My twin bed was nestled in the edge of the narrow room; a favorite homemade floral comforter kept me warm. The shadows of the doorless closet in the corner frightened me and the small window seemed like an opening for haunted tormentors to peek in. I was in third grade.
I don’t recall what all the tears and feelings were about, but they mattered to me. Was I trying to express some kind of injustice or gripe? Was I afraid or feeling lonely? Whatever I felt must have come out boldly and was unacceptable. It was too much and my voice needed to be shut down.
Amidst my bellowing my Father approached my bedroom door and threw it open. He hastily unbuckled his worn leather belt and stripped it through his pant loops as he stood tall and pronounced violently, “Stop crying, or I’ll give you something to cry about!”
Then, he stormed away as he dropped the belt on the door knob and left it swinging, taunting me to usurp his power by saying another word. I held my breath and clamped my lips shut. Silenced.
I was abandoned. I cowered under the covers and hid my face in shame. I cringe as I imagine the lies the enemy floated through my room that night, waiting for me to make them my own. Tears rolled down my cheeks as I absorbed the sobs and whimpered myself to sleep.
Something shifted inside of me that night, telling me it wasn’t safe to voice my emotions; they would not be heard and I could not trust them. From that moment on, whenever I felt strongly about something, I dismissed it as unreliable and not to be trusted.
It’s been decades since that significant evening. I am a middle-aged woman, yet part of me remains young.
I still struggle to trust my gut and when I feel something strongly or have a sense about things my hunches get quickly dismissed.
Messages that routinely run through my mind are, “I am too much,” and “my thoughts and feelings are absurd.” I may dare to speak, but as quickly as the words escape my lips, I sense that they will cause me harm or rejection. These lies have kept me caged for too long and I am weary of their hold on me.
I decide I need a rewrite.
I pick up my pen and grab onto the steady hand of my savior. Together, we step back into that dark bedroom and start to edit the original drama. I write:
He stepped away, the belt from his pants hung on the door knob to intimidate me but I didn’t stay in bed. I straightened up, planted my feet on the ground and charged out to the living room. I held my head high and cleared my throat to command his attention. “Excuse me,” I said. He startled as I spoke, “I have something to say to you.” He stepped back and leaned his body against his ragged green Lazy Boy chair.
He was guarded but looked at me curiously with his dark eyes as if I commanded some respect. I again spoke, “I don’t know your whole story but I know enough to realize you have plenty of junk that gets in the way of your engaging me. You are missing out. My tears and my emotions are needed in this world. You may be intimidated by them, but that gives you no right to try to bully me into silence. You can leave if I appear to be too much for you. You can go to your room or walk out the door, but you will not use your anger and power to shut me down, demean me and isolate me! What I feel, need and say has merit and value and brings life. I won’t be silent any more.”
I pause, take a deep breath and give a final directive, “By the way, put your belt back in the loops. Your pants are falling down!”
I register disbelief as the words come out of my mouth with strength and dignity, not attack. Just needed truth. I notice subtle tears in the corners of his tired eyes. He is stunned, as if no one has ever named his fault. He appears contrite and stammers for words. “You are so right, sweetheart.” He pauses with regret. “My eyes just opened to the harm and damage I have done. You are too precious to be treated this way. I am so sorry.”
I sit with this new narrative and absorb more accurately who I am and what I deserved. I receive a secure repair. Perhaps now, I can live more freely from my true identity.
Maryhelen Martens is a lover of whimsy and play, beauty and depth, all of which she experiences in her relationships. She finds life in authentic conversation, walking alongside others and ultimately Jesus – who has been so kind. Each day, she draws from a larger bowl of grace for herself and others. A mom of three, she currently lives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin with Keith, her husband and co-laborer of 29 years.