Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Bridges for Surviving

For the past five weeks, I’ve been posting stories of my childhood that carried with them subconscious messages that affected much of my life. Fortunately, as an adult, I’ve sought professional counseling.
         This has provided me with the opportunity to recall these events in my life, come to grips with them, forgive all of us who were involved, recognize the patterns of thought that evolved from these events, and decide which of these patterns I wanted to embrace and which I wanted to abandon. This work continues as I discover new ways these thoughts impact my aging life.

         In an earlier posting I said that today I’d begin sharing some humorous stories with you. However, I’ve decided that I need a bridge between those life-changing incidents already shared and the amusing tales that this blog will highlight throughout March and possibly early April. After that, I hope to return to convent postings.
         In your comments, some of you praised me as a survivor. So the bridge to connect the February postings with the March ones is about what helped me survive: Arthur, my mother, a reoccurring daydream in which I took refuge, and blue.
         Arthur is my imaginary friend from kindergarten. He remained visible to me for many years and I still, at times, feel his presence. Click here for the posting in which I introduced him to you.
         During my grade school years, after I got off the bus each afternoon, greeted mom, and had a snack, I often hiked down to the creek. It was about fifteen feet wide, and its water ran swiftly, emptying into the Missouri River. I’d sit on a large slab of rock with a boulder behind me.

         Arthur would sit next to me and often I’d rest my head against his tawny sides. He is a gentle lion whose eyes are deep wells of compassion and understanding. While I was never able to tell any adult about the molestation happening in my life, I could share everything with Arthur. Again and again he assured me that I was a good little girl.

         During those years, I shared my school day with Mom. She’d help put into perspective the childish spats between my playmates and me on the playground. We’d discuss what I was learning. She’d send me to the World Books to find out more and would get excited with me as I learned new things. She’d tell me about books she was reading. Always, she made me feel important. Cherished.
         The third bridge to sanity was a daydream. Whenever Dad came home drunk and he and Mom quarreled, I’d go into my bedroom and lie on the bed. There was no door into my bedroom, just a curtain hanging within the doorframe, so I could still hear the arguing, but I didn’t have to watch my father swaying or my mother’s face redden.
         During that time, I’d retreat into my own mind and lie, not on a bed, but on a hillside that sloped down into a deep, green valley through which a stream flowed, meandering to the light-danced sea beyond the hillside.
         I’d lie on my back against the fragrant grass and the welcoming loam and look up through the spreading branches of a blossoming apple tree. Cloud wisps accented the blue sky; birds perched on the branches; butterflies landed on my fingers.

         The sounds of that hillside—birds, their heads cocked, singing about the wheat; the far sea splashing on the shore; the soughing wind wending its way through the valley—comforted me. I was a long way from the troubles of home. Safe. Secure.
         Always I could escape to that hillside. To that green valley. To that turquoise sea.
         Those three—Arthur, Mom, and Daydream—helped me survive. I had survived asthma as I child and so I knew about breathing and distracting myself. I also had a fourth bridge to peace—blue. Click here for how that color helped me survive.
         Next week—laughter!

Photo of apple blossoms by Dan from; photo of lone tree by Archipoch from; other photos from Wikipedia.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

The Perfect Storm

The Big Wave, a Japanese painting, is from Wikipedia.

There’s one final episode in the “perfect storm” of my life: kindergarten—abandonment; first grade—Dad tries to kill Mom; grade one on—Dad’s continued drinking; grade five—Mr. Jackson’s molestation; that summer—Dad rapes Mom; and a three-month daily ordeal I battled a year later—in 1948.
         After completing sixth grade that year, I spent the summer with an ailing aunt and an uncle who lived a distance away. I did everything I could to help my aunt recuperate—clean, run errands, make beds, grocery shop, do laundry, wash dishes.
         The ordeal that summer wasn’t the work; it was my aunt and uncle’s son. As the leader of a gang of neighborhood boys and tag-along girls, power intrigued him. All summer, that gang, led by my cousin, vandalized local schools and businesses. And I tagged along, encouraged by my guileless aunt and uncle.

