Life in this Body

As I was driving to work this morning, searing pain ripped through me, running down both sides of my head, down my neck and into my arms. My arms became so heavy, I had to drop my hands lower on the steering wheel. This is nothing new, a symptom of the trauma my body has been through via car accidents, but this morning it was more painful, or I was more tired, or this retrograde has me in knots. For whatever reason, I couldn’t just roll with it like I usually do. I pulled over to the side of the highway, let my arms droop, stomped my floor board, yelling, “Fuck it!!” I sat there for a few minutes, letting some tears flow, realizing what Fuck it meant. It meant Fuck this body. I don’t want it any more. I envisioned myself unzipping it like a suit, stepping outside and soul kicking it into the abyss. Stepping into another body? Maybe. I didn’t get that far. I had to get to work, so the fantasy was over as I pulled myself together and got back on the highway. This is my life in this body, but I wasn’t the first one to hate it. My mother hated it first.

“I gave you life,” she always said, “Everything you are, you get from me.” Wondering if she’d like this body back, having so thoroughly cursed it.

“I hope you never have a baby,” she used to say to me because I cried when she scrubbed a scraped knee too hard and poured rubbing alcohol on the open wound. “You can’t take pain like this, you shouldn’t have a baby.” “You probably won’t. You’re going to be cursed with female problems your whole life.”  I was about 4 years old when I was taught to worry about not being fit to have a baby and a bleak future of having female problems. She never taught me how to write my name or tie my shoes, but she sure prepared me for a life of probable infertility. This is the same woman who used to make fun of mothers who read parenting advice books.

By the age of 16, I was having “female problems.” I got my own insurance through my job as a waitress, and started seeing a gynecologist.  My body was considered never likely to conceive a child. Scarring from abuse, endometriosis, and a prolactinoma were medical reasons. I never really thought it was a matter of science or medicine. I was certain nothing good could ever come from me. My body had been spoiled, right? I figured that meant my soul had been too. When I did actually get pregnant as an adult,  it took 7 home pregnancy tests, a blood test, and finally, an ultrasound revealing that precious little lima bean with the blinking light, to make me truly believe it.  “That’s your baby’s heart beat,” the technician said, and she held my hand as I cried. Even as my heart exploded, somewhere in the recesses of my mind, I knew I was not worthy of carrying a child in this body. Somehow, the miracle happened, though. I was high risk, horribly ill, threw up so much I couldn’t even take prenatal vitamins because they came right back up. But, despite this body, despite her curses, that beautiful little soul was meant to be here. And for whatever divine grace, he was meant to be mine. I always wanted more. I wanted a little girl next. It never happened, and eventually I got really sick, and they took everything, to save my life, to save this body, which is now woefully incomplete.

“You’ll have weight problems your whole life,” she said to me, when I was slight, slender, even frail looking little girl, 6 years old. She never made any bones about the fact that she hated my body. I know why she hated it. When I was 8 years old, I got out of the tub and didn’t remember I’d left my towel in my bedroom, directly across the hall. I ran directly across the hall naked to grab my towel and she stormed into my room and slapped me hard across the face, asking me what I thought I was doing. I told her I forgot my towel and she didn’t believe me. She told me it was my own fault that Bruce couldn’t keep his hands off me. Then she noticed my curtains were open and she asked me if I was trying to get the neighbor boys to look at me too. She picked me up from behind under my arms and held me in front of the window, saying “Is this what you want?” I honestly wondered if she was right, but the truth is that I was already so ashamed of my body I didn’t want anyone to see me naked. From that day, she never missed a chance to accuse me of  seducing Bruce.  Even something as simple as taking him a glass of Iced Tea when he asked me to as he was working on his car made her grab the glass out of my hand, hissing, “He’s my husband, not yours. I have to live with him the rest of my life. You go flaunt yourself somewhere else.” I was 9 years old, and honestly had no idea what flaunting meant. If I had, the irony wouldn’t have escaped me. I hated my body.

I hated my little girl body that was beaten for eating things that I wasn’t supposed to eat, that got hungry, that somehow lured a grown man to do things to it, even though I tried to hide from him, that was fat, (even though I was probably a little underweight) that hurt all the time from having a broken tail bone, being thrown into walls, from bruises that people had to notice but never cared enough to mention. I hated the little body that my mother hated so much she let her husband use it however he wanted and made me believe it was my fault.

