the following piece is my description of coping with revictimization. growing up in an impoverished community, i looked for safety from as early on as i can remember. then it got personal through molestation, my body violated by four people … Continue reading
no feeling is final.
so, did you just remember these things?
the question jarred me the first time. how strange. i couldn’t fathom having been free from the memories. i’ve always remembered. i’ve not been reminded of anything new in this past year. i wrote a list of “these things” and they filled a paper, starting with a neat list, evolving into double columns, ending with words scrawled sideways around the holes intended for a binder.
i’m a time machine that can travel back to any number of memories. i can feel how i felt. i remember if my stomach was flopping or if my limbs were draining or if my head was dizzy or if my heart was racing. i can feel myself with frozen body. i can see where i was and where i was looking, though i don’t know what i saw and i never remember where i went right after. i can see as much of the room as a photograph could capture. i’m always at the center.
now i’m a shape shifter, heading back into those memories and i, warrior-like, join the scene and interrupt with love and comfort and protection for all. all in the picture see the light. all are transformed. starting with the most scared one and ending with the most blind one. memory by memory, detail by detail. the journey of re-membering.
i’ve been deep in intention to feel and heal. i welcome truths revealed, even when they cause my eyebrows to crinkle deepening my 40 year old lines. even when my breath reduces to barely visible shallow wisps and my eyes dart around looking for something to ground me. these aren’t memories revealed, these are beliefs i didn’t know i believed, feelings i didn’t know i felt, buried in a ring around my heart.
i remember, i said. i even remember the details, i said.
for that entire page worth of memories, i can see the details. each is like a photograph, though sometimes like a movie clip…no longer than the 15 second ones now allowed on instagram. but mostly photos. usually the standard 3.5X5 size, but sometimes square, sometimes even a fancy panoramic, encircling the entire memory. they are so vivid to me, i have to remind myself that no one else can see them. i see the room, what i was wearing. i see the what was on the floor and what the curtains looked like. i see the blanket and how far open the door was. i see the chairs behind me and who was in them. i see the posters on each of the 4 walls. i see the booths around me and who is in each. i see myself talking, i see myself walking away, i see my self. and even if it’s a snapshot, i smell my surroundings and hear the background noises. like in an amplified tunnel i hear bat-like. i hear more than i thought i could. my heartbeat so loud it pulses the light. the smells so strong they have a color. i see my feet, sometimes barefoot, sometimes covered. i see my limbs. i see my hair, either long and straight down my back or feathered back over my ears. i see my eyes. i feel them too. i see where they are looking but not what they see. i feel them in the sockets but they are still like marbles.
you remember your eyes, she said. you remember seeing, you mean.
no, i see my eyes.
how could you see your own eyes?
with a bit of annoyed confidence i tell her: uh, because i’m above it or sometimes behind it, because i see everything like a snapshot, like a birds eye view…………..oh, shit.
i revealed my own truth. disassociation. years later and this word just now connects to me. of course. all my memories, easy and hard, i’m both outside of and in. i remember the distinct moments of leaving, when it got to be too much or the risk was too great. open the wings and release. fear leaving you. i flew up so effortlessly. up and out. blessed be, there was always enough wind to catch my wings and allow me to hover. fly. fear.leaving.you. f.l.y.
my dad wrote me a song when i was a baby. i’ve never thought of it as directive. i’ve never connected it. you’ve got to fly on your own little wings, oh baby fly high. and when you get tired, i want you to know i’ll be flying a little ways behind….
i allow myself to feel tired now…i rest and daydream, laugh and say things without thinking. i’ve flown in a tight circle for years, never allowing myself to leave completely. i never flew off and left for good. i worked air and muscle to stay just out of fear’s way. now i practice landing. landing back into that body that now is safe. remembering that small body that loved soft things and didn’t mind getting dirty. that body that ran fast enough to win the 50 yard dash. that body that numbed everything, even true pleasure. landing back into my skin, the same little marks i’ve had my whole life and the scars i made myself. landing back with freedom to rewrite history and imagine intervention. landing back and breathing while i look around. landing back and staying with it, labor like. landing back and noticing only what i can see from my body’s point of view. landing back and noticing.
