I think we all feel a little bit of damage from the way we grew up. I’d be willing to bet not a single one of us over 20 would actually be willing to say “hey my childhood was perfect.” We all walk away trying to fix ourselves, trying to piece ourselves back together in one way or another.
Whenever I talk to people about what happened that day, I try to tell it as fast as I can, using the least amount of words as I can, because it still hurts to tell it. It still hurts to remember it. The pain isn’t physical anymore. It’s an ache in my mind of not feeling good enough. It feels like I’m powerless or fragile. So let’s get on with it.
I woke up the day of my 5th birthday in a foster home scared out of my mind, wanting my father, and not knowing why I was there. My mother put me here, that’s all I knew in my child mind. Foster parents before only told me she hated me and that from the time I was born she wanted nothing to do with me, she made it very clear because I was here.
In this foster home I was forced to sleep in the boys room on the top bunk with a 15 year old named Sam. He was a beautiful boy, I remember. He would cuddle me at night making sure I didn’t fall and he would sing to me because I was afraid. When I woke on this particular morning Sam wasn’t with me and a loud noise startled me. I fell from that top bunk onto the hardwood floor face first slamming my chin into the wood splitting it wide open spraying blood everywhere. I looked around stunned to seeing it drip off the silver radio next to my face. I remember being fascinated for a second with the drops on the play button. I started screaming. It wasn’t from pain but from the sight of my blood, it was so garish in the harsh sunlight of that room. It wasn’t at all like the scary movies I had seen.
The mother of the house ran to me and started scolding me harshly. She was afraid she’d get into trouble with Child Protective Services for allowing me to hurt myself. She scooped me up and I tried to cuddle in to her for comfort but she would have none of it. She held me from her and pushed me into a baby chair in the kitchen. Four boys, ranging in ages from 15 to 9, sat around the table eating their breakfast as if they’d seen something like this every day of their lives. They watched on as she tied me to that chair and proceeded to stitch my chin with a needle and thread. I still have a very jagged scar under my chin to help bring me the memories even when I don’t want them. I touch it lightly when I need to concentrate.
She was very angry with me. She refused to give me breakfast after she’d finished her stitching on my face. Sam gave me bacon when she left for work. You may think, why would I remember something as trivial as bacon? I’ll tell you. It was the last solid thing I could eat for the next six months.
The foster father came in just then and sent the boys out to play leaving me alone with him. The tears were drying on my cheeks and my sobs were little hiccups. I was still tied to the high-chair. He was finishing his breakfast and I mentioned it was my birthday and asked if we were going to have cake. They say children and animals have a sense about people. I think I had that sense because I suddenly felt so uneasy with this man.
When I reflect back now, when I look at the file now, I can hardly believe I survived. But I remember everything. Every detail. It plays for me like an old movie every night, it has for 32 years now. Even the scents of the day still haunt me (Dreft laundry detergent), pine sol cleaner, Brut aftershave. I remember the pattern on the cheap plastic place mats on the kitchen table (watermelons), I remember he wore a white wife beater stained with coffee and brown Dickies pants. I remember he had an old class ring on his left hand with a red stone in it “Go Wildcats!”, I remember how bad it hurt the first time it hit my lips and teeth when he punched me, and the next when he dislocated my jaw. At first I was stunned because I didn’t lose consciousness. So many people hear the clinical words “a rape happened today” on the news. They don’t get the chance to hear the gory details, the horrific acts that play out between two people that make it the epidemic it’s seemed to reach in proportions in our world, in my nation.
The entire time I screamed for my father and for God. I screamed so loud and so long my voice gave out. He stabbed me just once in the abdomen right above the pelvis before he exhausted himself. He thought he killed me. So he cleaned himself up, leisurely taking a shower and dressing in new clothes. He wrapped up my body in the towel he had used on himself and laid me on the ground outside and began to dig a hole beside his garage. The boys were playing baseball at the neighbors house and Sam got curious and he came to find my grave. He ran screaming to call 9-1-1. I was officially 5 years old, Happy Birthday.
I spent almost six months in the hospital recovering from my injuries. I would never be able to have children of my own. I’ve struggled with this my entire life but I’m no victim.
This damage I carry has made me the person I am today. I don’t believe I’m a frail broken girl. I think I thrive in the life I’ve created for myself. I suppose that’s the importance, it’s how you carry your damage after, what you show the world, how you live your life now. I try to persevere always, I don’t let anything hold me back if I really want it. I no longer carry fear of anyone or anything and that perhaps marks me as a survivor.
I didn’t grow up to become an abuser, I didn’t become a criminal, people who say you repeat the cycle of abuse have no merit in my opinion, it doesn’t matter what you come from or how your parents raised you, everyone suffers damage, you have a choice to become the person you wish to be. Be the best person you want to be every day no matter the struggle.
“Fear not of men because men must die. Mind over matter and soul before flesh.”
― Mos Def