Stepping out of and away from this body has been a dream as long as I can remember. I dreamed it over and over and over, and every time that drunk bastard touched me. I went to my room and imagined stepping out of that body and floating away to nothingness. Every time she hissed at me that I was flaunting my body and trying to steal her husband, I imagined it. Every time I hid in the woods, lay under the moon, when it was time to go back home, I imagined it. Every time I was poked in the stomach at school and called Shelli the belly and smelly Shelli,  I imagined it. Every time she told me I looked like her, I imagined it. It is my most frequent fantasy. It is always with me,  days that I have more pain, days that I don’t what is next in my life, days that I can’t imagine things getting better, days that I imagine I’m back there still, with them. Days I don’t want this life in this body.

You Left Me Here, Part 2

I always thought I knew and remembered everything, with vivid detail, about my childhood. I even remembered things that happened before the age of 2. Repressed memories, I thought, were for other people. I have this ability to see things from the past as they happened, in living color, hearing the exact words spoken, the voices and inflections, taking in the entire scenario, like playing back a video, one that I’m in, and can not only see and hear, but take in the scents and minute details. The only thing missing until recently was integrating the actual feelings, held by my little girls in white. Dissociation, yes, that sensation of floating above as an observer, but while I couldn’t connect emotionally to the traumas, remembering was not a problem, and that was comforting.

Then, in a breath work session, I found the little girl under the bed. She held a memory that I had actually forgotten. So, repressed memory is not something I’m above, apparently. Finding that out has me in a state of quiet panic. One thing that has given me comfort and courage in this journey of healing is thinking that at least I knew what I was dealing with. I knew the stories already, and it was only a matter of walking through those and finally connecting to them by being vulnerable enough to embrace the pain that goes with them. Finding out there may be more surprises along the way is scary, and a bit of a game changer for me. I am not entirely sure I’m up for those kinds of surprises.  But, I am hoping if I put this memory into words, the invasive flashbacks will ease. I also hope there aren’t many more memories I’ll have to recover. This one has come back as if it never left, and I can now see it all as if it was just yesterday. I can still look at it and not let myself feel it, and for that I am grateful.

When I turned nine, Bruce started to change. He got angry with me more easily, beatings were more frequent, for both my mother and me. He beat her more violently, and I had found new and creative ways to hide from him every morning before he went to work. I even taught my little dog Bitsy how to quiet so he wouldn’t find us. He had always been violent, but It was escalating, and it took less and less to set him off. It was the year he slammed my face into a baking dish of brownies because I’d eaten one before he had gotten one. It broke my front tooth a little, and left me with the a chip that made one tooth grow a little in front of the other, and made so self conscious about my crooked front teeth, that ever single picture taken of me after that until a few years ago was with a closed mouth smile, convinced that I was ugly when I smiled. Those kinds of things were normal in our household, but they were happening more frequently. I guess he was drinking more. He ranted about losing his badge a lot. He missed being a police officer.(apparently my fault, even though I didn’t actually tell the judge anything.)

I was lying in bed, my little Bitsy beside me, the radio I’d gotten for my 9th birthday quietly playing. My eyes were closed and I was drifting off to sleep. I didn’t hear the footsteps, but I smelled his aftershave, my breath caught in my throat, and I lay very still, eyes closed, my heart beating fast, parts of my body involuntarily twitching, like a rabbit sensing a predator. I was sure I was in trouble. My mind was racing, “what did I do…what did I do?”

