When something stirs up my memory, reminding me of that period of time just before I began having kids, most of what I recall is depressing. The truth is, I've rather blurry memories of those times, and it's just as well. I was young (16), living across the country from my family with no friends, and the person I chose to begin a family with hurt me in nearly every conceivable way.
Sometimes it doesn't seem possible I even existed back then. Possibly I didn't for the memories are so ethereal at best. I get a sense of loneliness, for instance but not what I may have done to try to staunch it, or I remember the color of one room of our apartment, but not whether we had curtains at the windows, or matching living room furniture, or even if I bothered hanging things on the walls. I couldn't imagine now living without my familiar things, but I draw a blank when attempting to bring back a sense of what things I chose to have around me then. I know I was in the dark about my DID, but even so I must have felt the need for something to ground me. What could it have been, though? Was I merely a shell, existing without feelings about much of anything?
The odd thing about not remembering my environment is that I've always had near total recall of places I've lived. The smallest details have stuck with me, but not from this particular season of time, which lasted about 6 years.
My niece recently posted this photo of me on FB. That's my future hubby's hand on my shoulder; he's been cut out of the photo. I can't imagine that anyone but I would have done that. I must have cut him out and then sent her mother the picture.
I haven't seen this photo since it was first developed. What a shock to see me as I looked then! What I do remember is having no fixed opinions about anything, or if I did they were tucked out of sight where they wouldn't offend. I didn't rock boats, I didn't insist I be treated with respect. As bad as this sounds I felt like a thing. I took up space in the world, that couldn't be helped. I moved and breathed and quietly did whatever I had to do so that my movements wouldn't be offensive. I didn't believe I had any right to assert myself in any manner, and so I didn't.
Well, what struck me first about this photo (aside from the fact that it was taken so long ago that I didn't have any kids yet) is the fact of how happy I look. I know I wasn't. But look at me, standing there smiling, posing with my future hubby in his brother and sister-inlaw's kitchen where so often I babysat for them because they needed someone, but couldn't afford to pay anyone.
This is where we used to hang out even when I wasn't babysitting, the home we visited where fried potatoes were made often, evoking deep longings within. I'm not sure what those frying taters symbolized for me, but they sure made me emotional. Those are just about the only emotions I remember from that era, emotions of a keen homesickness, of longings to belong somewhere and feeling that I never would. The desire for a family of my own, and the love and protection of a man who would make up to me for every bit of pain life had so far dealt me.
The girl in the photo: what a long, hard journey she's had of it! How strange to think that she couldn't have known what lay ahead: for example, that she would give birth to 5 sons, and go through many marriages before she figured out she couldn't handle being with a man. And multiple personalities? Most days she wasn't sure she had even one! She sure couldn't have looked ahead into the future and seen the beautiful grandkids she'd end up with, or see that she would eventually adjust so well to not having a man in her life that she actually preferred being single.
I don't know who she is. She is me, but she's not. She's the one who interacted with the outside world, at least for a time. I don't know if she's still me, or if she in time was replaced with another. I just don't know. But I like her. I like her, and I feel for her for having experienced that well of loneliness, that sense of being hollow and not having even one thing worth sharing with another human being.
I just like her.
Receiving in the mail the tags I'd ordered to attach to the handmade knits I'll be giving out for Christmas . . . one of my sons unexpectedly kissing the top of my head . . . being gifted with a big bag of books, and actually reading one all the way through in two days . . . commenting to my young granddaughters that we found some great deals at the store, and one of them saying with a loud laugh, "Well, we're not farmers!" . . . realizing, oh, realizing I did experience anger as a child . . . investing in a new pair of knitting needles . . . one of my granddaughters saying happily, "I'm in love with nature."
I keep thinking I'll blog again, telling myself several times during the week, "Remember this so you can write about it." But the moment passes, and when I consider it in retrospect it appears too frail, too thin, too hollow.
Yesterday in my car at my granddaughters' school, I sat gazing out at the deserted playground. A brisk wind stirred up leaves and stray bits of paper, and bark dust (which I've always hated because the first time I saw bark dust was after moving to our new house on Brightwood Street).
The slides and swings and play structures looked cold to the touch. I shivered at all that coldness. When I was in grade school I ran and climbed and swung through the playground at school, recklessly and with anger pushing me, shoving my face into the cold air of late autumn or early winter. My coat always hung open, my hands stung with cold. I didn't care. I pushed my little body as hard as I could in an effort to fortify myself against what awaited me . . . at home.
Sitting in my car slightly shivering, I took in everything. The flock of birds which suddenly swept across the sky as if practicing for a professionally choreographed dance number, their flight effortless looking, graceful, gorgeous. No stragglers spoiled the beauty of their flight; they were all perfectly in sync. I watched them fan out then come together with easy precision, and then it was over and they flew back to wherever they'd come from.
The wind blew the swings, giving the illusion that they contained invisible children, pumping their legs fiercely. This led to the thought that I was an invisible child, or at least visible only by a very few: my friends mostly, and the occasional teacher like Mr. Hansen who used to wink at me and call me Blue Eyes. Though come to think of it, he was probably a pedophile which is why he could see me.
But the scene before me is telling me something and I ignore thoughts of my invisibility so as to narrow my focus and capture the nebulous thoughts which suddenly drive me crazy, like an itch I can't scratch. I may not find the source of that itch, but knowing me I'll scratch myself raw in search of it.
