Biographical Non-Fiction posted March 20, 2012


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Child Abuse

by Spiritual Echo

I've written about abuse, life altering events in my past, and I have a lot of empathy for those who might still be somewhere in that vile shadow, but recently there has been some conversation on FS about childhood abuse. I'd like to revisit my own experiences with you, not to horrify you with details that will spoil your digestion, but to add my thoughts on the aftermath of what lifelong effects childhood trauma costs, how it pollutes one's life.

I am the youngest of three sisters, all of whom were sexually abused. Not just by our father, but his brothers joined the party, as well as assorted other male 'family friends', who while not forcing the actual sexual act upon us, felt perfectly within their rights to grab our body parts, and fondle us whenever the inclination suited them.

It wasn't the only abuse that stained our household. My mother was a battered wife, suffering continual bruising, but she also adopted a role of passive aggression, taunting my father, trying to assert her authority by shrieking demands and accusations, most of which were true. He'd finally haul off and belt her, and she would collapse into a whimpering pool of martyrdom.

I was less than five years old when I woke up to my mother screaming. My father had pulled out a huge hunk of hair from the top of her head, and my mother's face was covered with streams of blood. I was terrified, not only of the vision, but also afraid to make a noise, for fear that he might turn on me as well.

Again, in the middle of the night, this time when I was eleven years old, I awoke to my mother's screams. My father was chasing my mother around the house with his hunting rifle. He fired several times, missing his mark, but definitely intending to kill. My mother cowered behind my back, convinced that he would not shoot a child. With strength that I can only credit to my guardian angels, I grabbed the barrel and stuck it into my belly and screamed at him.

"If you are going to shoot Mama, you'll need to shoot me first."

He stormed out of the room, still enraged. We took the intermission, and used it to grab our coats and run out of the house.

We walked the half mile to a major intersection where there was a telephone booth. My mother pressed a dime into my hand and told me to call my uncle. "He won't come for me," she said.

My uncle answered the phone in the middle of the night, grumpy and obviously asleep, annoyed by the intrusion. While I began to tell him the story, I began to cry uncontrollably, but even as I choked on the words, I continued. I told him where we were and he said he would come and get us.

We sat on the curb on the corner of Kennilworth and Queen Street until dawn. No one came to get us. My uncle was a medical doctor, a revered citizen in the community. I did not know then that he had molested my sister, but when the truth was revealed to me in later life, I couldn't shift my paradigm, the eternal truth of watching the sun rise as the garbage men collected the trash that lined the streets where we spent the night.

This was the anti-climax that led to my parents' separation two years later. Social programs didn't exist and police would only react if the woman pressed charges. A child would be called a liar, never believed. My parents were immigrants with limited language skills. We didn't have any other family in Canada to help us survive. My mother stayed in the marital home because she knew no other way to survive in her newly adopted country. It took two years for her to negotiate a modest settlement with my father to allow us to move.

My oldest sister left home when she was seventeen. I only learned her truth about her childhood decades later. She was born in Latvia. My mother was married, but not living with her husband, a separate issue that has no relevance to this story. She got pregnant by another man, but thought her married label would protect her from judgement. People knew the girl wasn't the result of the sanctified union, and although not technically correct she was labeled a bastard. That was a fierce some accusation, a label that gave her status not much higher than a barnyard animal. At a very early age, after my mother had hooked up with my father, his third brother began to use my sister as his toy.

My second sister was also born in Latvia, but was still an infant when my family immigrated to Canada. There is sixteen years difference between my oldest sibling and seven years between the second. The abuse in all forms continued for over two decades and spared none of us. By the time I was seven years old both siblings had found a way to get out, moving as far away from the family as opportunity would allow.

And, here is the rest of the story.

