Bill taught Jamie how to ride a bike. He decided to teach her the way he’d been taught. Fast and quick, without training wheels, so that you’d develop the strength and reflexes enough to pick it up on the steep learning curve. Bill didn’t notice, as most adults don’t, that the road that went the length of the marina where they lived had a bank on the side that lead directly down to the inlet of the lake with all the docks.
The docks seemed as fingertips playing on the water, droplets hanging from the pads of the fingers, feeling the slight chill of a shiver. For an adult boat mechanic, they were business as usual, docks to hold the boats to fix that came in every day. For a six year old child, the water was at least fifty feet straight down and held death in its palms.
Not exactly the warmest place to learn to ride a bike.
Bill and Jamie had a good relationship. Being similar of temperament, they related to each other well, aside from the stubborn matches they’d draw themselves into. This was one such match. Bill wanted Jamie to learn to ride a bike. Jamie wanted to learn to ride, wanted to please her dad, but wanted these mysterious things called training wheels.
Bill couldn’t figure out why his daughter wanted them so badly. Daughter couldn’t figure out why Dad hated them so much. Bill thought them a sign of weakness and felt that his children couldn’t be weak. But he didn’t know how to verbalize that to himself, much less his six-year-old, so he just insisted that she learn the way he’d learned and she would learn today and to shut up about it.
Jamie got on the bike.
Bill ran beside her, holding up the bike, telling her to pedal, helping her along, instructing her on what to do. He didn’t notice her face (he was behind her). Couldn’t see how scared she was of careering off the road (she felt she had no control) and into the water, where she’d get stuck to the bike and drown. At six.
Jamie had a small problem with an overactive imagination.
They ran together down the road, small child on prized blue BMX bike, tall strong father guiding her along.
Then, the choice came as it always does, where Bill had to let go and see if she could go it alone. Jamie flew for fifty yards, upright on her first grown up bike, riding alone and riding well.
Bill’s grin traveled through to his shouts of encouragement, telling her that he was “Right here! I’m right here!”
Then she turned around. She noticed that Dad wasn’t there. He saw her face at that moment of realization, her eyes growing wide in panic, losing control of the bike and steering smack into a boat trailer. She got up and ran inside, crying and yelling at Bill about him leaving her and not being there when he said he would be. She left the bike.
Bill picked up the bike and put it underneath the porch. He decided she could teach herself how to ride it from then on.
For a week after that, it hurt to pee. Not exactly a pleasant thing to remember about learning how to ride a bike. Two weeks after the accident that left only one mark on the bike (a twisted front reflector holder), I tried the bike again. This time, I went without Dad and figured it out. Been riding ever since.
I went to kindergarten there. We made an igloo out of milk jugs. In the winter, we went cross-country skiing, the entire school, for free. In the summer, we had wicked thunderstorms and hail and a tornado. A small one that started as a waterspout, but it was a real tornado. Went right down the street and knocked down the twin pine trees that guarded the across-the-street-neighbor’s house.
Dad worked as a mechanic at the marina right next door to our house. We’d come a long way from the two bedroom apartment, then. This house had to have been built in the 1800’s. Two stories, four bedrooms upstairs, two full baths, dining room, kitchen, playroom, living room. Memories from being a kid that small arrive in flashes of time, strung together into a chain of growing, some of it making sense, most of it not.
There was a storm. One of the booming storms that send children, myself included, rumbling out of bed with pillow in hand into Mom and Dad’s room with no intention of going back alone.
I went back alone all but one time. Dad was right behind me, I know it.
Mom worked nights as a waitress still. One of those nights, during that storm, lightning struck around us outside, struck anything tall enough to meet its fancy. One of those things happened to be a car, sending the car into the telephone pole next to front of the marina’s barn.
Dad ran out, I followed him. I watched everything without saying a word, watching my father help the man out of the car in the lashing rain, carry him into the finished barn. There, he called the paramedics and elevated the man’s feet, tended to his many wounds. He seemed bathed in blood and couldn’t talk much. Dad did most of the talking.
Once the paramedics got there, Dad sent me to bed, but he’d let me watch everything.
We’ve never talked about that night.
I had a friend named Jeff as a kid. He lived just down and across the road. His house had no door inside. He also had rabbits. I was fascinated that rabbit poo always seemed to form little balls. Jeff was the same age as me.
Jeff’s house is where I first learned about duct tape on the same night I found out about spinach. Two things learned: Spinach gross. Duct tape cool.
