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.”

The Hungry Little Girl

Food. So much of my life as a little girl centered around it, mostly because during those periods of time my great grandma wasn’t watching me, nobody thought about feeding me much. When I was really little, I was never allowed to say that I was hungry, even though I often had to go all day without anyone giving me anything to eat. When I was about 2, before Mom married Bruce, we lived in a little house with my mother’s friend and her two little girls, and a boy.  My mother’s friend would leave early in the morning to go to work and my mother would sleep, often until her friend came home from work. Most days nobody offered me anything to eat until night time, when one of them would make dinner. I was the smallest, and the older kids could fend for themselves but didn’t often share with me, so I would sneak into the kitchen in the mornings, climb on a chair and get some cereal or crackers down from the cupboards to eat behind the sofa where nobody could see me and I wouldn’t get in trouble.

One morning, the older kids got up before I did, and saw me going into the kitchen. The boy grabbed the box of cereal out of my hands and said I couldn’t have any. When I tried to get it back, one of the girls held my arms behind my back and the other girl kept poking my tummy calling me a fat baby. I cried and kicked at them, and they still didn’t let me go, and I got really scared and bit the girl holding my arms to try get away. She screamed, let me go, and they all went into my mother’s room to tell on me.

I was crying really hard, and went in to try to tell my mother what they were doing to me. She sat up in her bed, furiously grabbed my arm, jerking me over to her, looked into my face, with the tears running down it, her face contorted with pure hatred, and bit my arm so hard it started bleeding. Then she shoved me away from her without a word. I landed on my knees on her floor, and crawled away and got into my bed, where I stayed, holding my bloody arm, and cried as quietly as I could, pulling blanket over my shaking little body,  while the other kids went into the kitchen and poured themselves cereal.

Not long after that (I know because my arm was still scabby from my mother’s bite) I was sitting on the front porch, and the older kids came and sat with me, saying that they had some candy for me. They put these colorful little things in my hand and told me to eat them. I put two in my mouth, and bit into them. A horrible taste filled my mouth and I spit the “candies” out. They laughed and told me I was going to die, because I ate medicine. Then they started busting open the other capsules on the porch next to me. watching the tiny beads fall all around. Their mother came home and saw the empty box of cold capsules on the porch, and all of us, and the kids said that I had eaten the pills. She grabbed me, yelled for my mother, and they drove all of us to the hospital. They said I had eaten a box of pills. I was really scared. Even as such a little girl, I kind of knew what dying meant, but mostly I was afraid of what my mother was going to do to me. She was so mad at me.

They took me in and put me on a bed. A nurse told me not to be scared, that the doctor was really nice and he was going to help me. I liked her, the way she stroked my face and gently pushed on my tummy, and talked in a soft voice. Then the doctor came in. He sat down next to me and held my hand. He asked me if I was scared, and I nodded. I wanted to tell him I was scared that my mom was going to hit me when we got home, but I didn’t say that. He put his cool hand on my forehead and told me I was going to stay there with them, and  he was going to make everything better. Somewhere in my little girl mind I thought that meant he was going to take care of me and not let my mom hurt me. I was going to stay there! He asked me if I liked spaghetti. I nodded. He said, “Well, when you wake up, I’m going to bring you some spaghetti, and you can have all you want.” I think they put me under and pumped my stomach. But I just remember drifting off, happy that the nice doctor was going to give me spaghetti and make everything better. I thought I was going to stay there with him.

When I woke up, I was in a different room, and my mother was there. She told me we were going home. A nurse was in the room, saying I could stay overnight, but Mom said she wasn’t going to pay for me to stay there. My throat was raw, and it hurt to talk, but I whispered to the nurse about the spaghetti. She smiled at me, but she didn’t know what I meant. My mother told me the doctor just said that to get me to stop crying. She took me home and into my room. I got on my bed because I was feeling sick.

She came back in with the belt and a new box of cold pills, and said, “You want to eat these, too?” I shook my head. She yelled, “Don’t shake your head at me! Answer me!” “No,” I whispered. She swung the belt and it hit me on my leg. “No WHAT?” she yelled. I tried to say no ma’am, like I was supposed to, but my throat was raw, and I had started crying. “ANSWER ME!!” I tried. I really tried, but my voice wouldn’t work. She kept swinging the belt, and I curled into a ball, while the belt whacked over and over, on my legs, my back, my bottom. When she finally stopped, I lay there, shivering, crying as quietly as I could, trying to pull the blanket over me, but my little arms were too weak. I closed my eyes and could see in my mind the nice doctor, at the hospital, walking into my room with spaghetti for me. I thought he might come and find me, but he never did.

Spoiled Rotten

To spoil is defined as “to diminish or destroy the value or quality of.” I remember both the day that I heard I had not been spoiled, and the day that I actually was.