Then he spoke. “Were you playing with yourself?” I didn’t answer, still trying to pretend I was asleep. He knew better. “I don’t care,” he said, “It’s your mother that gets mad about it.” I opened my eyes because I knew he expected me to. He sat down on the bed and asked me again. I just shook my head no. He lay down next to me and started touching me. I looked around the room to find something to set my eyes on, and fixed them on my bedroom door, left ajar, and the the shadow shapes on the wall of the hallway. He  rolled me onto my side and undid the belt on his bathrobe, I don’t remember his taking off my panties, but he must have. He took my hand and moved it up and down his penis. Then he stopped and pushed me on my back and straddled me. He was pushing his penis up against me before, but  he had never pushed into me like he was trying to get inside before. I was panicked and tried putting my legs together but he sat up and pushed them apart and started pushing up against me again. I didn’t fight him any more, but my whole body seized up and I was aware of a scream coming from deep within me that never escaped my throat. He kept pushing and pushing and I was aware of that awful thing pushing into me and the pain down there, but it wouldn’t go in. My tiny vagina literally clamped shut. He stopped trying to get it in me but he didn’t stop. He just pushed my legs back together and pushed back and forth between them until he was done, and used the corner of his bathrobe to wipe me off, and left. As I heard his footsteps reach the living room, I rolled over onto my side and curled into a ball.

I lay there on the bed, shivering, but couldn’t seem to reach down and pull my blankets up. Bitsy, who had been there the whole time, started licking my face and I was aware of the tears flowing into my hair, snot running, and my breath coming in silent little gasps. That is all I remember about it. I don’t remember how long it took to fall asleep, or the next morning. I only know a part of me stayed behind, under the bed, waiting for someone to come for her. As for me lying there on the bed, I knew nobody was coming.


You Left Me Here

I’ve written about my little girls in white, all safe in their white rooms along the corridor who stay insulated and warm inside those rooms,that are a sanctuary for them. I imagine I see them in white dresses because they represent the purity and innocence of the souls they are trying to protect by breaking away. Their white dresses don’t make them completely pure. That was taken from them. I think they also represent the need to cover what had already been done to them and shield them from any deeper damage. They dress up all in white, enter a white room and close the door. When I have an EMDR session, I am able to access them, hold their hands and walk through the trauma memories with them. Those sessions can be incredibly intense. Each time I connect a little more with one of them, and I had begun to see some of the doors opening, and windows in some of the rooms to let in sunlight.

Tonight, I went to a Breathwork Sound Healing session. I didn’t know how breathing in a certain pattern was going to work on my conscious mind, but actually it was a bit like an EMDR experience. During those sessions, my therapist is there, tapping or moving her finger as I track it, and she is my guide of sorts.

As it turned out, in the Breathwork session, another guide showed up for me.  As I did the breathing exercise, I became slowly aware of drifting, and saw the image of an animal, at first I thought a lion, then a very large dog, and a wolf, as it morphed a bit,  strong and silent, beside me, just lying there, watchful, still, waiting.  I didn’t know what to do but focus on the eyes, which bore into mine with a silent message that I would be watched over.  That made me feel safe, and I drifted more and then I found myself in the bedroom of the house I’d lived in ages 8-11. I saw shadows around the room, my closet door, the bottom of my dresser.

Suddenly I felt I was sucked into a vortex as the room spun and I saw dark shapes and the light that comes in from the moon and stars into a room at night and saw a little girl, under the bed. Her hair was in her face, wet from tears, and tangled and she was in a nightgown that hung in strips on her as if it had been ripped to shreds by something.  She was shaking, cold, and sobbing like something wild. Her words came out in gasps between the sobs,  “You left me here… you left me here… you left me here, ” over and over, to nobody, really. I don’t think she knows who left her there.

I realize that there was a night when something happened, and  she hid under that bed, and never left. This wild, crazy-scared little girl didn’t find a room in white for some reason, and she is not safe. She is alone, under the bed, and I want to reach my arms to her to pull her out, and let her see that she is safe, and not alone any more, but then I am sucked in and under the bed, and it is just me there, and I am hiding and alone and feel the full impact of being in that dark room, under the bed. Somehow I can’t crawl out, because it isn’t safe, and I don’t see a light anywhere, and I start to panic.

As I’m gasping the same mantra, “you left me here…you left me here…you left me here,” with the sure knowledge that nobody will ever find me, I become vaguely aware that a woman in the room where the session is taking place kneels beside me and strokes my forehead for a moment. As she does that, I envision a person, strong, gentle, loving, kneeling down, reaching under the bed and slowly pulling me out from under it, and I collapse into those arms and cry, not terrified, but sad because I understand why this little girl was under that bed, the thing that happened so suddenly, violently waking her from a sound sleep, that she didn’t have time to float away into a white room. She dove under the bed and curled into a ball, fists tightly clenched.  And that is where she stayed. In the dark, afraid to come out, knowing nobody would come for her.

