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I aim to be lionhearted,
characters mentioned: aj
age five & six
"Who kills themselves in the spring? That's just rude." My mother tsks to my father. I nod in agreement even though I don't really know what that means. Suicides were a winter activity, my mother goes on loudly to explain. Nobody argues with her. Nobody says anything.
Loved ones surround the casket, but very few are crying. Some mumble about what they'll do now - What about the children? Someone sighs that it was a waste, others snap that it was selfish. My brother wondered out loud why nobody was crying for a man who had died. That earned him a smack to the arm, but it seemed like they both knew she wouldn't do anything there.
I tsk. He was always getting in trouble.
"That boy just isn't right in the head." Someone nods towards Austin.
I just will not sleep.
"Let's go to a play! Let's paint a picture! Where are my finger paints, Austin? I want to go outside. What do you mean I can't go outside? I want to go to the park!" I shriek at the top of my lungs as my parents shut the door on me. They're arguing outside. You can tell, but you don't care. You keep screaming about the things you want to do. You're six and you're excited about life.
I'm having nightmares on a daily basis, so I refuse to sleep. I sleep all day long in class and spend my nights screaming.
Teachers know that I am different. They know, above anything else, that I am a giant pain in their asses. They ask me about my relationship with my parents. Are they nice to me? I reiterate everything I've been taught to say. They move on. Do I have ADHD? They run themselves mad trying to figure out how to deal with me. A hyperactive child running wild.
They call it: ADHD, attention seeking
Your case file eleven years later calls it impulsivity due to child abuse.
vague abuse/rape mentions
characters mentioned: aj (vague)
I get to be exactly what you expect. A white girl with brown hair living behind a picket fence in a middle-class area.
I didn't write this for the stereotypical reason you'd expect. You will not see me crying on TV about how I hope this saves someone from going where I went, seeking the help they need. I won't cry that I believe everyone may be able to see themselves in it.
If it helps you - that is a beautiful thing.
If it does not - That is also okay.
My family has always ridden under a code of silence. If we did not talk about a problem - it simply did not exist. Well, I am very tired of keeping secrets. I'm very tired hearing women at the yearly grandparents dance whispering about why I'm there in place of them.
I may have intended for this to be a learning tool or a grave warning if I had answers. However, I have precious few. I will pose more questions than I will have the answers to. So I will leave you with this: my two cents, for whatever its worth. This isn't a pity party - as I'm sure I'm going to get said about me. This isn't a book of sympathy or showing Timmy and Jimmy why being mean to me was a bad idea. My life is perfect, and I am fine.
My family has always been a complicated one to explain, something that's caused thousands of meetings with therapists, interviews, tests, questions, surveys, and everything in between. I have begun to feel like a lab rat, yet here I am offering myself as a free spectacle.
I only know one thing for sure about my family: We have generation after generation of women who shrink, more and more bruises appearing on their faces as they do. The sharply jagged bones appear, skin stretched over them tightly. The men? They grow silent, they don't speak. As they know they one day they will be a male holding down a woman into a mattress, their lips forcing themselves onto theirs. Until then, their lips knock back a drink. The amber liquid spills out the corners of the mouth, but they do not care. They know another woman will run to them, holding a napkin in her fragile, bleeding hands.
It was that simple: My family wasn't okay. My older brother explained it to me, at five years old. He told me that our family was sick with a flu that wouldn't go away. I did not understand at the time, but I nod with a string of questions. He tells me that I should try to calm down at night, and not wake them up. They'll start getting upset at me. At the time I do not notice the bleeding cracks in my brother's hands. I do not see the seams where he has been ripped apart and put him back together with a thin thread of false hope that had been passed down.
My family did not like each other, but we did love each other. I told that to myself every night my father ventured into my room, his hands craving touch. His hands craving skin. His hands craving a child. His hands craving me. I was quickly moved from touching to more advanced things. I do not know this is not normal until second or third grade. I look at other people with their fathers, talk about their fathers, etc.
eating disorder mentions
characters mentioned: isaac
A version of my life exists in file cabinets across Seattle. Copies of copies in weathered folders guarded by confused secretaries. Holding pens and read off the paperwork that they needed me to sign before the release of information. Confirming that I, Selena Right, had no intention of holding the hospital responsible for [Name] (living or dead). The papers eventually sprawled over my entire apartment; organized by age after five painful days of sorting.
I learned a few things about myself. Mostly that I am "a hopeless case", "behaviorally disordered" and "prone to habitual relapse". A pink highlighter covered this words to make sure I'd come back to them. Isaac, my manager, told me not to obsess. Its hard to not read what people have said about you.
"How did your eating disorder start?" Therapists ask years later - pen to paper so they wouldn't lose my trust by forgetting details.
I consider giving them the usual answer: I don't have one.
Instead, I humor it. Sitting there was getting boring.
There was no big moment. There was no big idea. There was no big suggestion. It didn't start because mommy was mean or daddy was mean or Timmy called me fat. It was about control. If the world around me couldn't be controlled (particularly my parent's moods) - I'd control my food intake.
