TRAPPED INDOORS WITH MY SKELETONS: Getting Repressed Memories Back Amidst Isolation
February 26, 2001, 7:32 a.m. 28 years old
My eyes pop open as I gasp.
I stare at the white ceiling of my bedroom. Unblinking. Chest rising and falling in hard, steady breaths. In and out through my nose. In and out. In and out.
Eventually I get up. Go pee. Walk into my office. Sit down at the computer and turn it on. Open up a Word document.
I stare at the black flashing cursor on the white page.
I stare at it for a good hour.
Jittery. Disturbed. The morning light comes in gray today, filtered further by the ivory sheers covering the windows. Here in this state that brags about getting three-hundred days of sunshine, today it looks like home.
Not Colorado where I have lived for the past four years.
No, it look like Minnesota outside. Day after week after month…half a year of dreary skies and brief sunlight, everything made more bitter by the bite of the wind off Lake Superior and the damp from more than 10,000 lakes.
The weather was one of the biggest reasons why I moved away. There were more.
One of them is wafting the sheers behind me in the breeze of an impending storm. Pull it back. If you squint hard, you can almost see through it. Go on. Pull it back and take a look at what’s really behind the curtain.
I don’t want to.
I remember the last time I had repressed memories delivered to me on a steel platter. It clanged me upside the head and tore my identity apart so hard I had to shove it all back in the Tupperware container in the back of the freezer, rather than admit, “That was me. That’s a memory, not a dream. That is me.”
This one is me, too, even though it crept up on me and politely tapped my forehead while I slept, instead of slamming my face into the wall while my guard was down from too much alcohol.
If I peek behind those sheers, will it get me? I don’t know if I can take another hit like that right now.
Mom and Dad have been back home for over a month. In all, they stayed about two weeks to help me out after the car wreck. They helped me get everything rolling.
But nothing is rolling. Not really. All I do is go to doctors’ appointments, wrestle with insurance companies and the DA’s office, try to prove that I’m injured, and watch other people live the life I once had. I slump on the cushions at student night, wracked with a migraine, muscle spasms, and the jealously of watching my beautiful friends do moves I can’t. I sit in the crowd at stage shows, feeling things like ecstatic because they collected $20 in donations so I could get some groceries before my first lost wages check came in.
It took almost a month.
I’m only getting half of what I should, because I have to prove all my dance income with notarized statements from my students and restaurant employers. Ah, the joys of self-employment. The insurance company also won’t pay my full office wages because they averaged out the time I had to take off when I had the flu in October. But at least I can eat now. And at least my landlord gave me a grace period after I explained my situation, so I still have a roof over my head.
But I’m still not able to drive. Yet I’m expected to get to work. It takes me over two hours by bus to travel fifteen minutes, and we all know how I feel about the bus. Doesn’t do my brain any good either, or leave me much stamina to actually do my job.
Finding out anything about this mess takes for-friggin’-ever. I sit on hold with automated phone systems for hours, only to get disconnected.
To top it all off, I’m trapped in this apartment above the Trollz. It’s been over a month straight of listening to that poor baby bawling and bawling and bawling. And then when the Boyfriend arrives, it’s thump-crash-swear-scream! My favorite is listening to a distraught mother screeching at the top of her lungs, “Shut up! Shut up! Just shut the fuck up! I hate you!” accompanied by more crashes.
She’s not talking to her boyfriend.
She’s talking to her infant.
So all I do is keep a detailed journal, call the cops and DHS, and hope they won’t attack me for snitching. Sometimes multiple times a day. Sometimes in the middle of the night. But they can’t be evicted for this — noooooo. That would be illegal.
To my surprise, it’s actually quiet this morning. It’s been quiet for a few days now. I thought I heard the sounds of furniture being moved and all I can do is pray: pleeeeease…please-please-please let her move out.
It’s driving me insane and I don’t need any more of that. That’s why I don’t want to make this phone call. I don’t need anything else pummeling me with gruesome images. I don’t need another trauma to get over.
But I need to call my mother and ask.
WARNING: This one is rough. We’re in the Underworld now. We’re all the way down here where the dead things dwell. The most rattly of the skeletons. The most festery of the corpses. This is the bank of the Akheron where the Restless Dead mill about, unable to buy passage on Kharon’s skiff. Unable to cross over and be laid to rest. Perhaps we can give them a measure of peace by sitting with them for a little while and letting them tell their tales.
6 years old Winter
Johnny gets to spend the night. He’s my best friend in the whole world! We got to have Mom’s special homemade mac-and-cheese for dinner, and later we watched the slide show with popcorn and everything. Dad takes down the painting over the piano and we watch our family photos on the wall. We do this every winter, and it’s one of my favorite things ever!
