Becca Rose is one of the bravest. Not only in the way she writes her story of freedom, but the way she fights to live that story. Becca blogs at bookwormbeauty.com and is the only person I know who tweets even more prolifically than I do. I’m grateful for what she’s written here; so much of it feels like fragments of my own story. I think you’ll see bits and pieces of yourself here too. -Micah
It’s nearing one in the morning. The conversation around the table is widely varying, which is usually my favorite kind, until someone brings up how their father used to spank them with a belt as punishment when they were a kid. Others chime in, talking how someone used a ping-pong paddle, a spoon, how they would try and hide the various spanking implements from their parents.
This is when I fall silent.
Everyone has a different story. Some are harmless enough to trot out around a kitchen table over Bailey’s and ice cream. Mine is not one of those. To pretend like it is would be to lie about everything that made me. So I stay quiet, and I laugh in the right places, and I keep the secret wrapped tightly around my insides, squeezing the breath right out of my voice.
There’s not a pretty or easy way to talk about my life before now, so I usually don’t. After all I have fought for and been through, I’m finally living in the life After, the hope that I had for years of a life free of abuse come to fruition. Some people would say it’s better for me to just put the past behind me, lock it all in a box and never look at it again. But that would be denying those years of abuse and the struggle I had to leave that situation.
And it’s also denying the struggle I have now to heal from all the wounds from the leaving.
Ten days before I turned twenty, I made a decision that changed my life, and my entire family’s trajectory, forever. There is nothing I love more than I love my family. But the fact remains that our home was extremely emotionally toxic, and sporadically violent, and those are the facts that drove me away for good. These are the reasons I reported my parents for physical abuse of a younger sibling. These are the things that left me living in a new reality of restraining orders, police intervention, and constant fear.
They say your world can change in an instant. I know it’s true, because mine did.
I am driving down a road in my new town, the one I moved to after putting myself through four years of college. This new city is hundreds of miles away from the life I left behind, and feels like safety. I’m in an ancient car, given to me by a friend, with the windows down to let the fall air in. I have the radio turned loud as I take the scenic route home, over the hills that rise above the silvery river that cuts through town.
Everything is different now. I’m recalling the months of nightly visits to my room, the ones where my father would stand in the doorway to tell me that I was lucky I had him to put up with me, because there was no way I’d ever make it on my own. I’m on my own, I realize. I’m really doing it. I’m feeling this strange sense of happiness, until I’m not anymore, until I’m leaning over my steering wheel gasping for breath, gasping and gaping and nothing’s getting in. Images flood before my eyes as I remember exactly what it felt like to be told I own you. I own you. I own you. day after day after day and suddenly it feels like it’s true again, it feels exactly like it did when I believed it, not so long ago.
I have to pull the car over, in this new city, in my new life, to deal with the very tangible ghosts of my old one.
The thing they never told me about life in the After is that just as often as it is reveling in freedom from bruises and control that suffocates, it is still be very, very hard. I have left a monstrous life, but I carry monsters with me wherever I go. Sometimes I can set them aside for a bit, but there will always come a time when the monsters reanimate and leave me collapsing on the carpet, taken unawares by the reflux of memory and desperate emotion.
I have heard all the aphorisms about God not giving us more than we can handle, and I think they are all lies. But I do know that God has been a hope for me in darkness, and that is why I still believe in something big enough to get me up off the floor.
I graduated from college this summer. The day after my graduation party, the family who hosted it received a threatening email from my parents. How could you do this to us, how could you let her in your home? My father, the pastor, stalked my older brother to his workplace, confronting him in front of coworkers and customers, demanding that he stop associating with me. This is my punishment, and this is the price that I knew a different life would carry.
There is a constant ache when I consider my parents. I love them still, and I think that in their way, they love me too. They just don’t know how to live without destroying themselves and their children from the inside out (and sometimes, from the outside in). People think it was an easy decision for me to leave. “Oh, your parents were physically and emotionally abusive? Okay, that makes sense.” But the reality is much more skewed, because while I knew I could not live that way anymore, I was still tempted to, just so I could stay with them. I miss my father’s laugh, my mother’s voice, and so much more.
I miss having a family.
It is Saturday night, and I’m still in my work clothes as I sit at my best friend’s mother’s kitchen table, staring down at the familiar white tiles. “It feels like it’s going to be like this forever.” She doesn’t insult me by saying that it wouldn’t, but she does offer to pray. I find myself tilting my head up, my forehead being touched with holy water from a convent in Lourdes that was brought back across the ocean in a plastic bottle. The holy water runs down my temples and mixes with the salt tears dripping down my cheeks, a benediction of brokenness.
Life in the After is so sweet, yet so strange. I don’t regret leaving, but that doesn’t mean I never look back. My heart constricts to think of my brothers and my sister and the eternal tormenting question of could I have done more, in the same way that my heart constricts to think of how broken my relationship with my parents is and forever will be. I am not so young to believe that it will feel this hard forever, but I am old enough to know that this sadness will be ever-present, a constant element in who I am becoming and a reminder of my life before now.
I have never regretted leaving, and I will never go back, and I will heal – I have the rest of my life to live, and the past cannot take that from me. But my heart will always rest there, partially, and that is just how it is, even when you’re living life in the After.
[ image: corrine klug ]
published October 2, 2013
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