I hear the leader of the session call out that there are just a couple more songs, and I start to become more aware of my surroundings. I also become aware of exactly when this little girl went under the bed, and what was happening at the time. That is not a story I could start to process there, but when we reached the time in the session where we were encourage to shout and scream, I got glimpses of it, and screamed out, with both the voice of the little girl from under the bed, and mine, words I would never have been aloud to say back then, and we became one full voice.

After a while, I turned over on my side, curled up, pulled my pillow under my head, and cried quietly for what seemed like a long time,  for what happened in that bedroom, and for the little girl who never left it.



It was Never Love, part 2

“I love you,” she would say, my mother. She said that all the time. But what did that mean? To a battered, lonely little girl it meant the world, really. To try to believe that she was loved. I wasn’t very old, no more than two, when I understood that love was different with her. Thanks to my gentle, sweet great grandma, I had a measure for what love was. Thanks to my dad, whose love I remember in the shadows of memories of being held tenderly and of blue eyes gazing into mine as he cooed and talked to me. I remember reaching my arms out to my dad, and to my great grandma, and being gently lifted, warmly held. I never had enough of that. She made sure of it, my mother. She took me far away from my dad, maybe to punish him, but, mostly, I truly believe, to hurt me. She took me away from my great grandma, too. I know it broke Grandma’s heart not to get to be with me. She told me later how much she missed me, when I couldn’t be with her any more.

For me, it was like a light burnt out in my soul. Life is pretty bleak for an unloved child, abuse notwithstanding. I think all the beatings and bites and slaps across the face, a broken tailbone, scars, and harsh words and even the sexual abuse could have been withstood with less damage if there had been one person in my life who truly loved me. The tender arms of my great grandma after a slap across my face from my mother were so soothing and sweet, a true haven of love that calmed my breathing and slowed my frantic heartbeat and made my tense, fraught little body melt into a peaceful release. My dad’s strong, loving arms and my head on his chest as a toddler, listening to his heartbeat made me feel steady and secure and safe. So, if I had to be brutalized as a child, the least she could have done was let me have the one thing I needed more than anything, to really be loved. She couldn’t let me have that. She took away the only real hope I had of it, leaving me to feel so empty from before the age of 2,  I began curling into a ball in my closet or on my bed, pretending next to me was a warm, loving body of someone holding me when I cried, helping me to fall asleep when I was afraid, stroking my hair and humming to me when I was sad.

“I love you,” she said, my mother, but not the morning she picked up a plate of toast and smashed it into my face when I was six. My tummy was in knots and I couldn’t eat, and it made her mad, so she smashed it in my little face and turned the plate over and over while she held the back of my head.  I had scratches all over my face from that, stinging and shiny with butter. When my teacher asked me what happened, I told her my cat had scratched me. We didn’t have a cat, but I knew how to lie about my bruises and cuts, maybe not even for my mother’s sake, but for mine. I was ashamed of whatever I was, for my mother to have to smash toast in my face. I was ashamed, of myself for having those scratches.

“I love you, my little curly headed girl,” she said, my great grandma, on the mornings she got up before I did, when I slept over in her bed, getting to be cuddled in her soft arms, and crept into the bedroom to run her fingers through my curls, cooing, “come get your goosey ganders!” Goosey Ganders were the odd shapes left over after she made biscuits, and used a glass to cut them out. The shapes around the glass she saved and baked on a separate baking sheet, just for me. They were my goosey ganders, and my tummy was never too in knots to eat them. I was never ashamed there, because love is stronger than shame… real love, that is.

“I love you, dear,” he said, my dad, every time I saw him or talked to him after I finally got him back in my life. And he did. I heard it in his gentle tone, saw it in his blue eyes that lit up for me, in the tears he cried when I sang, the smile he had just for me. And when I sat next to him, holding his hand as he gripped mine so tightly those days he was dying, his eyes bore into mine, groans he couldn’t form into words as he tried desperately to tell me something. I told him, “I know you love me, dad, and I am so thankful that I got to have you in my life,” and I sang to  him, and tears formed in his eyes, because he loved me. And when I lost him, that familiar emptiness filled my soul again. I lost him, again, and it hurts as much as it did not to have him as a little girl.

