Looking back at that wild haired, sad little girl, I was, trying so hard, every way she could think of, to make them happy, all I can see is a gentle, tiny, sweet natured little one. Soft brown eyes, never looking directly at them, a little smile on her face for them. She walked very quietly, spoke so softly most people couldn’t hear her well. When I see pictures of her, she looks like she is barely touching the ground, or whatever she is sitting on, like a wind would sweep her away to nothingness. I see a picture of her with her little hand on her mother’s leg, sitting next to her, and I wonder if anyone could even feel her little touch. She is trying so hard to barely exist, that she looks like she could fade away, even in a photograph.
My mother was a Mormon. “Devout,” I suppose was the word for her belief levels. Of course, she drank caffeine and sometimes alcohol and cussed a lot, but she was completely solidly sold on her religion. Her favorite thing to tell me over and over was that in some weird pre-mortal level, I had chosen her to be my mother. I always wondered what options I’d had. One time when I was little, I also had asked for unsweetened baking chocolate, and only when they made me eat it did I realize how terrible it was. That must have been my pre-mortal level of consciousness, I imagined, not knowing what I was getting myself into. She definitely must have looked better on paper. The actual thought I had as a child was that I had chosen her because she was what I deserved. The belief that I deserved everything that happened to me was ingrained as long as I can remember, from the time I was a baby.
Being taught that God is a loving God, at the same time I was taught that my mother was loving, that my stepfather loved me, formed my early belief that if all of them were good and loving, I must have been very bad somewhere deep inside to have caused them to punish me so much, and very selfish to want anything more. As a little girl, all I had to rely on was the word of the most powerful around me, and they all agreed. Loving parents, Loving God, so it must be me. So I did what I could to be better. Every day of my life was spent trying to figure out how to be better.
I prayed, every morning, through the day, every night, to God to please change things about me. Never once did it occur to me to pray that they would stop hurting me. They had done such a good job convincing me that they loved me, and that it was my fault I was being hurt. They hurt me because they loved me. God knew they were hurting me. He was mad at me too. Mad at a little girl.
That little girl, though, she worked so hard to be loved, like she knew she didn’t deserve it, but it never stopped her from trying. She tried to make them smile at her. She picked flowers and brought them to her mother when she got home from work. She always remembered to say please, thank you, yes, ma’am and yes, sir, told her mother that she was beautiful and that she loved her, and that she was the best mama in the world, and said, “I love you, Dad,” every day to her stepfather. She timidly smiled at them and did whatever she was told. Even so, it never occurred to her that the beatings and punishments and all the terrible things they said to her, the way they yelled at her and looked at her with pure hatred sometimes, were not things she deserved. It never occurred to her to be upset with them, or even with God, who was supposed to be in charge of everything. As she grew, she was only upset with herself, and trying so hard to change, and never knowing how, so she just prayed.
“God, please help me to not be hungry so I don’t eat things that Bruce wants. Please help me not want food.” She prayed that one a lot, especially after the night he broke her tailbone and poured every bit of food in the refrigerator over her head because she ate something she wasn’t supposed to. She was on her own all day, to figure out what to eat when she was hungry, and never knew what would be okay to eat some days, so she tried very hard to only nibble on things that maybe nobody would notice she had eaten a little of. Her hunger never went away, though, and she never stopped being in trouble.
“God, please help me stop touching myself.” She had been touched since she was a toddler, and her body betrayed her, because sometimes when it was a gentle touch in the right place, her body responded, the way bodies do, and there was nobody to explain to her that it was normal. She only knew it was bad. When she was alone, she sometimes touched herself, trying to soothe herself in some way. She used to go into her closet and hide, and from the first time she was caught, because both her mother and Bruce were always walking in to her room suddenly, seemingly looking for something to catch her at, they always assumed, even if she was lying down playing with her dolls, or in bed with her legs a certain way, that she was doing that. Her mother would hit her, and say things to her about how bad that was, and ask her if she was trying to pretend she was married to Bruce. Bruce would tell her that he liked it when she did that. Both of those things made her feel ashamed, so she sat in her closet, and asked God to make her never touch herself again. But God didn’t seem to want to help her, and she knew it was her fault. She knew what a terrible thing it was to want to feel things down there.
“God, please help me hide. And make him forget about me.” Bruce went to work after her mother, at 11 a.m. In the summers, she would try to wake up before him and find a place to hide. Not her room. She tried staying in the basement, reading, for hours, but the washing machine was down there and he sometimes had to get laundry. The garage was where his HAM radio station was, so he would see her there. Behind the big tree in the back yard, nothing every worked. He would see her. And if she was close enough to hear his voice, she had no choice but to go to him when he called. He remembered to look for her most mornings. God only helped her once in a while, when she went out to the side of the house, at 7 a.m. when her mother left, and lay on a lawn chair under a blanket, far enough back so that he wouldn’t see her when he stood on the front porch and forward enough away from the basement window. So, God helped her when she worked very hard to figure it out, and she felt really good when she heard him drive away, 4 hours later, and stretched her cold, aching body out to go inside. But, she got in trouble when they found out she was doing that. God stopped helping her, she imagined because she was bad for fooling Bruce.
“God, please make me good.” That was the only prayer she knew after a while. She knew that they were all mad at her, that He was even mad at her and she never knew how to be better. She felt shame, deep into her very essence, for everything, for the things Bruce did to her, for every time she was hit, for the things her mother said to her, for the way they looked at her. She felt shame because she absorbed all of those things into every cell of her body, as she owned what was surely their shame. She didn’t know none of it was her fault, and that nothing she did or tried to be was going to make it stop, because it was them, all along, not her.