.  Of hard labor that provides little return.  Of love that has been trampled and lost, having sold myself too cheaply, believing I didn’t deserve more.  It is a place of shattered dreams.  It is a norm that I can’t comfortably sink in or adjust to.  It is a place of existing and surviving instead of thriving.  Existing because I am still breathing and I don’t know how to stop.  Not yet.

I am grateful when my dogs are healthy and I can pay my bills.  I live in shadows and beneath a sunless sky.  I give thanks for any little kindness.  A warm breeze and a safe journey to work.  For clothes that fit comfortably and make me feel a tiny bit less worthless.  I try to not think of tomorrow because tomorrow is filled with considerable risk and comes with a big price tag and little hope of redemption.  My norm is filled to overflowing with isolation, disappointment, despair and pain.  And no option of ever getting better.

I grew as a child in this dark place to which I have returned.  I was born in darkness and I exist there once again.  I attempted to escape because I believed I could.  But I have come full circle.  Back to that place of desperation and desolation.  Back to the beginning where I was nothing…where I am nothing still.

This is my normal.    My fate.   I was a fool to have believed I could escape.  I was a fool to have thought I could have something more.  I have traveled long and journeyed far only to end up where I started.  I have survived, but it has cost me everything and gained me nothing.  The joke is clearly on me.

I no longer attempt to attain.  I pray I will somehow be able to at least sustain.  Get up each day, dress and drive to work.  Do what I must.  Come home to dogs who are happy to see me.  Care for them.  Have a little food.  Sit outside where I can hear the birds sing as I read a book.  Sit at my computer typing words that can never convey the extent of the numbness that has frozen my soul.  The emptiness that surrounds me.  Sleep, maybe even peacefully at times.  Run errands on the weekend.  Pay my bills.  Take a walk.  A nap.

This is all I have to look forward to.  This is my normal.  I am trying to tell myself it is enough.  Though I know it isn’t.

 

Kiss

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

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

 

 

The Invisible

We walk beside you.  Work with you.  Go to the same class you attend.  Watch the same shows.  Cheer for the same teams.  Drive the same roads.  But you don’t see us.  Don’t notice us.  We are the invisible.

The abused.  Trying to blend in.  To look and act “normal.” To deflect attention. To be noticed is to be scrutinized and judged.  Rejected.  Mocked.  Because no matter how hard we try to be normal, we are different.  We have seen, experienced and felt things that we weren’t designed to see or experience.  We aren’t equipped to handle the gut-ripping emotions; the overwhelming and intense pain of the soul.  Fractured, we become the walking wounded.  One of those pathetic, disturbing creatures who should surely be avoided at all costs.

We try to fit in.  We laugh when you laugh, hoping you won’t notice that it took us a split second longer to react.  The computer in our brain is always analyzing as it seeks to produce the correct response. To find the proper words.  The correct facial expression for the occasion.

If we are good actors, you will never notice us beyond a passing glance.  We won’t stand out.  We will remain invisible.

The old.  We’ve nothing to flaunt.  We can’t shake our head of shiny, thick hair in the sun to demand attention because we no longer have a lush mane.  Our shorts are longer so as to hide skin that has lost elasticity.  Our tops have sleeves to camouflage our flaccid arms.  Parts of us resemble a Sharpei.  Mid-drift tops are shunned and low necklines have long ago been abandoned.  We may still wear fashionable clothing and have a spring in our step.  But your eye will not be drawn to firm buns or toned calves because we don’t possess them.  In fact, it is likely your eye won’t be drawn to us at all.

We move through the grocery store unnoticed.  At best, we do our shopping without leaving a trace of ourselves behind.  At our worst, we are sometimes in the way.  A pest.  Quickly assessed and then disregarded.

The un-pretty.  We don’t fit the proper mold.  Our features are not perfectly symmetrical.  Our eyes may be too close together or too far apart.  They aren’t blue and our hair isn’t full and blonde.  Our legs are too short.  Our feet too big. Our smiles crooked or too generous.  Our ankles too fat.  Our thighs rub together and our stomach protrudes.  We turn heads…in the other direction.  No one smiles when they see us coming.  If they notice us at all, they look away, avert their eyes, find someone more pleasing to watch until we have passed by.  Someone who is impressive.  Who is worthy of adulation.

The abused who are also older and who don’t meet…and likely never have met…our societal standards for pretty – well, it’s a triple whammy.

Silent.  Invisible.  Here and gone without leaving a ripple behind.  We don’t even imprint on your retina.

I’m sure there are others who feel this way.  Refugees.  The poor.  Who can’t afford a cool car or trendy clothing.  The obese.  The unintelligent.  Those who never had an opportunity to go to college.  There is an army of marginalized members of society lurking in the peripheral vision of the masses.  Those who failed the test because of factors that were and that remain far beyond their control.

The invisible sea of individuals who don’t measure up.  Who are odd.  Who have no hope of acceptance because of how they look, what has been done to them and a pathetic lack of resources.

I am adrift in this sea.

I am one of the abused.  Badly abused.  Rejected.  I am older.  Old by the standards of youth.  I have never been one of the beautiful people.

Not only has the outside of me failed to measure up, no one has been able to find beauty in my soul.  Or in my heart.  No one has been able to accept me for who I am.  My warts are somehow far, far worse than those of most others.  My flaws too horrible.  So, I go through my day without acceptance.  Without touch.  Mostly without notice.  Without anyone to care or to assure me the difficulties and hurts I’ve encountered will somehow work out.  That I can and will get through them.  In reality, they probably won’t work out and I’ll only get through them if I can find the strength within me to keep walking in spite of the agony.

You don’t see me, but that slight breeze you felt on your cheek may have been the air I stirred as I walked past you.

We are the invisible.  Imperfect creatures.  Broken.  Not as successful as is expected or required.  Certainly, not as glamorous or physically pleasing.  Our deficiencies are often hard to mask.  And so, people block us from their mind and gush over the more perfect among us instead.  Worshiping youth.  And “hotness.”

It’s actually not too terrible…not be recognized as being a person or of having value.  I’m certainly left alone.  And though no one speaks to me beyond what is necessary, though they cut me off in line and seem surprised to see me standing behind them if I have the courage to speak up, for the most part, life’s transactions can be conducted in the shadows with a certain amount of efficiency.  And without too much hassle.

There was a time when I wanted someone to see me because I prayed there was someone special in the world who would love and accept me despite my flaws and brokenness.  I have learned.  Reality has replaced fantasy.  And reality is empty of most everything, though it is filled to overflowing with isolation.

Now, I am content if people don’t bump into me and knock me down.  If they don’t cut me off.  If they lower their eyes as I walk by.  I am content when no one is hurting me.  No, not content.  But grateful.  Grateful no further damage has been done.  That I have returned safely home.  Have made it through the day without additional wounds and scars.

There is something to be said for being left alone.  There are worse things than being invisible.  I am trying to find the good in it.  Or to at least ignore the bad.

I’m trying to embrace invisibility.  To hold it close, even as I have always longed to be held.

 

The Tree Remembers

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh, how the tree wishes it could forget.

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.