As a little girl, I usually played by myself, unnoticed when I was in the room with people. I became a very good listener and observer. The need to be hyper aware of the energies of the people around me was a critical skill for me, and the ability to sit quietly and listen and observe.

One day, I was sitting very still, playing with my paper dolls, while my mother was on the phone with my grandma.My grandma and grandpa were usually living overseas when I was growing up, so I barely knew them. I just knew grandma didn’t really like me. My mother told me that often. Maybe because they were overseas, my grandma was talking very loudly, and I could hear her voice coming through the phone. My mother was telling her about things that Bruce did to me. I was used to that kind of talk. She talked about it all the time, in our house. I think it was the day before she took me to the police station to tell on him.

“Has he spoiled her?,” I heard my grandma shouting through the phone. “No,” my mother said, “he just puts his hands between her legs.” My mother didn’t know about the times he made me do things to him, so that was all she ever said about those things. Spoiled. That word ran through my mind, all that day, and for years after, in my grandma’s voice, and I had no idea what she meant, but I felt somehow redeemed in a way a seven year old can’t understand. I just knew that not having been spoiled made me a better little girl in some way.

I never heard that word, used in that way, until about a year later, when we were living in Ohio.

One late morning in the summer, I was playing quietly in my room. My mother was at work, and Bruce, who lost his job as a police officer, and was working for the phone company, was off that day. “Come over here, Shelli.” As always, my heart would start pounding and I would feel something like electric current go through my body, and the room would become dark around me, as I stood on shaky legs and walked over to the chair.

He smelled bad, and there was black under his fingernails. He grabbed me by the arms and pulled me onto his lap. At eight, I was still a little thing, but didn’t fit the same way on his lap as I grew, so he moved me around until he got me in just the right way. It hurt my arms and I always had bruises on them for days after.

He didn’t always do the same things. Sometimes he moved me around on his lap, or got it out and told me how to touch it. Sometimes he just did things to me. This time, he moved me around for a while, his hands digging into my arms, and dropped the cigarette he was holding on my leg. He picked it up and made me hold it then. I didn’t know why, but I just did it. I held it up in front of me, watching the smoke rise up.

His hand went under my panties and I felt something like relief. Of the things that he did to me, this hurt the least. He usually was more gentle when that was all he was doing, as my mother said all the time, “putting his hands between my legs.” Nobody seemed to think that was so bad, so…I actually was glad that that was all he was doing.

As I watched the cigarette in my hand burn, and smoke rise, I felt the familiar haze take over, and things became less focused, the room around me disappearing, as I fixed my gaze on the object in my hand. Then, I felt a pain between my legs I had never felt before. I jumped, falling off his lap,and dropping the cigarette on the floor. I scrambled to pick up the cigarette, and he grabbed it out of my hand, putting it in the ashtray next to the chair, still burning.

He pulled me back to the chair, and roughly pulled my panties off. Without knowing it, I had put my legs together tightly. I never did that, never struggled, but my legs were drawn together and no matter how much trouble I knew I was going to be in, something in my soul said, “don’t let him.” It did make him mad, and he forced my legs open, and held onto my right leg, pushing it against the arm of the chair, and started rubbing me hard down there with his fingers. I had nothing in front of me to focus on, and the hazy room came sharply into focus, and his awful fingers kept rubbing me raw. Then he stopped, let go of my leg, and used that hand to open me up more, and I felt a stabbing pain that made my whole body shake. He pulled me closer to his chest and I buried my head in his blue plaid robe, and held on to the edge of it tightly, as the pain rippled through my eight year old body. He held me around the waist while he moved his finger in and out of me, and I felt his jagged fingernails cutting into me as he plunged his finger in and out faster and harder.

I don’t remember him stopping or my getting off of him.  The next thing I knew I was in my room, lying on my closet floor, my little dog next to me, and he came in. He knelt down next to me, and kissed me on my lips and said, “Did you like that?” I whispered, automatically, as always, “Yes, sir.” He smiled, and said, “You can do that to yourself now too; just don’t let your mother catch you.” There was blood on the washcloth when I cleaned myself up, and my skin was raw and burning. It hurt so badly to pee.

It was years later, when my mother told me I was lucky I hadn’t been spoiled, because nothing ever went “up there.” I never told her she was wrong.

As I walk down the corridor, I see an eight year old little girl in white in one of the rooms, and recognize just a tiny piece of the gold carpet of my closet. She cries my tears for me, and sits with her knees drawn tightly to her chest, in a long white dress. She won’t look up. She knows, without every having heard the explanation of spoiled, that she was.




