Tag Archives: physical abuse

Breaking Chains

Several years ago, I read an article in “Readers Digest” that made me cry.  I don’t often cry.  But the story touched me deeply in a tender place, liberating long overdue tears while providing a minor release of buried pain.

It was the story of a man who was sent to visit his grandfather in another country one summer when he was a child.  His grandfather lived in the middle of nowhere on a farm far up in the mountains.  He was a hard worker, but had little in the way of material goods.  So, he gave his grandson the one thing he had to give.  Himself.

During that summer, he taught his grandson some important lessons.  He spent time WITH the young boy instead of spending money ON him.  He taught him to do things for himself, to take pride in the work of his hands, instead of always buying cheaply made, but expensive, things.  One of the interesting skills he passed along to his grandson was how to make things out of wood.  A flute.  A bird feeder. A boat.  And the boat was the central character in this story.

He was proud of the little boat he made and he sailed it at a nearby lake many times during that summer visit.  But when it was time to return to the US, his father told him he would have to leave his precious craft behind. There wasn’t room in their bags for even one more item.  So the boy reluctantly took the boat to the lake and carefully hid it in a small hole under a big boulder.  Then he said goodbye.

This was in the early 30’s.  His grandfather died soon thereafter and he didn’t return again until the mid-60’s, when he was accompanied by his own children.  One of the first things he did was to search for the boat…and he eventually found it!  He told his children the story of the little boat, then returned it to its hiding place before leaving.  Over the years, they made several return trips and each time, he would pull it out and carve the date of his visits in the wood before hiding it again.

And then, he was the grandfather.  He took his two teenaged granddaughters to the old remote farm up in the mountains where his grandfather had lived and died so many years before.  He retrieved his tiny boat once more and told them the story of his grandfather, the lessons learned by his side, how he made the small craft and what it represented.  His granddaughters listened quietly.  And finally, the youngest one said, “Grandpa, I will come back and visit your boat.  And I will bring my children.”

And so, I wept.  Touched by the chain of love this family had created.  The links over several lifespans that would continue long after they were gone.  The grandfather that started it (or did he?) had been dead for many years before the granddaughters first heard about the boat.  They never met their great grandfather.  But he lived on in the grandson, just as the grandson would live on through his granddaughters and their children.  The love would survive.  Their chain of love was strong and enduring, even though the wood of the toy boat weathered and wore.   There was a legacy of love in this family, passed from one generation to the next as children were nurtured and taught and guided. A beautiful legacy of love that spread and thrived as it passed from father to son to daughter to grandson to granddaughter.  The flesh grew old and failed.  But the legacy of love never faltered.

In my own life, I am part of a chain of abuse.  A chain with steely links of rejection, depression, brokenness and destruction.  This chain binds me as surely as the chain of love binds that man and his family.

I never met my great grandparents.  I have no idea what they were like because their stories were never shared with me.  But judging from my grandparents lives and the legacy they left behind, I can’t imagine they were given enough unconditional love, nurturing or attention.  The thing I have noticed that stops me in my tracks, the really frightening thing is this: whatever is passed along tends to intensify through the years. It grows and thrives, becoming a strong, nearly unbreakable shackle.

My own father was not cared for by his mother when he was a middle-school child.  She suffered a breakdown during a divorce.  The divorce was at least partially caused by a father who chased after other women.  His unfaithfulness nearly destroyed my paternal grandmother and certainly destroyed the marriage.  He was also a drunk.  My own father didn’t drink often, but his need came out in different ways.  He was angry…violently so…and he was obsessed by pornography.  As a result, he abused me sexually and physically.  So the neglect he experienced became vicious, deviant abuse in my life.  The kind of abuse that is criminal and does lasting, deep, horrible damage.

My mother had a grandfather who was diagnosed in later life as paranoid schizophrenic.  My mother was depressed, angry, self-centered, manipulative and felt the world owned her.  She, in turn, abused me physically, emotionally and verbally.  She was never beaten and her own mother loved her, trying to make up for her father’s paranoia.  The “abuse” she suffered was verbal (which is also damaging).  But again, the bad was intensified.  She was far more abusive than her own father had ever been.  The bad became worse.

