Empty

by Jennifer on September 11, 2008

It feels like self-hypnosis, what I’m doing. In order to move my pen forward, my mind has to go back, even further back than the small paragraphs in my head that I’ve used for so long to say what happened back then.

This is different. It has to be different. To tell the truth of what happened, it seems that I have to live it again. I had hoped I wouldn’t have to. I had reasoned that I know the stories so well, after all these years, that the telling could be matter of fact.

And yes, I could keep doing that, and it would be enough – more than anyone expects of me, really. No one would blame me if I paid the check and ran out in the middle of dinner.

Except I can’t. There’s something in me – maybe the little girl who didn’t have the words that I do – that sends me back to those rooms to see it all again. To watch it unfold, and to report it .

In the last several days, I have been moved beyond words by the reactions of a couple of friends who have read what I’ve been writing this last week (away from here), and what I’ve written before, here in this place.

But I couldn’t put a finger on why I also felt so weighed down by the response. And then I realized that in witnessing such powerful reactions now, it makes even less sense to me why, when the abuse was going on, no one reacted so strongly then. It was right in front of them, with staggering evidence at times, what was happening to their student. To their daughter’s friend. To his daughters.

So maybe it’s for her, the girl who wanted to tell and couldn’t, who wanted to tug at the trouser leg of any adult who would listen, that I’m writing the stories now. And for every child who doesn’t know yet that he or she has the power to tell.

I haven’t been in that house for almost 20 years – half my life, it surprises me to say now. To go back, even in memory, to make myself inhabit those rooms again is one of the hardest things I’ve done.  Some of you know just how hard that is.

At first, the rooms are empty. Bare walls, brown shag carpet on the floors. I begin to reconstruct what happened there. In one room, a brown recliner, patched with brown tape. A bed and a desk in another room. The kitchen, a table. A piano, and the sounds of Clair de Lune floating out of it (that song, a punch in the gut to me now).

I add in the rest, layer upon layer. Pictures on the walls. Woodcarvings. A woodbox by the front door.

Then, I can stand in each room and turn and turn until it all comes back, one horror at at time. One lie at at time. One prayer at a time.

The writing is better for it and, despite the pain of it, so am I. I am stronger, and what I am writing has told me nothing more powerfully than that my sister and I are strong beyond what we acknowledge. Beyond what is comfortable to say, as we go about living our lives. I am proud of her, and I am proud of myself. I ache, but it’s a round, whole pain, without edges now. I can roll it away from me, a thing I could not have done back then.

Before I leave that house for good, I will rub away the images until there’s nothing left but walls, a floor, a few windows.

I will leave the rooms exactly as I found them. As they always were.

Empty.

And I’ll close the door behind me.

{ 41 comments… read them below or add one }

Csquaredplus3 September 11, 2008 at 5:39 am

I admire the courage, strength, resolve and precision you possess and display as you tell this story. Sending you encouraging thoughts…

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Deb September 11, 2008 at 6:00 am

I don’t know you but I have great respect for you (and your sister). You possess inner strength and courage – and humor – all qualities which will see you through this. Keep on writing. Keep on talking. And give that childhood home a ‘superwash’ – down to the bare walls. Take care and know that you are not alone…

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Lisa September 11, 2008 at 6:17 am

Raw and beautiful words. You are a strong woman. And the little girl in you is comforted 🙂

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Emily R September 11, 2008 at 6:40 am

The reliving is the hardest part because you must relive the emotions to make sense of them. You cannot process what happened only by reciting facts — you need to let yourself feel as you felt, but also as you feel about it now (as an adult). I am holding your hand as you walk through.

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Milena September 11, 2008 at 6:42 am

Jennifer: I would help you rub it all away if I could. Smudge it slowly out of existence. I would. And yet, it seems like as if you must do this yourself. And Ducky by herself. And the two of you alone yet toiling in the same endeavor and I wish so much I could help. I would have not stood there waiting for you to pull on my pant leg dear. I would not have cared what I wrought if it had put a stop to what you were going through. I sit here writing you these words and I swear to you that I would help you erase it all away. I would.

