Saturday, May 14, 2011

Lessons in the school of hard knocks

Normally, I shared a bedroom with my older sister, Becca.  It is a strange acknowledgment, then, that can rarely remember her ever actually being around, especially at night.  In nearly all of my memories, I went to bed alone each night.  At some unknown point, I began to be very afraid to be in my room at night. I was afraid to be alone in the dark.  I was convinced that there were demons in my room.  I could see them at night.  They would fly over my bed or perch themselves on my headboard.  I can distinctly remember seeing them “possess” my stuffed animals, turning their eyes a glowing red, although they never moved.  I can remember the growls and the foul smells.  Sometimes, I had the feeling of being slapped, burned, choked, raped, etc…  Terrified, I would go crying to my mother and BEG her to let me sleep with her.  Most of the time, she would refuse and order me back to my room.  Sometimes, I would wait for her to fall asleep, then I would creep very quietly into her room.  I would crawl under her bed and sleep on the floor at the end of the bed, cuddled up with my dog (Demon).  As I grew older, I tried to “ward them off” by burning candles and reading Bible verses.  Sometimes it worked, sometimes it did not.

My religious upbringing is rather fragmented, to say the least.  Religion was not ever discussed in my home, to my recollection.  We did not attend church or say prayers.  My earliest memories of anything “religious” are the “bible sessions” that used to be held at a neighborhood home.  All the neighborhood kids would congregate at the home of a young couple for something akin to a Sunday school lesson.  The couple had two young children (a boy named Michael and a girl named Angela) who rarely played with the rest of the kids in the neighborhood, perhaps because of their age.  I remember very little about these bible school lessons other than everyone being made to get on their knees with their eyes closed and pray.  After this, all the neighborhood kids were signed up for bible lessons via telephone & mail order.  Lessons were mailed to us each week.  We read the lessons and then had to “call in” to a special phone number where we listened to a story and then had to answer questions.  The only story I remember was in regards to a mother hen.  I remember that, in the story, the mother hen had baby chicks.  There was a fire and the mother hen died, burned to death.  However, the mother hen saved the baby chicks by shielding them from the fire with her body. 

Needless to say, my “religious education” was very sketchy until the Jones’ moved in next door.  They were a young couple with a new baby.  Neil worked for Moody Bible Press.  Lisa was a stay-at-home mom.  I spent a LOT of time with their family.  Maybe as much as with my own.  Lisa was very particular about healthy living and keeping your body untarnished.  She instructed me in how to eat unprocessed, wholesome foods.  She taught me about exercise (taking me with her to her exercise classes) and stamina.  Both Lisa and Neil furthered my education on God, Jesus, and the bible.  They were Protestants and always took me to church with them on Sundays.  In return, I would babysit their little girl (when I was older).  Even after they moved away from my little neighborhood, I spent a LOT of time with them.  I would stay at their home for weekends and visit them frequently.  Neil would take me into Chicago in the summers.  We would visit the Natural History Museum, Adler planetarium, and other places. As I got to be a teenager, I started to feel uncomfortable around Neil.  While I do not have any memories of anything sexual in nature from either Lisa or Neil, I do remember several occasions where Neil would rub my arms or shoulders, touch my hair, or say things that seemed very inappropriately intimate.  Once, I was wearing a purple & black, form-fitting Neoprene mini dress (no idea why I would be wearing that around them!) and I remember Neil whispering suggestive comments to me about how I looked in it.  Lisa did not hear.  Eventually, I stopped going to see them because of my feelings of tension and discomfort around Neil.