Now it’s time for bed. We’ve brushed our teeth and gotten into jammies. Johnny’s big brothers are always mooning him before bedtime. They sit on his face and fart, and that is not very nice. Johnny doesn’t have to fart, and neither do I, but we both decide it would be funny to moon each other.
His butt is soooo white. It really is like a wiggly-wriggly moon shining up from the night sky of his dark blue sleeping bag. There’s still a line from his summer suntan, even though it’s winter. He says my butt is super white, too, but not much lighter than my back. Of course. I’m a girl and I don’t run around without a shirt on like he does. Even my swimsuit is a one-piece.
I moon him anyway, and we try to hide our screechy laughter in our pillows. We make a game of who can flash the moon faster. He’s pretty fast. A quick ZWOOP and our burst of giggles. He’s learned from the best. His brothers even moon people on the bus during field trips. I’ll have to work hard to beat him.
I inch down my jammie pants to the top of my buttcrack, glance back, and then ZWOO —
Movement in the hallway.
Dad is on his way to the bathroom. He skids to a halt. His eyes are huge like dinner plates. Then the Lightning of Doom Face. I am way faster than Johnny at hiding the moon but it isn’t fast enough. Dad saw it.
He crosses the bedroom in three strides and grabs my arm. “You want a reason to pull down your pants, young lady?” His voice is the thunder. “I’ll give you one!” His hand will be lightning, cracking the tree in half.
He pins me face-down on the mattress by the back of the neck and yanks down my pants. His hand draws back but it’s already struck me — not the crack of his palm on my skin. I don’t know what it is. It’s a tornado inside me. It’s Dorothy and Toto and the spinning house and all the trees in Kansas ripped from their roots to whirl and thrash and twist and crash and then it’s coming up out of me!
My arms and legs all lash out. My spine whips but his hand is so big it clamps around my whole neck and I can’t get free! The screeches being ripped out of me sound like that girl being dragged around the water by the huge shark in that movie I wasn’t supposed to watch at Johnny’s house. The screams tear my throat open and the tornado is tearing me apart and I can’t get free and —
He lets go.
I scramble backwards. Trip over my jammie pants. Land hard on my white moony and yank my pants back up. Dad is standing by the door, eyes even huger than the dinner plates now. They are moony, too. A matched pair of them. Mom is right behind him, wearing the same face. So is Johnny. They’re all staring at me and I don’t know what to say.
I climb up and get under the covers. I think it’s bedtime now.
5 years old Summer
I don’t want to go outside. The big boys are out there. Johnny and Suzie’s big brothers. They’ll tease me. Pull my hair and call me names and poke me until I cry. But Mom hasn’t made me go outside and play yet, so I find my favorite mice.
The Bad Rats.
Well, really, it’s the girl who’s bad. She’s always bad. I grab her by the legs and bash her face against the piano bench over and over and over and over. Harder and harder until I grunt and pant. If I could, I would bash her stupid head off her stupid neck.
The boy mouse comes over to her. His white paw reaches out and pats her on the back. “I know,” he says. “I know you didn’t mean to be bad.” He wipes her tears and hugs her. “I know you’ll be a good girl from now on. It’s okay. There-there. I know…”
5 years old Spring
My girl mouse is wrong. They didn’t make her right. On the bottom of her, between her legs, there is stitching. It’s wrong. It’s not supposed to be stitched up. There’s supposed to be a hole there and it goes deep, deep up.
My pencil is right. Well, almost. Once I get it sharpened, it can break the stitches. It takes some force, but I get it popped. Then I just have to swirl it around. Jam it up in there and make the hole bigger.
There. Now’s she’s right.
Now she’s a real girl, like me.
That’s as far back as the memories go. That’s as far back as they need to go. The morning that I remembered them as I was waking up, I called my mother to ask her how old I was when she gave me those stuffed mice.
That would have been the age I would have guessed. They were Valentine’s Day mice. A pair about fifteen inches high, made to sit up on their haunches and embrace each other. The boy is dark gray and the girl is a softer dove gray. Both have huge, round, floppy ears. They also have white bellies, white gloved little paws, long, skinny tails, and long, skinny arms. The paws have velcro so that when they wrap their arms around each other, they can stay eternally cuddled, cheek-to-cheek with their eyes closed, wearing matched lovey-dovey smiles.
They are darling and, from the moment they were given to me, I loved them more than any other toy in the box.
When I called my mom to ask her if she had put them in the bin with the items from my childhood that she had kept in case I ever had children of my own and wanted to pass them on, she confirmed that she still had the mice.