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we_be_toys September 11, 2008 at 8:07 am

I hate this for you, that you, and all children who are abused, have to carry the stain, the stigma, the pain of someone’s else’s rage upon their souls for the rest of their lives. It isn’t fair – someone SHOULD have been paying attention, should have rescued you both, should have put that miserable, no doubt abused herself (but that’s no excuse), woman far FAR away from you.
But that which doesn’t kill us, makes us stronger – or so it’s said. And you are strong – you’ve broken the circle of abuse by not perpetuating it, by talking about it, and your words, hopefully, will make others aware of the same thing going on under their noses, and put a stop to another child’s pain.
You have every right to dig this up, to present it to the world and ask of your father and family, and neighbors: How did you miss this? How could you miss this? The denial is to be expected, but you don’t have to buy it any longer.
I love you, and admire your strength of purpose, your unwillingness to play nice, to cover up any longer.

(big hug)

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texasholly @ June Cleaver Nirvana September 11, 2008 at 8:18 am

Here and listening.

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Louise September 11, 2008 at 8:45 am

Maybe reliving it from time to time, though more painful than words can describe, is part of the healing process. My pain is different, but it still slaps me in the face sometimes, and I have to go through the whole thing to move on a little. And only a little it is. Most of the time I push it way down, put on a happy face and think I am just fine. But then those things come up, and I realize that I’m not just fine. I move an inch forward, but at least it’s not backward.

To we_be_toys I say that at least in the case of Sue (I do not know about Jennifer’s mother), there is no evidence of abuse in her own childhood, at least of HER. In fact, quite the contrary, she was pampered and spoiled. There is evil in this woman’s heart, and she did not abuse based on that being all she knew, but becuase it was what she chose to do. It really makes you sick in the pit of your stomach if you think about it. And if you know what has happened since, and how it’s all been swept under the rug by most of the family, it makes you even sicker. But it somehow did create two strong women (who don’t give themselves enough credit) who know a lot about what life should not be like and make sure it is not that way anywhere near them.

As for the dredging it up yourself, Jennifer, and telling, it’s therapeutic and helps you move forward as above, but it is also educational. If I ever tell my story, I think the reason for it would be to help people understand certain things that are not readily understood on the surface of life. In general, many people are not aware and do not understand many, many things. If I have learned anything from your story, it is that if you suspect something is bad, you should NEVER second-guess yourself, giving the potentially erring party the benefit of the doubt. In those situations, it’s usually 100 times worse than your suspicions. I’m not saying to suspect every little thing that happens, but when there is abuse, there are signs. My family knew there was abuse, but they did not suspect it was physical, and whenever it was in the least ways mentioned, they were shot down faster than lightning. They should have pushed harder. I truthfully do not think it would have helped because the era did not listen very well to such things. And not pushing harder was self-preservation for their own lives. But the point is, my family knew something was amiss, and there was so much more amiss than we realized. If something is bad enough that it just bugs you all the time about not being right (which is how it was with us), then it’s probably so much worse. We are usually raised to be polite. But there are times when polite is not appropriate. Times like this is one of them.

I often wonder how all our lives would have been different had someone stood up to those people sooner. If someone had stood up to the matriarch EVER, would she have turned into a nicer person and maybe checked Sue? What if someone had stood up to Sue? Not that the matriarch and Sue are not responsible for their own actions, but sometimes I just have to believe that if people didn’t put up with so much garbage, then it would have to be reduced. Maybe I’m crazy, but that whole family and situation is why I am the way I am about people who are toxic and damaging. As children you could not have been stronger and stood against her, but someone could have. And someone could have MUCH EARLIER before she was left to get so unbelievably out of control.

Does this comment have a point? I don’t know, it seems to be rambling more and more. So I’ll just end it by saying that whatever you need to do to work through it all, you should do it. If it makes others uncomfortable who could have helped, then so be it. And tomorrow will be better. (Or at least the next day.) And you can come stamp any time. I’ll cut everything out for you so you can just create, not think about it!

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melissa September 11, 2008 at 9:00 am

I think you’re doing a remarkable job of moving on and moving out. And using something horrible to make something helpful and beautiful.