The chain of love never seems to diminish.  It remains a steady, flowing stream of life, health and stability.  But depravity intensifies and causes more damage with each generation.  When a person is deprived of what they need to become a healthy, whole human being, if the chain is not somehow broken or the pattern isn’t significantly disrupted, the depravity expands and strengthens.  Just as those addicted to pornography have to find more intense ways to thrill and stimulate themselves, the abusiveness seems to grow worse and worse, spreading like a cancer of the spirit and soul.

As much as we may not like it, as much as we may fight against it, the hand we are dealt impacts us.  It doesn’t totally define us.  We can overcome it in some cases if we’re willing to delve deeply into the damage.  With much work and dedication…and maybe some luck…we overcome.  Without significant intervention, we succumb to the hideous chain that binds us to our legacy.  We have a choice.  We can acknowledge it and fight it, or give in to it.  We may love it or hate it, submissively accept it or get mad about it.  But acknowledged or not, our legacy does leave a mark.  It has a positive impact or a negative power.  And that gets passed down through the generations, even if we are able to bypass a lot of the negative fallout.

It is our foundation.  We may build a big, fancy, wonderful life on that foundation and the house we build may survive in spite of the cracks and faults of the foundation.  But the chances of the house making it through our lifetime increase with the sturdiness, solidness, levelness and health of the foundation on which it is built.  If the foundation is bad, the house deteriorates rapidly over time.

I am thankful to have broken the chain.

Fearful of my ability to change the patterns set in motion by my own foundation, wary of the damage my own brokenness might cause a developing child, I remained childless.  I will leave no legacy behind simply because there will be no one with whom to leave it..   There will be nothing of me to pass down, to go forward in the heart and genes of another human being.  No stories of my life, nothing to be remembered…good or bad.  When I die, my lineage comes to a screeching halt.  The only dates that will be carved in memoriam will be those on my tombstone.  A tombstone that will not be visited by children or grandchildren.  The legacy of pain and abuse will die with me.  Laid to rest at last.  Safe beneath the boulder where it will remain forever undisturbed, soon to be forgotten.

Clouds & Shadows

We all come from a place of utter darkness.  A womb, warm and nurturing, but black as the blackest night.  We are born into the light.   A world of brightness, noise and chaos.  Confusion.  And cold.  It is a shocking experience, one we aren’t equipped to comprehend.  Suddenly, we are alone in a strange and frightening place, no longer embraced, required to exist on our own, though without the skill to survive unless we are provided with care and sustenance.

Care and sustenance are rare commodities.

I was born at 10:03 a.m. on a cloudy day beneath a sky that was normally clear and deep blue.  I was born into the light, but it was filled with shadows. Thrust into that murky daylight where sound was no longer muffled and all nurturing abruptly ended.

I cried.

My parents said they wanted me, or thought they did.  But their reasons centered around themselves and their needs.  They wanted the experience of having a child, for they had been told it would bring them fulfillment and great joy.  It was what married people did back then.  They fantasized that a tiny baby would suddenly give meaning to their life and fill every void they had ever felt in their heart and soul.  I was intended to be the rainbow after the storm.  I was meant to make all their dreams come true, like a magic wand in a fairy tale with a happy ending.

Thus, they didn’t know what to do with me when reality and I finally arrived.  I wasn’t supposed to be a burden.  I was created to lighten their load, to make them blissful and content.  But they didn’t feel bliss, or even happiness as they held me that first day shortly after birth.  They felt overwhelmed.  I was tiny and demanding and they didn’t even know how to pick me up or hold me without my head flopping about.  They quickly put me back in the incubator and stood staring at me, wondering what they had gotten themselves into.  As I lay helplessly screaming and kicking tiny fists and feet, they began to consider that they had made a mistake.  I needed them.  Needed things from them.  This was not at all what they had expected.  This was not what they had planned.

No wonder it took a couple of weeks for them to name me.  They were probably trying to decide if they wanted to give me back.

In a flash, with my birth, the shadows came.  Shadows and clouds covering the light.  They blamed me for the clouds.  For not chasing them away.  For not bringing sunshine and rainbows.  And perhaps they were right to hold me responsible.  For shadows have certainly followed and haunted me throughout my life.  They have trailed me wherever I have traveled.  I have never been able to leave myself…or them…behind.