When I wasn’t spending time alone in my room (which I did frequently), I could often be found in the woods or fields surrounding my house.  I loved nature and animals.  I would roam around looking for hidden places among brush or trees to call my own special place.  I was obsessed with “hiding.”  In these places I would feel protected and safe from any harm.  I seemed to have a very active imagination.  Many times I would “pretend” that I was being pursued by someone or something.  I would practice stealth movement through the woods & fields.  I would practice climbing trees and “field obstacle training” in a quick & efficient manner, as if to “get away” from something or someone with little effort.  I knew every game trail, path, tree, stream, and animal burrow in the areas around my home.  I would “adopt” stray animals or even catch wild ones and try to raise them.  I had several cats, salamanders, frogs, crawdads, baby birds, etc…  But I was not always “nice” to animals, even considering how much I really did love them and feel an affinity for them.  I can remember many incidents where I would “torture” animals.  Dissecting them while they were still alive, in some cases.  Pouring alcohol down their throats and drowning them.  In most cases, I felt nothing during these incidents.  However, I have very disturbing memories of abusing my own pets.  I can remember putting a leash on my dog, Demon, and tying him to the door so he couldn’t run away.  Then I would take another chain or belt and beat him for no reason.  I would beat him until he growled or lunged at me in defense.  I can remember feeling NOTHING or anger and hatred during these moments.  When he reached a point of pure frenzy, I would suddenly change, almost as if I “snapped out” of that “killer mode.”  I’d drop the chain and hug him….begging his forgiveness and gain back his trust.  I would feel WRETCHED about myself and be full of loathing and self-hatred for hurting the dog that saved my life.  I did the same sort of abuse to my beloved cats.  I would lock them in the bathroom and either try to drown them in the toilet or turn on a hairdryer (which frightened them near to death) until they hyperventilated with fear and frenzy, sometimes defecating uncontrollably (something that would send me into a rage).  When they reached this point, I would suddenly be filled with loathing & self-hatred and stop the torture.  I’d overload them with love and affection, sobbing with sorrow and remorse for what I’d done to them.  I cannot explain my behavior and why I would do these things. This appalling and shameful behavior was always kept super-secret.  I’d have been mortified if anyone knew what I’d done.  I truly love my animals more than anything…and still cannot reconcile the guilt and loathing I feel for what I had done to them.

At school, things were no better.  As I mentioned before, I have few memories of my kindergarten year other than those involving the trailer.  Because I missed a portion of my kindergarten year for being in the hospital (due to the dog attack, see previous post), I was sent to “mid-grade” instead of first grade.  I only have one memory regarding “mid-grade”.  The teacher had passed out a picture of a hand which a wristwatch.  We were asked to color the paper.  I distinctly remember that I did not have a peach-colored crayon so I colored mine brown instead.  I will never forget the look of horror and anger on my teacher’s face when I showed her my picture.  She started yelling at me and humiliating me in front of the class for coloring a “Nigger’s hand.”  I also have had a few sketchy memories of being whipped with a switch but I don’t know why or by whom.

First grade was even worse.  My teacher was very physically and emotionally abusive.  She had long, blood red fingernails and would drive those nails into your scalp when she was angry with you.  I’m quite convinced that she hated me.  I was often humiliated and ostracized in front of the class.  She would also drive those nails into my head and spank me in class.  Once, I was so upset and scared of her that I peed my pants right in the middle of class.  I was horribly embarrassed and never quite lived it down with my classmates.  After that year, I always felt “separated” from my peers.  Like I was never on the same level as they were.  I didn’t seem to make friends very well with my peers.  The only “friends” I really had were those from my neighborhood.

I believe that a key change happened in second grade.  I still did not seem to be able to make friends so I was often a loner.  However, our teacher (who was always kind to me) began teaching us the basics of mathematics.  I took to mathematics like a duck to water.  I was very gifted with numbers.  The teacher would hold math contests each week and I was absolutely unbeatable.  Most kids had to write down the numbers to do math.  No sooner did the teacher say two numbers that I could immediately and instantaneously provide an answer without ever touching the chalkboard.  I was proud of myself for my abilities but didn’t recognize the way adults were talking about it.  I only noticed that my “supposed amazing ability” seemed to make no difference in anyone wanting to be my friend.

By the time I reached third grade, I was being tested more often in regards to my mathematical abilities and other gifts.  It was almost like adults had started to notice that I might have some value.  It was determine that I was also a very gifted artist so I was put in special after-school programs for art and math.  These were very “exclusive” programs at the school and considered an honor to be part of them.  Despite the honor, my mother never noticed or commented to me about my achievement.  Another change during this time was the counselor.  I started being sent to a school counselor each week for hour long sessions.  I don’t know why I was sent there or what might have prompted them to determine I needed to be sent to see a counselor (Mrs. Lacey).  At first, things were very mundane.  Then one day, I decided to confide to the counselor about the sexual abuse I had received at the hands of my Uncle Sam.  The counselor asked me to provide her with all the graphic details of what I had suffered.  I remember feeling very embarrassed and deeply ashamed.  Then she said she was going to have to tell my mother about the incident.  I was horrified.  I begged her not to tell.  My pleas fell on deaf ears.  She said told me that I would have to tell my mother.  I don’t remember why I had to be the one to do it or why she would have said that.  I do remember the day I told my mother:

