HA note: The title of this piece is the title chosen by the author. The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Cora” is a pseudonym.
Trigger warning: abusive parenting, rape.
My first memories are from when I was 3 or 4. We were living in Little Rock, Arkansas. I remember every detail about that house. We had a cocker spaniel named Lacey. She was the only person/animal that I was ever emotionally attached to for many, many years.
My memories from that time are very vague. I remember the place, and then flashes of ghosts uttering words and phrases. Feelings. Small snippets of events. I had a clown for my birthday party. I was locked in my room screaming for hours. I rode my tricycle outside. My mother yelled at my father for not hitting me enough. I became a master at hiding. Under the bed. In the top shelf of a closet. Behind a bush. I would stay in my spot for what seemed like hours. My feelings were a constant mix of fear, anger, frustration, and a strong desire to leave. From the very beginning, I wanted to be nowhere near her.
It was my fault, I was told. I was a “difficult child”. Or maybe just a child. Still, it must have been my fault just for being there, right? The grown up has “authority” so it couldn’t possibly be them, right?
We moved to New Zealand. My next memory is being chased around the living room of our house with a switch because I wasn’t cleaning up fast enough. I was 4 or 5. I screamed and picked things up and it seemed like it never stopped. I would sit in my room for hours alone, and lose myself in my own made up world. This world was misery every day. I would make up a different world.
Something fabulous happened in New Zealand though. I was allowed to go to school. I remember how happy I was to leave home every morning. I had friends who would cry and miss their parents when they were gone. I could never understand why. The good memories of my childhood were all away from home.
I don’t remember much of my father from that time. He was a ghost in the background. Not saying much. I remember calling him “Daddy-doo” and trying to spend time with him when she wasn’t around.
I was a “rebellious” child.
I was spanked constantly. My memories of early childhood are essentially a long sequence of being hit, with intermittent memories of other people. All of whom knew something was wrong. All of whom would talk about my crazy mother behind her back. None of whom did anything. I learned early that my father wouldn’t stand up for me.
I remember having to re-write school assignments for hours until they were approved. I remember all of my “infractions” being counted throughout the day to determine the number of hits I would get every night. I remember some of the sessions feeling as though it must have lasted at least an hour. I remember hearing everyday how bad I was. I believed her. And so I never tried to be “good”. I knew it would be useless anyway. The rules always changed. She was always mad. She was always yelling. Always. I never imagined that I had any power to change anything based on my behavior. So I didn’t try. I just found my hiding spots and made up my own stories.
We returned to the US for a while, before going back. I asked about Lacey. I had been thinking about her and missing her the entire time we were gone. The only time I experienced the sensation of missing someone until much later in life. My dad told me that they family who had been watching her decided they didn’t want to give her back, so he said they could keep her. I felt again, that he wouldn’t stand up for me.
In our second house in New Zealand I would climb down the hill behind the house and be gone for hours. No one ever noticed. Not until I took my brother with me one day. I was a nuisance, so the only way to avoid punishment was to disappear.
When we came back to the US things got worse. In the US you had to be vaccinated to go to school. You also had to be surrounded by ungodliness. So I was homeschooled. I was at home. All day. With her. They also suddenly became even more religiously conservative. I was no longer allowed to go anywhere with friends. For a while our neighbors could come over to play, until one of the boys kissed me. After that it was just me and my siblings. At home. With her.
We all got assigned the household work. I had the kitchen, the dusting, the mopping, my room and bathroom, my laundry, and occasionally her room and laundry. My brother had the vacuuming, feeding the pets, and his room and laundry. My little sister had her room and laundry. But we were all so lazy. She would nap, drive us to homeschool events, go to the store, and “organize”. We were the lazy ones. We were bad. We were lazy. We were rebellious. It was all our fault.
