Category Archives: adult survivors of child abuse

Popping the question

When he was four, he wanted to know if my mother was dead.  I told him she was.

When he was four and two months, he wanted to know what she died of.  I told him that she got sick and her lungs stopped working.

When he was four and two months and one day, he wanted to know how old I had been.  I told him two.

When he was five, he wanted to know about my father.  I told him he lived far away.  But then he wanted to know about my stepmother, and eventually, after the questions became more and more probing, I told him the truth.  She wasn’t very nice to me.

“Why wasn’t she nice to you?”

“I guess she didn’t like me very much.”

“But why didn’t she like you very much?”

“I don’t know, sweetie.  I don’t know why someone wouldn’t like a child.”

He wants to know more about what she did, I think.  He doesn’t have the words to ask because he doesn’t even know the word “abuse.”  It is all so vague for him, and it’s hard for me to figure out what’s going on in that little head.

I sure as hell don’t want to tell him more than he’s asking.  He’s not asking to know that she beat me.  He shouldn’t even know that she hit me.  He’ll have sixty or seventy years of his life to understand the specifics of what happened to me as a kid; right now, it’s not necessary for him to know I slept naked on the hallway floor and ate my own vomit.

But I also don’t want to tell him less than he’s asking.  Kids left to figure shit out for themselves can imagine some pretty horrible stuff, although I guess he can’t imagine much that’s worse than what actually happened to me.  So, I wait for the questions and field them as they come.

Except when I don’t know the answer.

Because there is one question I’ve struggled with for years.  The same question that grown men ask me every single time they hear my story.  The question Zachary asked me the other day.

“Why didn’t your father help you?”

Why didn’t my father help me?  Why, indeed.  There are a couple of ways to go about answering this one, but “because he’s a narcissistic asshole” doesn’t really answer the question.  Plus, then I’d have to define narcissistic and asshole.

Instead, I went with, “I don’t really know.  I think maybe he just didn’t care that much.”

This threw Zach for a loop.  Having no experience with stepmothers, he can accept that some are bad.  But he has experiences with fathers.  In his experience, fathers care very much.

My husband thinks I answered wrong.  And maybe I did.  Unfortunately, my husband does not have any suggestions for better answers.  I think that’s because there aren’t any better answers.

How do I answer a four-year-old who wants to know why the woman on the cover of Time magazine has her nose cut off?  I mean, other than to wonder why the hell the grocery store put the magazine at precisely four-year-old height.    How do I answer when my children want to know about war and genocide and mental illness and homelessness?  I answer as honestly as I can, trying to help them understand there are injustices in the world that they can help to right.

But, when my almost-six-year-old wants to know why a father stands by and allows his children to brutalized, why my father did that, well, I just don’t know what to say.

Father’s Day

No, there will not be a Father’s Day post.

My husband is a wonderful father.  Since the move to New Jersey, he has become as much a co-parent as possible, given that he is away from the home on weekdays.  He loves his children and is excellent at things like teaching them to ride bikes and listening to Benjamin talk incessantly.

But I will not be writing an Ode to Daddy for him, because that is for my children to do someday.  Plus, I let him sleep in this morning, so he asks for nothing more.

And there will not be a post to my father.  There will be nothing about the raving disappointment he was and still is.  There will be nothing about his choice to remain married to the stepmother so sadistic that Social Services felt the need to remove his daughters from his house.  There will be nothing about his silence while we were starved, beaten, and locked out in the cold.

Because he is simply not eligible for a Father’s Day post.

There are wonderful dads out there – adoptive, step, biological, grand, foster, and so on.   To them, I raise a glass, tip a hat, and say a cheer.

But there will not be a Father’s Day post.

Violence Unsilenced

            If we are silent…

            If we hide the bruises…

            If we lie about the past…

            If we hold their secrets for them…

            Then we are honoring their violence.  We are accepting their estimation of us as worth a buck-fifty plus tax.  We are letting them write our stories.  We are feeling their shame as our own.

            And we are accomplices in allowing it to happen to us and to someone else.

            Go.  Read these brave stories.  Visit every week.  Because I for one am worth at least the price of a latte.

Dream

A shout-out to Chris, who found a home for my beloved cat. 

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Thank you to all of you who have asked how I am doing, and I am truly sorry I am not doing a better job responding to all the intelligent comments on last week’s posts.  To be honest, I am having a really rough time holding my brain together with Scotch tape right now.  Last week, I could not identify an Edith Wharton quote.  This weekend, I could not remember a single David Mamet play I had seen, except for Betrayal, which is a wonderful play by Harold P-nter, a fact I remembered at 2:45 in the morning when Zachary began waking us up.  This may seem like nothing to most folks, but remember that my life was literature (specifically turn-of-the-century American literature and dramatic literature) for a long time, and now I can’t make my brain work properly.  I am sure it will come back, but in the mean time, a real post below.

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            A group of us were in the woods somewhere.  I do not frequently set my dreams in the woods, but such dreams are not unheard of.  We were working at some sort of forced labor, with a rather nasty woman overseeing our efforts.  Although the work was unpleasant, there was the assurance of a hearty meal at the end.

            However, the woman in charge capriciously decided that the more favored group of woods-dwellers would be fed, while we would get a scrap of bread and a bit of water.  Perhaps it was a throwback to my Nazi dreams, perhaps it was a remembrance of the woods outside my childhood home, or perhaps I have seen too many episodes of Lost.

            Someone spoke up.  She spoke loudly and firmly and confidently, voicing our refusal to be treated so badly anymore, as well as our refusal to remain silent in the face of such abuse.

            Then the dream shifted.  Our hungry band of workers had figured out how to quietly take the eggs of wild birds without even disturbing them, and we were creeping across a field in the woods, united as we gathered large, speckled eggs.

            And then we were assembled again.  A woman at the front of our group (oddly dressed in a penguin suit as sometimes happens in dreams) declared our strength, our courage, and proudly proclaimed it scrambled egg day.  (Only a pregnant woman would dream about eggs being empowering.) We would not be kept silent under someone else’s thumb; we would join together and find our own nourishment. 

            I awoke thinking of all the people who have supported me as I found my voice to face my childhood.  The old friends who read this blog who never comment and I do not even know are there until they send me an email out of the blue.  My MIL, who reads every day, which must get her an in-law gold star.  My husband, whose support for this journey has been unwavering and unparalleled.  People I have never met, who have my back and listen to the truths I need to tell.  And, then you, those who have lived through it, too.  Until I started speaking, I had no idea how many of us there are with something like this to tell.  It makes me feel stronger to know we are all in it together, but sad because I would hope there were many fewer.  Really, what is it about hurting a child that makes it such a popular sport among adults?

            Please visit Jennifer at Thursday Drive.  Start with this post, then go to this one.  One by one, we will tell our stories, and no one can stand up to the silence without others there.