The sky is hazy and smoke rises from a distant chimney. A chain link fences separates the playground from the backyards of several homes. I wonder how anyone could like living so close to a school. I see a man enter one of the backyards and wonder about him. Did he move there because he wanted to be close to a school full of kids? I discard the thought, I won't go there, not now. Not now when I'm trying to break through the protective gauze that seems to enshroud my thinking and perception abilities whenever I'm about to feel something about my childhood.
The concrete, the swirling leaves, the metal poles denuded of their tether balls. What does any of it mean? To me. What does any of it mean to me? I see symbolism everywhere. I can't help it; especially where children are concerned everything has some underground meaning. Not always sinister, but I can't afford to take things at face value.
Suddenly a knot of children bursts through the back door of the building, exploding on the playground in a riot of color and noise. They run for the swings and the merry-go-round, the older ones wandering off by themselves to taunt one another or dare each other to do stupid things.
A boy bounces a ball and runs out to the parking lot to retrieve it when it goes too far. Immediately a male teacher yells at him, calls him over and scolds him for a good minute or so. I can see the kid squirm under the teacher's condemnation, and I inwardly squirm with him.
Enough, I tell the teacher silently, let him go. He stopped hearing you about 45 seconds ago.
Released at last, the boy wanders off, his former excitement deflated. He shuffles his feet, head down, keeps to himself while all about him kids scream and laugh and act like little savages while they can, before they are commanded back inside.
How many of them are being abused at home, is what I wonder. I don't want to. I don't want to have to think this everytime I see a group of kids. But I can't help it. It's instinctive with me to wonder this. How many others besides me were being abused back in the early sixties? Did any of them fare better than I?
My concentration is lost to me now, broken by the little boy's scolding and the thought of the kinds of homes some of them will return to later that afternoon. I may never know if the scene before me held some secret it was about to unfold. I'm used to this, used to feeling on the brink of some great or small epiphany which will reveal something withheld from me for decades, and then the fading away as the protective gauze falls back into place. Once more I am left looking at a scene which holds nothing of interest, just some kids I don't know, and dancing leaves which stir within no well-thumbed memories or unrealized longings.
My granddaughters will run out to my car, grinning, hair wild in the wind, their glasses smudged and their backpacks slung carelessly over their vulnerable shoulders. They'll climb into the backseat, excited to tell me the news of the day, quibbling with one another, vying for my attention. My focus now is on driving the five minutes to their home, getting us there safely before night closes in and we are lost forever, out in the cold.
I'm going to write this the best I can but it won't be enough.
For most of my life I've been fighting the darkness, not only in the sense of not wanting it to consume or destroy me, but I've mostly been fighting to keep it hidden inside me where it belongs. That's been my life's agenda, though I didn't realize this until very recently.
When a dear friend told me (in response to my asking) why she had a such an enthusiastic response to a bit of my writing, she told me that it didn't have the singsong quality to it typical of much of what I write. She said the writing in question was raw and didn't attempt to muffle my pain, and every word wasn't perfectly manicured. Perfectly manicured. That resonated: my mother was always perfectly manicured. My stepdad (my abuser) got manicures. Our lawn was always perfectly manicured.
I asked for this person's opinion because I value it, but her response broad sided me. I didn't know much of my writing was written in singsong. Did I even know I tend to muffle my pain? Yes and no. Yes in the sense that I try to find something, any small thing, in every post that is of a positive nature. But I thought that was in contrast to the raw and the ugly, not in place of it.
I'm so glad I took the plunge. I'm so glad I asked for my friend's perspective on my writing because her assessment was the dash of cold water in the face I so needed.
Do I muffle my pain? Yes, I can see that I do. I muffle everything. Why wouldn't I when I've lived for decades believing I don't have the right to my own feelings and thoughts, much less responses to abuse?
I smooth everything over. When I was a teen being raped repeatedly by an older man, I drove my pain underground, did my best to forget it. What was the point in telling anyone? I didn't believe it would make any difference at all except to make me the painful center of attention I didn't want. I didn't ask for it and I didn't want it.
I never told my father what this man was doing to me. I never told him of the abusive relationships that followed. I smiled and nodded, I lived my life in singsong, truth be told. I did. I do. And now that I know it I can see beneath the surface (varnished like the deceptively beautiful hardwood floors of the House of Incest from childhood) to the rottenness that lies beneath.
I've been surrounded since a young age by alters who each play a role in my extensive denial. Yes, they are me but they're not really me, they're separate from me. So if one of them holds my body memories captive and I need those memories back, I feel that something has been stolen and held hostage. It's like all these different parts of my body and soul, parts which were torn to pieces and parceled out, are strewn about between these parts and nobody asked me, is it okay if I take this? Can I keep this? Did I create these parts to help me survive? I'm told I did. I don't remember doing so, which leaves me feeling as if these strangers just crept into my psyche, moved in lock, stock and barrel without permission or invitation, and went to work on me like a bunch of vultures. Who said they could keep all these things or that I wouldn't some day want them back?
Something's stirring deep within, an unrest rippling through my system. Or through me? Them or me? Me or them?
What lies beneath is anything but a mirror image of the singsong life I try so painstakingly to portray to those in my 3D world. It is painstaking, it's exhausting and unfulfilling and there is no one to pat me on the back, or say nice job, or to even acknowledge that I do everything within my power every day of my life to hold myself together so there isn't some ugly explosion.
What lies beneath is what I need to explore. Because it is ugly and as raw as any old, festering wound that has never healed I need to do some deep sea diving. These are my depths, they belong to me.
Ultimately they belong to me.