She also confirmed that the girl had been rendered anatomically correct.
After hearing that, I sat at my desk, lightheaded, gripping the arms of the computer chair.
I didn’t want any more of the memories back. That was enough. But I did have one more question. “How do I possibly have that kind of rage and self-hatred at that age?”
And how did I know that the girl mouse was “not right”?
With the berserker terror I had experienced at the threat of a spanking, I knew it wasn’t from some sort of abuse my parents had wreaked on me. They had never beaten me. In fact, I now know that my father’s bark has always been worse than his bite.
And really, it was less the fear of the spanking itself that had set me off. Rather, it had been the helplessness. The inability to free myself and stop someone doing something to me that I didn’t want them to do.
While being pinned face down and bent over.
With my pants pulled down.
I had such a hysterical, he’s-gonna-kill-me type reaction to it that my parents eventually stopped even using the threat of spanking because I would disintegrate in terror at the mere thought.
Not long after getting those partial memories back, I tried to get some therapy for this and my laundry list of other traumas. The counsellor was obviously ill-equipped for this sort of thing. They’ve all been ill-equipped.
This one wouldn’t even entertain the idea of potential childhood molestation or explore the ramifications of how such a thing could have impacted my life. In fact, she seemed quite squirmy talking about it. “You probably just saw a movie you shouldn’t have.”
Logical. There had definitely been some of that.
“Or perhaps you toddled in on a babysitter and her boyfriend who shouldn’t have been there, and were traumatized by the sight of them having intercourse.”
To the point of stark-raving terror?
No. And anyway, there’s one major flaw in her theory. The coups de grace.
12 years old Spring
Mom explained the whole bird-and-bees thing to me a long time ago. She even got out a pad of paper and drew cartoons. She’s great like that. But now that I’ve come home from the sex ed sessions at school and heard the girls with older siblings talking in the bathroom, I’m really scared.
I don’t want any of that! I certainly don’t want to have to go through it with a boy I like and want to like me back. I don’t want him to see me cry. I’m already ugly and a nerd and I have glasses and cowlicked hair and my jokes are stupid and all the boys call me gross. If one of them finally likes me back, I don’t need to remind him that I’ve always been a crybaby, too.
For sure he would dump me if I did that.
Nobody likes a crybaby. Nobody wants to be friends with somebody like that, and nobody would ever want a crybaby for a girlfriend, so I know exactly what to do. I’ll just break my hymen myself. Then nobody will see me cry and maybe I’ll get to have a boyfriend just like the pretty girls do.
I get a big wad of toilet paper, grab a marker from my desk, make sure the cap is on tight, and lock my bedroom door. I pull down my pants and underwear. Once on the bed, I put the toilet paper under me and take a deep breath.
You can do this. Just shove.
But my hand is shaking and my heart is racing. Maybe if I just sort of…slowly…find it first. I push. And push. And push.
Most of the marker is in me when it finally stops.
I wiggle it. Tap it around a little.
There is no little membrane at the front of my vagina to break. There’s just…a deep, dark hole. Vagina. I don’t like that word. But it’s better than what some of the older boys use with their sneers and all their jokes I don’t understand. I understand a little more after today. Including the fact that I don’t have a hymen to break.
But I have no idea what that means.
I pull my pants back up, sneak out to the bathroom, throw the paper in the toilet, and wait a little bit before flushing. I rinse off the marker and stick it in my jeans pocket.
Back in my bedroom, I sit down at my desk.
I think it's time to do my homework now.
My therapist’s answer to that?
“Well, you look like you’re in good shape. Did you do any sports when you were a child? Oh, gymnastics? Sure. You could have easily broken it with perfectly innocent physical activity.”
True. I had been an extremely active kid.
But deep in my guts I knew how it had been broken. I just didn’t know who had done it, and I didn’t know with what.
I didn’t need to know.
I didn’t need or want the intricate details and visuals and scents and sensations of who had committed one of the most vile acts one person can do to another at an age when my greatest accomplishments were coloring inside the lines and singing my ABC’s with my mommy.
All I know is that it fucked me up. It rewired my hard drive before I even entered kindergarten. It made me hate myself. It poisoned me with shame and disgust any time I looked in the mirror, and it left me with no idea why. Combined with almost drowning around the same age, it made me afraid of the world.
And you know what happens to those kids. Scaredy cats. Crybabies. The ones who slink around with their eyes on the ground and their chests caved in, hoping no one else will hurt them. They enter the shark pool of school and become everybody’s chum.
Up Next: How I Became Silent