A school and playground in England. (Wikipedia)
          I became part of that gang when my cousin invited me to go to a local school playground with him. That evening in late May, he pulled me back when I tried to follow the gang to the other side of the playground. Within moments, a girl’s terrified scream echoed across the tarmac. Peering through a darkness punctuated by halos of streetlights, I saw the boys in a circle, some with their pants pulled down. Their raucous jeering almost smothered the girl’s desperate cries for help. 
          Frantically, I ran toward her. I’d gone only halfway across that broad playground when my cousin grabbed me by the arm, pulled me roughly around to face him, and shoved me to the ground. “If you tell anyone, you’ll be next!” he threatened. “Don't go spouting off what you think you know!"  
         I gaped at him. Not understanding. “Someone’s got to help! I’ve got to tell Uncle Daniel and Aunt Lisabeth!”
         “Mom and Dad?” he scoffed. “You think they’d believe you? They think I walk on water!”
         And he was right. They did. So I said nothing. To anyone. But my cousin retaliated against my instinct to tell by tormenting me for the next three months.
         When I cleaned the upstairs each day, he’d pounce, grab me by the arm, and shove me into his mom’s closet. I’d fall back against the pile of clothes she planned to give away. He’d try “to feel me up” or “have his way with me,” both of which are expressions I later learned for what Mr. Jackson had done.         
         I tried to fight him off. I’d elbow away his arms, pry away his manic hands as they groped my breasts. When I threatened to scream, he’d press one hand over my mouth to smother my cry for help while using the other to get inside my shorts.          
         The struggle seemed interminable. Then we’d hear a sound—a car backfiring in the street, a footstep on the stairs, canned television laughter, a call from his mother who was resting in the living room below—and he’d let go of me. But not before arranging his right fist so that his middle knuckle stuck out. Then he’d pummel me repeatedly on my arms and chest and leave me slumped on the closet floor.
         After the first time, I wore long-sleeved shirts each day so no one could see the accumulating bruises. All summer my cousin lurked, pounced, pummeled. And all summer I wore those shirts, until fall came and I returned home to start seventh grade.
         I never told anyone what happened the summer I was twelve. Never told that is until Dr. Nimlos—the psychiatrist I saw in 1975—said something that jogged my memory and brought back this whole series of childhood incidents. I had totally blocked them from consciousness. But of course, subconsciously they shadowed my life.
         And subconsciously I blamed myself for all of them. There was something “rotten in Denmark” about me. Something that made others act in strange ways. Like all children everywhere, always, I blamed myself for Dad’s drinking and for any violence that was done to me or others. I was at fault. I was worthless. If only I were a better person, people would love me. Treat me differently.
         Today, after much counseling and great reflection and effort, I can quote to you the words with which J. K. Rowling began her novel Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows:
     Oh, the torment bred in the race,
          the grinding scream of death
               and the stroke that hits the vein,
          the hemorrhage none can staunch, the grief,
     the curse no man can bear. . . .
     Now hear, you blissful powers underground—
          Answer the call, send help.
     Bless the children, give them triumph now.
                                             Aeschylus, The Liberation Bearers

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Drinking and Violence

The last three Wednesdays I’ve posted stories that truly were a “downer.” They weren’t easy for me to write, nor, I suspect, were they easy for you to read. My posting for today and for next Wednesday will also be sad, but I want to include in this on-line memoir the stories that reveal why I never married and why I lived in fear for much of my life.
         If this five-part segment disturbs you, please ignore this and next week’s posting and return on February 27 when I’ll begin to post two or three stories that, I hope, will have you chuckling.
         Let us begin: When drinking hard liquor, Dad became an angry and sometimes violent drunk. I was seven and my little brother four, when Dad tried to kill our mother.
         As a result, until I was eighteen and left home, I hid all the sharp kitchen knives, the hammer, and the axe each time my father got drunk. At least two, if not three, times a week, he’d stop after work at the Do Drop Inn in Sugar Creek or Sam’s Bar in Independence and drink until he became a danger on the road to others and to himself.

A bar, similar to Sam’s Bar, in Louisiana. (From Wikipedia)