However, I thought it was Duck Tape, made from ducks somehow. I never asked how it was made or used and didn’t know the real name and uses until I was a teenager.
This is the period of creepy things I remember. This is where things get weird.
I know that at Jeff’s house, we played the game of “You show me yours and I’ll show you mine.” After all, we were six and then seven year old kids who are naturally curious. I remember being jealous that Jeff could pee in the woods while I had to go run and find a toilet. I don’t think there was ever touching involved.
My father had many different forms of himself. He would switch from one to another and I could never seem to keep up with them. Keeping up was important, because I had to change how I behaved from one to the other if I wanted to avoid getting in trouble. At times, my father’s notion of punishment seemed a bit odd.
A lot of the time, for no reason at all, Dad would decide he wanted to visit his friends. So he did, with me in tow. He’d go into his buddy’s house and leave me in the car, whether winter or summer, night or day. I would sit there for hours, playing with the buttons, looking in the glove compartment, being bored, hungry, tired. Night closes in fast, boredom closes in even faster, and you lose perspective of obeying your father to “Stay right here until I come back.”
So I’d go looking for him.
In the house I’d walk through a cloud of haze and ask where Bill was and get directed to him. He’d have one of two reactions: he’d be angry that I walked into to find him, yell and send me back to the car, where I’d wait for at least two more hours. The other reaction, he’d hug me and say he was happy to see me and give me something to eat.
Russian roulette. You never know which dad you’d get, but when you had night closing in on you, you had to shoot for one.
One time, I wanted to try beer. Dad always had one in hand, so he poured me some and sat me down and set the cup in front of me. Told me to drink it.
I took a sip.
I spit it out. “How can you drink this?” I asked.
“It’s good,” he said. “Finish your cup.”
No way. I stared at the cup and then up at my father and said, “I can’t.”
“You asked for it.”
So we stared at the cup. I knew I couldn’t do it, but I didn’t want to find out which dad would be punishing me. I picked up the cup, walked to the sink and drained it before Dad could get up and yell at me and swear and get his belt for wasting the beer.
I didn’t think it was that much beer, anyway.
Dad also left his cards out and they became my first introduction to sex. At seven, I wasn’t sure what I was seeing, but I knew that it was gross and wrong and horrible. I couldn’t figure out why he kept leaving those cards out, where I’d find them at the worst times, where I’d be shocked into silence and my head would feel dirty just sitting in my skull, where I couldn’t clean it.
A somewhat tangential exploration into your past comes up with good and bad things, and if you've read Monster Rules things are familiar, with a twist.
But, all in all, this is a landmark thread and so I'll tell you that I know you've come through a lot, are still battling a lot, and I'm very convinced you'll come out winning. I'm glad you're a part of Hatrack, sweetie.
The nightmares will eventually end. Just keep working at it, and they will have to.
Posts: 7600 | Registered: Jan 2001
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mack, every time you post something about your family I want to offer to share my parents with you. I can barely believe you went through what you did and still turned into the wonderful person you are. Stay strong, and here’s to another 5000 posts!
Posts: 9857 | Registered: Apr 2002
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Beautiful and sad and good and happy and strong and weak and so much in one post.
Beautiful, the writing. Sad, the reallity Good, it helped make you the who we all appreciate Happy, 5000 posts to get to know you. Strong, your endurance and willingness to look back and see the reallity weak, Bill
Wake up screaming. Feel a man sitting on your bed, open your eyes and nothing is there. Bolt to Mom and Dad’s room.
“Shut up and go back to bed.”
So you go back to the hallway. Stand outside the closed door of your parents room and think of where to go. You don’t know what just happened in your room. Did you see something in the mirror? Lights on in a closet with no interior light bulb. The bed shakes violently at eight o’clock every night for two minutes. Raps sound on the ancient heating register in the same pattern every night, consistently getting louder and louder.
And every night, you wake up screaming that someone is sitting on your bed. Never say a word to anyone at school or in the neighborhood. I stopped seeing Jeff down the street.
Then one night, we ran away.
I got picked up from school by my mother. I’d always ridden the bus, so I’d known something was off. We went over to Becky’s, a friend of my mother’s. Spent the night there. It was Friday, so I didn’t worry about school, but wondered why we were at Becky’s and why we couldn’t see Dad.
Then we moved from Becky’s to a new place in Wolfeboro, an apartment next to the lake. Mom had a boyfriend. His name was Jeff. Lots of Jeffs.
