Seven years old. Dressed in a new outfit of plaid pants, red sweater and brown patent leather shoes, I sat across from my father having been invited to breakfast. My mother had carefully fixed my hair and I vaguely remember hearing behavioral instructions before I exited the motel room. I was confused, but eagerly anticipated the special alone-time with my daddy.
You see, there had been a big argument the night before between my parents. It was loud, violent and I had stepped in the middle to protect us girls. My mother, sister and I had traveled almost 500 miles to see my father. He had moved to start a new job. Our family had spent that summer at a resort where my father played piano at a popular cocktail lounge. We had been home only a few weeks when he received his “once in a lifetime offer”; fame and fortune within his grasp. He told us he would come for us after he had found a place to live. Three months later…. he had not come. My father was angry at our arrival. He had been caught. He was having an affair.
Too big, too soon…
My father held my hand as we followed a woman’s orthopedic shoes, swishing hose and beehive hair across the diner’s black and white checkered floor. Scuff marks spoiled its shine. And I was very careful not to step on the cracks that would break my mother’s back. He looked so handsome sitting across that silver rimmed white Formica table. Our booth sat in a corner with comfy red vinyl seats that burst at the seams. I was beyond thrilled.
“Have whatever you want,” my daddy offered with a smile. When our food came, I saw him shift in his seat as if trying to get comfortable. “I won’t be living with you anymore. Robyn, you’ll be with your mother and sister. When you settle, I will find you and try to visit. But, I will be busy with my new life. So don’t worry if some time goes by before you see me again. You will be just fine. Be strong and take care of your mother and sister. Please remember that I will always love you Hot Rod.”
Hearing my nickname usually brought delight. I felt nauseous.
Too big, too soon…
Father and daughter seated in a booth. Our food before us, feeling special had vanished.
…pots clanked in the kitchen. The whiskery faced cook peered over the counter. His eyes narrowed as if to gruffly say, “We don’t talk about things like that in here.”
…the waitress swung by and overfilled my water glass. My eyes followed the runaway ice cube that quickly slid towards the edge of the table. Maybe I can catch it on the toe of my shiny new patent leather shoe.
…something smelled burnt. Was it the white toast that popped up in pairs?
Sitting beneath the large black rimmed clock, I felt the thud of every second that passed – too heavy for any seven year old to bear. Poking at the cold eggs on my plate, I swallowed my tears and didn’t breathe. I held his gaze with questioning eyes. Was I the one supposed to make all this right?
“People who love you don’t leave.” I finally exhaled. I do not remember eating, leaving the diner or returning to my mother. I do remember fighting back tears and the waitress’s sad eyes as she uttered appreciation for our business. Does she know too? My little girl’s heart reeled. This must be my fault. I was a bad little girl. And I had years of proof, a lifetime of his physical abuse. I never saw or heard my mother grabbed, dragged or hit. My sister was protected by my mother and me. This WAS my fault. And I carried that false responsibility for over two decades.
I would take care of my mother and sister.
It was me who stayed awake to keep my distraught mother company as we drove through the night to my grandparent’s home. I heard her cries, lying awake in my bed as she suffered into the long hours of darkness. I’d peek around the corner to watch, no rest for me until she breathed deeply of sleep. I also intently watched the men who would come to date my mother.
It was me who comforted my sister afraid of the storms raging in the dark. I carefully watched her on the playground to make sure others were treating her kindly. I protected her. Just as I was taught.
Too big, too soon…
And those shiny new patent leather shoes that I wore that day? Well, I hated them after that breakfast. I scuffed them and picked at them until they had holes in the soles.
No one told me any different. I filled the silence with conclusions that seemed accurate to a seven year old.
No one let me cry. I was strong and controlled.
No one ever spoke to my pain or allowed me to express the loss. Sadly, there was no one safe to share my pain. I had taken risks before with no change. I wondered if there was something wrong with me.
No one told me the truth. Even when I knew it really had nothing to do with me, it was just easier and familiar to take the blame.
It has been a long process to untangle all the false messages that stuck to the core of my little heart. Replacing the lies with truth has been a battle. I’ve struggled to give kindness to myself as a hurting little girl. I blamed that little girl for her desire to be seen, loved and delighted in by the parent figures in her life. She was at fault for the continued trauma and abuse she would experience throughout her growing up years.
You see, she picked at the soles of her shoes – I picked at her soul.
I cannot even begin to chronicle in this small space the journey of bringing kindness to that 7 year old girl – kindness to me. Simply and with much difficultly, it began with naming the truth of the harm done to that tiny blue eyed girl. She grew up too fast, saw way more than any child should have, carried a heavy adult load and people wounded her beautiful feminine spirit. They took her breath away. Ultimately I have given myself permission to feel her pain, grieve her losses and speak truth into her amazing soul.
As my years accumulate, I feel I’m maturing as a woman into the little girl I was always created to be. You will see her. Where? Ah, in the sparkle of my cornflower blue eyes… ringed with those truly exquisite laugh lines.
I really like her. No, I love her! Very much. And today she has spaces to breathe deeply!
Robyn Whitaker lives in Texas with her beloved husband of 32 years. She has an adventurous heart that is learning to breathe. Lover of truth, seeker of story, aspiring author and newborn dreamer, this mother of three is in search of redemption and living her Kingdom purpose. Robyn writes here. nb sp nbsp