the temptation to fly is strong at times. the wings barely raise and wind tugs them open. it takes strength to tuck them back in. it would be so easy to let the breeze carry me.
so, time machine activated, shape shifting engaged, wings folded in, all systems go, i land and stay the course.
february 4, 2014
the feathers, lighter than dust and dog hair and glitter and toast crumbs and bits of string and a penny and a stick and dirt, create mini tornadoes around my broom. they flutter above and beyond the gathering pile, no promise of where they will land. i hold my breath, not wanting to ingest the remnant of her fear, her moment of being toyed with.
what i thought was our cat’s call to come inside was really his call to show his pride, his hunger satisfied, his skills honed. i admit i shut the door to the kitchen, allowing him the space to eat his prey. then the what-ifs played in our minds. the what ifs were it. the bird was alive. out went the cat, out went the clothespins, a basket freed, in went the towel, in went the bird, on goes the time.
it’s easier today. i can see the baby bird for what she is. i can see her separate from me. i can see her nestled on a bed of a tea towel that i embroidered some road trips ago. i see my son glance down at her now and then, not afraid to stand vigil to her death, not afraid to imagine her survival. he is her witness. i am not the bird.
it’s easier today. i don’t feel like my feathers were plucked. i don’t feel like parts of me are escaping under the loose floorboards of the kitchen. i don’t feel sore from being batted around. i don’t feel numb from the transfer between dirt ground to 70s linoleum to cotton nest. i remember that i know how to feel those things. i re-member my self. i breathe in love and breathe out fear.
it’s easier today. not long ago it was harder. it was about a rabbit.
from a distance they saw the cat, barely moving, engaged, a baby rabbit pinned between paws. balancing the natural order of things and the child’s empathic heart, i listened to his slow string of calm and rational reassurance:
don’t worry, the bunny will be fine. look…he’s not really biting, he’s not going to kill her, it’ll be fine, there isn’t even any blood, there won’t even be a mark, she’ll be able to get away, he’s just messing with her, they do that sometimes, it’ll be fine, she’ll be able to get home, no, no, no, she’s not dead, she’s just really still, she’s just scared, wait-look! he let her go! see? she’s fine. she’s okay! she can still run, oh, she’s fast, he’s not even chasing her, she’ll get home, i bet she lives close by, imagine the mama bunny waiting, it’ll be fine, she will get home, i bet she’s almost there, look at her go, she knows where to go, remember…he didn’t really hurt her, there isn’t even a mark, she’s fine, and no one will even know what happened.
it was harder then, i knew that rabbit. i felt markless and scared and fake brave and watched and talked about and left to my own devices and messed with and stupid for being so scared…after all, they weren’t going to kill me, they were going to let me go, i had people waiting for me at home, i lived really close, i was always almost home, no one could tell what happened.
downy feathers and tufts of hair left behind, carried by the air, no promise where they would land.
and now, in the hour since i started writing, he noticed the bird died, took her to the sleepy flowerbed, washed his hands, proclaimed her the cutest he’d seen, carried on with his screen time. i will refill my coffee, add a splash of cold cream, then find a broomless way to gather every feather from every corner. my dog will follow behind, knowing something happened.
january 11, 2014
a year ago today the floodlights came on: buzzing overly bright, harsh, blue toned. a year ago today i walked to the mailbox, in wool socks acting as slippers. flipping through as i walked i saw your letter. decades of practice kept me serene: “why is he sending me a christmas card?” pause, open.
it was not a card.
it was a piece of paper folded like we’re taught: in thirds and then across so it’s just a bit smaller than the envelope. i unfolded it enough to see that it was typed. my heart took turns stopping and racing. i sped read even though i already knew what it said.
a year ago today you told me my story. a year ago today you wrote the details of moments that i’ve never told. a year ago today you exposed something i had spent decades hiding. a year ago today you named your actions, calling them something so much worse than i ever allowed myself to think. you put me in a category i didn’t think i deserved. a year ago today you redefined my past, jesting my years of dismissal and rationalization. and on that sidewalk, in that instant, memories before you and after you were reassigned to this new category.