I started getting grounded from the few things I was allowed to do. Watch G rated movies, talk on the phone, go to church events. Didn’t lift your blinds this morning? Grounded for a month. Didn’t wash the dishes in time? Another month. And another. I just assumed it was a permanent situation, so again, I never tried. I did try speaking up though. My dad would always tell me, “your mother does so much for you, why don’t you appreciate her?” I remember writing my dad a letter describing the situation. I could tell it shook him. He said he would talk to her. She yelled at him. That was the end of it. I continued to learn that he wouldn’t stand up for me.
I told a relative when I was around ten years old that I wished she would leave and never come back.
No mother at all is better than a whirling mass of violence and anger impenetrable to reason.
In a strange turn of events she started comparing my siblings to me as they got older. Your sister got these grades and your sister wasn’t as bad as you, etc. I can only imagine how the must have felt being told that they were worse that their bad, rebellious, lazy sister.
The fear of the outside world grew. Daring to have a friend that didn’t attend our 100 person church was out of the question. Dating was out of the question. Even our relatives of the same religion weren’t conservative enough and were therefore suspect. We were warned about them. We were warned about everyone. Everything and anything happening outside of the bubble was to be feared. So we stayed at home.
By some miracle I made a friend at the age of 16 or 17. She went to church with me. Then another girl moved into town and starting going to our church. I was finally allowed to go somewhere with someone outside of the home. I started secretly dating the second girl’s cousin. Having been told all of my life that my worth was in eventually being someone’s wife, serving him, and having children and that my virginity essential to attracting a husband, I naturally informed my suitor that I wanted to wait until marriage. He agreed. Then he started pushing. And pushing. Until he held me down in the bathroom one day, and forced himself on me. I don’t remember how, but I pushed him off of me and ran to the other room. Bleeding. I told my friend. She told me it was because I was teasing him. I believed her. We both lived in a world that demanded that women be responsible for a man’s desire. The mere fact of existing and causing a man to want you means you should expect to be violated. She has grown up now, and we are both different. She is still my friend. I can’t blame her, because I hadn’t learned yet either. I would have said the same.
I never told anyone else for a long, long time. I knew my parents would also tell me that it was my fault. Dating. Being alone with a boy. Kissing a boy. Growing boobs. And I would be locked up, at home, for good. To me, the threat of being forced to be home was worse than rape. And the threat of losing what little freedom I had gained was worse to me than letting a rapist go free.
What they didn’t know and what I didn’t realize then was that rape isn’t caused by dating, or being alone with a boy, or wearing tight jeans, or any of those things.
Rape flourishes when a girl is told marriage is how she obtains worth, and virginity is how she gets married. When her virginity is stolen, she will never tell. Rape flourishes when women are told that they are at fault, and face dire consequences if they reveal their rapist. Rape flourishes when women aren’t taught about their bodies, told that they aren’t able to make their own choices, and how to identify predatory behavior or even that it is wrong. Rape flourishes when it’s always a woman’s fault when a man has desire. Rape flourishes when you teach your boys that they own and control women.
I moved out of state when I turned 18. I hit a breaking point when I realized that it wasn’t just my parents and the people at my church who were this way. I went to a small Christian college, and realized that these attitudes were the norm. This time I bucked against it all that I could.
To this day I cannot enter a church building without intense feelings of anger and mistrust. I will never allow myself to be held down again. I started talking about it little by little. With each memory another surfaced. Sometimes they hit me in waves. It’s too much, and I get physically ill. Some memories I still can’t bear to relive. So I push them back every time they come up. Someday, maybe. But not yet. I have found a man who loves me, and cares deeply for my well-being. They told me I was “brainwashed”. She told me I was “addicted to him”. I suppose, if you define unconditional love and acceptance as addiction. If you define peace, comfort, and trust as being brainwashed.
They have never accepted any personal responsibility. I have tried to bring up many of these instances. I’m told it was my fault. I was a difficult child. That an adult, who intrinsically has the power and knowledge, would physically and emotionally abuse a four year old and then blame the four year old is sick.
They have told me my departure is “heartbreaking”. I wouldn’t know.
My heart was broken by the very first memory.