This is where my memory shuts off. All I remember is that the boyfriend’s name is Jeff, we first lived in an apartment, then in a house next to the mill in Wolfeboro Falls. I went to Carpenter Elementary and was in Mrs. Boucher’s first grade class. We had an eclipse that year and were told not to look up at the sun or we’d burn out our retinas.
My friend Karen and I stole a couple of looks up at the sun. We had no idea what retinas were anyway. We climbed on slides taller than the safety standards of today, over netting taller than would be safe today, spun ourselves sick on merry go rounds that have become extinct. But nothing sticks in my mind about where and who I lived with. Dad wasn’t around.
At school, we started to learn how to read. My first word: into. The first real bane of my existence: reading aloud. We formed small groups and read with the teacher there, helping us to pronounce new words as we came across them. As another kid read before me, my eyes flitted ahead to scan and see what I would have to read aloud.
I saw a name I’d never seen before and had no idea how to say it.
“Jamie, it’s your turn.”
I started reading. Getting to the name, I paused, then went for it. “Jack-cob,” I said.
The other kids laughed. I’d screwed it up. My face turned the color of strawberries and flamed as only an Irish face can.
“Jacob,” my teacher said, pronouncing it correctly.
You never know when to be thankful for the small embarrassments.
I started doing odd things at school. Things that now, watching or reading about a child doing them, I know what they would point to, what you would know reading about how I grew up. But when you’re in the midst of them, you have no idea. You’re seven and you have no idea of what normal life is supposed to be. We stood in line, quieting ourselves to go back inside. I suspect I’d gotten bored. I faced my friend Karen and without thinking, my hand raised and touched the points of where her breasts would be. Of course, seven year olds have no concept of them or that they’d form eventually. I didn’t say anything.
“You just touched her!” some kid yelled.
“You touched her boobies!” another kid said.
I wanted to crawl into the ground and die. No idea why I’d done it or what purpose it served. As a social worker, I know that the behavior exhibited is called sexualized behavior and is shown by children who have been sexually abused. They’ve no idea why they do it or when it will happen. It just…does.
And it did. And I felt horrible and wanted to take everything back.
Then Dad got into an accident. He’d been at the pub one night in the Village, drinking with his buddy Phil. Dad drove home. They didn’t make it. Dad had a few too many and drove into a telephone pole. Phil screwed up his neck, Dad cracked a few ribs. Mom left Jeff and went back to Dad, bringing my sister and me with her.
I don’t miss Jeff.
I remember playing at Phil’s house before the accident. We’d shoot beer cans off a small hill with 9mm handguns. It made Dad proud, because I was a good shot and only seven. His daughter could out-shoot most of the men who came and drank and shot with Dad and Phil.
I was proud, too.
Dad got charged with DUI and Phil sued Dad for the accident. I didn’t find out about this until I was eighteen and home from college to gather paperwork and came across the copies of the court documents. That happened a lot in my family. People in the extended family would die or get divorced and I would never be told. We had a slight problem with communication.
So I went back to Tuftonboro Central School, settling into the pattern of the first ten years of my childhood of moving back and forth between Carpenter and Tuftonboro. The first grade teacher there, Mrs. Robinson, gave me my first book that Christmas: The Comet and You. I read it over five hundred times while grounded in my room. I became the comet guru and could tell you anything about how comets had icy cores and would eventually disintegrate and how Halley’s Comet would only appear every 76 years.
Jeff the younger had moved away. I made new friends with a brother and sister just down the street. Nicole was in my grade and her brother Tony in the grade below ours. Tony and I caught crayfish and perch. We both made algae collections and watched it turn from green to purple to blue to brown to black in our rooms. We watched Tony’s dad cook in his restaurant and ate the burgers he made us.
At school, I didn’t see Tony much. Then I met this kid Adam. It happened like this:
I walked outside to line up for the bus. Someone punched me in the stomach. My fist flailed out and hit Adam, who had been the culprit. The teacher caught sight of us and shouted at me. I got put to the wall for recess the next day. Adam didn’t get punished.
He’s still on my list for an ass-kicking.
At home, the haunting continued. At night my bed shook. I took to sleeping entirely under the covers. I saw lights in the closet, heard voices in my room. Heard footsteps in the hallway outside, saw doorknobs move, saw windows open and close.