i told my husband the story he’d already heard but never knew. i told a friend, sitting in her van watching our kids slip on a frozen pond. i told two more, my words falling like a boulder on the table set with birthday cake and soup. i told people who I just met. I told people who knew us both. i told my children. i told my parents. i told and concentrated to stay standing in the light.
every day for the past year has been a simultaneous descent back and march forward. every day i’ve held a steel eyed focus on something i can’t see. candles, pills, meditation, eye squinting realizations, deep laughter, second guessing, exercise, mothering, responding, relationship shifts, accepting responsibility for too much and not enough, breathing, pleas for the fear to leave, waiting, learning. every week therapy with free flowing language and fierce advocacy and soul shifting questions. every week the opportunity to teach and learn the existence of an apparently all powerful, all knowing, all loving god. every week moving me through the alphabet with 40 young ones in a space that i’ve built as a temple for their dignity.
every moment a three pronged attack: stay in the present, allow the old wounds, actively make choices. breathe in light, breathe out pain, keep on. repeat.
you turned on the floodlights. and i kept them on.
trembling in the light. not sure where to look. shame surfacing and leaking from every pore. betrayed again. revictimized again. the numb places zinging. watching others’ anger while i got used to my story coming from someone else. i listened: stay on path. and i walked. lit up. going places. pausing to purge and growl. leaving grief in a vile mound on the road. bringing more to light. and more. and more. and more. stay on path. lift and repeat.
when i was little i would go to bed and imagine myself as a baby carried along through all the same moments of the day i’d just had. at the same time i was my current self taking care of the baby me. it always worked out. it was always perfect. that baby was always safe and happy and no one even knew she was there. win-win.
a couple of years ago i took care of a baby for an afternoon. he clinged to me while pushing away, a frantic calm. he was dressed in layers, buttons not matching up, leaving a tail in the front. his eyes were unfocused but darting. and he smelled horrible. vomit on his shirt could be cleaned. food in his hair could be brushed out. sticky candy on his shoes could be pounded off. heavy diaper could be changed. he still stank. hidden filth i couldn’t find. i imagine it was in the crevices, the tender folds of baby skin. the places that can’t be seen no matter how many lights are on. the places that will stay hidden until pushed back, or held open, or lifted up, or pressed in, or pulled out, or cleansed by fingertips covered with a warm milk and honey soaked washcloth carefully running the length of the crease. rinse and repeat.
i would have cleaned every corner of his body. i would have nodded at his cries, my head tilted to the side. i would have crooned at his whimpers, “i know. i know. i know. i’m sorry. i know.” i would have watched his eyes, noticing a split second of eye contact, where he recognized my intention. i would have noticed a squint of pain and adjusted my movement. i would have watched his eyebrows for crinkling. i would have watched his forehead for moments when it grew in relaxation. i would have watched his hands, how his fingers straightened and flexed in response to touch. i would have watched the dip between his chin and collar bone to determine his breathing. i would have checked his legs, tickled the dirty knee caps that proved time outside. i would have made sure the room was warm, the light was soothing, the curtains open. i would have given him a drink of water from a clear glass cup that he would bite down on with his baby teeth and when he smiled at his little trick, water would escape his face. i would have noticed his disregard for the plastic toys danced in front of his face and offered him a metal teaspoon. i would have picked him up, wrapped in a towel, and walked him to the window so we could look for a birdie or the clouds or moving tree limbs. i would have asked him what he saw. i would have waited for his eyes to track the movement of nature and then I would have said, “yes.” i would have cuddled him even while he stank. the crustiness of his hair not stopping my strokes. the layers of everywhere he’d been under his nails not keeping his hands from exploring my face. breathing in the sweet sour stale pungent foulness only increasing my love for him. i would have taken as long as needed to get him back to himself. to rid him of the evidence. to relax his senses. to wake up the places that have numbed. to love the places unknown.
it’s one thing to shine a light. it’s another thing to keep it on. and another thing yet to work with it.
