by Andrea Lena DiMaggio
Graphic depiction of physical abuse of a child;
allusions to sexual abuse of a child!
1959 - Lake Hiawatha, New Jersey
The little girl was only a bit frightened, but then her sibs would have told you she was likely frightened of her own shadow. A quick look-see around the house proved her fears needless as she discovered she was quite alone.
“Where is it?” She said to herself. Her search had nearly been accomplished but for one item on her list; a kind of scavenger hunt, but with things valued for their rarity and presence in her life rather than anything expensive or of value to anyone else. She bent down and tried to peek under her sister’s bed, but the bedspread had sagged and was touching the floor.
“It’s got to be somewhere….where did she leave it.” Failing was an option, but success would make the day go that much better in a long string of days that went horrible from beginning to end. A month of Sundays, they used to say, since things had been at least ‘okay.’
“Where is it?” The girl wasn’t panicking; at least not yet. She panicked a lot. Some might say she had plenty of reasons. She got down on her hands and knees and lifted the bedspread. Lying on the floor right next to her sister’s baby doll; still a popular member of their mutually cherished toys. The beanie was covered in cat hair and dust. On any day she would have had to hurry to clean it, but she was almost savoring the moment. It really made no difference in the scheme of things since she had very little time either way.
She quickly brushed off the hair and held the beanie out at arm’s length and shook out the remainder of the dust. One last item to find that would make everything easier; her mother’s antique hand mirror usually ended up in their room. But even then she knew she had little time to waste. A quick scan around the room proved futile so she walked over to the bathroom door and opened it. She stepped to the sink and looked in the mirror; the only other mirror in the whole house.
She paused and put her hand on her hip, trying to remember what a pose she had seen on television had looked like. Raising her other hand, she waved at the girl in the mirror; the first time they had met face-to- face. The girl in the mirror smiled at her; a smile that puzzled her since she was quite aware that it was her own reflection; she was eight years old, after all. She stood on her tip-toes and looked over the ‘edge’ of the mirror to see more of herself.
“Oh….” Just ‘oh,’ she would say; she hadn’t learned any expletives yet other than that one that got her brother in trouble at school. She had forgotten the saddle shoes and the socks. And the sash…where did her sister leave the sash? She ran back to the bedroom and looked around frantically. It was almost a demand that her time made to her; nothing would be ‘too much’ to bear if only she could get everything together, and she had no idea why she felt guilty, but she did.
She found the sash draped over the small desk in the corner of the room and quickly placed it over her head. There…now for the shoes and socks. It wouldn’t do for a Brownie to have her uniform ironed and her sash straight and her beanie pinned on just so without shoes and socks. She spotted the shoes sitting under the dresser in the corner, and was reaching down to grab them when she heard a voice from behind.
“Jesus fucking Christ!” She turned to see her father standing there with a mean glare on his face.
“What the fuck are you ….you little shit….” He grabbed her wrist and pulled her closer and ripped the beanie from her head. She turned away, but his hand grabbed her chin, forcing her once again to look into his rageful eyes.
“No…nonononono….please pleaseplease.” She began to cry. He pulled her into the bathroom by her arm, wrenching it hard and pushing her up to the sink, forcing her to behold the image in the mirror.
“Look at that…you….” Her father was so angry that his face had turned red and he struggled to speak. She didn’t need to hear a word; his angry glare and clenched fists told her everything she needed to know. She looked in the mirror. Gone was the eight-year-old girl; at least she had been a bit confident and immensely brave. In her place was her brother…her other self. The boy. The boy named after his uncle. The uncle who only weeks before had made him do unspeakable things with his sister.
“Daddy…I’m sorryI’msorryI’msorreeee.” He looked up and expected a slap to the face; his father had never slapped him the face. Small consolation to know that only his mother and grandmother had done that. His father didn’t say a word but put his hand on his belt and began to remove it.
“No…nononono…please no please no please no.” He cried; sometimes he would cry harder in plea than when he actually got a beating. His body grew warm and he shook a bit as pee streamed down his leg and onto the floor.
“I…” His father still was so out of control that he couldn’t talk. But he retained enough control to pull the belt off his pants and begin doubling it up. He didn’t even bother with the formality of telling the boy to get on his lap and began beating the back of his legs.