I was born to be used, and use me they did, again and again, in every way and in every form possible.  By the time I was in grade school, the shadows no longer wrapped themselves around me.  They covered me like skin.  They were inside of me.  Part of me.  Cells and molecules.   My DNA.

They ate me for breakfast.  Became one with the air I breathed.  The inky, obscure blackness I lived in became the blood that pulsed through my veins.  It was all I knew.  It became who I was.

I grew in the darkness; was raised in the shadows.  Not the darkness of a loving womb.  Not even that of a womb done with its job, spitting me out because this is how life begins.  This darkness left me cold, empty and defenseless, having to find my way as best I could.  This darkness damaged me deeply.  Hid the sun and stole all of my hope.  I lived very small.  Cloaked in silence, wrapped in gloom.  Doing my best to survive in a hostile, lonely and dangerous world.

I was born into the arms of the shadows, suckled at their inky breast.  They fed me emptiness, pain and sadness.  Laughed when I was abused.  I have lived in their gloom and there I remain.  Still longing for warmth, for light, for love, but lost in the darkness waiting for a happy ending, just as my parents foolishly did.  A happy ending that, like me, will never come to see the light of day.

 

The Day My Father Died

pexels-photo-296234.jpegThe day my father died, the day they removed the ventilator that was keeping him alive, I left work early, even though I wasn’t sure why.  It just seemed as if I should, considering.  He was lying in a hospital bed 3-1/2 hours away and I could have made the trip back to see him off.  But I didn’t want to be there at the end.  It felt too hypocritical.  I couldn’t make myself wear the “good daughter” mask even one more time.

He had died to me so long ago, I didn’t think it mattered if I was at his bedside.  I didn’t want to hold his hand.  I didn’t need to say goodbye.  There were no words that could change our lack of connection or mend our relationship…not at that point.  Years of abuse had culminated in the construction of layers of walls meant to protect me from more damage than I could survive.

I sat in the sunshine that unusually warm October day, staring at the incredibly blue sky, knowing he would not experience the next beautiful day.   Nor would he see the leaves turn and fall from the trees or smell the lovely scent of flowers in the springtime.  For he would never see or smell anything ever again.  He would not wade the creek with fishing rod in hand or haunt his favorite fishing hole.  He would not mow another yard or drive his car, write a check, go out to eat, putter in the garage or breathe fresh air while gazing at the star strewn sky.  His tomorrows had all been spent.  So, I sat that magnificent day, thinking about the end of his life, waiting.  Knowing he was likely taking his last breath that very moment, the final second slipping from his hand as the air silently left his lungs.

But I felt nothing.  Nothing at all.

I knew I should be grieving, yet the emotions weren’t there.  I knew I should at least feel sorry that I would never see him again.  But the only sadness I could muster was over the reverberations of his life, the damage he did, the opportunities he missed to connect with a daughter who used to adore him.  All because he chose his lust instead of his child.  I felt an emptiness only because he left nothing worthwhile or cherished behind with me.  Only pain.  Suffering.

I sat beneath the vast cerulean sky as the warm air caressed my skin with a gentle breeze.  I wondered if it was over.  And when I couldn’t make myself feel sorrow, I retreated inside and waited for the call telling me he was gone.

I did feel a little guilt over my lack of distress.  But even guilt could not goad me to produce a tear or two.

The next day, I went back to work.  I went on as if nothing had happened.

I thought perhaps it would hit me at some point.  I assumed there would come a moment in time when I would feel some level of misery because of his death.  It didn’t happen at his funeral, which I did attend.  It didn’t suddenly roll over me like a wave of sorrow at any time during that first year after he was gone.   In fact, this coming October will mark 20 years since his passing and I have yet to shed a tear.

The only thing I have felt is relief.

I sat in the sun the day he died and felt a huge burden lift from my shoulders.  The stress of having to talk to him, to continue to act as if nothing had happened…gone!  The guilt of not going home as often as I “should” because it was so terribly hard to be around my sadistic parents…gone!   The pain of listening to him tell me I “turned out alright,” as if all the horrible things he did to me when I was a defenseless child hadn’t had any impact on who I had become…gone!  I didn’t have to think about him at all.  Or force myself to make that 3+ hour drive to see him ever again.  I was…free.

If only it was as easy to be freed from the destruction he left behind, from all the damage to my heart and soul.  His legacy.

