I want to talk about the pain

I want to talk about the pain. It comes back now and it’s just as intense and as stabbing as it was then. It is amazing how imaginary pain can feel so real. But it isn’t the imaginary pain I want to talk about. I think that will disappear when I can finally deal with the pain I actually did experience.

He only had to touch me and a searing, burning pain would shoot right through me. He would touch my hair and I could feel it being pulled out strand by strand. Hair is made of dead cells but I could swear that mine was filled with nerves. He would twist and pull and I would tighten my fists to keep from slapping his hands away. He would slide his hand down my back and it would seem as if welts would rise up and I would want to scratch and rub and wipe them off. I can still feel them now. I’m sometimes surprised that they are not visible when I undress. There should be an indention in the spots he touched, marking forever his ownership of my body.

His fingers would start off light as feathers, it should have tickled. Instead it was irritating and uncomfortable. I wanted to scream and sucked hard on my lip to keep from doing so. My heart pounded so hard that I thought it might break through and fly across the room. My lungs burned and I could not breathe in enough air to fill them. My stomach clenched and tightened and I dug my nails deep in to my palm to keep them still. I wanted to thrash and turn and fight my way out, but I did not. I allowed him to pinch me and squeeze me. I never said no. I never asked him to stop. I just laid there and let happen. I did not want him to leave me alone. If my choice was this or nothing. I chose this.

When his touch was more than I could take, when his fingers went to places I knew they did not belong, when his eyes closed and he no longer saw me, I left. I closed my eyes and went to someplace warm and cozy. A room that was warm and inviting, I had the sense that someone was watching over me. I stayed there until I knew it was safe to come back. When I opened my eyes he would be gone. I would very slowly stand up. There were times I thought I might crack in half. I could visualize one side of my body just sliding to the floor. I could feel that I was wet and sticky, but I was afraid to look. And there was pain. Always there was pain. It hurt to stand and it hurt to sit. It hurt to walk. I would shift from foot to foot trying to find some relief.

The taste of blood was in my mouth. My lip was swollen and sore from sucking it in and biting down. My hands were clenched tight and I had to pry them open. There were indentions in my palms from my fingernails. And, here too, there was pain. Every part of my body seemed to be affected and was reacting. There was a lump in my throat where the tears I could not cry stopped. It felt like it would choke me.

And I stayed silent. I absorbed the pain and stifled any sounds that tried to escape. There was no one to hear me anyway. What would I say? Who would believe me? I wasn’t sure myself what had happened. My mother said all girls felt this way. She said I was a hypochondriac. She said I made up stories and I talked too much. How could I talk too much when I was afraid to open my mouth?

The physical pain was easy to describe. Facts are facts. But the emotional pain, how do I describe something that I don’t even understand myself. Confusion was all I knew. Thoughts swirled in and out of my brain faster than I cold decipher them. Fear turned to dread that turned to resignation that turned to knowledge that turned to denial. I loved him, I hated him, I feared him, I wanted him. How could I want him? How could I not? I needed him and I hated that I needed him. I didn’t want to need anybody. He needed me. I was sure of that. He was broken and fragile and he needed me to protect him. He couldn’t help it. It wasn’t his fault. It must have been mine.

There was so much I did not understand and so much that I could not explain. There were so many questions that I could not ask. It was too much. I was going to explode. I had no choice, I just pushed all that I did not want to deal with as far down as I could. I felt my body filling with the weight of it all. Every space inside was used to cram in everything that was happening. I turned off all of my emotions. If I didn’t feel it, it could not hurt me. But it did hurt. My heart was heavy and a shadow hung over me and clouded everything I saw and did.

I needed to create bigger feelings to mask and cover up the feelings that I did not want. I climbed trees and went higher than any of the other kids ever dared. I walked to the end of the longest branch and jumped. I waited for that feeling of impact. That moment when my feet or my knees made contact with the hard earth below. I imagined the ground opening up beneath me and swallowing me whole.

There was a ditch that was six feet wide and lined with concrete. I made it my goal to broad jump it. I would practice for hours. Over and over I landed hard, just short of my goal. My knees were scraped and bleeding, my hands and arms bruised and aching. But I could feel them, I could see them, I knew why they hurt.

I was ten when I felt a shift in my feelings about my father. I was scared and unsure and I desperately wanted to talk to someone. I had so many questions, but these were questions that could never be asked. The confusion and the pain inside of me was so great. I felt so alone and it seemed that this would be how it was going to be forever. I could feel so much happening inside of me that I had no way of deciphering. I needed to see it. I needed to make it real. I needed real pain to replace the pain inside that I did not want to deal with. I walked in the laundry room and picked up a hammer. I rested my arm on top of the washing machine and brought the hammer down over and over. I used all of my strength and pounded until I could not breathe. My arm was bruised and aching, but not broken. That’s how I felt, beaten but not broken. For a few minutes I felt that I finally understood. For a few minutes I had relief.

I spent my life trying to deny the pain that really could never be denied. It was there whether I admitted it or not. Right now I feel this overwhelming need just to say over and over that it hurt. I don’t want to deny it any more. I want to sit on the floor and rock back and forth and chant the words over and over. I want to talk about the things he did to me and I want to say that they were horrible and disgusting. I want someone to sit next to me and listen and validate and answer the questions that I was too afraid to ask. I want to scream or yell or maybe just whisper, but I want to say all of the words and make it all real. I’ve been hiding and I want someone to come and find me.

It sounds like doing something like that would be showing every weakness that I ever had. That is what I always thought. I think I know better now. I think that really, to do that would take a tremendous amount of strength and bravery. It would require me to trust, both myself and someone else. I’m a big talker and I say that’s what I want. I just don’t know if I can.

Posted in op-eds, survivors-letters.