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Erin Grace

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Deep Breath....Here I Go.

I'm the youngest of five. There's twelve years between me and the next child. The oldest is nineteen years older than me: he's sixty years old now. I was and still am, closest to my sister. She was fifteen when I was born and she was really the one who raised me. If not for her, I'm positive my life would have taken a very different road.

There was a lot of physical abuse and mental illness in my family. My sister tells me of all of the violence that occurred before I was born but she said at least the kids had each other for a while. She said I was just left to my own devices, to do whatever I wanted because they were all leaving home by the time I was born. I remember being so lonely in the country. Neglected. I used to beg my mother to take in a foster child.

 My father and my oldest brother had schizophrenia. My parents were also hoarders. My mother says I was a "pleasant surprise" but I now know I was an excuse for her to remain with my father because in those days, there was little to no help for families like ours. She had me at 44 years old, in 1970. 

My earliest memories were of waking up from a nap at two or three years old to find my father straddling my mother and strangling the life out of her. I remember hearing her gasping and my fathers angry voice (he could change from the kindest man ever, to an absolute terror, in an instant: his voice and whole demeanor would change). I pushed open the door and there they were on the bed. I just stood there frozen, not understanding. My mother looked over and desperately waved her hand, as if to say, "Get out." I backed out and closed the door and just walked away. I learned to ignore things that went on right in front of me. In time I got so I could tune anything out.

My mother says she and our father never should have had children. All I remember of her from my childhood is her sleeping the days away, while I was tied in my crib. Yes, when I became too mobile, I was tied. When I cried too much at night, the crib went in the basement. My sister would come home from school and find me unfed and unchanged. When I was older, she would be cleaning the house and find old food that I had hidden behind furniture, I suppose as a way to ensure I wouldn't starve. My mother would try to get me to obey her and we would physically fight. I had no respect for her. I had no idea this wasn't normal and I would go to school with bruises, gouges and bite marks on my arms. It wasn't until one day when a classmate asked about the marks, that I realized I probably should cover them up. The only good memories I have of my mother was when I awoke to The Doors playing in the early morning hours and I'd go down to the living room and see my mother dancing in the dark. She'd see me and sweep me up in her arms and swing me around, dancing for a long, long time. She called me her little "dolly" then.

The most confusing thing was when I mouthed off to my mother, in front of my father, he would get the wooden spoon, a belt, or most commonly, bend me over the utility sink, with a bar of Ivory soap jammed in my mouth. It wasn't your typical "mouth washing"....he made me eat used bars of soap. Swallow chunks of them. Like making a dog swallow a pill, he'd rub my throat until it went down. I can remember the stinging in my nose, I remember the stinging in my throat. To this day, I hate to even look at or smell Ivory soap. He could abuse my mother but how dare I disrespect either one of them. Daily I heard, "You're going to grow up to be JUST like your mother." That was no compliment. My father also had a habit of strangling and threatening to kill other people who pissed him off. I witnessed him strangling my schizophrenic brother in the middle of the night, as they argued on the stairs to my bedroom. Again, I was only two or three at the time. Eventually, my turn would come, years later.

Almost right after I was born, my parents separated but never did get divorced. I jumped between two houses but with mom in bed ALL day, every day, with shades drawn, dad seemed to be the more "attentive" choice. When he wasn't in an agitated, paranoid state, he was so loving and generous. Picking what I thought was the lesser of two evils, I went to live with my father permanently, at about 8 years old. He tried to let me be a kid. There wasn't a carnival or fair he wouldn't take me to and I had such adventures by myself on his farm. In the middle of winter, when a calf was born, we had to bring the poor thing into our kitchen or he'd freeze to death. With his little legs flailing this way and that on the linoleum, we would make it his home until the weather warmed up. We'd feed the calf out of these huge bottles of formula and I'd cuddle with them and let them suck my fingers for comfort. I adored animals. They needed me. Those are the memories that do make me smile.

 I was very troubled though too...I remember taking my aggression out on other animals around our property, like cats and snakes and being absolutely fascinated with fire. I set fires daily, somehow never managing to burn anything down. I was also a terrible bed wetter and thumbsucker. When later in life I researched severely abused children and serial killers, it struck me how many similarities I had with them. No worries, I have no killer instinct but it scares me how much we had in common. Research shows it only takes the influence of one stable, loving adult to help a child in crisis and that person has always been my sister.

There were people my father would freely leave me with. He couldn't seem to discern how to make safe choices as to who I should or should not be left with...I remember one time a tenant in one of his rental properties asking to take me with him into the city to pick up his daughter. The man always gave me the creeps and was an alcoholic but I was too scared to say no. The only memory of that day that I have, is the man looking down on me in the back of his van and me being curled up in a ball on the floor. We did not go to pick up his daughter. I have had a fear all of my life of vans and have convinced myself that sexual perverts drive vans.

One time I remember my father rototilling the garden and running over a family of rabbits. It was a bloody, awful mess. My job was to take the babies in a bucket, up to the house and fill it up with water and drown them. Drowning baby rabbits at any age is horrific but at 8 or 9 years old, it made me feel as if I would certainly go to hell. I killed them. ME. Many of my pets were killed on the main road in front of my fathers house. The worst of those was my favorite dog, a black lab. She was hit and killed but instead of burying her, as he did the rest, my father left her right in front of the barn so that every day when I rode my bicycle up and down the driveway, I would see and smell her rotting carcass covered with maggots and flies. My sweet dog, who slept with me every night, who went everywhere with me, climbed trees with me, was rotting in front of my young eyes, every day for months, in the summer. 

Was my mother ever treated for her behavior? No. My father ever treated for his behavior? He was once, before my sister was born. He attacked my grandfather and was institutionalized and diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic. He never took meds after he was released, so my childhood up until his death a few years ago, was filled with stories of the mob coming to get us all and people constantly following him and the rest of us. Everyone was out to get him and us. I never knew what to believe and I was always looking for some way out, someone to rescue me, although this "tough" kid would never admit she really needed rescuing.

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