-december 29, 2013
a steady stream of life pulls to the now: suppers cooked, leaves raked, laundry done, children read, games played, meditations taken, candy eaten, jobs worked, cheers led, hot drinks sipped, cold drinks gulped, friends beckoned, family welcomed, 4h attended, chickens loved, fires tended, hair dyed, cat cuddled, dog skunked, art created, spirit called, birthdays celebrated, phones charged, computers used, treats had, alarms set, blankets piled, messes embraced, rules enforced, music made, babies held, evidence found, treasures noticed, actions chosen, minds shifted, prayers pleaded, silence requested, stars counted, moon sized, sun bathed, moments captured.
trusting that the moments are enough.
it’s funny how i can move through my days, cooking, dishes, teaching, laundry, driving, reading, walking, when out of the blue a bit of writing bubbles up. usually it starts as a mantra. today the mantra was “allow me the fantasy.” as the story came alive, the old shame reels countered each victorious imagined reality. and as i’ve learned, the antidote for shame is empathy. i’m grateful for this space to share and show more of myself. every note, message or word i get from someone sharing their story or dousing mine with empathy makes some of that victory real. thank you.
so tonight i allow myself to share again from the uncomfortable, awkward, horrific, all too common, mysterious place i’m in.
allow me the fantasy
allow me. allow me the fantasy that can be debunked and disproved. allow me the fantasy that fills me with a quiet knowing like i’ve never known. allow me the fantasy that shifts my body to a warrior-like stance, a smile sneaking out. allow me the fantasy that my experiences had purpose.
allow me the fantasy that i’ve been a cohort with the divine.
allow me the fantasy that i’ve been a conduit for love. that i’ve been chosen. that i’ve been determined fit for the job. that i’ve been part of a tireless cosmic evil-trapping. that i was trained in the womb and began working on the day of my birth.
allow me the fantasy that i couldn’t understand, so it filled me with terror. i couldn’t understand, but every slow touch released another’s pain. every threat released another’s fear. every quick grab released another’s anger. every lingering hand released another’s loneliness. that unbeknownst to my mortal child mind, i lured it in and held it captive: pain, fear, anger and loneliness.
allow me the fantasy that my alertness has had purpose. that when i sensed danger in someone and breathed in, i really did take their fear and make love. that by staring into the left eye of someone, i really did see their soul. that when i wanted to, i really did turn invisible. that when i looked directly at animals and babies, we really did understand each other. that when i pulled the exact number of straws needed, i really was honing my skill of synchronicity.
allow me the fantasy that when things get harder, it’s because i really am stronger. allow me the fantasy that when i get stronger, darkness really does try harder. allow me the fantasy that fighting the dark is easy. allow me the fantasy that way back when, my fleeing outran darkness, my freezing interrupted darkness, my charming confused darkness.
allow me the fantasy that i was a dead end for the evil. that it came to me, entered me and couldn’t leave. allow me the fantasy that i was the one who captured it and kept it safe, releasing the offender and protecting the world.
allow me that.
allow me that so i can face all that is in me.
it makes it easier to feel the pain.
it makes it easier to fight back.
it makes it easier to lose the shame.
and allow me the moment when i move on knowing this may just be a fantasy.
one way or another, pain to power, dark to light, lead to gold.
i remember a public television documentary about dogs. every day when the dog would hear the mail carrier coming to the door, she would bark like crazy. the mail carrier would drop the mail in the slot and leave. the dog believed it was her barking that made the mail carrier leave. every day.
this is familiar. i see clearly, almost too clearly even through squinted eyes, how i believed i made things happen every day. if i was good enough, good things happened (begging the painful obvious: if i was bad enough, bad things happened). suddenly it makes more sense to me why living in a home filled with love and good intentions fits into my story. i believed that the hugs, the handmade toys, the homemade suppers, the songs written about me, the prayers said for me, the stitched quilts, the smiles, the eye contact, the love was something i earned. no one told me this, no one threatened it to be taken away, i just knew it. but like the dog, i didn’t know that they were going to do those things anyway. they loved me anyway. they would feed me anyway. they would pile blanket after blanket on top of me anyway. they would light the kerosene lantern on stormy nights anyway. he would smile at me during his concert anyway. she would rub my back during church anyway. they loved me anyway.