“Take that shit off….take it off!” His father gained only enough composure to yell. When the boy didn’t move fast enough, he grabbed him by the back of the collar and literally began to rip the uniform off his back. The buttons in front popped off and the clothes became rags as his father stripped him bare. He didn’t bother to pull down his pants but just kept slapping the boy’s legs with the belt. At one point, the buckle end came loose from the bundle and flung up and hit the boy in the face, chipping a front tooth. All the while the boy cringed, which only angered his father more.
“You want something to cry about? I’ll give you something to cry about.” It was as if his father gained some perverted energy from his sobs and his blows rained down on the boy’s back. The boy fell to his knees, his legs landing in his own pee as he covered his head. His father stopped abruptly, as if a switch had gone off, and the boy breathed out a heavy sigh mixed with a moan from the pain.
“I’m sorry, Daddy.” The boy said, relieved that it was over. But it had just begun. His father yanked him to his feet. He threw a towel in the boy’s face.
“Clean up!” His father grunted and the boy wiped himself off. He started to walk out of the bathroom and his father snapped at him.
“Where do you think you’re going?” He turned around in shock as his father looked at him…glared at him.
“I thought….” The boy sputtered through the tears.
“Well, don’t think….what are you? Stupid?” His father seemed to have no emotion in his words or his expression, which frightened the boy even more. As he wiped himself off, his father rudely snatched the towel from his hands and rubbed him down. It confused the boy until his father grabbed his wrist, twisting it as he literally wrenched the boy off his feet and dragged him out of the bathroom. His father pulled him across the floor and shoved him into the bedroom.
“You want to be a girl? I’ll treat you like a girl.” His father said with no emotion at all as he slowly closed the door.
2011 - Northern New Jersey
“Have we done heart coherence with your little girl?” She leaned forward in welcome.
“Yes…the whole part where she wouldn’t come out from under the bed?” They had ‘reassured’ the little girl in his past by ‘going back’ to be the adult she needed to trust; actually talking with her and comforting her and encouraging her.
“I think it would be a good idea; that dread that you’ve had since your procedure?” She referred to the biopsy he had undergone only days before; an invasive procedure meant to check for prostate cancer that was all too similar to what he had endured when he was a child. He always had an increase in broad tremors when something was ‘ready’ to come to the surface; the symptom that actually had helped to point him in the right direction with doctors in two different states helping him. And now his therapist was with him as he dealt with the memories in a safe environment.
“You might see if she’s ready to talk….where is she….let me know by nodding when you do.” She didn’t suggest any location or scenario; that wasn’t her place. Instead she just coaxed by encouraging him to talk to the little girl and let her answer. The girl was in her sister’s bedroom, sitting on the bed. In his mind he stepped closer while nodding. The little girl wasn’t afraid at all, recognizing him from the last time they talked. He still felt awkward; it really was only an exercise for the benefit of their work to integrate his memories in context and in the present, where they finally would hold no more power.
“Go ahead and tell her that she matters…that she didn’t deserve what happened to her.” He closed his eyes and remembered the horror once again briefly that he and his sister endured at his uncle’s hands.
“As I suggest these, nod your head when you’ve told her what you want to say.” He knew from that previous session that it didn’t need to be word for word, but more of a two-way conversation. At her suggestion, he tried to remind the girl and she immediate became frustrated and tearful.
“Nobody listens…nobody believes me!” For the first time, he felt that the little girl wasn’t blaming him; her other half, so to speak, for what she had to endure.
“Tell her,'You deserve to live…to be here.'” Kristie said and he repeated silently.
“No…” The girl shouted.
“You deserve to be loved…all children deserve to be loved…to be held safe.” This time he repeated it verbatim, causing the girl to burst into tears.
“If they loved me, they would listen.” At one time he would have thought an exercise like that would have been silly, even sacrilegious in a way, since he had been taught imagery like that wasn’t Christian enough. Too many years of well-meaning but unsuccessful or counterproductive intervention left him desperate, leading him to abandon much of what he believed. He still had his faith, but it was tempered with the self-discovery he had made and the success he had begun in dealing with his demons only two years before.
Without prompting, even as he continued to speak the words of encouragement to the girl that his therapist gave him, he began to comfort her with soft ‘It’s okay…it’s alright.” The girl looked at him as if to acknowledge his efforts.