Christmas and Magic

Christmas was a magical time for me, not because of anything my mother and stepfather did for me, but because I was immersed in magical thinking a lot of the time. When I was six years old, older friends had told me there was no Santa. I couldn’t take that in. I needed to believe in Santa, as I needed to believe in something resembling hope and magic in this world, because I think I knew, even at six, that the earthly and ordinary were not ever going to be enough for me.  I needed to believe in Santa more than I can explain. My heart simply would not accept what they were saying.

I imagined that they were just being mean and trying to hurt my feelings. That was something I was used to. The adults in my life enjoyed saying mean things to me, and daring me to cry, as if to see how far they could go before they broke me. Even at six, I wasn’t going to break. I would blink back any tears that stung my eyes and made my nose burn and keep my secrets in my own heart. The secret was that they were hurting me, in ways that physically made my heart constrict with every mean word.  I learned very early on not to let anyone know that they had that power over me. It’s a tough balancing act for a little girl who wanted to be loved to also stubbornly hold on to her little girl pride and dignity and never let them know that they were hurting her. That was just survival 101 in my household, but out in the world, in the yards and alleys and playgrounds of my childhood, I had to be just as vigilant. My heart and spirit had not been nurtured enough to be able to hold its own against even the mildest of ordinary mean kid stuff that every child has to navigate through. So, I let them talk and I just nodded.  I set my little jaw and headed home to my room where I could sit in peace and whisper a prayer to Santa that I believed in him, and I loved him.

When my Mom came home, I told her that the kids had said that to me, and asked her if he was real. I wanted her to be on my side this once. Looking back, I have to hand it to that little girl, sitting on the couch, brown eyes timidly looking at her mother’s face. She tried. Mom wasn’t in a gracious mood. She looked at me and said, “No, there isn’t any Santa. It’s parents working their asses off to buy things for a bunch of ungrateful brats,” and she walked away.

Once again, I had a choice, to believe her, or in something magical. I actually had little choice, for my own emotional survival, I think, but to believe in something, so…

I still believed in Santa. I whispered prayers to him whenever I did something good like washing the dishes without being told, and asked him for a tape recorder and music, what I wanted more than anything. I had asked Mom for paper dolls.  On Christmas morning, I went in to the living room where Mom was, smiling at me, with a cup of hot chocolate for me, and there , unwrapped (she still left the gifts “from Santa” unwrapped) was a beautiful, colorful tape player with a microphone and some some tapes, and the paper dolls I’d asked for, wrapped up with a book full of paper doll clothes. I was in heaven. Pure, blissful, dream world heaven. Something about my little six year old self still believed that things would stay that way. I still had hope, and still experienced joy without underlying dread in moments of pure magic like Christmas morning.  After I was done opening presents, I hugged and thanked my mother, who went in to make Christmas dinner.   I turned on the music and sang and danced around my room, with that pure, unabandoned, wild Christmas bliss. I can still feel my little body seemingly floating above the room as I twirled, in my nightgown, eyes closed, singing nonsense syllables when I didn’t know the words.

I didn’t hear the footsteps coming to my room or even hear my door open. I was jerked by my arm and thrown into the sliding doors of my closet, and as I lay there, saw the shadowy figure of Bruce across the room, my tape player unplugged and thrown against the wall. It didn’t break, but chipped the plaster on the wall. He grabbed me off the floor and threw me down on my bed. He already had his belt in his hand, and swung as soon as my body landed on the mattress. I managed to turn away before it hit my face. The first hit landed against my head, and sent a searing hot pain through my entire body. He didnt say a word, just kept swinging that belt, as I lay there, my body lurching forward and bouncing off the bed with every hit, my face hitting the wall by my bed as I think I was trying to crawl away. When he finally stopped, the room seemed to have an electric current going through it, flashes of light, a loud hissing sound in my head, and intense pain in my body, my hands tightly clutching the end of the mattress, and I didnt see Bruce leave, but from what seemed like very far away heard my mother, at my door, saying, “you woke him up.”

I shut my eyes and turned onto my side, ears ringing, desperately trying to take a breath. Finally short, shallow breathing started, and I started violently shivering. I pulled a blanket over myself, as far as I could make my arms reach, and curled into a ball, every movement hurting terribly, and lay there, hot tears flowing, drenching my hair and blanket, for a long time.  I stayed there, in a state of half asleep, where it seemed safer, and the electric energy died away, and became my room a hazy blur around me, accented by stinging pain in my body, the bright red blood from my mouth and nose, and I was immobilized in the pain, unable to even wipe it away.  After a while, I whispered a prayer. I don’t know who the prayer was to…God, Santa, an angel I used to see in my dreams, I don’t think I even knew then, but I remember I was saying, “Thank you for my presents. Please stay with me. I love you.”


Nothing to Hold on to

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.