Actual Memory – 'Fessing Up:

We were sitting at the kitchen table eating breakfast.  This was unusual because my mother NEVER ate breakfast with me or at the table, for that matter.  I remember hinting around that I had something that I was supposed to tell her.  She seemed very unemotional and rigid.  She asked me what I had to tell.  I remember being very careful to remove all emotion from my body and simply spit out the confession.  She had absolutely no reaction.  She simply asked me to specifically show her where he had touched me and explain exactly what he had done.  I complied with what she asked.  Then she got up and walked away without so much as a look at me.  That was the end of the conversation but not the end of the ordeal.  At some point later, she had confronted my grandmother & Uncle Sam about the allegations.  My Uncle Sam lived with my grandmother.  Both of them, my grandmother and Uncle Sam, flat out denied the allegation.  People began screaming and I remember being humiliated, my face burning hot, as I was called a liar by my beloved grandmother and uncle.  My mother was angry, but I can’t say for sure about what.  She grabbed me rather roughly and we left.  I didn’t see my grandmother again for a long time.  When I did finally see her again, everybody acted as if nothing had ever happened.  My uncle was never prosecuted for what he had done and no one ever discussed it.  In fact, I was still frequently left at my grandmother’s house…even spending the night in the same room with my Uncle Sam, although I do not recall any more incidents of sexual abuse during this time.

A few months afterward, our family took a trip to California.  My grandfather was getting married to his second wife.  It was the first time I can ever recall meeting my mother’s father.  For the most part, he ignored me.  For the most part, everyone ignored me while we were there…  Everyone, that is, except for my cousin, Brad.  He was 6 or 7 years older than me. During the time we were out there, I can recall at least 2 incidents of sexual abuse.  In the first one, he had climbed into my sleeping bag when everyone was asleep (including me), inserted his fingers into my vagina, and used my hand to masturbate him to completion.  I tried to pretend to be asleep through the incident until he got out of the sleeping bag.  When I thought it was safe, I opened my eyes to look around.  As I rolled over, I found him lying on his stomach, staring directly at me.  I was terrified and embarrassed because I knew that HE KNEW that I knew what he had done.  During the next incident, my grandfather had taken us to Disneyland.  We were taken into the Haunted Mansion.  I remember being in a dark room.  I remember looking up at the pictures as they “morphed” into demonic figures.  It was in this room that, again, Brad put his fingers up my dress and performed sex acts.  After that, I tried to hide from him.  I would sneak outside and hide in the doghouse until someone (usually an adult) came looking for me.  As an adult, I learned that Brad became a pedophile and perpetrated sex acts on his nieces and other children.  I felt horribly guilty and responsible for NOT TELLING about the things he had done to me that summer when we visited.

Another significant memory I have in regards to this trip to California involved the day I nearly lost my life.  We were at a very secluded mountain lake.  I remember the tall cliffs and watching someone (don’t know who) diving off of them.  My whole extended family was there.  Many of us kids were swimming in the lake.  It was a sunny, warm day.  My cousin, Zeke, had a boogie board (which is like a small surf board).  I couldn’t swim, so I asked him if I could play on his boogie board in the water.  He said okay and I climbed on top of it.  The next thing I remember is my cousin (Zeke) pushing me off the board and into the water.  I sank.  The water was cold and black.  It was way over my head.  I remember looking up as I tried to reach the surface and seeing the distorted face of my cousin looking down at me and laughing.  He continued to laugh as I was drowning.  The next thing I recall is clawing my way along the muddy bottom of the lake toward the shore.  I remember the feeling of choking on the water as it filled my lungs, that burning sensation.  I remember trying desperately to stay conscious.  At some point, I reached the shore and fell onto it in a heap, choking and vomiting.  I don’t know how long I laid there.  Could have been minutes.  Could have been longer.  I simply remember that when I “came to”, I realized that everyone was acting completely normal as if nothing had happened.  No one mentioned my ordeal.  It was as if I were invisible.  It was as if NO ONE had noticed that I had nearly drowned or that I was missing. 

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