So, I talked a little bit about the shame I experienced as a little girl. It left me feeling that I was defective. I didn’t have a right to be here. I wanted to not exist. That feeling continued through most of my life. Although there were plenty of things that happened in-between, next I am going to tackle the precursors to the biggest contributor to my toxic shame.
When I turned 9 my father took my little sister and I on a visitation. (My parents had separated when I was 6). We went to Florida to visit my Great-grandfather. On the way home my sister got sick from flying, so his girlfriend was with her in the bathroom.
It was New Year’s Eve. While he and I were sitting, waiting for them to come out I was thinking about my mother. There was this hard lump in my chest and I could feel the prickling of impending tears. I turned to him and said something to the effect of, I don’t want to go home. Or maybe it was, I want to stay with you. My mother frightened me. She always had. But since the separation it was worse. She was intent on preventing me from growing up to be like my father. I read it as more proof I was Wrong.
Anyway, my father looked at me with an inscrutable look on his face. “Well,” he told me “it isn’t in my plans, and it will be very inconvenient for me, but since you asked, I will keep you.” Did I see a flicker of triumphant glee?
That hard lump plummeted to my feet. I had been looking for attention and approval. To remind him I was on his side. Now, instead, I had a premonition of bad things to come. Because of that very brief exchange, I blamed myself for everything that happened in the six months that followed.
Much of went on before we ended up in the house where we would eventually stay is fuzzy in my mind. I remember sleeping on someone’s floor. I remember visiting several houses, mostly of pregnant women.
My father, a MD, had forgone the head of surgery appointment in exchange for working as a home childbirth practitioner.
When we finally arrived at Shirley (the name of the town where the house was) I remember being tired and scared. The house was supposedly haunted. The first night there, while my father made whatever arrangements he made for them to care for us whenever he was busy catching babies. I remember playing with the fire in the fireplace.
The logs sputtered and spit out plumes of sparking red embers. Then there were the candles. I would stick my finger in the gooey wetness, then watch it harden into a slippery tip. Only to melt it back down in the flame. I would slowly run my finger through the flame, thrilling in the possibility of pain, of damage.
So, for the first time I can remember, I sought pain to comfort and ground me. To make the inexplicable somehow not. I was going to live in this big, beautiful, but haunted house? At least I’d be with Daddy, I told myself. He would make everything ok. That was his purpose.
Then I met Them. There were five adults in the house, a single man who lived in the attic and two married couples who each had a 6-month-old baby. One of them also had an 8-year-old boy. I say Them because they became largely interchangeable in the light of everything that was yet to transpire.
The women are a blur. A flounced skirt, perhaps? A sense of hippies. A thick smell of marijuana smoke.
Buffalo stood out in sharp relief. A huge presence with a scraggly beard and nauseating body odor. I could tell I wouldn’t want to get on his bad side.
I longed to run and hide behind my father. However, thanks in part to my mother, I was adept at suppressing fear. Never let them see you blink.
I was shell shocked by the entire situation. I wanted to be with my father desperately. I knew I would have a great deal of autonomy. By which you should read neglect. My father tended to treat me as an equal.
He was secure in his imagined role of savior to society. At home childbirth. Macrobiotic diet. Free love. Hyperactive sexuality. Part of that role involved documenting for posterity every precious thought. Sometimes he would take me out. Though I don’t know where we went, I remember him recording his conversations while he explained it all to me. I felt honored. I felt scared. Some of it didn’t make sense. Other parts did. I felt this awesome responsibility as his protégée.
I felt responsible for the other children in the household. Taking care of the babies was fun, initially. Eventually, however, if became simply a chore shoved at me by parents that had better things to do. Or worse, depending on your view. They all were heavy pot smokers, and other things I don’t know for sure what they were.
I know one of the things they liked to use was LSD. I know because, much further into this journey, my father taught us to finger spell the alphabet. He spelled out the letters, and when I repeated them aloud I though, for a moment, he might actually kill me.
He was severely paranoid. Later diagnosed as schizophrenic or severe Bipolar 1. People watched him. Went through his things. The government was out to get him because he was changing the status quo.
The adults in the household were in a band. My father loved to play guitar and write songs. It was up there with practicing medicine, for him. They would take us out on gigs. I remember one time when they played in a hotel. They got a room for us kids. When the babies were asleep the rest of us snuck upstairs to listen to them.
overall, it wasn’t too terrible—yet.
The more my father was away the more they came to abuse me. They were cruel in both big and small ways. They took away our stuffed toys to give to the babies. One day, one of the women was mad because our room was a mess. So, she took away my precious baby doll and my tattered security blanket. It was a later incarnation of a small, pink checkered crib quilt. I curled my 9-year-old body up into a tight fetal ball and slept each night with it pulled around me. It was a magical protection. A thick layer of cloth that made me invincible while I slept.
It was my blanket, and not the heavy dresser that we pushed against the door each night before we went to sleep, that allowed me to lower my alert enough to sleep.
My father got Heben (my doll) back for me. The blanket had gone directly in the trash. All that remained was the ribbon that had gone around the edges. I feared I’d never sleep again. I feared someone, somehow, would find me in the dark of night and destroy me.
That was not nearly enough for them, however. There were intrusive actions, like giving us hot water and soap enemas. There were also thigs that are harder to define.
One of the women would make me stay in the bathtub after the other children were done.
I had to lie in the bathtub with my butt against the front of the tub and my legs straight up in the air. She would run a thin flow of hot water over my genitals. It made me feel like I had to pee. It also made me angry. I couldn’t afford to be angry. There was no question in my mind They could cause grievous harm. The squirmy feelings I got made me want to explode.
Meanwhile, my father was teaching us lessons. With his girlfriend showing us the exact steps and actions, we learned how to perform oral and manual manipulation of his genitals. I can’t really express how bad that made me feel. I was responsible for us being there, after all. I knew it made me feel awful, it was one of the first times in my life when I dissociated.
However, my father was all knowing, to me. So, logically, I believed the bad feelings I felt were the result in something wrong with me. I couldn’t think anything bad about my father. I needed his “love” to survive. I was 9. I knew, despite all the responsibilities they placed on me, I could not survive on my own. So, I decided that what he did was good, and natural, and right. The problem was with me. If I could just feel the way he said I should, everything would be ok.
All of this is simply the prelude to the true horrors. The days and nights that left me owning evil as my own. The horrors that left me feeling so black, so fundamentally tainted, that I was sure there was no possible coming back. I thought me behavior was up there with people that had become cannibals to after an airline crash to survive. Feelings that frightened me so I would do anything not to know they were there.
All of this was like a kindergarten education to the PhD level experiences that were yet to come.
Eventually, They upped the ante.