I sat in the chair beneath the vast, blue sky without a tear in my eye.  Then I went inside, closed the door and stepped out of the chains that tied me to him.  Liberated, but wounded.  Relieved, but broken.  I silently closed the door and breathed a huge sigh of relief.

Someone Has to Pay

Someone has to pay…and the price is high.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monsters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I learned that no one else could see the monsters.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Seasons

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Ax Forgets

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

The ax.  Cutting.  Destructive.  Powerful.

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

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

The ax conveniently forgot, if he ever recognized, what it did to that daughter when he forced his hard, swollen penis inside of her as the pain split her apart.  When he came on her, covering her with his sticky goo.  When he came in her mouth, shooting his seed down her throat, causing her to gag uncontrollably.

The ax forgot, if he ever considered her at all.  He forgot how it destroyed her when he made her strip and dance before him or forced her into the shower with him.  The ax forgot how it hurt when he hit her. When he knocked her across the room or threw her to the floor.  His memory only lasted as long as he stood in the moment.  Only until he got what he wanted from her.  It lasted only as long as the marks he made upon her body, if that long.

The ax forgets.  But the tree remembers.  To this day, she remembers.

I remember.

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

To this day, she remembers.   I remember.

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

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

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

It is who she has become.

So profound.  The ax doesn’t have to live with the damage it created.  Its steps are not hindered by the crippling blows it meted out.  By all that came before.  It’s over and never thought of again.  Everything…all of it.  In the past.  But the tree cannot escape the damage.  It cannot leave the destruction in the shadows of yesterday.  It has been shattered and dismembered.  Misused.  It will never be what it was meant to be.  The ax doesn’t understand why the tree doesn’t “get over it.”  Why it doesn’t simply go on. But the tree can’t undo what has been done or change who the ax has made it.  It doesn’t have that kind of magic in its lacerated limbs.

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

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

Scarface

In spite of the massive spiderwebs of scars splashed across her face, you could still tell she had been exceptionally beautiful.  Now, misshapen bones formed bulges in inappropriate places.  Even the thickest foundation couldn’t cover the mass of crisscrossed red lines where skin had been sliced to the bone.  Multiple surgeries had pieced her back together as best as they could, successfully returning her appearance to something less hideous than Frankenstein.  But they left her far from her previous beauty queen status.  And though the wreck was her fault, she was angry over the damage.   The unfairness of it.

Years ago, she drank too much, then drove.  She and her little sister in her new Corvette, T-top open, unrestrained by seatbelts.  Typical youth; fearing nothing.  She was driving ridiculously fast, over 100, when she lost control in the sharp S-curve.  Went over the embankment.  Her sister was thrown from her seat and the car rolled over her, killing her instantly.  Beauty queen went through the windshield, then the trees, brambles and rocks, shredding her face and much of her body while breaking almost every bone.  Much later, when she regained consciousness in the hospital, she had no memory of the wild drive or the accident.  They had to tell her she had killed her sister the night she destroyed her face.

Years later, she is still furious over her lost beauty.  Lost supremacy.  Her looks now represent everything that’s wrong with her life.  Before the “accident,” she knew who she was.  Beautiful.  In control.  Powerful. Triumphant.  Confident.  People worshiped her.  Wanted to be close to her inner circle. Wanted to be her!  She was a daughter, sister, graduate about to head to college, life at her feet, waiting to step into a perfect future.  She knew where she was going.  She knew who she was.  She knew how to use her smile.

Now, she is nothing of who she was.  She is nothing like the worry-free “before” person.  And she hates everyone who looks at her, then quickly looks away.  Their glances speak of her losses.

Or perhaps she is the one who cannot bear to look.  Perhaps she is the one who turns away…before anyone else has the opportunity.

The young never believe bad things will happen until they do.  They aren’t wired to believe life will let them down.  Bad happens to others.  To those who are flawed, unlucky and lacking.  Bad doesn’t happen to ruling beauty queens who are adored and worshiped by the world.

Yet, her scars are visible for all to see.  Her tragedy is written on her face.  Plainly telling the story.