Dad laughed when I told him, every time. Or he yelled when I ran to their room. Soon, I stopped running there and ran into the bathroom instead, sleeping on the bathroom rug.
A month later, Dad got a new job and we moved again. Dad likes to tell the haunting story. In fact, he still laughs as he tells it.
Posts: 14745 | Registered: Dec 1999
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You know, I would really like to live in a society where it's okay to kill men who abuse children. Is that so wrong a thing to want?
The list of people who need killing just seems to get longer with every passing day.
Okay, okay, don't go calling the FBI or anything. I'm not going to act on this. I just wish I could get a government license to do so. I am not a very hate-filled person, but the kind of man who would sexually abuse a child is, to me, beyond redemption. If we can't eliminate them from our midst, couldn't we just study them in a controlled setting for awhile. Maybe figure out how to avoid making more of them?
I know that there's a fair probability that the abusers were childhood victims themselves and I do have pity for them. I don't have a lot of understanding, though. It certainly isn't a one-to-one correspondence (as in: abuse as a child leads one to irrevocably become a child abuser). And surely some child abusers are doing it without having been abused as children.
So...what's the key? Maybe we should work really hard to figure it out and thereby prevent it from happening as much as it does...
But in my fantasy world, we just get to gang up on them and make them hurt a lot.
I guess the best thing we can do is support the victims and, God bless people like you, Mack, who not only survived, but went on to pursue a career that lets you help some of the younger victims.
What gets me, Bob, is I don't REMEMBER if I was abused. All I see are signs. I can't remember. o_O
I also didn't write this post to get sympathy...I wrote it just to...write it. Tell the story. That's actually the second chapter of the Carpetbagger memoir. I'm writing the third right now.
Posts: 14745 | Registered: Dec 1999
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Last night I read all three of the chapters you have up at Mad Owl. (I read them out of order which is the usual fare for me. Like the time I read LOTR out of order... 3,1,2. Same order for your's, incidently.) I was so touched by them, and amazed. You were a remarkable child which makes for a remarkable adult. I am glad you came through those times (and are still working through them). I can't wait to read more of it. It carries with it a healing process that goes beyond your own. I think it could definitely help others going through similar situations, knowing that you did and survived.
I am glad to know you, and someday hope to be counted as one of your friends. Or at least a fan acquaintance .
Posts: 822 | Registered: Jul 2001
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The first time I read this thread, I couldn't reply because I got sick while reading. I don't know what to say Mack, I also was sexually abused as a child. Just like you, I didn't remember the acts, I had only images of memories surrounding those. With EMDR my therapist and I started with those and then the whole thing came back as a movie and I went through it again. It may sound weird, but this was such a relief. Really a breakthrough. I hope you'll have your memories back one day and find a way to process them, because maybe that's the only way to get rid of the anger and pain.
The last time Dad ever got within range to physically hurt me. I was seventeen, a junior in high school, and wanted money to rent a band instrument. He said no, he didn’t have money to waste on things like that.
“You always have money for beer and cigarettes,” I said, looking him straight in the eye, breaking a rule of contact for my father. Looking him in the eye makes you a threat that must be put down.
“Those are important things,” he said.
“I’ve always wanted to play an instrument!” I said.
“Well, you won’t be,” he said.
“I hate you!” I said.
Dad’s face had flushed red at that point, just like mine did. His eyes were bloodshot and fanatical, the alchohol adding to the effect of making him look as if he were going to cry.
He wasn’t. His long legs took him right up to me, in my face. “Who do you think you are?” he asked me, shouting. “We feed you and give you a place to sleep? Do you think you could live on your own?”
“I just want to play an instrument and you won’t even let me have that!”
“We have more important things to pay for!”
He took me by the neck, shoved me up against the wall. Black crowded the edges of my vision, I felt tears run past the hate and anger in my eyes, run down my cheeks and betray my feelings. “I can do what I f****** well what to!” he yelled. “And if you are in my house, you will do what I say!”
I couldn’t talk. I knew Mom was there, in the kitchen, watching. And she did nothing. He gripped tighter. My hands came up to struggle.
He let go.
“I hate you,” I said, voice raspy.
The movement of his fist caught my attention and I ducked to the left. Dad’s knuckles left an imprint on the wall.
“Look what you made me do! Look!” He grabbed my chin and put my face up against the wall he’d just dented.
“I’m sorry!” I said.
“Not as sorry as you’re going to be,” he said. “Get out of my house. Now. Go.”
