I am 3 or 5 when I first remember being alive. The world is empty, faded, and cold. Everything seems rickety and half-sewn together. An off hours thrill ride with the lights left on. It leaves me with a feeling of queasiness that I won’t be able to shake for the rest of my life.
The people are more like characters: clownish and frightening. Inhuman. My father is an ogre with a scratchy face and some drooling gargoyle between his legs. Grandma is a sideshow witch, speaking in tongues and conducting exorcisms in the barn in our backyard. Grandpa, the scary-skinny man with red in his eyes.
In 1985, one gallon of gas is a dollar eighty-eight, Reagan is on his 2nd term, Calvin and Hobbs make their debut. As do I. I come out blue and not breathing. They cut you from front to back to retrieve me and my head presets itself- grotesquely misshapen – a perfect side-show addition to the freak show.
I do not remember growing up because, in many ways, I do not think it happened. I think I’m back there someone, crouching in a corner or wedged behind the sofa, just waiting. They say kids who experience trauma grow up too fast but I think they don’t grow up at all. I think the body grows in spite of them and they go through the acts of getting older, but they do not get older. They shrink. They wither. They have learned to make themselves small.
I have always felt like a character in someone else’s story. A faintly drawn sketch of a person. An outline. Any thought I had, was corrected or dismissed outright. My body was not my own. My actions were governed over and manipulated and my whole life felt like has already been written and that my only job was to play the part.
I remember the loneliness, learning to be alone. Learning that if anyone spoke to me or looked at me too closely the tears would fly out of my eyes and the sobs would fly out of my throat and I’d cry for a week. I could feel the tears brimming and sloshing in me like water in a glass that is unsteady and too full.
Early on, Dad mocked and belittled my innocent feelings and I learned to ignore them. I couldn’t afford to feel the full range of feelings in my body while I was being being abused—pain, outrage, hate, vengeance, confusion, arousal. So, I short-circuited them and went numb. For many children, any expression of feelings, even a single tear, is cause for more severe abuse. Again, the only recourse is to shut down. Feelings go underground.
I still have that feeling lodged in my throat but day by day it’s getting easier to breath.
I still have an inborn fear of crying.
I’m still trying to extricate myself from the past but take some of it with me – you and sis, mainly.
Most don’t get to take anything with them when their house burns down. We’ve been lucky that way…we’ve gotten to grab hold of each other and follow each other through the dangerous terrain of a smoldering house into the dark air of freedom. We didn’t know where we were going and what we were going to do when we got there but we’re figuring it out now. We’re rebuilding. The ruins of our past no longer claim us.
Your Daughter, B