Why am I telling this story? Because I have to. Even when my voice shakes.
If we met on the street, I don’t think you would find me capable of this story. The mirror shows an overweight, very ordinary, dark haired 41 year old mom and wife.
We don’t see the little girl with whispy hair, the wild child smelling of horse and cow, the angry teenager, the bitter woman, the frustrated musician, the voiceless, shamed, Lost Girl. Neither of us can see bright red lines that used to line hidden skin where I took out my victim status on myself. They have faded to silver now.
But that doesn’t make them precious.
Yet, all those women have lived in my skin at one time or another and they are clamoring to tell their stories. They refuse to be silent. They demand the room to speak.
Concrete steps, bigger than my legs could take easily, were in my way so it was shuffle, hand rail, step, shuffle, handrail, step until I found msyelf at the bottom.
Then, I would run.
Past the big tree and Mom’s garden toward my friend. Through the back gate, through the fence, and across the alley toward the neighbor boy’s yard where we’d play in his back shed.
I felt special there. The only one he really liked, he said. I believed him.
We’d play house. I was the mommy, he was the daddy, and sometimes, side by side, on a sheet of cardboard, we would talk about the children.
A little scar on the inside of my left ankle is all that remains of those afternoons. I never went back after the time I cut myself and came limping home, blood streaming from my foot.
My stories are more likely to be told by scars that have remained; a roadmap of life criss-crossed on the frame God gave me. Like so many things, they are hidden and camoflauged.
I never told my family about the little boy and our games. I didn’t know anything was “wrong” but, I knew I liked having secrets. I really liked having my secrets.
There weren’t very many moments for me, in our busy life, as ministry and people filled our world, for the little kid with pig tails to feel she had something of her very own. So, even then, I chose to have secrets instead of dolls or postage stamps.
The little tendrils of self-sufficiency were tender and tiny then. I only knew they made me feel strong. Like I didn’t need anyone else.
I didn’t feel as though I was needed in the dynamic, loud family I was born into and, somehow, in my mind, that meant I wasn’t part of them. They had their world and I had to figure out mine.
It’s funny what is remembered in stark, sharp clarity and the thing that remains hiding, coiled and ready, under a shadow of strong emotions and shame.
Standing in front of the big stairs in front of the girl’s house, just around the corner, where the big kids hung out, I wanted to be part of them. Desperately. But they yelled bad words at me, screaming for me to go away.
I remember the absolute horror I felt for believing I could be part of them.
On that slow, sad walk home, I decided I wasn’t going to do that again. I was so little to believe that thing. But it shaped a part of my heart that still resonates.
Decades later. _____________________________________________________________
I was nearly 4 then. Having a great memory for these kinds of details isn’t always a gift.
The freedom at the farm was straight from God. I didn’t talk to Him though. I didn’t need anybody. Suddenly, those neighbor kids didn’t matter. There was a new litter of kittens. Blue Boy, the trusty Queensland, followed me all over the pastures and down to the crik.
I could wander, deep into shoulder high alfalfa until, suddenly, I was the only one in the whole world. No one to yell at me. No one to tell me what to do. No one at all.
Just soft, brown-eyed cows tolerating a child’s clumsy climbing as they rested. Lying in the sun, quietly chewing and brushing flies away, and I stretched, full-length onto their warm backs and played with curls and sworls until I fell asleep. During those seasons, I was often alone but the feeling of being lonely didn’t resonate with me.
I had plenty of friends. But my friends had four legs and butted heads instead of shaking hands. Or they meowed or barked. Or whinnied.
Most of all, they needed me. And I needed them.
Time wove around us, ebbing and flowing as it does. I didn’t pay attention as I created an elaborate inner world where I was the center and all things happened just as they were imagined. __________________________________________________________
Even in the middle of this seemingly idyllic world, however darkness followed me. I didn’t see myself as valuable to the group. The weakest member of the pack is always first hunted. I was the straggler and I was prey.
Most importantly to those who hunted – I could keep secrets. ____________________________________________________________
Sexual abuse is rarely as straight forward and clear cut as at looks on tv or in textbooks. In fact, given enough time and manipulation? The prey doesn’t evenrealize they are with a predator. They can be convinced to believe this invasion is acceptable. In fact, isolate someone enough and they will be so thankful for the acceptance, a predator will never have to worry about them turning.
Secrets were what I did best and there were plenty to keep, by the time I turned 9.
As a way of finding peace, far from the humanity I didn’t understand, my horses and I would run away, deep in to the hills, and be alone all day. The fortress of my imaginary world was easily fortified with solitary moments spun to begin a great wall around my heart.
As young as I was, my soul pulled into splinters and the fantasy slowly became the reality. The girl in my head? That was the real me, I’d tell myself. The girl who could run all day and never get tired, the girl who could ride any horse, and bear any pain.
The girl who cried, the girl who froze and couldn’t move, the girl who seemed to draw the darkness like a swarm of flies. She wasn’t the real me.
The further I retreated, the less I cared about what happened to me in the real world. The less I cared about the people in the real world. ____________________________________________________________
There were two of us living in one skin-suit and, as I fragmented, the isolation experienced at home only intensified. I imagined origin stories that kept me far removed from these strangers. Perhaps I was adopted and no one wanted to tell me. I don’t really look like any of them. I don’t think like they do. I don’t like the things they seem to like.
Loudest, perhaps, was the voice that constantly grated on my heart.
You don’t belong to anyone. You don’t matter.
Lurking around the edges of family gatherings it seemed one long moment where I was forced to relive that day. Always feeling as though I stood, experiencing humiliation again and again, at the base of those tall, tall steps, waiting for the inevitable shaming…
We don’t want you. Go away.
Like a dog at the pound, I waited. For the moment of recognition when I was accepted, drawn in, relevant, significant…
When they would take the time to see the person behind the face, beyond their presuppositions, the real me hidden under the layers of silence and unmet hopes and expectations. When?
Or would they even notice if I wasn’t there?
It wasn’t too many years later when I tired of waiting.
My secrets weren’t precious anymore as I began to see them for what they were. The abuse for what it was. The shame for what it was.
During those moments of revelation, I first tasted hate.
The first person I chose to pour that hatred onto…was me.