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Daryl September 11, 2008 at 9:07 am

(((for you then and now)))

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Jenn @ Juggling Life September 11, 2008 at 10:17 am

Why is that the most compelling memoirs are the most captivating?

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Jenn @ Juggling Life September 11, 2008 at 10:18 am

That’s not what I meant to say. I’ll try again.

Why is it that the most pain-filled memoirs are the most compelling and captivating?

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Madge September 11, 2008 at 10:21 am

I never feel like I say anything adequate about any of this. You and Ducky are deep in my heart. It feels right that all of this is happening — the writing. I want to go back to us in Lincoln in the late 80s and say, “look. look how this is going to play out.”

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Madge September 11, 2008 at 10:28 am

ok. that was a stupid thing to say. thus confirming my inadequacy.

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San Diego Momma September 11, 2008 at 12:15 pm

I hope the writing, and the sharing, and the support help you in some small way to close that door.

You are resilient and strong, and I’m glad you’ve found a way to express the horrible hurts from those days.

You aren’t so much going back, as you are moving forward.

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AMomTwoBoys September 11, 2008 at 1:12 pm

You write so beautifully. And isn’t it always better to speak up a bit late than to never raise your voice at all? At least in my humble opinion.

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flutter September 11, 2008 at 2:10 pm

I am so proud of you. So proud to know you.

flutters last blog post..Never forget

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Crazycath September 11, 2008 at 3:02 pm

I will always admire how you can tell this story. I know how hard it is. Quelle courage my friend, – it is what shapes you.

Crazycaths last blog post..Sky Watch Friday

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Suzanne September 11, 2008 at 3:25 pm

I want to wrap my arms around you. Your words are heartbreaking. I pray that in going through these rooms you will be able to help yourself heal. I also pray that your words, once they are published will help someone else. You are a beautiful and strong soul.

Suzannes last blog post..The Glass Mystery – Chapter 29: The Moscow Diaries

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RiverPoet September 11, 2008 at 4:00 pm

Jennifer –

I am glad that you’re finally able to go back and look at what happened with distance and a new perspective. I, too, am going through my childhood, opening those hollow-core doors with brass knobs and staring at the dull green paint on the walls of the room I believed was haunted. It was haunted, alright, with the fears and troubles of my childhood.

Big hugs to you, girl, for doing this now. You will come out better for it on the other end.

Peace – D

RiverPoets last blog post..Finding Balance

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apathy lounge September 11, 2008 at 4:15 pm

You are one tough lady, my friend! I admire you so much…just based on what I’ve read here. That woman who was your dad’s second wife? She should never aspire to walk a dark alley while any of your readers are nearby and carrying a tire iron. I’m just saying.

apathy lounges last blog post..It’s the most awful-est time of the year: Part Deux

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Denise September 11, 2008 at 5:04 pm

The sun will set for her, my friend. As a new day dawns for you.

Denises last blog post..My Heart is Full

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Tootsie Farklepants September 11, 2008 at 8:29 pm

My admiration for you is great 🙂

Tootsie Farklepantss last blog post..If There is One More Meeting About It I Might Get Snarky. In Public.

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anymommy September 11, 2008 at 9:50 pm

I hope if you keep writing about it, that little girl will feel like she found her voice. It takes more stength than I have. Even writing about this, the horrors that can happen to a child, the overall sense of you is of calm. It’s astonishing.

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JCK September 11, 2008 at 11:19 pm

Yes, you will be able to roll it away.

I am proud of you, too.

I have a feeling that doing this will transform you. Bring you to a new place. A healing is taking place.

JCKs last blog post..A world in which we can look at each other and see the good

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Reluctantfarmchik September 12, 2008 at 4:55 am

Your ability to make words evoke feelings just blows me away. And after reading comments left before me leaves me without any, other than to say how much I admire you for going on this journey – from so many different perspectives. . . this time walking through the building that houses such nightmarish memories. One day at a time, one step at a time, one room at a time. You are strong. And talented. And generous in your sharing. I believe that your writing will not only bring about healing for you, but awareness to others who will be able to use your information as a fire extinguisher. You have purpose.

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Kimberly September 12, 2008 at 6:00 am

You are such a strong woman. And a damn good writer.

