*Note to Visitors: The post below is very raw, and very real. The Breaking the Silence Planning Committee both honors and celebrates the tremendous courage displayed by the author in committing these words to paper. Please, if you are a survivor and choose to read this post, consider reading it with support available to help you process your reaction.
Written by Anonymous
I am three years old. I have been forced into a blue and white dress against my will. Shiny black shoes, white stockings. Hair in pigtails. Trying so hard to hold still for a photo so I can get this stupid outfit off and go play outside. I’m not still enough. She beats me with a wooden spoon. I sob and sob. She gives me something to cry about. I hold my breath until I get control of my crying. I’m four for fuck’s sake. I have sad, red eyes in all of the pictures. I still hold my breath when people hurt me.
I am 6 years old. It is Christmas. My favorite uncle gifts me a beautiful snow globe. It plays whimsical music and I obsessively turn the key on the bottom to make it play, over and over. Something happens, I don’t remember what. She is angry. She begins to yell. I feel the rage bubble up inside me. I scream back. I don’t even know where this fury is coming from. I hurl my snow globe at the wall and watch it shatter; the fake, white, confetti snow sticking to the wood paneling of our cheap apartment walls. I am heartbroken. My first memory of punishing myself through emotional sadism. It is painful, but I am in control of it. At least I chose this pain.
I am 10 years old. I’m in the kitchen. I knock something over accidentally. She rages at me, starts throwing serrated knives around the kitchen. SCREAMS at me to go to my room and lock the door so that she can’t get to me. (A friend of mine keeps reminding me about not putting the good knives in the dishwasher. I never learned about knives the way that someone who loves to cook should have. I was taught that they are weapons. My friend says I’m jumpy. I clink the plates together and wait for him to grab his belt. He doesn’t. I have to remind myself that I am safe. I am 37 years old and carry such anxiety over the day that I drop one of his mugs. He is fair. My brain is not.)
I am 11 years old. I am walking along the side of the road. She is next to me. Her husband pulls up next to us in the car. “How much for the little one?” He leers. My skin crawls. She rolls her eyes. I wish I were a boy. I will remember this moment forever.
I am 12 years old. There’s a bookcase in the nook at the end of the hallway. I am at the other end, in front of an open doorway. She is angry at me for something. Probably because I’m 12. She grabs the bookcase and hurls it the entire length of the hallway. I’ve read stories about mothers who experience enough adrenaline to lift a car off of their children. I’ve lived the story where the mother can hurl a loaded bookshelf at her kid and then tell them to clean the mess up.
I am 17 years old. I am forming an exit strategy. I will do anything I have to. She has no money that night. Her husband will not give her cash for groceries. We are hungry. I have two grand stashed under the bottom panel of my dresser. It pains me to subtract from my dream, but I take $20 and we get into the car and I go to the grocery store where I work 6 nights a week and buy a sandwich and two sodas. We tear the sandwich apart on the dashboard of the car and eat in silence. I have lost three hours of wages. I am set back three hours from taking my leave. We sit in the dark and watch cars drive by. I know I have to get out.
I am 19. On a train headed as far away as I can possibly get. I reach into the pocket of my old green military coat, the one I found in the rafters of the garage and wore for years after discovering by pleasant accident that it protected from the sting of whippy car antennas. (I’ll give her credit. That time didn’t involve her.) A folded note. She tells me she believes in me and that she hopes I find love and that she’s proud. My heart sinks. I’ve abandoned her.
I am in my early 30s. It is my birthday. We are on a road trip, she and I. She is showing me where my grandparents grew up. We pull into a driveway. She tells me about how she used to come here in the summers. About how my great grandfather used to look at my grandmother in inappropriate ways. More than look, but she doesn’t vocalize it. Instead, she hesitates. I am driving, my eyes forward, but I can tell she is shifting. There is something she needs to tell me. It is my birthday and this is supposed to be fun but instead I grip the steering wheel and keep my eyes on the road and force myself to stay between the lines as she confesses to me that I was sodomized from an early age.
I am 37. It is Easter Sunday. She tells me that she is done. That she has no more time to fuck around. I ask to visit her. She tells me that if I come, she won’t be there. At first I think she is suicidal, but she corrects me. She will be leaving town and will not return until I have gone back home. I don’t know what I’ve done or what I didn’t do or what I’m supposed to do. She’s abandoned me.
I am a masochist to my very core. I have gone to therapy for long enough to learn how to seek out a healthy release from someone who will keep me safe. But the awful truth will always be there. Fear will always be arousing. Pain will always equal love. Bowing quietly and avoiding conflict will always be a survival tactic. Being empathetic and emotionally intelligent is crucial when you’ve been abused. You have to be aware. You have to be able to read the room. You have to know what’s coming for you. You have to be able to dodge the bookcase, brace yourself for the belt, shut down your emotions so you don’t engage when you’re called worthless or stupid.
And then you have to figure out how to not let any of it destroy you for the rest of your stay. How do you explain to someone that you know they don’t expect perfection, but it’s programmed into you to not feel worthy unless you conquer everything? How do you cut through the never-ending internal monologue to not only hear – but believe – the praise that you so desperately crave? How do you hold a list with 25 tasks on it and realize you missed one and not let that small failure negate the other 24 jobs you’ve completed?
I am resilient as fuck. What is the other option? Tomorrow I will get up and I will quiet the negative thoughts. I will remind myself that I am not who I was destined to be. I am not where I came from. The military coat is gone. I’ve weaned myself down to sweatshirts and sweaters and hope to someday be mentally comfortable enough to shed that last layer and regain my physical comfort as well. Tonight, though? I’m just that stupid, worthless, abandoned kid who is homesick for a place she hasn’t ever been to.