I am also scarred.  But mine don’t show in lines across my face.  They are just as red and ragged, but instead, they mar my heart.  My soul.  I have been changed by the wreck that occurred in my childhood every bit as much as the beauty queen was changed by the wreck she had that dark night when she missed the curve and crashed in a ravine.  People seeing her feel sorry for her.  They understand her anger and her loss.  But they do not understand my pain or brokenness.  Because the scars aren’t visible.  They are not physical, so are not an acceptable excuse for my shattered state.

Interestingly, because her story is written across her face with bold red lines and unnatural lumps where once were smooth surfaces, no one dares expect her to put her horrid past behind her.  She wears her tragedy.  It has become part of who she is today.  It is accepted.

But since they cannot see my scars, hidden away deep in my traumatized soul, I am not extended the same courtesy.  My scars are every bit as much a part of me today as are those caused by her night of terror.  That one night that changed her world.  Yet they do not provide an adequate explanation.

My childhood nights were filled with nightmares that couldn’t be escaped.  They did not happen once, but a hundred times, over and over again.  I couldn’t flee the wreckage of twisted metal and begin to heal.  I went off into the ravine night after night after night.  I was broken and ravished and used and tossed into the dirt and stones time and time again.  Healing wasn’t an option.  Yet, I am supposed to get up, dust myself off and walk away as if nothing ever happened.

She is trying to find herself again.  She, the ex-beauty queen.  She had a certain impact, left a certain fantasy in her wake as she walked the halls of her high school.  She knew how to get what she wanted.  And she misses catching her lovely reflection in the glass as she passes windows and mirrors.  She lost her magic wand.  The person she is inside doesn’t know how to respond without her fancy outer wrapping.  So, she wears anger and rejection like a blanket, layering on the foundation, as she struggles to adjust to her new reality.  It is understood.  She has lost much.

But I too have lost.  Much.  Everything.  The world where I lived before is gone.  My childhood, vanished.  My innocence, stolen.  My trust, broken.  My heart, shattered…more shattered than her once-lovely face.  I have died, yet not been reborn.  I was not provided with any restorative surgery.   I’ve not healed.  My pain has not even been acknowledged.   I am the walking dead.  No one will accept my wounds because no one sees them.  I hide them away, fully knowing they are horrifying.  Fully understanding I am to keep them covered beneath layers of smiles and empty, placating words.

We both cover our scars and hide away in shame.  Alone behind the mask.

Liar, Liar

I’ve had a bad couple of weeks.  First, I fell on the ice.  It was supposed to be a warmer day and the back patio didn’t look wet or icy, so I was unprepared for slick pavement.  It’s the worst fall I’ve ever taken.  I hit especially hard, squarely on my right hip.  With all of my weight.  I was taking my dogs out before leaving for work, so I felt pressured to keep moving.  But I wasn’t sure I could get up off the ground.  When I finally did, after crawling back to the door, I discovered I already had a rather large, extremely painful knot forming.  Which concerned me.  I worried that I might have broken my hip, though I was relieved when I was able to walk, even if I kind of stumbled around.  I could put weight on it and took that as a good sign.  But the knot grew and grew until it was hard and huge; bigger than a grapefruit.  I let my boss know I would be delayed, called my sister-in-law, who is a nurse practitioner, and asked her to take a look to see if she thought I needed to go to the doctor.  Her shocked expression when she saw the knot pretty much said it all.

Turned out it wasn’t broken, but the doctor told me to stay home for the rest of the week…which wasn’t going to happen.  I worked 8, rather than my normal 9-1/2 to 10 hours a day, feeling guilty about “going home early” for a few days, even though I was in a tremendous amount of pain.  A week and three days later, it still hurts like crazy any time I touch it.

But that was just the first blow.

Next, came the ridiculously cold temperatures.  Down to -11 with a wind chill that was even lower.  Then ice.  Real ice.  The kind you could see.  Then the snow.  And to top it off, I developed a horrible sinus infection.  My hip was hurting so much, I couldn’t sleep at night and now my face felt like it was going to explode any minute.  I was getting disgusting, hard, green things out of my nose every time I blew, which was often, along with a lot of frothy green goop that made me want to puke.  Honestly, it was a bit alarming and incredibly gross.  I was miserable.

And then, the weekend ended.  I had to pull myself together enough to go to work.

You are probably thinking this is a stupid story, or, at the very least, an unpleasant and uninteresting one.  But I’m attempting to “set the stage” so you will understand what followed.