oh the bliss-denying, kingdom-defying moment of unconditional love being swung to side of conditional.
but how else could a child make sense of the quiet, leave-no-trace abuse magnified by a community full of poverty and crime and injustice? if she does nothing to cause her harm, then there is nothing she can do to prevent it. bad things can’t just happen, there has to be a reason. there has to be something to control. there has to be something to bark at. there has to be. or the mail carrier won’t leave.
so the switch is made. life and love and safety are conditional. unfortunately, pain and violation and fear are conditional too. and more unfortunate is the child who sees no action to result in the abuse, she knows without knowing she knows that she didn’t actually do anything to deserve the abuse…therefore it goes deeper than behavior…it goes to the core of who she is. so for this child, earning love is quite powerful. if she can actually earn love, she earns a greater potential to be safe. if she can actually earn love, others won’t realize the bad hidden in her. if she can actually earn love, she can believe she is worth love.
under this plan, i was almost 100% successful. the barking worked almost 100% of the time. i barked with brushed hair and people-pleasing smiles and no complaining and good works and neat handwriting and creativity and kindness to strangers and generous giving and listening ears and a chameleon like awareness of others’ desires.
i’ve heard it said that love is something if you give it away…you end up having more.
i will reclaim these amazing skills i learned. i will perch that little one in me on my shoulder and ask her to remind me how to wow the world. how did you work for love? i want to keep barking kindness and self care and choice. not to get love, but to give love.
so if there is nothing i can do to earn it, then there is nothing i can do to lose it, which means it already is and was and will be.
“if child sexual abuse left physical scars instead
emotional ones, people would be horrified”
-darkness to light website
maybe it would be a round patch, warm brown background with a golden yellow border. smooth white iron-on material on back although it could also be sewn on with needle and thread. maybe it would have a flame or a cloud, signifying power and beauty and destruction in one. maybe it would have a spiral made of a dashed line, depicting the twisting mind that freezes and stomach twirls interspersed with stomach drops. maybe it would have a single dot, a single mark isolated and fully exposed. maybe it would have a heart, orangey pink with a strong gray border, not letting anything get to the green core. it would be a sign.
it could mean i made it, i’m not ashamed, i’m a badass, i was so scared, i was hurt, i was violated, i’ll never forget, i’m healing, bent but not broken, i’m a rock thrown in the wheel, interrupting the cycle…
and if everyone knew the sign and if people wore them on their sleeves or their jackets or their hats or had black and white versions tattooed on their arms or their legs or the soft spots between their thumbs and fingers…if they did that then i could see them. or maybe even more, they could see me.
the loneliness surprises me. a coffee date or rowdy party or singing with friends or cards or gifts or flowers or texts soothe me, remind me of the now, keep me grounded and i am grateful. when pleasure counters pain i am grateful. when settled calm replaces frantic thinking, i am grateful. when i understand some detail and feel a sense of letting go, i am grateful. when i’m walking and squint because the sun is so bright, i am grateful. when i immerse myself in a green leaf and notice lines i never did before, i am grateful. when i see a baby not yet hurt by the world, i am grateful. when i speak to my preschoolers with tenderness and fierce respect, i am grateful. and and yet, a quiet but heavy loneliness remains.
so then i fantasize that i could walk into the coffee shop or the party or the circle of friends and see the signs. i could go to the grocery store, see a woman choosing a green pepper and notice the sign on her sleeve. i could walk down main street and pass a man jogging, the sign on his tshirt. i could walk up to the liquor store and watch an old man carry his paper bag, the sign inked with old-school blue on his forearm. i could wait at a stoplight and glance over at the old woman driving her clean tan car, the sign swaying from her rear view mirror. but then this also means i could wait in the high school parking lot and see a former preschooler, the sign so small drawn with marker on the inside of her arm. or i could be at the state fair on dollar day and see bus loads of elementary students, the sign on backpacks and wristbands. i could see them, they could see me.
or then i imagine meeting up with my offenders…and i wonder if we’d all be wearing the sign.
the knowing. while every story is different, owned only by the person who lived it, there are threads that run through. the time warping. the lifetime of aftermath. the secrets. the triggers. the polarizing mind. the hidden shame. the lost self. the unanswered questions. the betrayal. the loss. the grief. the loneliness.
so in those moments when i am baffled by my loneliness, i fantasize about the signs and wish people were wearing them.
