I don't remember much.
To be honest I don’t remember much. A lot has been filled in by others’ stories, not realizing they were holding in their minds one piece in a large puzzle of cruelty. Some of what I remember comes slowly and is backed up by a sibling, because maybe I don’t remember correctly. Maybe I’m making it all up.
I don’t remember much. I remember running away. I remember writing a suicide note. I remember praying a little – I don’t think it occurred to me to pray for anything. Not for help, not for rescue, not for hope, not for death, not for future – just the prayers that I was taught. Shema yisroel. Modeh Ani. Perhaps if they saw me praying nothing bad would happen because I was close to God at that moment. Or at least they might think I was, even if I wasn’t.
There was a little tote bag that I had packed with a few snacks. Perhaps I somehow got away with stealing a wax paper sleeve filled with graham crackers – I got it to my room when no one was looking, when no one would find out there was a half of a box missing. I don’t know how. There was an extra toothbrush that I got on dental hygiene day in school. There was a book, a few dollars that I had saved and probably some worthless foreign coins, a buffalo nickel and some wheat pennies that I was sure I could trade for something. When I got two blocks away I realized I had no where to go. I cannot remember the pain I must have felt at having the audacity to leave and having to go back. How could I not have planned for a place to go? Did I have a place to go and I just lost courage and since have lost the memory of my abandoned sanctuary? I probably returned the graham crackers to their cardboard box, maybe even slightly wet the top to reseal it so noone would notice they had been briefly missing.
I know that hiding was off limits. Everything was open. No secrets. Drawers were overturned and closets were emptied in a desperate search for scissors and tape stolen from other rooms. Doors remained open – no matter what. Only during showers were they closed, I think -–but never locked and never off limits. I set up a secret room in my closet once. Moved everything out of one area small enough for a 10 year old. I hung a flashlight from the clothesrod and shoved pillows and old stuffed animals against the wall. I closed the door and read, maybe twice or three times. Eventually I took it all down because of what might happen when I got caught.
I vaguely remember the restrictions. There was only four ounces of orange juice made from concentrate every morning. The sticky little barely opaque pink Tupperware bowl sitting ominously on the postal scale waiting for the 6 ounces of Team Flakes. Skinless chicken with onion flakes cooked in the juice of a bargain brand orange soda. Names were called. Accusations are made. Questions like, “Do you think you need that?” Tests given – would I burn more calories (a) bending down and clearing all of the silverware out of the dishwasher at once or (b) clearing the forks and putting them away, then going back for the spoons, going back for the knives?
I recall trying and trying to throw up. I wondered how I could buy a bottle of syrup of ipecac without the pharmacist suspecting anything. I gave up trying to figure that out. I remember the food never coming up and hating myself for being too chicken, too stupid, too short fingers (?) when stupider girls than me had been throwing it up for years. I finally figured out, it’s easier to throw up ice cream than bread. Unfortunately it’s harder to sneak a carton of ice cream under your bed.
I don’t remember threatening to call the police I only recall the threat of being taken away by them to a place where abused children went and stayed on cots in big rooms with 40 other children who were certainly being abused worse than I.
I can almost remember what it felt like to slam my fingers in the space between the door hinge and the jamb. Pressing tightly at first, then tighter – learning what it would feel like when finally I crushed my fingers.
You think every abuser is abusive all the time. That’s not how it works – this I know for sure. Sometimes everything is great. He buys you a light saber and lets you be Princess Leia. He’s proud of you for winning best school essay. He buys you cheap jewelry – but you don’t know it’s cheap because you’re only 8 and jewelry is jewelry, especially when it comes in a box with a layer of cotton.
All the time when we’re out he’s perfect. He kisses every woman and hugs every man warmly. He dresses sharply and wears big belt buckles that he happily takes a bit of ribbing for by his friends and colleagues. He drinks a neat scotch. She drinks tequila – wave a bottle of Rose’s lime juice over the glass for a gimlet.
You learn that in all the okayness there is rage waiting to be let out. It is growing inside, while other families have prettier children, thicker carpet, shinier cars, better teeth. On the way home it hisses while we sit in the back seat quietly, hopefully until we can run up to bed without incident – and sometimes it works. And sometimes it doesn’t.
The one thing I remember so clearly – I can see it with my brain, the popping veins the purply-red skin the crooked yellow teeth bared – I can hear it as if it was now, growling low like a horror movie monster “I’ll throw you through the wall.” “I’m going to throw you through that window.” “If you don’t shut up I’ll knock out all your teeth.” – I can feel it like today-fingers pressing into the skin, crushing the muscle deep in my left arm just a little. Little black bruises, then blue, then yellow – little where the fingers were, especially underneath where the thumb pressed in.