My dad. My real dad. My mother took me from him when I was about 18 months old, from Portland, Oregon, where I was born, to Virginia, where her family lived. I didn’t see him again for 20 years. She told me he was dead, (he wasn’t) had died in a car racing accident, (He actually did race cars) that he spoke with a thick German accent (he doesn’t) and that he had been the one to name me Karen. (that part was true) Nobody called me Karen, though, the name my dad gave me. I was called Shelli by my family and everyone in my life until I left her and went to college. The story Mom always told was, “I wanted to name you Shelli, but he wanted Karen, so I named you Karen Michele and called you Shelli anyhow.” (Yes, my friends and I made plenty of great jokes about my name being Shelli Anyhow)
I couldn’t remember my dad, but never stopped wanting him. I just knew he would love me and protect me from them. I told stories about him to my friends that were actually big fat lies, pretending he was alive.
I lied and said that my dad had taught me to ride a bike. What actually happened was that Mom and Bruce got me a bike for my birthday, when I was 8, and I was so excited. It was bright blue and had streamers on the handlebars and I couldn’t wait to get on my bike and soar down the road. I thought people riding bikes looked powerful and I wanted to feel that way. I never asked Bruce to do things for me, but I begged him to take me out to teach me how to ride my bike. He gave in and took me out to the road and told me to get on. I got on while he held on to the side of the bike. Then he told me to pedal. He let go right away and I fell. He yelled me at me. I got back up, and he held on a little longer but I fell again when he let go. This time my knees were skinned something awful. He yelled at me and I wiped the tears away before he could see them and he told me to go inside, but I was desperate to ride that bike. I got back on, bloody knees and all. This time he didn’t just let go. He shoved the bike with me on it, hard, and I went over the top of it and landed with half my body on the bike and the other half on the road. I was even more of a bloody mess, and defeated. I couldn’t even hide the tears. He took the bike and threw it into the yard, and called me a fucking crybaby, and when I went in to wash myself off, he made crying noises and followed me around. When he finally left me alone, I lay on my bed with my dog. I tried a few more times to ride it on my own, but he would watch and make fun of me, until I just stopped trying. They gave the bike away. So, I liked the big fat lie about my dad teaching me to ride a bike better than what really happened. But, as hard as I tried, I could remember a thing about him.
Walking through the earliest of memories through EMDR, I found one of my littlest girls in white, who sits in a room in her pretty white dress and has a white blanket. This little one in white sits holding her blanket tightly to her chest, leaning against the wall, and never looks up. She holds the memories of the rages of a mother who dared her to need anything, who picked her up and threw her down hard into a playpen when she tried to reach for a sandwich on the coffee table, who grabbed her tiny arms hard while looking into her face and said, “don’t you dare cry.”
She remembers DAD. She would hear him come home, and only for him, she reached up, and he would lift her gently out of her playpen, where she’d been a long time, and sit and hold her while he talked with that gentle whispy soft voice that people who love their babies talk in. Her little body relaxed into his chest and she would slip her hand in the space in his shirt between the buttons and hold on tightly. She never understood, when he was gone, why, but she knew she couldn’t hold on any more because there wasn’t anything to hold on to. Nothing was there when she reached up. So she turned in to the mesh wall of her playpen and slipped away.
I was left alone a lot, even as a very little girl, and I would sit outside and find sticks and twigs and twist them into dolls. I played for hours with them, my little mind creating a fantasy world that transported from that lonely yard to a magical place where the twig dolls were the people in my world. I danced with them, and I could float, higher than the tree in the back yard, and I sang songs to them. Sometimes when Mom would hit me and send me to bed, I lay there, closed my eyes and imagined that one of the people in my fantasy world from outside would come in and lie down next to me and kiss me where she hit me, and stay with me and keep me safe while I slept. It was so real to me that no matter what she had done, if I was hungry, or hurt, or crying silently into my pillow so she wouldn’t hear me, I could feel someone next to me, telling me I was loved and that it would be okay. I fell asleep in imaginary arms that I had wished for so hard they were real to me.
There came a time, at around nine years old that I couldn’t bear to even try to imagine any of that. It hurt too much to hope for something that I knew by then was not something I could have, so I stopped, imagining, hoping for, believing in, anything like that.
Of all the things my mother did to me, the things she did to hurt my body, my soul, the things she did and let happen that I can’t even bring myself to mention out loud, of all of it, the worst thing she ever could have done, was take away my dad. That was the most evil in her whole big bag of evil that she used on me. She took away the one thing I could hold on to.