“I love you,” she said, my mother, the day she thought she was dying. I wanted her to have peace, so I told her I forgave her, and that I thought she did her best. It wasn’t true. I didn’t forgive her, and I wanted…I needed… so badly for her to say, “I’m sorry; it was wrong; you didn’t deserve any of it.” That was all I wanted, to be loved enough, to be important enough, for her to say any of that, to even admit it, to admit it mattered, that I mattered, and that might even mean I could believe that she loved me. It might even have taken away some of my shame. But she didn’t say any of that. She said, “you always had the brownest eyes.”

I don’t even know what the fuck that means. Does it mean that you saw those brown eyes wide in terror, brimming with tears, lonely,  searching everywhere for kindness, when I was a little girl? Or was it just something to say, to pretend that none of it happened? No, you couldn’t do it. You couldn’t give me that one thing that I needed. So, in the end, no, you didn’t love me, Mom. But guess what? I loved you.

The Dresses

The two beautiful dresses hung in my closet. As a six year old, few things were more exciting for me than getting a new dress, and this time I had two! I don’t think I’d ever gotten two dresses at the same time before. One red and one blue one. I couldn’t decide which one I loved more. I put each one on and danced around my room, turning and turning until I was dizzy, making the skirts twirl around me. The sleeves were long and shiny and flowy. I loved flowy sleeves and full twirly skirts. I was obsessed with them. I couldn’t wear them to school, but would rush in as soon as I got home and wear them until bedtime. To this day, I haven’t had a dress I’ve loved as much as I loved those two.

They were not from my mother. One day she kept me home from school for some reason, and took me to her office. At lunch time, she walked me across the street to another building downtown, where her friend worked. I’d never met this man, and she told me I could not tell Bruce or anyone about him. I don’t remember his name, and I wish I could. He knelt down when he saw me and smiled, took my hand and told me I was the prettiest girl in Portsmouth, next to my mom. We walked downtown to have lunch. We sat in a nice restaurant and the man told me I could have anything I wanted. My mother was smiley and happy, and I liked her that way.  It felt like a very special day.  Then my mother had to go back to work, and the man asked if he could take me with him. Nobody asked me, but I would have said yes. I’d go anywhere with anyone who was nice to me.

He took me to a shop and when we went inside, he told me a pretty girl like me should have a pretty new dress. We walked around until my eyes lit on the red dress, hanging on the wall. The lady who helped us went to find it in my size and came back to with a blue one just like it. I simply couldn’t decide. They were both so beautiful. The man smiled at me and said that he guessed I’d have to have them both.  They were wrapped in boxes, under tissue paper, and I felt like I was a princess, getting two fancy dresses in boxes. My mother told me to hang them up when we got home, and she went in to make dinner. I saw the man a few more times after that, and wore one of the dresses each time. He told me how beautiful I was in them. My mother asked me if liked him. I said yes. She asked if I liked him more than I liked Bruce. I told her that I did, and she told me that if I was really good, maybe we could go and live with him in another place. I spent a lot of time after that, fantasizing about living with the man and my mom, and her being so nice to me, the way she was when she was with him, and him being my dad, and tucking me in at night, and smiling at me when I danced around in my dresses. I thought about him all the time, and it felt warm and good. Every day I wondered if it would be the day he would come and get me and take me to his house to live.

Day after day I waited. When Bruce was home after school one day and called me to sit on his lap in the chair, and did things to me, I went into my room and folded up the dresses, so they would be ready to go when the man came to get me and take me to live with him. My mother came in and scolded me, saying they would get wrinkled. I hung them back, but I waited. Every bit of hope I had in my six year old body was wrapped up in that nice man who was going to come and get me and take me away from there.

One night, I heard my mother and Bruce fighting. I couldn’t understand what they were saying, but the whole house shook as my mother was running and he was running after her and hitting her and she was throwing things at him. My mother got me up for school the next morning and told me to remember I could never tell Bruce about the man, and that the man wasn’t our friend anymore.