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jenrantsraves September 12, 2008 at 6:26 am

I admire your strength. People who experience something difficult often try to “get over it”, when the healing comes when you “go through it”. Your writing will be that much more powerful, and your heart will feel lighter. I hope to read it some day.

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themommykelly September 12, 2008 at 5:44 pm

I’m with Jenn @ Juggling Life. The most painful memories are the most compelling. I’ve just spent forever pouring through yours. Oh! My! Goodness!

I believe that we are compelled by the pain because there is one time or another in all of our lives when we have experienced such pain in one way or another. I am so sorry for your childhood experiences. They certainly have made who you are today, and sharing them today DOES matter. It does, even for those who read it now.

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the mama bird diaries September 12, 2008 at 9:04 pm

You’re writing is so brave and beautiful.

the mama bird diariess last blog post..you had me at 140 calories

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the mama bird diaries September 12, 2008 at 9:05 pm

I’m sorry… I’m so anal, I have to fix my typo…

Your writing is so brave and beautiful. You deserve to hear it twice anyway. 🙂

the mama bird diariess last blog post..you had me at 140 calories

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Ann September 13, 2008 at 11:49 am

I think the anger, confusion, emptiness, pain – it all comes in waves, cresting when we trigger it again through something such as what you’ve just described.

What I mourned for a long time, and still do occasionally – was similar – how NO ONE noticed. Or rather, how perhaps people noticed that clearly ‘something’ was amiss, but they CHOSE to do nothing further. It’s then another injury suffered altogether, knowing the extent of how the outside world is willing to neglect its fellow creatures.

Anns last blog post..Mountainside With Caterpillars

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Rhea September 14, 2008 at 11:24 am

I don’t really know what’s going on here, but your words evoke powerful emotion. Beautifully written, even if the memories are ugly.

Rheas last blog post..Sunday Somethings

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Tammy September 14, 2008 at 5:12 pm

First time to your blog…over from AllMediocre….and I’m already touched by your strength. I don’t know your story but I hope you’ve found healing along the way.

It’s nice to “meet” you…I’ll be back….

Tammys last blog post..Random Updates

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Ree September 14, 2008 at 5:14 pm

My “learning opportunities” (gawd, what an awful euphemism) came later in life – with my first marriage. But I honestly believe that when we pull ourselves out of hell, we have something inside ourselves that allows us to be stronger than we would have ever been otherwise.

I see beauty in your soul and love-everlasting.

Rees last blog post..Potatoes = Vodka. Send Limeade.

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Gwen September 15, 2008 at 9:36 am

Such powerful writing. From such a powerful woman.

Thank you.

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Linda September 15, 2008 at 10:46 am

Courageous, tenacious, visionary, survivor, discerning, beautiful spirit – these are just a few words to describe the woman who wrote this. All I can say is that it is a gift and a blessing for all other survivors when we are able to take such painful tragedies and emanate the healing and help available to us when we look for it. Namaste my friend.

Lindas last blog post..Saturday at the Beach

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Maggie May September 16, 2008 at 2:05 am

Came to you via David. This is a powerful story and you told it well. I was transfixed and wanted to read on. Sorry you had such a difficult time when you were so vulnerable, but the telling of it is a kind of therapy. Glad you and your sister have come out of it as stronger people.

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Crazycath September 16, 2008 at 5:07 am

Congrats on POTD. I love it when you get recognised. You write so well, so engagingly….

Crazycaths last blog post..Just Photos

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Louise September 16, 2008 at 5:25 am

Congratulaions! I’m tickled pink! (Post of the Day!)

Louises last blog post..Smoke

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Allen September 16, 2008 at 5:27 pm

I am truly humbled by your strength. None of what happened to you was in any way, shape or form your fault. Your child innocence lost has been found and set straight these oh-so-many years later.

Your family is richer, and safer, because of the path you were forced to follow. But you were able to leave that path. And your journey forward will continue on the better path. A path packed smooth, and debri-free underfoot that provides the firm basis for you to traverse easier. And you know what a bad path looks like just as easily as you know the palm of your hand. That’s why you’ll continue to lead your family and loved ones on the good paths.

Like your quote, “The end is nothing; the road is all”, your journey continues . . .

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