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What It’s Like to Return to Memories of My Childhood Abuse

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Editor's Note

If you’ve experienced domestic violence, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact The National Domestic Violence Hotline online by selecting “chat now” or calling 1-800-799-7233.

April 23, 1979

From inside the bathroom stall, I could hear the sounds of teenage girls getting dressed for physical education (PE) class. Once again, I was hiding. The tile was cold underneath my bare feet. Heart pounding in my chest, I slowly opened the door, wearing only my undergarments.

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From the front, I was a normal, albeit very thin, seventh-grader. If anyone had been paying attention, they would have realized my behavior was highly unusual. I had never undressed in front of anyone in the locker room at Central Jr. High School before. Keeping my head down, I slowly walked the length of the locker room. As I turned to walk back to the bathroom stall, where my clothing waited, I began to realize all eyes were on me. Angry red welts covered my back, legs and buttocks. A hush fell over the room.

A black and white photo of the author's school picture, smiling

Sunday, April 22, 1979 was my 13th birthday. I waited all day for someone to wish me a happy birthday, but no one did. “Maybe they forgot,” I thought. After hearing the front door slam, and a car starting, I realized my parents were going out. I gathered my three brothers in the family room. “Did you know that today is my birthday?!” I asked excitedly. They did not.

This called for a celebration! Our party was held in the fanciest room of the house, which contained our only new furniture: A  blue couch, loveseat and beveled glass coffee table, surrounded by blue shag carpet. We dined on toasted peanut butter and jelly sandwiches with ice cold milk. My heart was happy as we munched and chattered. When we finished, I cleaned up carefully. After all, I knew the formal living room was strictly off limits.

Perhaps I thought my transgression would go unnoticed. Maybe I didn’t care. I was tired of being the family scapegoat. My surging hormones were beginning to light a fire deep inside me.

That fire would not protect me this day. Standing with my cheek pressed against the wood panel, pants around my ankles, tears running down my face, I heard the voice of my father as I felt the sting of his belt cutting my flesh over, and over again.

“I wish you were never born,” he spit through clenched teeth.

March 25 , 2021

The shadows in my mind have returned. It happens every time I start to research my past. Compartmentalized boxes, sealed for decades, filled with emotions, begging to be opened. In the corner are the most frightening containers. They seem to pulse in the shadows. “Open me,” I hear a voice whisper.

I’m up with the dawn again. A nightmare jolted me awake. I was on a plane. It turned into a car and went over the side of a bridge. Water began to fill the cabin. I knew there was no escape. As I began to drown, I thanked God for allowing me to live. Then, I woke up.

I haven’t had any dreams for a long time. They seem to return when I need to meet my blog deadline. My subconscious has something to say. It’s finally time to listen. Once again, I turn to “Casey Kasem‘s American Top 40” radio show for inspiration. In the darkness, I surrender to the sounds of the past as they wash over me. As I listen, I take notes. Out of 100, six of the songs cause me to break down crying uncontrollably. Filled with sadness and a deep knowing, I begin to write.

I officially became a woman shortly after my 12th birthday. Birds, bees and everything that came with it had been introduced long ago, when I was just 10 years old. I used that opportunity to tell my stepmother about my sexual abuse at age 5. It didn’t end well. When I tried to talk about it again later, I was told by my father an investigation had been conducted. It was determined the incident didn’t happen. It was “all in my mind.” There would be nothing else spoken about it.

In September of 1978, I entered the seventh grade. For the first time, I was able to select electives. I chose art and chorus. I don’t remember art class. However, I will never forget Mrs. Pittenger’s chorus class. She was young and pretty. People said she resembled Leslie, a star on the soap opera, “General Hospital.” Soft-spoken and kind, she was loved by every student. Especially me.

A black and white yearbook photo of the author's junior high chorus

The names and faces of the best darn choral group that ever was, are forever etched in my memory. Randy, the Donny Osmond type. Dusty, with the last name that sounded like a drug. Leon, with his big afro and angelic voice. Bad boy, David. My dance partner, Jimmy. I wasn’t The Sugar Plum Fairy, but I did finally get to dance in a show. As part of our choral concert, Jimmy and I disco danced together to the song, “Dance With Me” by the band, Orleans.

Early in the school year, an announcement was made. Auditions would be held for the choral ensemble. The best of the best. I sang “Annie’s Song” by John Denver. I had never wanted anything so much in my whole life. My heart nearly burst with joy when I found out I was selected. For the first time in my life, I felt like I belonged.

There was another reason my father beat me so badly. It wasn’t for eating toasted peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on the fancy furniture.

I remember the day my stepmother called my brothers and I into the family room for a serious talk.

The four of us sat down on the carpet as she spoke. “Your father took $500 out of the bank and spent it. I don’t know why, or what he spent it on. “What should I do?” she asked her children, aged, 6, 9, 10 and 12.

Unable to accurately read the room, I once again took this as my cue to confess. “Dad touched me under my shirt.” I blurted out.

The first time my father took interest in me, other than as a punching bag, we had just finished spending the day at the beach.  He had been drinking Busch beer, as usual. I could smell and feel his hot beer breath on my neck. I was pinned against the hallway wall. “She doesn’t like it when I hold you,” he drunkenly whispered in my ear.

The final time it happened, I was in my bedroom on Coolidge Avenue. My favorite band, KISS, had just released four single albums. Each band member had their own poster. Ace Frehley was my favorite. After cleaning my room and hanging all four posters on the wall, I excitedly called my dad into the bedroom for a look. He came in wearing a towel. I proudly displayed my handiwork. “Everything here looks great, except for the walls,” he said, laughing. That’s when I realized he was drunk.

He came toward me. Once again, I found myself pinned against the wall. This time his hands went underneath my shirt, exploring. I froze as he fondled my budding breasts. I felt something hard between us, underneath the towel.

After my confession, my stepmother and I went to visit her friend Lydia. Lydia had the unusual distinction of having a mother named Lydia, and a daughter named Lydia. The daughter Lydia and I went into the back bedroom while the two moms talked in the living room. Aerosmith’s album, “Toys in the Attic” was playing on the stereo.

“Have you ever smoked weed before?“ asked little Lydia as she handed me a joint. “No,” I said sheepishly. I inhaled a big puff of smoke, and started coughing. Soon, my head felt like a big balloon. I could hear the song “Round and Round” playing. I began to get dizzy.

It was at that moment my stepmother and big Lydia called me into the living room for my interrogation. After we returned home, my parents left the house for several hours.

That night, standing in the living room with my three brothers, I was filled with uncertainty. We were lined up to say good night to our parents. I was filled with dread. One by one, each brother hugged and kissed our parents and went off to bed. There I stood, alone. What should I do?!? I stepped forward hesitantly, leaning in to kiss my father good night. His lips were in an exaggerated pucker. They felt wet. It was at that moment, I knew I was in big trouble.

Original photos by author

Originally published: April 27, 2021
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