Being born into a family that is in silent chaos has a dramatically different impact on everyone it touches. I was fortunate enough not to be personally touched (pun intended) by said chaos but the emotional destruction I have – and continue to – witness in those who were, has had a profound effect on me. I thought for years that not having been one of the ‘victims’, would save me from the same emotional devastation I saw festering in everyone around me.
My birth is the result of roughly 11 years of emotional, physical and sexual abuse my mother suffered at the hands of her step-father. My mother was 3 months into her 15th year when she became pregnant. I’m not completely clear on the timeline of events; when people came and went, what was common knowledge and what became and remained shameful secrets.
My first memories are of being about 2 years old. I lived with my grandmother and her husband (AKA my biological father) as essentially the youngest of their collective 11 children. I remember the basic layout of the house we lived in, some of the colors in the decorations, my grandmother really liked orange and olive-green. I remember there was an owl in the living room that I didn’t like, I can’t say if it was a painting or a beaded macrame. The teenager who was my mother, was not there. I called my Grandmother Maw, just like everyone else in the house and thought she was my mother. I remember getting a tricycle for Christmas, I remember playing fire trucks with the neighbor boy, Eric, who lived 3 doors up the street. I remember playing in the backyard in the dirt with my breakfast caked to my face and having a bee land on the egg yolk around my mouth. I’m sure the scream that came out of me, knocked him cartwheeling away from my mouth.
I remember a fall or winter evening my “brother” who is 7 years older, and I were told to hurry and finish our hot chocolate and get washed up to go to bed. I was sitting on a bar stool with my back to the living room, Maw and “him” were watching TV. I chugged what was left in my glass and let the last of it fill my cheeks like a chipmunk. My brother popped my cheeks assuming they were only filled with air, hot chocolate went everywhere. We laughed… for a second. I vividly remember the look on my brothers face and how sharply it changed when “he” stood up from the couch. He strode past me toward my brother who was backing away, glanced at me on the way by and shot, “Don’t move!” then he proceeded to clean the floor with my brother’s body and face while I watched, crying.
Another time, I was sent to the bathroom (first door on the right past the kitchen, more orange in there) to wash my hands for dinner. I hadn’t turned the light on, I was just tall enough to turn on the faucet and reach the water flow with my chest pressed against the edge of the sink. I started washing my hands and spent the rest of the time sticking my fingers inside the faucet to create enough pressure to make the water squirt. I heard someone coming from the kitchen so I hurried to get back to washing, I saw “him” pass in the hallway, then I heard him stop. I clearly remember the terror I felt seeing him step into the dark bathroom. I remember trying to get away, but not what happened next.
I was sleeping with one of my older “sisters” in the room she shared with 3 or 4 others. I remember feeling afraid laying there with everyone asleep, or so I thought. I looked up to see “him” standing in the dark doorway and I knew I was supposed to be absolutely still and pretend to be asleep. I could feel the fear and tension sweep through the room, hold my breath, lie stalk still, maybe he’ll go away. I don’t remember if he did or not. I can, to this day, smell his cologne.
We left “him” in Oregon and fled to California to live with my great-grandfather some time in 1975, I was 3. The memories I have of him, were nothing compared to the things I’ve since learned were happening to those around me for some 13-14 years. Maybe I wasn’t old enough for “him”, yet. Based on what I’ve learned in the last 35 years of questions, it’s miraculous there weren’t more pregnancies among the kids… Maybe there were, it was in the days of back alley abortions. Boys and girls alike, biologically related or not, the only protection from “him” seems to have been the blessing of being under four years old.
In about 1977 we were living in the Southern California desert in a small house, my grandmother and the 5 youngest of the kids, including myself. The telephone on the wall rang, my grandmother answered and said nothing else, she turned white as a sheet and fell into the chair next to her. She thanked the person on the phone and hung up, mouth gaping. There was absolute stillness in the room, she turned and with a very small voice said, “He’s dead”. I remember feeling very concerned for her, I didn’t know who she was talking about but she was obviously upset by the news. Then everyone in the house started clapping and cheering. I was so confused and afraid, they were laughing and celebrating that someone had died. Then I heard someone squeal, “Daddy died, we’re FREE!”
There is a silence about the family, it’s not the elephant in the room each of them has the elephant on their chest. We are all loud, funny and varying degrees of obnoxious but not one person who suffered at the hands of that man has ever sat dawn with the others and just talked about it. There have been many thousands of dollars spent on therapy and alcohol, drugs and other additions. There have been slow deaths from addiction and instant “I can’t take anymore pain” suicide deaths. We planned a family reunion after the most recent suicide in 2010, for the sole purpose of talking, together about the things that happened in the family years ago that led to the loss of another family member. Her name was not even mentioned at the reunion that took place 2 months after her suicide, and not one word about the past. It’s too painful, too hard, too shameful – they can’t/won’t do it. Even though they each stressed the need and willingness to do exactly that during the planning of the reunion.
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The ripple effect of emotional issues is still spreading out through the children and children’s children. More addictions, suicidal behaviors, emotional, physical and sexual abuse is popping up. I feel sometimes like the person sent to this family to help them heal. To bring them to a space of safety so they can talk it out, so they can process and deal with the things that happened to them. It did not happen to me. They trust me and love me but I am not part of the brotherhood of silence that keeps their personal volcanoes churning inside, sealed off. I was born into a war zone, standing in the middle of a mine field and I am the only one with all my limbs still attached.
EDIT (same day as original post): After posting this and wandering aimlessly around my house on auto pilot it dawned on me that all of this emotional baggage I’ve been carrying around for 40 years stems from my guilt in not being able to fix my family. I’ve always assumed that because it didn’t happen to me (that I’m aware of) it must be my job to heal the wounds it left. What a huge responsibility I decided I would give myself at about 4 years old when I first started finding out things and the barrage of questions began. When I did a past life regression, I was taken to a place where I was left alone when my entire family was wiped out by the black plague, I sat there the rest of my life in total solitude waiting for my turn to die. I did not live a life, I waited out my years, sad and alone. I couldn’t save them. I’m reliving that freakin life!! FAK! In both, I experienced the devastation of something major impacting my entire family and not touching me and I’m sitting in the guilt of not being able to save them, when saving them and healing them was completely out of my control. Holy crap what an aha moment.