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.