I was in pain, sick, dizzy, exhausted, cranky, couldn’t think and was so weak, I could barely stand.  Outside, we were going through a record-breaking cold spell, the roads were icy, or at the very least, snow covered and slick.  My nose felt as if I had a steel pencil rammed up my nostrils and my hip hit me with a zinger of pain every time I touched it.  Most people probably wouldn’t have felt apologetic about calling in sick, considering.

I did.  I felt guilty.  I wasn’t certain I was “sick enough” to justify staying home.  I kept telling myself I could do it…I could force myself to get dressed and go to work.  Just needed to put on my big girl panties.  Driving in my fuzzy state would have been scary, but I wasn’t sure I had a legitimate excuse to stay home where it was warm and soft.  Where I could rest.

Eventually, I did call and I reluctantly stayed home for a couple of days.  But I was overcome with shame and terrified I would be fired.  Or they would look down on me.  I was sure they didn’t believe I was sick.  I thought they probably figured I didn’t want to chance the icy roads and made it all up.  So, you know what I did?  I took pictures.

I took pictures of my snotty Kleenex, green and bloody and yucky.  More than one picture.  Four or five of them.  And I took a couple of pictures of me with my Rudolph nose, slits for eyes and my massively swollen, black bruised hip.  To prove I was legitimately unable to compel myself to go work.  To prove I wasn’t lying.

I have had this fear, this doubt about myself, this feeling that I am not going to be believed, for most of my life.  It goes back so far, I can’t ever remember feeling credible.  I’ve always, always, always had this nagging trepidation in my heart that no one would believe me, even though I was telling the truth and nothing but the truth.  I never feel I have a right to take care of myself.   I’ve always feared everyone would think I was lying.  I’ve always felt the need to prove I was being honest, all the while doubting myself, even though I knew I wasn’t lying.

Somehow, in the midst of my misery, with excruciating sinuses, with a coal black bruise, swollen, throbbing hip and pressure so great within my skull I was certain my eyes were sure to pop out at any moment, a thought…a reasonable, logical, intelligent, shattering thought…occurred to me.

Lightbulb flash.   “Why do others not feel the need to present documentation to prove they are telling the truth?  Why do I always feel as if I’m lying, even though I know I am not?”

And the lightbulb flash became a lightning strike.  A blinding flash of comprehension.

I was an abused child.  I was abused from the time I was born until I left home at age 17.  Much of the abuse was emotional and verbal.  Lots of negligence.  But there was also a great deal of physical abuse.  And the sexual abuse decimated me.  I struggled mightily to survive.  It was a test of my mental and physical endurance.  A horrible nightmare.  An unbearable trial.  And I cracked exactly two times.  Twice.

I reached out for help.

The first time I cracked, I was 13.  A friend took me to an event at her church one evening to see a group that had presented a program at my high school about the evils of drugs.  They were college kids, caring and easy to relate to.  I was touched by what they shared that night at my friend’s church and I went forward to talk to one of the girls afterwards.  I confided in her. That I was being abused by my parents and sexually abused by my father.  This was clearly beyond her ability to handle.  She called the pastor.  He hurriedly took me to his office, excusing the girl I had talked with, sat behind his desk and proceeded to tear me to shreds.  He told me he knew my parents.  They were pillars of the community.  My father was a respected teacher.  My mother was born there, went to school and graduated from the same school I was attending.  How dare I say such evil things about them!  How dare I talk about my parents in such a disgusting way!  How dare I dishonor them!  Then, he told me to go home and to never tell anyone such repulsive lies ever again.

I was stunned.  Numb.  I left and kept my mouth shut for 2 full years.

The second time I cracked, I was 15.  I confided in my favorite teacher, told her about the abuse, both physical and sexual, just as I had the pastor.  She looked at me with a warry expression, sending me home that day with a neighborhood kid who was the closest thing I had to a friend.  She said she and the guidance counselor would talk about it and contact my father later.

Contact my father. Contact.  My.  Father.   My father who lied about what he did to me and put on his respectable mask each time he left my bedroom.  My father who hit hard and would certainly not hold back after learning I had betrayed him by telling the secret.  The big secret.  I reached out to them.  But they weren’t going to protect me.  They were going to talk to my father, my abuser, because they didn’t believe me.  They thought I was mentally ill, making it up and needed help.