He dropped his hands and went to the living room, right next to the dining room on the open floor plan. “Leave.”
I stood there. Looked over at Mom. Her eyes stuck to the linoleum floor under her. “Fine,” I said.
And walked outside. I felt an odd sense of freedom. First I walked down the street towards Coach Williams’ house, thinking they’d take me in, could figure out what the hell to do. The tears dried up as I walked in the nighttime air. My hopeful eyes met up with an empty, darkened house.
My brain struggled to find other places to go. Gainesville had such a rural north end, I’d have far to walk to find anyone. I set out down the road, towards the highway.
Twenty minutes later, headlights illuminated the road ahead of me from behind. I stepped to the side of the road, waiting for the car to pass.
I thought of people as I walked, wondering who I could talk to, who I could tell, where I could go.
The car didn’t pass. Instead, it slowed. I slowed, too, turning to look.
She opened her window.
“What?” I said.
“Get in,” she said.
“No,” I said. “I’m not going back.”
“Your father loves you. He just doesn’t know what to do with you, you’re so much alike. And you make him angry.”
“He doesn’t love me.”
“I can’t go back.”
“You have to. Get in the car.”
What else could I do? I got in the car and hated myself for it. Hated myself for years afterward for the lost opportunity to rid myself of my father. We went back to the house. Dad sequestered himself in his room. I ran to my room, started packing a bag. At least I could take my stuff this time and get out, maybe make a phone call before I left.
Mom stood in my doorway. “You aren’t going to leave.”
“I am. I’m not taking this.”
“You have nowhere to go.”
“I’ll find someplace.”
Dad’s voice came from behind Mom’s. “You aren’t leaving my house.”
They shut my door. Tears came violently, pushed through by a rage untouched by sanity. I threw books and a lamp, pillows and bedsheets, bags, balls, a desk chair. I slumped next to the wall in the corner, surrounded by all I’d attempted to destroy. I wanted to die.
So I hit my head against the wall. Harder and harder, wishing the wall would reach in and take everything away and make it all quiet and safe. Instead, I saw stars. I fell over, fell asleep, exhausted.
The next morning, we all acted as if the night before hadn’t happened. I went to school, Mom and Dad went to work. We started remodeling the house soon after, repainting the living room and dining room, redoing the cabinets in the kitchen. We also added a chair rail to the dining room.
But Dad didn’t fix the impression his fist had left. He would point it out to people when they came in, say that I had made him do it. Any other time we got into arguments, he would point at the impression. And I would die inside, a bit more, knowing that I had missed my chance to run.
Dad laughs now when he tells his version of the story.
Posts: 14745 | Registered: Dec 1999
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No one deserves to have the kinds of things happen to them as you have had happen to you. Everyone, every life, every soul, has beauty in it, and I have seen so few as beautiful as you. Pain can become a very attractive friend, and you have every reason to be familiar with it. Eventually we come to rely on our pain, to trust it, even to be comforted by it. It remains with us with a loyalty we've never known elsewhere and it is close, intimate in a way that we have let no other soul become. But like any toxic friendship, we have to be the ones to let it go, to walk away. You deserve to be happy.
I'm sure I'm telling you nothing you don't know, or at least that you have not already heard. In the end, I suppose I can offer you nothing here at Hatrack but my words and the emotions behind them: sadness, sympathy, hope. I do hold hope that you will eventually be able to sort things out, to heal; please don't ever give up.
quote:“Your father loves you. He just doesn’t know what to do with you, you’re so much alike.
I heard this too. My mother gave me the same spiel, that my father and I fought so fiercely because we were so much alike.
"If you didn't have such similar personalities, you wouldn't clash so much."
That's BULL The last thing I wanted, the most hurtful thing that could be said to me when I turned to my mother for help because I was afraid of this person was for her to say I was just like him Me, like this raging, terrifying person that could snap at any moment and throw me against a wall? (Yeah, mack and I share that experience too)
I didn't want to hear that. And it wasn't true. It wasn't about me, it was about my Mom being able to say something that made HER feel better. To reconcile why her daughter and husband had such problems. "Clashing personalities" is so much easier to swallow than "he's a monster that is terrorizing my child"
Posts: 14426 | Registered: Aug 2001
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Your father frightens me, but your mother frightens me even more. To just stand there and watch as your own child is beating, I am not sure you parents can even be called parents. (I am sorry if that sounds too harsh.) You obviously had someone watching over you, and you definitely have got some spunk.