A time lives in all of us before the pain began, a time when nothing hurt. If we go back far enough, it’s there somewhere, waiting to be brought to life.
I just finished reading, Doris Kearns Goodwin’s bestselling memoir, Wait Till Next Year. It was about the author growing up happily in the 50s. Large parts of it struck memory chords in me, dragging out all those happy moments in my early years that flittered in and out of my daily life. As a survivor of incest it is important that I stockpile my happy memories to draw on frequently. I am blessed to have had many; so many of my fellow survivors have none.
My earliest happy memory is standing on a side walk with my mom and my siblings and looking up the hill that bordered our property. I saw my father coming down the hill towards us, wearing his Marine Corp uniform and carrying a Marine Corp bag. I broke free from my mom and raced towards him, my arms outstretched. I was two and a half years old. My mind flashed to another happy memory. We were living in North Dakota. I was laying on the dirt in our back yard playing trucks with my two older brothers. We had carved out roads with our hands with periodic bridges made out of Popsicle sticks. My mom was working in the flower garden nearby. I heard the buzzing of bees and the fragrance from the flowers washed over me. The sky was so blue it hurt my eyes to look at it. It was one of my happiest memories and I think about it often. Bits and pieces of other happy memories float freely: playing Ditchem with my siblings and neighbor kids, sitting under the willow tree reading a Nancy Drew mystery, hiking out to the nearby cemetery with the Petersburg Hikers Club where our leader, Gay Harriman, told us hair raising scary stories, Christmas caroling in the snow, our voices pure and innocent, standing on my brother’s shoulder while I sneaked peeks at the Christmas presents stashed in the closet, waiting in line at the Roxy theater, my weekly allowance clutched in my hand. So many happy memories flooded my mind, each one making an appearance as if called upon to perform.
Now my memories reach the age of thirteen. Today is my Solemn Communion ceremony, where we renew our baptismal vows. I come into the kitchen where my mom and dad are waiting and swirl around with my new white dress purchased from the Sears and Roebuck catalogue. My mom grabs my dress and pulls it up exposing my nylons and garter belt and my underwear. A modest young girl I shriek, “Stop it.” My mom continues to chase me around the kitchen, pulling up my skirt and saying, “Look Bernie. See our little girl. She’s a woman growing up.” I go white with embarrassment and try to pull away as she struggles to keep me at bay to show Dad. He stands, a fixed gaze in his eyes, staring at my long frail legs and slim hips, just beginning to show signs of womanhood. The look in my father’s eyes is one I’d never seen and it frightens me. A few months later he enters my bedroom in the middle of the night where I sleep with one younger sister on the top bunk and my baby sister asleep in her crib.
There were no more happy memories.
My nightmare world began. For more than thirty years I was to wake up repeatedly, screaming as I relived obscure horrors, each time with the same terror of suffocation, causing me to hiccup with fear and tremble for hours upon awakening. They always resurrected a dread I was unable to understand, a pain that strangled me with its intensity. My inability to identify its source or to see the dark shadows surrounding it only compounded my fear.
If my mom had never pulled my dress up would my life have turned out differently?