July 1966, shortly before my 15th birthday:
Toes in my tennis shoes. Tipping harmlessly down into the soft earth pushing my weight a little forward on the swing. Releasing my toes I glide a little backward. I face the valley far below. Steep mountainside rises behind my back. I am sad. Not because I know I am sad but because it is the state of my existence.
This swing set used to be in our yard in southern California. It was dismantled and shipped to Alaska when I was five, assembled again in our yard under the birch trees beside the creek where we first lived in Eagle River, was taken apart again, moved up to our mountain homestead, assembled again. Once we had a pet goat tied to this swing set. Mother wrote in a letter to her mother late on Thursday, October 18, 1962:
Went to market and got home 7:00 P.M. – Bill got home with the kids before me – and met me at the car with – Oh Mom – it’s terrible!
Wolf got off and killed the goat! He was over it when they got home. Bill broke down – awful! Got it by the neck! Kids upset. Bill had to bury it and now we get rid of those two dogs!
Enough said – terrible and ruined tonight.
Felt good today until home and upset over that – now tummy hurts!
I sit on the swing next to where the goat died gushing blood into the earth with its throat ripped open by our half-wolf husky dog. I am staring at the lacerations on my knees. Bleeding and oozing, pussy, raw and scabbing, I do not feel pain. I watch the flies, feeling their tiny feet walking around on my open sores. Faint and delicate, it feels nice, this gentle touch. I like the company of the flies, more and more flies. I sit still now, unmoving as the flies gather.
A few days earlier:
I am in my pajamas lying in bed. I have been here more than one day. Gray cloud light seeps around curtains closed across windows Father made after he straightened the curved Jamesway walls. I am curled up on my right side facing the wall. My knees hurt. The palms of my hands hurt. My body aches with bruises and welts. Curved slashes in the flesh of my thin wrists and upper arms the shape of Mother’s gouging fingernails are done bleeding. I have cried so hard for so long my lids are swollen nearly shut. My cheek, rouged from hard slaps across my face, rests on a pillow sodden with tears.
I am in a top bunk in this room Father built for him and Mother. Erected stud walls partition this small area for privacy. In this ever-transforming half-canvas half-wooden strange tent-house we live in I am shut behind its only inside door. This is my bed. This is not my room. Why is my bed in this room? It happened before that Mother, during one of her longterm punishing rages at me, rearranged furniture of our sleeping areas so she could imprison me alone away from contact with my siblings.
I am isolated now in a leaden body lying motionless except for my eyes that wander over wood grain patterns on the smooth shiny golden plywood wall Mother took such pains to sand and stain and varnish for her room. Curving trails travel between shapes randomly spaced in the boards. Empty meaningless questions slide through my soggy mind over and over and over again. “Are those lips? Are those eyes? Why did someone put them there?” (I had no way of knowing those football shapes were plugs replacing knotholes in the surface of the board.)
At this moment I can all but open the door of that little room, step inside, and turn to reach out my fingertips to tenderly touch the dark brown hair of that wretched girl I was laying in that twilight at nearly 15 years of age. Today I recognize I was fading away from all hope of my own life. Yes, my heart tapped in strong and rhythmic beating. Yes, I was breathing, but so little more. I had disengaged from struggle.
All the will I had naturally used to stay alive no matter what Mother said or did to me from the moment I was born had been used up. On this day there was nothing left inside of me I could find to use to fight for my own life. I faded into a murdering sea of wordless dread. Remote, I floated away without time or shape or form and without desire.
And then I heard words spoken to me as clearly as any I have ever heard by a voice that had no earthly sound. As these words appeared evenly, calmly with the power of a deathless antidote against the deadly poison that was finally consuming me, I was revived. These words of my salvation were spoken directly to my soul: “Linda, it is humanly impossible for you to be as bad as your mother says you are.”
I saw no flashy lights, no apparition, was brushed by no wisp of air left by fluttering wings. Yet the gift of these few specific words formed a factual platform within my mind upon which I could stand and live. Had they not come to me in this perfect timing I would now be dead.
I had crossed an invisible threshold before these words came to me that meant I could no longer continue to survive by sheer inbuilt trust in God alone — as I had done from the instant He created my soul when I was conceived. Blind black inky fear had, of its own bidding, arrived within me at this stage of my development to rupture my ability to continue to endure as an innocent in a state of grace. Nobody had ever given me any information up to this point that I could have used to make sense out of what Mother had always done to me. My absolute deficiency of consciousness was no longer enough to keep me – as a self trying to be born — alive.
What relief I needed at this time was provided in those simple words of truth. Not only did I need some drop of understanding that it was not possible to be as bad as Mother said I was, but I also desperately needed to know that I was even human at all. I had been told from my birth that I was NOT human because I was the devil’s child. How I completely forgot to recall this new information by the time I was a senior in high school belongs in the stories of my next book.
Before I continue here I need to tell what I know about what I remember from my severely abusive childhood because there is something very different about what I am going to write next. On October 3, 1980 I entered a 7-week inpatient treatment program for alcoholism and drug dependency in Minnesota. A detailed account of those days also belongs to another book. In spite of the sobriety I had achieved as a result of my first ‘recovery’ efforts, and in spite of following therapy and antidepressant medications, by June 1983 I found myself desperately depressed.
I searched until I found a treatment program designed to specifically address the needs of people with severe child abuse histories. I left my two girls with their father and moved into a small trailer in the town 130 miles away from my home to enter this three month out-patient program. Although I had many memories of the abuse I had suffered I knew there were more that I could not recall. I telephoned my sister two years younger than me, told her that I was working hard in the perfect setting to ‘deal with’ my childhood of abuse and begged her to disclose to me any incidents she remembered that I had forgotten.
