Friday, September 27, 2013

Coward of the County

"Jail Bars Icon" by Antonu - Own work.
Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via
Wikimedia Commons -
Fear used to rule far more of my life than it does now. It came mainly from a person who put the fear of crazy into me when I was six. I've spoken of her before, but I'd like to expand what happened and why I am far less afraid of her insane rages.

My parents divorced when i was four. I have no idea what happened with them, they were both always too bitter to get to any reality of their relationship. I was told there was violence, but I didn't see any. I believe it in that she had violence in all her other relationships.

Now, this confuses me as one would think that a mother's first instinct would be to protect her children, but my older sister and I went to live with dad. I have no memory of ever being hurt by dad. So maybe it was the best option at the time, but it still seems inconsistent with a mother's love.

Dad had a series of babysitters take care of us, I remember a kindly old grandma lady. I am not sure where they came from, but possibly the Mormon Church. We had this one, Ellen, who I didn't like at all, but she did things with my sister like take her to youth groups and the like. Cokie, my sister, liked the attention.

One day, Cokie and I stayed home from school. I was in kindergarten and she was in junior high school. I went over to the little store down the road to buy donuts and when I got back, there was a lady sitting in her car outside. She knocked on the door and took us both to this place called Child Haven for truancy.

After that, somehow we ended up living with Ellen. We saw dad occasionally but I don't remember seeing him often. I went to school with Ellen's son Teddy for the rest of kindergarten, but in first grade they put me on the bus to go to school with the other sight impaired kids.

Ellen's strict ways manifested in cruelty. I suspect the transgressions that got me in trouble came mainly from "being a kid." She turned toys into weapons by "spanking" me with hot wheel track. She regularly beat me while I was eating and had strict toilet rules. To this day, I will cry if I have to poop in a public bathroom. I try and avoid it, both the crying and the pooping, but sometimes ya just gotta go. I do better if I remind myself that I am safe and allowed to do it.

Once while playing a board game with her son Freddy, he and I got into a tussle over a game piece. Freddy bit my finger to get it out of my hand and I cried out. She called us into the living room where she was ironing. I have no idea why either of us would argue in ear shot of her, but once we were standing there, my biggest fear that someone was going to get burned. Ellen had a different idea.

After she knew the story, she decided that I should bite Freddy's finger. I feel such shame that in that moment, I wanted to make him bleed for hurting me. I'm truly sorry, Freddy, wherever you are.

I have no memory of what I had done to get a beating this one afternoon, but as part of the punishment after the beating, Ellen made me stand in the middle of the room. I passed out and came to in a puddle of my own blood. I'd fallen on a drawer knob and cut my chin open. Ellen did take me to the emergency room and I got stitches in my chin. My dad was there, but I don't know if anyone ever told him anything about what was happening. Cokie never told anyone. I think that's sad that neither of us had anyone we could tell.

During a holiday gathering, Ellen took me with her when she needed to go pick something up from a store. Again, I have no memory of what I'd done to set her off. We were in the car when she started by pulling my hair and thrashing me from side to side. Then she wrapped her fat arm around my neck and began to choke me. I wish I knew what made her stop.

She made a second attempt on my life another night, only this time she didn't care there were witnesses. I don't remember which one but one of her sons was pushing me while we were riding in the back of the car. She slammed on the brakes and told me to get out of the car. She told me to walk in front of the car and get in the other side. I told her NO and I turned and ran into the desert. She would have left me there, but Cokie wouldn't let her drive off.

Toward the end, two incidents stand out. First, I went to first grade without wearing underwear. I didn't have any clean in my drawer and I asked her for some but she said I should just stay home instead. No way was I going to be alone with her so I went to school without any. I don't know why I went on the monkey boars. The look on my first grade teacher, she was so frustrated with me.

This time I remember exactly what I did to get a beating. Ellen took us to church every Sunday and I took two pieces of bread from the sacrament tray. She took me into the bathroom, picked me up by my collar and my underwear and threw my head against the sink. I could clearly hear the congregation, so I'm sure they could clearly hear me being abused.

She put me in the car and after services I saw people file past and stare at me. As I sat there with blood dripping down the side of my head, I cried. I'm not sure if they talked to Ellen or if it was her own idea, but not long after, she took me to Child Haven and told them "She is an unmanageable child."

Mom came into the picture and Cokie finally told that Ellen was abusing me. I had to stay at Child Haven while they sorted the custody.

I carried version of Ellen inside my head that kept me fearful for many years. In my late 20s, I found a therapy guy who helped. He suggested I draw a picture of her in order to confront her. This TERRIFIED me. I had no idea how much she scared me until he suggested that.

She would come off the paper and GET me! He suggested I draw a cage around her. I couldn't figure out how to draw the cage, so I drew me some body guards first. Then I drew her, then I drew the cage. From that moment on, the fear I felt decreased by 90 percent. I didn't even need to "confront" her. The act of drawing her out, confronted enough.

I still carry some damage. When I'm feeling low, I hear "unmanageable child" and feel like I'm worthless. I can usually get out of it by checking on the facts.

I try and remember to hold my head up. I am not defined by what was done to me. In a way, Ellen gave me the gift of courage. She taught me that I can be afraid, and still go on and do something. That's why I write this blog. I want to remind others, wherever you come from, whatever you've been through, it doesn't have to be everything about you.

Lets go do something bold.

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