It was the longest month of my life but also the calmest too. It was somewhat awkward and I almost didn’t know how to wrap my head around it. Our days consisted of waking up, eating breakfast, straightening our mess around the house and then just nothing. I mean N-O-T-H-I-N-G! There weren’t other children in the house or in the neighborhood. It was my brother, sister and I and no one else for us to hang out. Such a drastic change from our street back home that was overflowing with children. This was the early 80’s so no cell phones, no internet (I think Al Gore was busy working on it), or any other type of technology that our youth today use to fill their days.
I soon became fast friends with the porch swing – listening to music and wondering what my friends were doing back home. Several weeks earlier I had walked to the main street of town where I stumbled across a pay phone. I used it to call my best friend to catch up on things happening back home, and it was so great to hear a familiar voice. I realized soon after maybe it wasn’t the best idea because I became very homesick. My time on that swing became a place where I could get lost in my thoughts for hours at a time.
As things became calm in my life – my tortured soul bombarded me with abusive memories. These flashbacks felt like a torrential downpour to my mind and heart and spun out of control. I tried my usual stuffing method to push the pain deep inside me, but discovered for some reason it wouldn’t work. This was new for me. I was a professional stuffer – I could push a bus load of painful, overwhelming thoughts and feelings so far down inside me that it would then become numb. So now without anywhere to go these memories sat in the forefront of my mind. Now I had a serious problem. I didn’t know what to do and had no one I trusted to ask for help.
We were about a week away from our Family Conference in Dallas. I was a little apprehensive about the trip but thrilled to take a break from my porch swing living for a bit. My brother and sister seemed to be adjusting well to our new surroundings and routines. I was also beginning to grow fond of our great-aunt too. She was very kind and acted more like a grandmother to us. She would walk me through the steps of making her scrumptious sweet bread – my goodness it was absolutely the best I’ve ever had.
Our time together in the kitchen is when she would share stories about her life, how she met our great-uncle, and the family they raised together. It was the first time anyone spent time with me like that – and even though she loved to tell me these stories over and over – for some reason it never got old. I learned what it was like to live during the Great Depression and discovered one outcome was she didn’t like waste of any kind. Food was never thrown out it didn’t matter if it was expired or spoiled. She would put that food in hot fresh tortillas and then serve it to us to eat. We quickly figured out we were eating old food and tried to find ways to get rid of it. I would distract my aunt while my brother would throw the food out in the garbage can. The next morning my aunt would say look what I found in the trash can. Yes she found the food and put it back in the refrigerator.
I couldn’t fault her for her views on food waste but we definitely were not going to eat it. My brother and I devised Plan B – BURY IT. We waited for an optimal moment, stashed the food in a napkin or a sandwich bag (or 2), dug a hole in the ground and buried it in the backyard. We made sure it was down deep enough in a far corner of the yard. Thankfully that food never made back into the kitchen so we continued our covert plan to discard the rotten food. It was also an exciting diversion from our normal humdrum daily routine.
I did my best to keep my mind busy in attempt to keep my memories at bay. I wrote letters to friends back home, I read almost anything I could find, I played games in the front yard with my brother and sister, and took walks around town. (Some of these activities were almost extinct but now making a comeback due to Pokemon Go). It worked for brief period of time and I would forget my painful memories. Then when I least expected it – BAM- they would return. The difficult part of trying to forget awful memories is that they are laced together with good ones.
When I was five my mom went through a creative phase and began to sew my clothes. She would sit in our living room for hours and pin and cut and sew. Stacks of Simplicity and McCalls pattern packets would be piled high and I loved it. Something about the process of sewing fascinated me and I loved to help her. One day she asked if I would like to try it and taught me how to make basic clothes for my Barbie dolls out of the unused fabric. It was such a great feeling of accomplishment and satisfaction creating those tiny dresses. Wonderful memories that I will always cherish.
A few weeks before school started she sat in front of her black singer sewing machine and created dresses for me. My favorite was a white dress with delicate blue , yellow and green flower prints all over it. She added large blue pockets on the front for me too. I loved everything about that dress and every chance I could wear it – I did. It made me feel beautiful. One of my first sexual abuse memories was my uncle unzipping that dress and taking it off me. After that I couldn’t stand the sight of it.
That is just one example of many – that after time will just beat you down and wear you out. It is difficult to fully experience joy when you’re always waiting for the other shoe to drop. So as much as I enjoyed getting to know my great-aunt and was temporarily free from abuse – I was still very much miserable. As a young girl I didn’t completely understand what was happening to me was not my fault. I hated everything about myself – it was difficult for me to even look in a mirror. The person looking back was filthy, worthless and unlovable – even my own mother had made it clear she didn’t like me.
I remember praying to God every Sunday night before I fell asleep. I believed he existed but felt like he was a million miles away. I honestly knew he was the only one who could change my circumstances. In my child’s mind – I thought I was the problem and there was just too much wrong with me. I believed that I dirty, broken and evil and it was my responsibility to turn it around. I remember specifically asking God to help me change and be different. I would lay in bed making a mental checklist of things that I would begin to change on Monday. By Thursday I was still the same person and felt overwhelmed by my lack of progress. Discouragement would slowly seep over me and by Sunday I would start my prayers over again. An endless cycle.
It was over a month since I spoke to either of my parents. They called to check in with my siblings, aunt and cousin but never me. Being ignored and rejected hurt (it still does) almost just as much as their belittling and isolation of affection. I’ve shared a little about the pain of physical and sexual abuse but emotional abuse is horrible too. In some ways it’s worse. Bruises can fade and blood can be wiped away, but the emotional scars of threatening words, disregarded feelings, intimidation and manipulation is tough to survive.
So where did that leave me now?
I was holding a big bag of shame, guilt and self-blame. I was too young to realize that each day I sat on the swing I was falling deeper into depression coupled with increased symptoms of PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder).
Too much for a thirteen year old girl to handle alone – and I wouldn’t have to for much longer.