At family gatherings as a child, I did not lack for cousins to play with as five of us “baby boomer” cousins were born in the same year. My father used to tell the story of a family gathering where all of the cousins were present. One of my same-aged cousins was being a bully and pushing down the other same and similar aged cousins making them cry. According to my father, when the bully got to me and gave a hard shove so that I, too, would fall down and cry, I’d merely grunted and stood my ground. I then proceeded to push him back and watched as he fell to the ground and ran crying to my aunt telling her what I’d done. One bully in my life down, as I’d soon learn, many more to go.
When the sexual predator in my life was caught abusing me, I was punished. I was a young child the first time he’d pursued me. The predator had made me his prey. The adults in my life issued the verdict that I’ve carried in my heart for years, “Guilty as charged.” I felt shame, confusion, and abandonment. Many years later, my abuser became revered in his church for his work in missions and for working with orphans in particular. I left the church. I’ve tried returning to church, any church, but find the struggle of trusting those who clothe themselves with religion, while hiding their dark secrets beneath their robes, feels heavy and ominous.
My abuser came after me again a few years later when I was a pre- teen. That time I fought back as I knew no one was going to defend me against him. I later found out that he had abused others as well. At least one other extended family member had been abused, and there were rumors of more. It surprised and sickened me to know that I was not the only one. Around the time I’d learned that the abuse had never stopped, it was revealed that the abuser was dying. My family of origin and his church embraced him. It felt as though our abuse had never happened, and it felt like being abused all over again. He went from suspected sinner to dying saint.
In my family of origin, truth or facts are seldom spoken or acknowledged. It reminds me of the old television show, Dragnet, where the main character Joe Friday, is said to have stated to the people he was questioning, “Just the facts, ma’am. Just the facts.”
My family prefers things light and fragrant like rain-scented dryer sheets. We were taught to keep the less than pleasant family secrets buried as we waited for them to decompose and be gone from our collective family memory never to be spoken of again.
But the truth of what happened in my life did not stay buried – it did not decompose – and it is never gone.
The truth of my past, like a lost soul, goes wandering from door to door in my brain trying to figure out the conundrum of truth vs lies, good vs evil, abuse vs care, standing up and fighting vs lying down in defeat or compliance to fit in with a family that will not acknowledge truth. While I no longer physically push over bullies in my life, I choose to keep my distance from them. I choose to choose my people carefully. Trust is difficult and a very precious commodity.
In my mind’s eye, I see that brave four or five year old little girl standing in her grandparent’s yard observing the bully’s antics as he’d bullied the others. Most likely she’d have already known, even then, that she’d have to face him on her own and that the adults in her life were not going to rescue her. She’d stood her ground and pushed back. My father said that the bully quit pushing the other children after that. I sensed I had made my father proud because I was not afraid to stand up to the bully and defend myself that day.
Truth be told, most of my life I’ve felt like a soldier fighting wars alone. It has been lonely and at times frightening. I am hopeful that God will provide me with an inner courage to fight the necessary, often recurring battles and bullies in my life.
Side Note: Why the adults in this scenario did not stop the bully in the first place is baffling to me. Perhaps we were part of their entertainment that day. I’m not sure as I’m just relaying, “the facts, ma’am.”
Though she didn’t talk until she was three, Barbara is a lover of words both spoken and written. A rather late bloomer in both learning to speak and in learning to trust her inner voice and in finally feeling comfortable enough to write down her stories, she feels blessed to be making the journey towards healing and wholeness. She’s looking forward to continuing her journey of transferring her thoughts into written form and sharing them with others. She’s thankful to be part of the Red Tent community.