Looking back, it seems a  light had gone out in my soul. I was like a tiny robot, moving slowly, my mind in a fog. I didn’t smile all day, not at school, at recess. I walked home alone, because my friends thought I was being rude by not talking to anyone. When I got home, I went to my mother’s sewing basket and got out her scissors. I walked into my bedroom, stood on a chair in front of the two dresses, and systematically made cuts into each of the sleeves, up and down both sleeves on both dresses, until they were still intact, but slashed up and down.  After I did that, I felt an anguish in my heart that was physically painful. I went outside and sat in the yard until dark and my mother was home. I spent the next days unable to look at the slashed dresses, heartbroken over what I had done.

It took a few days, but my mother finally noticed the slashed sleeves on my dresses. She asked me what happened. I told her I had been climbing the tree in the back yard and that a branch kept ripping each sleeve up and down, and that I had changed and the same thing happened to the other dress. Even at six, I knew there was no way she could believe that. She just shook her head and rolled her eyes at me. To this day, I have no idea why she let me get away with lying, an offense that usually would earn me a beating.

I often see the image of that little six year old girl, slashing those sleeves.  I don’t know exactly why she did it, but I think those dresses represented something like hope, and she had a deep understanding that hope only brought pain. I cried for a long time when my mother threw them away.

If I close my eyes, I can see six year old me dancing in them, sleeves flowing, skirt twirling. I still miss those dresses, maybe as much as I miss the six year old girl with hope in her heart.

Where the Moon Carries Me

In my whole life, there has only ever been one person who would lie in the woods with me and look at the moon, no matter how cold it was, just lie there, holding hands, or my head on his chest, not talking, just the moon, the dark around us, and the steady beat of his heart under my ear as I cast my eyes to the night sky. My Brad, from the time we were kids, until he went away to college, he was the only one who just did that with me…for me, because he somehow knew what it meant to me, though he never asked why. He never even knew how my moon romance began.

The last house we lived in with Bruce was in the country on an acre of land that bordered the woods. I only had to walk the expanse of the yard to disappear into them, my fluffy white little dog, Boodles, running along, playing while I found a clear spot far away from the house to hide completely from them.

When I was nine years old, I stopped believing in most things, mostly that I would ever be safe or loved. It hurt too much to think about those things. All of the lovely magical thinking that had been my buffer since I was a toddler was gone.

One night, while my mother and Bruce were fighting, I was hiding in the basement, when I noticed the moon through a tiny window. I quietly opened the basement door and walked out into the night, the grass cold and wet under my bare feet, and started running, across the yard, Boodles at my heels, all the way back to the woods.

As dark as it was, the moon was full and bright and I found my spot where the grass was soft, and lay down, flat on my back, my nightgown and hair dampened by the wet grass. I looked up at the moon, and my eyes became transfixed by its light. My breathing slowed, and my heart beat became steady, and it seemed there was nothing between the moon and me, as the woods around me disappeared, and I was only vaguely aware of the warmth of my dog, curled into the crook of my arm. That light wasn’t just in the sky; it was inside of me. I felt it radiating through my soul, warming my heart, filling the empty places, a warm light that wrapped around my bones. The moon had brought my magic back to me, and I stayed long into the night, until I knew I had to go back, and I carried some of the magic back with me.

That night was the first of many escapes to the woods, mostly when the moon was full, in all weather, whenever I could safely sneak away, I’d trek across the yard, sometimes with a blanket, or the reclining lawn chair when it was snowy, always with Boodles. In my mind, I can still see the tracks we made in the snow . The pain, loneliness, fear of whatever had come before would leave my body as soon as I set my eyes on my moon.

I still escape into the woods during full moons. Brad is of course gone, although I imagine he is watching me, understanding even more now. My dogs are not as calm and still as my little Boodles was, but the constant is my  moon, which holds me and everyone I’ve ever loved. It is the same moon that gave me back my magic, and saves it for me, when I can’t seem to keep it for myself, and so I go and find it.