(photo circa 2009 • meg duerksen)
i’ve sung for them to come and like sweet livestock, they squeeze through the door opening. we’ve started our collective lamaze-style shh-shh-shhhhhhh and i quickly whisper count each of them before closing the door. once i’ve reached the magic 13, i always tell them, “you are more than a number to me”…they are skin and bones and smiles and fear and wonder and knowledge and dirt under fingernails and fuzzy hair and spirit and soul and fierce love…so much more than a number.
but there are people walking this earth today who, for a moment, are simply numbers to me.
and to you, unknowingly numbered people, thank you.
in a store or on the sidewalk or driving past, there are days i count you. one-two-three-four, one-two-three-four, one-two-three-four, one-two-three-four, one-two-three-four, one-two-three-four, one-two-three-four, one-two-three-four, one-two-three-four, one-two-three-four, one-two-three-four, one-two-three-four…
at least one out of four people is a survivor of child sexual abuse.
and you random number fours are the antidote to my lonely grief.
i’ve done this to seven. one-two-three-four-five-six-seven, one-two-three-four-five-six-seven. when i needed to see that at least one out of seven people has experienced miscarriage. then i remember when i was pregnant following miscarriage i gave everyone the number one. every single person i saw was the result of a successful pregnancy. every person i saw a visible reminder to hope. one, one more, one more, one more.
and sometimes i count each person i see now as one. every single one of us with a story. every single one of us with a hell. every single one of us survivors. every single one of us with memories. every single one of us with a voice. every single one of us. every single one of us one of us. one. one. one. one. one.
“the worst part of holding the memories is not the pain.
it’s the loneliness of it. memories need to be shared.”
head turning connection
i look back to check for cars.
my feet dig in the gravelly dirt just enough to make noise.
my mind and my heart are busy in conversation like awkward friends.
my dog is leaping from road to field, avoiding the soppy ditch, not thinking beyond.
when the cars approach, i gather the dog’s collar and set myself away from the coming dust cloud. a glimpse of community with the car’s occupants, i wave, then as soon as the car passes, i release the dog and she runs as though she’s been held captive forever.
this is the daily rhythm, familiar and full of peace.
the other day my mind sprinted and caught up with my body.
a moment when checking for cars transported me back.
my neck turned almost owl-like,
my eyes met the confines of my sockets,
my mouth pulled open a bit,
all while still moving forward.
as a 39 year old woman checking for traffic, i wasn’t scared.
but my mind felt my body and remembered something.
looking back for traffic used the same physical motion i used many times before.
it was the same head twisting on the amazing seven neck bones, the same eyeballs moving towards movement on the horizon, the same mouth dry from breathing in, the same calculated steps.
i would look back at those who just passed me…were they looking back at me?
i would look back at those who were blocks behind me…were they gaining on me?
back at the car that just passed…were the passengers calling out the window?
back at the dog in the yard…did he escape the fence?
the door that closed…was someone coming or going?
the child’s call…was it for me or someone else?
the bird on the wire…did it notice me?
the squirrel in the tree…was her mouth full?
i would look back when it got louder.
i would look back when it got quieter.
and then as my head turned back to center, i would scan the in-between places and corners, the holes in fences and the blanket covered windows. and then with heart rate increased, a focused effort to walk steady and even paced, i would look back again.
the other day i was 39 feeling beautiful and strong and safe and sure when my body reminded me of what it was like to be on guard. my heart felt them both, my soul nodded at knowing all along, my mind stayed with the discomfort, i willed my body to soften and take in a little extra oxygen with solid steps forward.
mind and body and soul…getting connected.