A note to the reader:
This article contains vivid descriptions of abuse endured by a young girl. Readers may find it disturbing and it can trigger individuals who previously suffered traumas.
She’s sitting at the table just waiting for the phone to ring. She knows that as soon as it does her mother will forget about her. Her mother will stop looking at her, stop watching her. She is never sure what her mother is expecting or wanting her to do. On nights when they eat together her mother just sits there staring at her. She rarely says anything but the scrutiny is unbearable. It’s like they are each waiting for something to happen, but neither one knows what that is. The poor child is scared to move. She knows that no matter what she does it will be wrong. She will eat too much and her mother will tell her she’s getting fat or she will eat too little and her mother will yell about how ungrateful she is. “There are children starving in China! I worked all day and then came home to make dinner for you and you just don’t appreciate it! What did I ever do to deserve such a spoiled and selfish child? Other women have children who eat what they are given and do as they are told and never complain. I was cursed with children who have no respect or appreciation. Nothing I ever do is good enough!”
Tonight was especially hard because her mother served her peas. She hates peas! They make her want to gag. Her brother taught her a trick once and she has gotten very good at it. As soon as her mother answers the phone she will jump up and put six peas back in the pot. Then you have to stir the peas in the pot because the peas on the top turn an ugly dark green color. If you just add new peas on top, Mom can tell. Stirring is very important. She had learned this from experience. When her mother starts talking to Aunt Sally she will pace back and forth between the kitchen and the living room. The child will have to time her trips to the stove very carefully. Six peas is the maximum you can add at one time or Mom will get suspicious. The real trick is to get all of your peas back in the pot before the phone call is finished.
The waiting is so hard! She stares at the phone willing it to ring. Her mother stares at her, waiting for something. The girl has no idea what. She’s only 10! Her mother is just a mystery to her. She wants to say something but the words just won’t come. She knows that whatever she says will be wrong. Her mother will take it the wrong way, turn her words in to something she didn’t mean at all. At least, for now, her mother is quiet. That’s better than screaming any day. She just needs that phone to ring!
Finally, after what seems likes hours, her aunt calls. She can breathe again. She waits for her mother to pace a few times and then makes her first trip to the pot. She must be careful not to make any sounds so her mother will not know she has left the table. Timing is everything. She shakes as she places the peas in the pot. If her mother catches her there will be trouble. It’s the last thing she wants. After many trips, and a few close calls the deed is done. Her plate is finally empty enough to bring to the sink. She is free for a little while. If she is very careful everyone will just forget about her.
In the den the child can lose herself in the TV program she is watching. She pretends she is Laura Ingalls and she lives in that little log cabin with her Ma and Pa who love her so much. They always seem to understand her mistakes and they see how hard she tries. Her Pa plays music and sings and dances while her Ma sews and reads them stories. It’s so peaceful and happy there. There is love and kindness. But she knows it’s just a fantasy, nobody really lives that way.
Her father arrived home. She knows because her mother is busy yelling at him. She’s telling him how exhausting the child is. She’s telling him that there is something wrong with that girl. She’s telling him how unfair it is that she is always burdened with the child while he can just come home whenever he feels like it. She tells him she’s going out. He can deal with her now. The child freezes. This will not be good. She knows she doesn’t like her mother, but she does not want her to leave. She’s scared but she’s not sure why. She trembles and feels her eyes well up but she knows better than to cry. Her mother already sounds mad. Tears will infuriate her. The child knows that crying is for babies. Her mother has warned her about the dangers of tears. They will burn your cheeks. They will make you ugly. No one will ever look at you or love you. They will show that you are weak. The last thing you must ever be is weak.
Her mother leaves and at least the house is quiet. She listens to her father prepare his dinner. He doesn’t say hello to her or ask about her day so she doesn’t either. He joins her in the den and reaches for the remote. Without a word he changes the channel. She wonders if she is invisible. She wonders if anyone, anywhere is aware of her existence. She imagines what would happen if she just faded away. No one would care because no one would know. She thinks her parents might even be relieved. She couldn’t cause any more problems. She would no longer be a burden. Maybe she would be free too. Maybe she wouldn’t be afraid. Maybe nothing would hurt. But, this too was just a fantasy. She would never get that lucky.
At 9pm she tiptoed out of the room. Her father was dozing in his chair. She didn’t say goodnight because she did not want to wake him. She wanted to get upstairs and get in bed before he realized she was gone. Maybe he would just forget about her. She sighed knowing that would just not happen.
In her room she quickly changed and curled up under the blankets. He was coming, she could hear his footsteps on the stairs. He called her name. She did not answer. It didn’t matter, he came in anyway. He was smiling. I missed you he said. She thought that was funny. They just spent an hour together and he never said a word. He sat next to her and started speaking. There was a time when she liked this, when she looked forward to it. Not now. Now she was afraid. She understood that this was not a game. He was not there to simply put her to bed. He was not there because he cared so much or just wanted to spend time with her. She was not even sure he was aware of her. She was just a thing. She was not real. In this place, in this room, she did not even really exist. She was sure of that.
She heard his voice but the words were just noise. She felt his hands. They explored her body and made her cringe. She bit her lip, she prayed for it to stop. But nobody heard. She felt her body shake. She felt her fingernails digging in to her palms. She tasted blood and squeezed her eyes tight. She would not cry. She could not cry. She is not weak. He is her father. He loves her. This is how he shows her. He’s not hurting her. He’s just touching her. There is nothing wrong with that. She should relax. He is spending time with her. It’s what she wanted. How awful of her to hate the very thing she wished for.
His hands keep moving. She slips in and out. There is a place she likes to visit in her head. A safe place with a beautiful, soft bed. The sheets and the carpet are snow white. They are so clean and pure. She wraps herself up and pretends that she is also so clean and pure. She knows it’s just a fantasy, she could never be that pure.
His hands. She hates those hands. She feels the burn they leave as he traces patterns across her chest. She feels the pricks and scratches of his fingernails. His rings feel cold against the heat of her skin. Inside she is screaming “Stop! Please stop! I’ll do anything! I’ll be better, I’ll do better. Please G-d, please. This hurts. I’m scared. Take him away! Take me away! I’ll be good, I promise I’ll be good!” She had said this prayer before, many times. She knew it was useless. G-d wasn’t going to save her. She didn’t deserve to be saved. So she prayed again “If you can’t save me, take me. Nobody wants me here anyway. Just let me go. I can’t do this night after night! I’m not strong I’m sorry but I’m just not. I’m weak! Do you hear me? I am weak! My mother is right! There is something wrong with me. So just take me! I don’t even deserve to be here.”
She opened her eyes for just a second. Her prayers were useless. She was still here. G-d didn’t save her and He wouldn’t take her. She really was alone. Even G-d didn’t want her. She didn’t blame Him. She was bad, she was dirty, she was ruined. She didn’t count.
She left again. She went to the only place that offered any comfort. She was so tired. She just wanted to sleep. In this room she could pretend that nothing had happened. It was in this room that she could convince herself that her father was a good man. He would never hurt her. In this room she was safe. If she just stayed here nothing bad could happen. If she didn’t see, if she couldn’t feel, if she would not hear, then nothing really happened. If she ignored it, it wouldn’t be real. If she never spoke of it, nobody would ever know. If she willed it, it would just go away.
Sometime later she opens her eyes. She is alone in the room. He left but she can’t remember just when. She buttons herself up and fixes her blanket. She is sore and she is tired. She is sad but not sure exactly why. But she will not cry. She cannot cry.