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.”