As a child, I loved being outside. It was a safe place to be; it was freedom. I could run and yell and get dirty. The smell of sweat and dirt, combined with the never healing skinned knees, was just the sign of a day well spent. I didn’t worry when I was free. Fear and anxiety didn’t control my mind and actions.
There were rules though, like not climbing certain neighbors’ trees or going in their yards (rules that were broken often) and not going in people’s houses. I never fully knew why any of these rules were in place, but since nothing really bad happened when they were broken, I kept breaking them. As long as I didn’t get caught and have my mom be upset with me, everything was ﬁne, fun even. The adrenaline rush of doing something I wasn’t supposed to was addicting, plus my aunt was usually babysitting, and there was a good chance she was too busy drowning her crippling depression in a beer to pay enough attention.
I don’t remember how the invitation came about, but one day two neighbor girls (sisters, one my age and the other about ﬁve years older) invited me into their house. Now this invite was a bit diﬀerent than the others because this house was most deﬁnitely oﬀ limits. Even if I had asked permission the answer would have been a hard “no.” The father, a raging alcoholic, was known to be pretty crazy, and mom wasn’t any better. The girls were severely neglected and often ﬁlthy. So breaking this rule was much more dangerous. If I got caught, there was no question that my mother would have my head. I didn’t resist the invitation though.
Maybe I was afraid to say no, or maybe the curiosity had a hold of my six-year-old heart more than I could resist; either way I accepted. From the outside, the house looked like it came straight out of a horror ﬁlm. The inside was even worse, like “make all the hair on your neck stand up” scary. It was dingy and dark, smelling musty. Cleaning supplies clearly hadn’t graced this place in some time.
Right away I knew my decision had been wrong, but there was no turning back. There were two of them, one being much bigger, and I had experienced their cruelty before and wasn’t up for more of it, especially not in their house where no one could see. I followed as they led me up the old wooden stairs into their parents’ bedroom. The sick feeling got deeper and deeper. Any sense of adventure or adrenaline disappeared and was replaced with fear.
“The only way out is the window or looking at these,” I was told, as one of the girls held what I remember to be a photo album. Since we were upstairs the window didn’t seem like a great option. It overlooked my house, and I didn’t want to be seen trying to escape. Plus, a broken bone or injury would surely tell on me. So over I went to the girls and the photo album. As they opened it and ﬂipped through my eyes couldn’t understand the images those polaroids held. Naked ﬁgures in diﬀerent poses.
The ﬁgures weren’t some random models, but the girls that sat in front of me and their father. I wanted to vomit, to run screaming out of that place, but I couldn’t move. I knew the pictures were bad. I didn’t know why exactly, but I felt it with every ﬁber of my being. Yet I couldn’t look away, I was intrigued and terriﬁed all at once.
“This is where I die, I am never getting out of here.” These thoughts and others ran through my head, and they ran so fast I couldn’t keep up. They collided into each other like a fatal car accident, leaving no survivors. Pure panic had set in. I don’t know how long they kept me there or any words that may have been spoken. I don’t remember physically leaving their house. I was just back outside, safe and free again, but never the same.
I held this terrible, dirty secret that I could never tell anyone. If the pictures were bad, then I was too. After all, I was captivated by them. This wasn’t a “day well spent” dirty, it was a “stain on a brand-new white shirt” dirty.
Playing outside would not have the same feel anymore, it was permanently marred.
I didn’t know it at the time, but this event became a deeply planted root that would eﬀect me decades later. A whole system of secrets and hiding would grow for years to come. So while I never got caught, I was forever in prison. There was no freedom in playtime anymore.
Meg P lives in Richmond, VA where she is just starting to explore who she really is as a woman and follower of Jesus, as she dives into the depths of her story. She is a lover of people and walking with them in their stories and healing as well.
So well said about childhood and how its transgressive attitudes can lead so quickly to deep trauma. I hope the healing can begin now, and that by telling this story you have broken those prison walls and you can do whatever you need to reclaim that wild, free, safe child inside you. Lots of love and blessings, Meg, and I’m glad you found this site and could share the truth about what happened to you.
Thank you! I do feel like walls have started to come down just by sharing this. I’m working on figuring out what being wild, safe and free looks like for me 🙂
Meg, your writing is gripping and drew me in from the beginning. The sentences that particularly stood out to me where… “Since we were upstairs the window didn’t seem like a great option. It overlooked my house, and I didn’t want to be seen trying to escape.” I felt overwhelmed with grief for your 6-year-old-heart that felt more safety in the presence of “cruelty I had known before” than knowing if someone from your house saw you trying to escape there would be aid and rescue. Thank you for the gift of your story today.
Thank you for grieving for the little one. I’ve realized that there has never been much room for her to feel grief or be grieved for. So thank you!
Meg, I’m very sorry that your young innocent eyes and heart had to witness such awfulness. Your story was told so well. I was intrigued and also nervous as to where this story was headed as you told about playing outside and getting dirty and then the filth of the neighbor’s house and then the filth of what you witnessed and then these words, “I held this terrible, dirty secret that I could never tell anyone. If the pictures were bad, then I was too. After all, I was captivated by them. This wasn’t a “day well spent” dirty, it was a “stain on a brand-new white shirt” dirty.” You, my dear, are not dirty. I pray healing for your young girl’s heart that was stained by the awfulness you witnessed. Thank you for courageously sharing a part of your story with us. I don’t know if you garden or not, but much healing can take place as hands meet soil and the “dirt” or earth is worked. Blessings to you, Meg.
Thank you for your kind and gentle words. Thank you for holding space for the little girl. A lot of healing has taken place just by making this story public and I hope healing continues for me and for anyone who might relate to this story and the feeling of being dirty.
Meg, Thank you for writing and sharing your playful, adventuresome six-year-old heart with us. I feel the ambivalence of that little girl accepting an invitation from which she would return, never the same, and my heart breaks. I see the wheels in her head spinning rapidly, as she ponders her options for escape and is left to face death rather than risk escape and asking for help. What a bind for such a small girl to hold. She knew she was alone. As you return for that young girl, pulling her from the wreckage and setting her free from prison, may you experience the return of play and the joy of discovery and adventure. It makes my heart smile that you reside in RVA where some of my adult children live.
Thank you for your words. I am definitely figuring out what it looks like to play and be adventurous again!