Once my mother and I got out, found a place of our own, I anticipated that calmness would rule our new home. But, my mother's ingrained passive/aggressive role revved up, greatly propelled by menopause. All the derisive comments and demeaning remarks she once hurled at my father were now transferred to her only remaining target, me. Nothing I could ever do or say evoked a positive comment, but she was more than happy to share her disgust at my very existence. The only message she made very clear to me was that any man was better than NO man, and she encouraged me to use my "fleeting" youth to snare a benefactor. Yes, I was born in Canada, and part of the birth of feminism, but a lifetime of her negative affirmations made me believe her. I married a man when I was eighteen who by comparison was 'normal' and from a middle class family. He wanted me, and that was the only thing I needed to hear to finally get on with my life. My husband was one of those souls who if you believed in reincarnation, you'd say was an extra in some great drama or a first time visitor to earth. He simply existed without any passions, goals or dreams, content to drift, while I sought passion and joy. We divorced after twelve years. My mother, true to her motto that any man was better than one, married two more times, each time morphing into whatever her new husband wanted her to be. Her personality adjustments were dizzying, but I had no opinion. If that's what turned her crank, so be it. At any rate, her distraction to the third and fourth marriage kept me below her horizon. I thought the war was finally over.

My oldest sister, the best adjusted, surrounded herself with women. After serving a stint in the army she returned with a new friend and became part of their family, to the point that she legally changed her name and NEVER admitted to anyone she had any other family. She worked for thirty years in a bank, surrounded by women and never put herself into any situation where she might be considered dating or marriage material. She is happily retired, still living with her adopted sister many thousands of miles away. An attentive aunt and a supportive sister, our relationship continues through e-mails and phone calls, but she has no interest in any physical contact with the ashes of her previous life. She never married and feels no remorse for her choices in life. She found serenity.

The middle girl ran from the house, blood streaking down her back from the beating my father administered. With nothing but a coat hiding her nakedness and the purse my mother threw her containing eight dollars she fled, never to return. She was fourteen with no place to go. She turned to prostitution and addictions to help her cope and survive. Until the day she died, four years ago, she was still cursing our mother for turning a blind eye, knowing and participating in our destruction of self esteem and self worth. She could no longer tolerate any people, and died in a small Florida town surrounded by the waste and onslaught of the fifty or more cats she had saved. She needed a place to put her love. Her need was so great there wasn't a cat she could turn away or take to the pound, thinking that she was abandoning a life in need, something she could not do.

My survival tools were influenced by the voices of many feminists who screamed mightily that we, as women, counted as something. Tutored from birth to submit, obey and take my rightful place at a man's feet, the only thing I did right was to give birth to a son. A granddaughter would have felt her disdain. My son's daughter carries her middle name as a tribute to the grandmother who doted on him.

Without realizing how many subliminal messages I had absorbed, I became an achiever, battling in a man's world against real prejudice against women in my industry. I needed to earn money. I had to be able to look after myself, choosing life companions who would make me laugh or give me joy, not a free ride on their careers. I've achieved that goal, but I too lost much in the process of building a corner of safety in my world.

To say that we can get over abuse is a naive statement. No one does. We get past it, sometimes with therapy, often by self-medicating ourselves with pills or alcohol, but we never get over what has been forcibly taken from us. Our innocence, wonder and trust in the world is gone. We try to replace the 'shadows' with moments in the noonday sun. We rarely talk about it, knowing pity or understanding won't change the new reality we built for ourselves, but if we can save one child, one woman from telling herself she is nothing but trash, then sharing it with others is worthwhile.

I'd like to conclude this essay with a very strong message. It was NOT your fault. You do NOT need to carry the shame of a past that was not in your control. And, as for going public again about this subject, my last thought is this one. If you are one of the strong ones, the person with a beautiful childhood and a loving family, then you are to be envied, but your awareness about the horrific nightmare that may be happening right next door is critical. When it comes to abuse, the shrug off statement that 'it's none of my business' doesn't apply. We, the victims, will remain tainted for the rest of our lives.





Recognized


I wrote this based on some stories and essays that have recently surfaced on site. This essay is entirely to be read for two reasons; A warning to look for signs of abuse in friends or neighbourhood children and to tell every person who is still ashamed by the crimes that were perpetuated that you are free to be outraged; free to write or talk about it without shame.
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