That’s what You Get

Not long after we moved to Ohio, when I was seven years old, Bruce began a new ritual with me. He would come in while I was having my bath and watch me. I would always start washing my hair when he came in, because it was the one thing I could do with my eyes closed, and pretend he wasn’t there, and pray that he would go away. Sometimes that worked, sometimes not. Sometimes I would feel him get into the tub, and he would reach over me and turn off the water I was using to rinse my hair. He would turn me around and hand me the soap and tell me how to wash him. His chest, his stomach, and then to his penis, always pointed up and out of the water. I had to wash it until the awful white mess oozed out into the tub, onto my hands.

One night, he lifted me out of the tub and made me stand there, shivering, while he looked at me. He said, “your pussy’s getting fat.” He pushed on me between my legs with his hand and told me to be careful and not get fat like my mother. I looked at myself in the mirror when he left, and still didn’t know what he meant. As I look at the few pictures there are of me as a little girl, I see a tiny, waif of a girl, without an ounce of fat anywhere on her body, but I didn’t know what I was seeing in the mirror then.

A little later, he and my mother went out. I don’t remember if I’d dinner or not, but I had been by myself most of the day, and had been getting my own food, whatever I could find in the fridge, whatever a seven year old could easily make do with for a meal.

Long after I’d gone to sleep, I heard yelling downstairs. Bruce was yelling my name, in that awful voice that meant I was in trouble. Big trouble. Before I was awake enough to answer, he was running up the stairs, and jerking me out of bed by the arm, dragging me across my room. In the dark, it was like a horribly frightening nightmare, and my heart was beating so hard it made me dizzy and I couldn’t stand up straight as he drug me toward the stairs and slipped, so that he was pulling me by the arm and bottom was hitting every step on the way down. As I hit one of the hard wooden stairs with my bottom, a sharp pain ripped through me, so bad that I screamed before I could stop myself.

“Bruce, you’re gonna break her arm,” hissed my mother, who was standing in the kitchen smoking a cigarette, just watching.  Bruce stopped in front of the refrigerator, and hit it with his open hand while yelling at me, “What the fuck happened to all the food in there?!” I couldn’t catch my breath, let alone speak, so he grabbed my jaw with his hand and squeezed hard, screaming the question again, and I tried to say something, anything, but all that came out was a sob. He opened the refrigerator door and pulled out a bowl with some peaches in it and poured it over my head, the cold thick juice running down my face. From then it was frenzy, Bruce smashing lunch meat into my face,  breaking eggs over my head, opening my mouth and stuffing some kind of casserole in until I choked, all the while calling me a fucking pig, slinging a handful of mayonnaise in my face, on and on, until finally he opened a full bottle of barbecue sauce and poured it over my head. It poured over my hair, covered my eyes, ran into my nose and mouth as I gasped for air, and he beat me over the head with it to get the last of it out of the bottle. I stepped away and slipped onto my knees in the mess on the floor and he kicked me on the butt, which sent another shock wave of pain through my body. As I lay there in that horrible puddle, he leaned down and walked around my shaking body, squealing like a pig and yelling at me to do the same. “Make your piggy sounds!” I made the only sound I could, and he laughed. He dragged me back to the tub where hours earlier he had oozed his white mess all over my hands and told my mother to clean up her filthy pig, to which my mother retorted, “She was clean earlier. You oughta know.”

Bruce watched for a while, viciously imitating my sniffling, and said things like, “What’s wrong, piggy?” “Now you can wash your hair, like the models on T.V. since you think you’re so hot like they are.” When he finally left, my mother told me to stop crying, and looked at me and said, “That’s what you get.”

That’s what I get? I heard that a lot over the years. I only knew it meant that whatever pain or humiliation I was subjected to, I deserved. Since I couldn’t think of anything, ever, really, that I had done that was so terrible, I came to believe that it was because of something that was so wrong deep inside of me that I deserved to be hurt, both inside and outside, and so I absorbed shame with every humiliation, and learned to blame only myself for it.

As a young woman, until just a few years ago, one of the Eating Disorder behaviors I engaged in was laxative purging. I have others, but that is the worst of them, (and I am done with it.) After a while, I was swallowing an entire box of laxative pills. All 12 of them at once with a big glass of water. Hours later, the horrendous pain and cramping began, which had me lying on the floor curled into a tight ball, rocking back and forth while wave after wave of cramps rolled through my body, and each time I did this, as each pain hit, and the horrible after effects, over and over in my mind, I hear, “That’s what you get.”