I did need help.  But I wasn’t going to get it from them.

I told them to forget it.  And they did.  Because they never thought I was telling the truth to begin with.

The only people I dared trust enough when I was a child called me a liar.  In particularly painful ways. They were repulsed by what I shared and rejected me completely.  They were openly disbelieving and hard-hearted.  At the time when I needed them the most.

I needed help.  Needed it so desperately, my soul depended on it.  I needed someone to care, to protect me, to show me I mattered.  I needed someone to believe me.  And they didn’t.

The connection was finally made.  The circuit closed.  I understood.

No wonder I always feel I have to prove I am telling the truth.  Provide documentation.  Hardcore evidence.  And even then, I don’t feel confident anyone will believe me.  Because no one ever does.  Why should they, when I can’t even believe myself, in spite of the fact I am being honest?

That’s what happens when you tell the truth and the world spits in your face and tells you you’re a liar.  You believe them.  For the rest of your life.

Mistake

A little over halfway through my stay in my mother’s womb, I almost made an unexpected and early appearance.  It was, of course, considerably too soon for me to be born.  I was far too unformed.  My lungs couldn’t inhale.  Exhale.  I would not have been able to survive without that silent sac of amniotic fluid to sustain me.

The doctors gave my mother some kind of drugs to stop her contractions.  She was monitored, given even more drugs and put on bed rest for a while.  Eventually, the contractions stopped.  I survived.  She carried me full term, or close to it.  I made my appearance at the whopping weight of 6 lbs. 4 oz. somewhere slightly before my due date.

The doctors had predicted it was possible I would have a significant birth defect, their explanation for why she almost lost me.  They were as prepared as possible for such an emergency all those many years ago.  As prepared as possible for whatever horror emerged from her womb.  I disappointed them, much to the relief of my parents.  Parents who were unprepared to deal with a normal crying baby and poopy diapers.  Parents who couldn’t handle the ordinary needs of an average infant.  Because even normal, average, standard babies have a lot of needs.  And the only needs they were prepared to fulfill were their own.

At whatever cost to me.

No birth defects.  No reason for the early near-catastrophe.  I had a heart murmur.  The kind you outgrow.  No other physical issues noted.  No physical reason for me to have almost been spontaneously aborted.

Yet, it could be argued that I shouldn’t have been born.  For many reasons.

They should have never had a child.  Probably don’t need to go on.  That pretty much says it all.

I was told the story of how they nearly lost me when they were trying to convince me they truly did want a little girl.  I was told the story when I was very young.  They continued telling it until they died.  It was supposed to prove their love for me.  Their supposed gratefulness for my survival.  Survival.

But what I heard, because of the abuse I suffered while in their “care,” was that I should have never been born.  I was a mistake.  From the very first moment I took a breath of air.

What they did spoke so much more loudly than what they said.  What they did was deafening.

A mistake.  I was a mistake.  I cost them too much.

That feeling has remained with me my entire life.  It’s a big part of the reason I feel as though I have to do more, be more, perform better, give more, and justify being alive.  A mistake.  A disappointment.  A failure.  By birth.  Nothing can change the terrible thing that was wrong with me from the very beginning.

I have felt it in every relationship I’ve ever had…until I have almost stopped having them.  I can no longer get past the fact that I am defective.  That nothing will ever make up for my deficit.

I’ve felt it with every employer in every job I’ve held.  And I’ve worked harder, longer, faster, more diligently, burning out and nearly destroying myself as a result.  Trying to make up for the fact that I’m never going to be as good as the next guy.  I’m always going to disappoint, regardless of how hard I try.  I’m never going to win because losers never do.  Failures fail.  I will never have value the way everyone else intrinsically has value.  I can never be, do or contribute enough to have worth.

I should never have been born.  I can’t make up for that fact.  There has always been something so wrong with me, even my mother’s womb tried to reject me and thrust me out into the void.  Nature tried to cull me for a reason.  Not a reason that is visible to the naked eye.  But the flaw is so great and deep and terrible, my cells should have never come together.  I should not have been created.

A mistake.  That can never be corrected or redeemed.  Such a terrible mistake, the only way to right the world is to go back in time and erase me totally.