She was calm but still crying and he told his therapist that the girl was angry.
“She says that they didn’t believe her.” His therapist nodded.
“Tell her…let her know that you honor her anger… that it’s okay to be angry.” She paused in thought.
“What’s she doing now?” He shook his head and began to tear up. Usually by this time he would be almost hysterical, but Kristie reminded him,
“Don’t let it get away…she needs you to be there…right there, okay?”
“Okay,” he said and closed his eyes.
“She’s pounding my chest with her fists,” he said, shaking his head. He felt the blows against his body, but she looked up into his eyes as if to say she wasn’t mad at him.
“Go ahead and hold her…let her vent….she needs to know you accept her anger.” He stroked her hair as she collapsed into his arms. As he looked at her, he noticed that she was clad in a Brownie uniform. He began to shake and the feelings began to flood his memory, causing him to weep softly. He was surprised in the midst of his grief of how calm he was. No hysteria; no panicking but a peaceful acceptance that the past was truly past.
“Are you okay? I need to know you’re here,” she said, meaning that he was aware of being in the present.
“Yeah…I’m okay….” He nodded and smiled, wiping his tears from his face with the back of his hand.
“We’re going to finish,” she said, not with an urgency, but to help focus for what was needed next.
“I’m going to ask you to do something, okay? It has to be okay with you and with her,” she said. He nodded and continued.
“You’re going to invite her to come live in you in the present; she doesn’t have to live in the pain of the past any longer, okay?” He knew what she meant; the security of the here and now coupled with the ability of both sides of his brain to communicate, so that the fears and dreads and terror of the past would gain context and integration.
“Is she willing to do that?” He found himself eagerly quoting a dear sister of his by nodding enthusiastically while saying, “OH, Yes!”
“You can find a place in your heart for her; a nice place for her to live…a room, a playhouse.” His mind’s eye immediately saw before him a tall tree with a tree house about half way up. Safe and out of the way from any fear or harm. A place of safety. Even before she suggested what to include for her fun, he had already seen an easel with paints and a desk with paper and colored pencils….he remembered how much she loved to color when she was little. The first time she knew that she ‘was,’ she was coloring a giraffe in a Circus Coloring Book. He told Kristie who smiled and nodded once again.
“Oh, that’s great. Maybe also you can …she can have a closet filled with clothes. Does she like to dress up? Put on makeup.” He blushed, feeling his cheeks grow hot. That part of him that was able to accept much of what the little girl had wanted might not come to pass, and he was almost embarrassed at acknowledging how much of what she wanted was because of the woman he had become; at least almost entirely on the inside, despite his age.
“Now do you think she’ll be able to accept that you have to leave her there, but that she can call you at anytime for reassurance?” He was amazed at how quickly the little girl nodded her head; her face had turned to tearful smiling. He nodded to her and she looked slightly away in thought.
“I think it would be good between now and when we get together again next week…that you honor her by doing something for her…something real and tangible. Maybe buy her a stuffed animal? Or maybe some art supplies?” As she finished speaking he was already imagining giving her the several boxes of colored pencils that languished in the back of his desk; an easy gift, but then something came to him and he started to laugh softly.
“I know…it’s almost like I was prepared for this. A dear friend of mine…an online friend? Drew a picture of me as a girl. I was going through some photos while cleaning our office and I came across some of me as a kid. I wondered if I had the strength to pick up art again and try to do another one myself. And now I will.”
“Will you promise to do that between now and when we get together again?” He nodded and smiled.
“I can’t promise it will be finished, but I will definitely get it going.”
“I have an idea…you said that she likes to dress up…do you think you could visit her and dress up too…like a time together for both of you…since you can’t dress up….” She didn’t have to finish the sentence. Circumstance and deeply considered concern for his wife and son prevented him from doing anything in that regard other than the stories he wrote. He teared up once again, but it was more sweet than bitter since it was something he could do to embrace the girl; both as the little child who had weathered so much pain and sorrow as a child, and the woman she became as that part of him that seemed to grow and breathe and feel more alive with each beat of his…of their heart.
“Yes…I think I could do that,” they said with a smile.
“I think I’d like that a lot.”
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