What follows is the only memory my sister shared with me that I had not remembered on my own. As she described what happened on this day as she had witnessed it (she had just had her 13th birthday) while she stood in front of the rail on the small landing outside our front door, my own memory of this entire experience flooded back to me instantly with the force of an emotional tidal wave. Never would I have believed it was possible to so completely NOT remember something this horrible had I not had this experience of remembering exactly such a memory.
Once my sister realized how completely I had forgotten what she had remembered she vowed to never again release to me any other information about our childhood that I had ‘blocked’. Now, nearly 30 years later, she says she has forgotten anything else herself. None of my other siblings seem to remember any other details than what I remember on my own, either.
Later in these pages I will discuss what I now know about why I kept only certain memories while forgetting literally thousands of abuse incidents that happened to me. In this memory I was given back as my sister began to tell me what she remembered is a clear clue to me about how my memory process operates about my abuse history. While I have always remembered what I call a ‘bubble’ memory about the flies and another separate ‘bubble’ memory about the words I heard in bed that day, it has only been as I write this book that I have come to comprehend that both of those memories are connected to what happened to me that I forgot until I was not-so-subtly reminded.
This memory I am going to recount therefore belongs to a different category of my memory capacity. This next memory probably resides with those memories of abuse that I might access through a process like hypnosis. On my own, I believe I forgot this memory (did not choose to remember it as an ongoing part of my current reality) because it holds nothing beautiful or redeeming in it.
Of course ‘beauty’ and ‘redemption’ are relative to one’s reality. My memory of the flies held the beauty and redemption in how I felt being so gently touched and visited by a company of nature’s tiny creatures who wished me no harm. Remembering hearing those words of redemption speaks for itself.
There is nothing in this forgotten memory other than the sick evil darkness of unimaginable brutality. I did not keep it because there was nothing newly useful I could gather from that experience. I knew Mother’s brutality well from the time of my birth. Brutality I could not escape. Brutality I could survive. Yet the full return of my own memory of this experience and the way that return happened for me does hold information of vital value to me now. I needed to understand that I have chosen — no doubt in my soul – what I remember of my 18 years in hell and what I do not. I find great power in this knowledge. (I will describe in later pages the effect Mother’s abuse litany also had on my memory process.)
I will also take this opportunity to mention I believe strongly that: (1) Nobody in their right mind would re-enter a brutal memory to re-experience trauma without good reason. (2) I have no good reason to ever do this. (3) Nobody in their right mind would want to read what it feels like to experience the kind of brutality that infant and child abuse survivors know first hand.
Here is the now-remembered un-remembered memory to which the previous two memories I have written about belong:
The baby is 19 months old. His diaper was dirty. Mother told me to change it, so I did. Because the diaper was so stinky, before I finished dressing the baby I rolled it up, took it outside and placed it on the wooden pallet to the right of the steps that came down from the front door. We kept our metal water cans on this pallet. I had planned to go back to rinse the diaper out. I forgot about the diaper. It is very probable that Mother had assigned me other chores.
Sometime later Mother saw the diaper on the pallet on her way to the outhouse. She bellowed. She screamed. She screeched. “LINDA GET OUT HERE!” I am sure I had no thought not to obey her. I went out the door. Evidently my sister followed me to witness all that happened next.
Once one of Mother’s rages at me was triggered she showed no control or mercy. She simply became something worse than a wild, rabid, powerful beast. At this age I was my full height of 5’ 8 ½” and weighed around 110 pounds. At 5’6” Mother weighed around 170. I know now that because from my earliest memories I always held my ability to reason intact, though necessary to preserve the integrity of who I was as a self, my reason-ability put me at a terrible disadvantage against the forces of Mother’s irrationality she wielded so forcefully against me.
Screaming at me what a dirty girl I was, how irresponsible and lazy I was, how determined I was to make her life miserable, how I could not be trusted to do the simplest thing, how I defied her, how hard she tried to raise such a difficult daughter, how I could do nothing right – and on and on and on – I was dragged by my hair, by my wrist and arms with the claws of her fingernails dug deeply into my skin, pummeled and slapped and punched and pushed to the edge of a mud puddle in the driveway made wide and deep by this summer’s incessant rains. I was shoved hard and knocked down into it.
I tried to stand up. Out came her foot, kicking me back down again hard.
“I’ll tell you when you can stand up! I’ll tell you when you can get out of that puddle! You are a PIG! I want you to crawl around in the middle of that puddle on your hands and knees! I want to hear you say over and over again “I am a PIG! I am a PIG! I am a PIG!” because that is EXACTLY what you are! A PIG. A filthy dirty PIG!”
I was wearing shorts. My palms were imbedded with gravel, cut and bleeding as were my knees. I kept trying to stand. She kept punching and kicking me back down. I kept trying to reach the edge of the puddle to crawl out and away even if she would not let me stand. (This is very hard, trying now to breathe and write and not cry at the same time.)
While she did not let me stand I did withstand her. I did NOT recite her evil words! And I paid a high price for my resistance for as long as she had any strength left in her she kept up her vicious attack. Eventually she had to wear out. I knew that always happened sooner or later, though many times her beatings resumed again once she had rested. This meant that sometimes this pattern went on for days, and even into nights if she felt like dragging me out of my bed by my hair, waking me up with a beating all over again. In between she banished me alone in silence either into corners or into my bed where I was forced through evil and strange circumstances to rest myself from the terrible trauma of her beatings.
“He who puts his trust in God, God will suffice him. He who fears God, God will send him relief.”