March 11, 2010

It’s my anniversary. Of what? Well… That’s an interesting question. Sometimes I’m not sure how to classify this day, though the word day isn’t really accurate. More like month, since the exact date escapes me. 6 years of trying to forget does that. Though… It’s really only been four years of repressed memory, perhaps more but those may well have melded into the specific experience that I now recall and have deemed the final blow to my childhood. But I don’t miss it. Not exactly. I’ve been given a chance to regain it through the help of some amazing friends. It’s strange how a pair of googly eye glasses on a twenty-two-year old man and weekly Friday night bowling outings has an emotional healing effect.

And I realize that I’m being oddly cryptic, so I’ll just get to the point.

Around the time that I entered Jr. high, my parents hit a rough spot in their marriage. I’m not sure what they argued about, I just know that they fought most of the time. My brother, three years younger than I, was learning negatives in school and both our parents were too busy to help him, so I spent my nights tutoring him in whatever he needed. Usually it was math and I proved to be an adequate instructor, picking up the slack that his teacher left behind. Not to mention, I knew how his brain worked and I could teach him in a way that I knew he’d understand.

It was about this time that I started cooking as well. I’d make dinner because my parents were either arguing (in anything from hushed, sharp whispers or all out screams) or sulking in opposite sides of the house.  The kitchen was a no-man’s-land that became my domain. It started with just spaghetti, then moved up to Hamburger Helper, and eventually became all out meals. Meatloaf, parmesan chicken, pork stir-fry, and so much more. It was like therapy for me because I could just put on my headphones and rock out with that Diskman CD player. My parent’s mouths would move, but I didn’t know what they were saying. I sometimes pretended it was silent “I love you”s and that they weren’t fighting. I pushed the looming threat of divorce from my mind, but always knew that if it came to that I would follow my brother, not a specific parent, because I knew he needed me more.

Under the pressure of taking care of my brother, trying to please me parents, and the onset of depression that my family is prone to, my grades started to slip. The depression became worse and was only compounded by the feeling of being an adult trapped in a child’s word. Petty things like grades and if the blue jerseys beat the red jerseys at softball in girl’s PE class no longer interested me. I had big things to worry about, like what would happen if my family split up. Did my brother do well on his spelling test? We practiced all last night. And were there leftovers in the fridge or did I need to call Dad and ask him to pick up some ground beef? Did I do the dishes last night? What about the laundry?

That was when I saw my childhood start slipping away, gradually being replaced with a world that I didn’t fully understand. But it wasn’t until March, 2005 in my Freshman year that I truly lost it.

Memory is a funny thing. Sometimes you forget things entirely. Sometimes you remember something out of the blue. And sometimes they combine them, old experiences lumped into one big experience because remembering all of it is too painful.

I honestly think the abuse went on longer than I recall, but I can only really remembering it happening once. To molest a person can mean one of two things. It can be to annoy a person or it can be a form of sexual abuse- to force unwanted sexual attention on a person. And while that description is correct, it doesn’t quite seem adequate. It doesn’t explain the events leading up to it, the ideas that a naïve young girl might have. That, “If I love him, and he loves me, and people who are in love do this kind of thing then it must be right,” kind of idea. It doesn’t describe the feeling of being used and the fear that if you tell anyone the blame will be placed on your head. It doesn’t properly show the way that this eats away at a person’s self worth, makes them feel almost subhuman. The confusion and fear and distrust isn’t mentioned. It’s just… A textbook definition.

But this word, or the action associated with it, and the boy who did it stripped me of the last of my childhood. Innocence was only a dream after this and the rest of my high school career was spent in self-imposed isolation. Struggling with my sense of self, self worth, attempting to fight depression through will power alone, all the while trying to keep up the front that everything was alright took it’s toll. I broke down several times and, in all honesty, suicide wasn’t an uncommon fantasy of mine. I know, dark and angsty, but I think that we shy away from this kind of stuff all too often. During these years I felt alone because I was under the impression that no one else would understand what I was going through. Turns out I was wrong and it took a young man, just as messed up and broken as I was, to show me.

For years I tried to forget what had happened by any means, and I do mean A-N-Y means. In some ways it worked… I really don’t remember a lot of my days in high school and what I do recall just kind of blurs together. But in 2008, after graduating, I suffered another breakdown. This time, over the phone, I confessed to a close friend (Oddly enough a guy) everything that had happened. We had already shared some of our darker stories, suicide attempts that had, thankfully, failed miserably as well as struggles just to maintain our last shred of sanity in school. But this… I had never told anyone my darkest secret for fear of being judged for it. Instead, he calmly told me that I was not the one to blame and then spent the night listing every good quality about me that he could think of. I remember falling asleep listening to him talk.

It took nearly a year of our informal therapy for me to start coming out of my shell. Gradually the pieces that I had put up to keep people out flaked away to reveal a functioning human being. I began working out and discovered that physical exercise did wonders for my depression as well as body image. I transformed from baggy dark clothes to a slightly more chic, but still not too girly style. I learned to smile and actually mean it and I learned to trust again, though it’s something I have to work at every day.

But most of all, I found my inner child again and it turns out that she’s got a voice and a lot to say. And I’m more than willing to let her speak. I have four years of backlogged emotion and another two of self discovery bottled up inside of me just waiting to be set free. It’s just a matter of finding the right words.

I used to think of this time of the year as a time of mourning for the age of innocence that was cut short. It was a time to be angry for all that was taken from me. But now… Now it’s become the thing that made me stronger. I’ve spent two years figuring out how to be happy and learning to reach for what I want in life. I’ve surrounded myself with fun-loving happy people who aren’t above making a fool of themselves if it will bring a smile to my face. We’re goofy and, at times, immature. But you know what? That’s just how I want it to be because we’ve all figured out that laughter really is the best medicine and I have never been happier in my life than I am right now.

And to anyone out there who has found themselves in a similar situation, I have three suggestions to make and three songs for you to listen to (all of which were given to me by a good friend).

  1. This is in no way your fault. Never believe for a moment that it is.
  2. Seek help now. I don’t care if it’s talking to the school counselor, a close friend, a trusted teacher, or the suicide prevention hotline. You’ll be amazed at how much it really does help. Also, remove yourself from whoever is harming you.
  3. Love yourself and know that some day happiness will come again, no matter how big of a shithole your life seems to be right now. The world is good.

These songs helped me a lot, and I hope they can help someone else. Never doubt the power of music to make a difference in someone’s life.