         Mostly he drank beer, but every so often—maybe once a year—he’d drink the hard stuff.  Then scary things could happen. After the terrifying scene in May 1943—when he tried to kill MomI remember nothing violent happening until the summer of 1947.
         Well, once during that time he almost burned the house down after falling asleep and dropping a lit cigarette on the couch. Sometime during the night, smoke woke Mom. She managed to lug Dad off the couch while my brother and I rushed outside to pump water to throw on the smoldering cushions.
         Mostly, though, on those nights he came home drunk, disturbing sounds filled the house: of loud arguments between a drunken father and a weary and disillusioned mother, of Dad snoring after he collapsed on his bed in a stupor, of Mom slapping down one solitaire card onto another on her playing board.
         However, one summer evening in 1947, when I was eleven and my brother eight, Dad became violent again. He and Mom had an angry shouting match in the front room where my brother and I huddled on the couch. Suddenly Dad reached forward, grabbed hold of the neckline of Mom’s dress, and ripped it open. He proceeded to strip her bare. While he tore all the clothes off of her, Mother stood still. When I think of the look on her face, the words that come to me today are defiant. Imperious. Regal.
         After stripping Mom, Dad shoved her into their bedroom. No door, just a curtain, separated the room from the hall. I heard someone plop on the bed and Dad’s slurred words as he continued shouting names at Mom.
         Terrifying new sounds issued from that bedroom. My brother cried; I held him close, crooning Cole Porter songs I’d learned from Mom who sang her way through the day. I trembled because Dad was hurting Mom and I didn’t know how to help. I just sang louder so my brother wouldn’t hear. At the time, I didn’t know the word rape, nor did I know what it was.         
         At some point, all I could hear was my brother’s sobs and the words coming from my mouth. Then I heard snoring. Then Mom emerged from her bedroom, wearing a housecoat. She told us she was going to wash up and not to come into the kitchen. I heard her heating water and then pouring it into the basin. Finally I heard the slap of a wet washcloth. All this puzzled me because normally we washed in the morning.
         Afterward, she came into the living room and settled in her easy chair to play a game of solitaire. Nothing was said. No explanation. Life went on. 

Postscript: Today the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Content published its list of those “pitches” that propelled authors into the second round of the competition. My name wasn’t on the list. I feel a little down because of this but there’s always tomorrow! Peace.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

The Aftermath of Molestation

In the past two weeks, I’ve posted the story of Mr. Jackson’s molestation of me when I was in the fifth grade. I told those stories from the point of view of a ten-year-old who truly didn’t understand what was happening during those three months of 1946.
         Today, however, I’m shifting gears to share with you what I remember of the aftermath of this episode in my life. So I’ll be speaking as an adult looking back at a situation that continues to puzzle me despite my having been counseled by three psychiatrists, a therapist, and two spiritual directors in the forty-six years since I left the convent and realized I needed help.
         This section of my on-line memoir may be a long; I’m not sure what I’ll say. I know only that when I woke at 3:30 a.m. this morning with words pin-balling through my head, I realized that what I wanted to say didn’t fall neatly into one posting. In fact it may take three or even four.
         So today I’m just going to write until I’m written out. Then I’ll edit and polish the words into two or three postings for the next few weeks. To being I’d like to return to Mr. Jackson.
         I do not know what happened when my mom and dad confronted him.  I have some memory of sitting on the couch with Mom’s arm around me and she’s telling me that I’ll be taking the bus from now on. But, so far as I remember, nothing more was said. No one counseled me or explained what had happened. Nor did I ever hear that Mr. Jackson was arrested or counseled or that his life changed in anyway. I never again saw him until I was in my early forties.
         At that time, one of his two sons died. That son had been only a year older than I and I’d always liked him. So when my brother asked if I’d accompany him to the funeral home, I went.        With trepidation, I stepped into the foyer and there, seated on a loveseat, were Mr. and Mrs. Jackson. When he stood to greet my brother, who had walked forward as I hung back in the doorway, I saw him for the first time in more than thirty years.

A funeral home in Seattle, Washington. From Wikipedia.

         I remembered him as being a towering giant with large, calloused hands, a coarse face, and black straggly hair. A monster in fact. But there he stood, a pipsqueak of a man. Instead of being broad-shouldered and barrel-chested as I remembered, he was bent in upon himself. Of course, he’d aged and his back was now bowed. But still, I stood pole-axed.
         Thoughts raced through my mind: I let this little man terrorize me for all these years. I’ve been afraid of men because of him. I’d not let myself be hugged or kissed. I’ve been afraid to be alone in a room with a man. I’ve been afraid to sit in the front car seat with a man. I’ve lived in fear. And here he is, a man that would totter in a mild wind.
         I walked forward and said, “Hello, Mr. Jackson. Do you remember me? I’m Danny’s sister.”
         He turned and simply looked at me, not knowing at all, it seems, who I was. I took his hand and expressed sorrow over the loss of his son. And my brother and I walked into the funeral home and viewed our friend’s body and then left.
         I wish I could have left my fear there, but too much happened in the two years after the molestation for me to do that. And it is those happenings that I’ll share with you in my next two or three postings.

Postscript: You have perhaps noticed, to the right, the new cover for A Cat’s Legacy. This past Sunday I asked a favor of those who read my blog on writing. If you have time, I’d appreciate your clicking here and going to that posting so I can ask the same favor of you. Thank you. And peace.