It didn't start with starvation, it wasn't even bulimia. It was spitting. A black garbage bag sat between my spread legs as Tom and Jerry played on tv. I took a bite, chewed a few times, and spit it into the bag. Muscle memory ended up causing some to go down, but I was oddly pleased with myself. It was under control. Spitting tested the idea, toyed with it. This didn't happen on accident or without me noticing.
I was never average about food. Even as a child, I held strange rituals. Refusing foods one day that I loved the next and getting specific attachments to certain foods for weeks at a time. At the age of six, I ate and drank nothing other than bagels and orange juice for a week.
The words "magical thinking" appeared scrawled on therapy notes. Every book I could find described it as (or something similar to) "a disposition to regard the metaphoric as concrete" and/or "to attribute primitive magical powers to objections."
I bargained with myself. If I walked up the driveway in exactly eighteen steps then I would be happy. There were hundreds of bargains. If I ate an apple in exactly ten bites, drank my drink in thirty sips if I got my task done before the clock hit 3:34 pm. It was a constant game causing anxiety in my chest. Years later it was explained to me: It wasn't uncommon for children of abuse to develop self-protective systems to give themselves a sense of control. It came out in different ways for different children. Some had imaginary friends. Others bargained with God himself to make them happy.
My magical thinking went to food.
childhood sexual abuse warning
characters mentioned: aj
reflection & age six
I was born in Seattle, Washington to a pair of exceptionally interesting people. My mother, a marketing consultant, is a light and airy whirlwind in red lipstick. My father is a chain-smoking public defender who always has a story to tell. They're kind, considerate, and well educated in public. I don't blame anyone for not knowing anything was wrong. How could they?
There were times when everything was alright. As I mentioned, this isn't a story of self-pity. Even abusive individuals have moments of being alright. There are memories of vacations to Disneyland, Tahoe, and New York. Time and time again, I would fall for their temporary kindness.
"Thank you for being such a good girl for daddy yesterday." He hands you an American Girl doll you had been begging for him to buy you for months. That was the gift whenever things had gotten really bad. American Girl dolls, clothes, accessories, whatever he could quickly check out with.
Years later, I cannot look at them. My daughter has one and it makes me sick to my stomach. But I refuse to not allow her things because of my own anxiety.
The first years of abuse were the worst. It started out slowly. Your brother, Austin, was the main source of their anger. He tried to absorb yours, but it was to no avail. Many years later - you became the target of their wrath.
The rules were constantly changing, the goalposts constantly being moved. It took you years to figure out that it would happen no matter what rules they put in place.
It wasn't something hidden behind locked doors - behind your mother's watchful eye. Your mother watched, expressionless, in the living room before your brothers get home from school. Pleading wasn't something you bothered with anymore. It seemed pointless - so you eventually stopped.
This was a sense of normal in the home.
Some of the trouble, looking back, was that there was a lot of contradictory things going on at once. They loved you, they really did, but this was normal to them. They assured you over and over again that they loved you as they showered Aj and yourself with gifts and attention. While at the same thing - doing the same thing that caused the apology. On one end, I believed that this was something normal in my family. On the other end, my youngest brother was spared from any of their wraths. He could do no wrong.
Therapists would later note that you have problems with apologies - believing that they come with an impending second blow. Apologies had lost their meaning.
Their apologies and gifts only lasted a while before you lost interest. They promised all of the change in the world, but everything was the same. You started to hate how everything was the same. The same curtains, sheets, people, faces. Anxiety rose whenever you wandered into the same house filled with the same unhappy faces.
childhood sexual abuse warning
characters mentioned: aj
age eight & nine
Praying. Pleading. I sat on my knees in the same spot in my room every day - hands clasped together as I recited every bible verse I knew. I kept this part of my life a secret - my parents would have mocked me. My family, if you couldn’t guess, wasn’t a particularly religious one. We went to church on Easter some years, but we couldn’t be bothered otherwise. I fell into a phase of religion. So every moment I'm alone - I pray. I hadn't been praying enough so God was angry at me. He was punishing me through my parents.
I truly believed it worked for a while. My parents got distracted for a week or two with other things, and I hoped that would be the end of it.
I don't really remember 2004. It was a blur of a year that passed by in minutes. My father has made a sudden decision that I should not go to school anymore, and that I should stay home with him during his week off. He had finally done it. He had finally tried to take away the bit of sanity I had left. Thankfully, it hadn't lasted. I don't remember going back at the time, but records show I re-enrolled a week and a half later.
He comes into the room, and I continue to try to feign sleep. He says today will be a little different. He says I can go shopping after we are done. Done with what? All of a sudden I am not interested in shopping anymore. The deadly pit in my stomach won't go away. His friends are coming over, will I be a good girl for them? I'm confused. The moments that followed are lost memories, nonexistent. It comes back to me while several men surround me; shouting different things.
I remember the directions, I remember the confusion. I remember the compliments afterward.
"I didn't pray enough."
------------------------------------------------ My interactions with my father have always been particularly odd and sporadic. My first drink was with him. I was nine years old and Austin was asleep on the couch. Despite the general distaste for anyone getting their nine-year-old drunk, it is one of my calmest moments with him. We get drunk and dance around the kitchen.