Trigger Warning: This brief essay deals with child abuse.
By Keema Waterfield
Halfway through my first pregnancy I imagine my mother, age 19. She is unwed, the weight of my future self putting a bend in her back, widening her hips. The ghosts of her childhood trail behind her like lost buttons: all those years with her brother, the powerlessness, the shame, the guilt, the angry mother, the denial. That black place the hurt goes, overflowing. A baby sister she can’t protect looking at a lifetime of worrying at those same choppy waters.
How my mother’s heart must have ached at the thought of me.
It isn’t hard to imagine.
My own ghost is a man we knew by the name of Ray, but whom we later learned was wanted in fourteen states, give or take. He had one eye and a gun, both of which he laid on me in my top bunk somewhere around my third birthday, his pants around his ankles. Mom away for a few days, picking up furniture. My baby sister in the bottom bunk making a noise in her throat that no person of sound mind could hear without offering comfort.
I think of Ray when I hold my growing belly on dark mornings after another visit to the bathroom. I think how ponderous the shape of sorrow is. How little it takes to upend a childhood, like a table on its side: dishes broken, food soiled, water glasses emptying themselves onto the hardwood floor.
At dinner now the table is upright and the lamplight has grown reluctant listeners, but there is still a world of missing children out there. Missed. Misused. If you’re lucky and some part of you makes it back people tell you slow down, be a kid, but the missing learn early that childhood is a mercy only sometimes granted, and dessert is offered only to those who suffer gently.
I’ve been thinking about silence lately, how much it makes me want to break open all the windows in the world and scream. Because I know now what my mother knew then: the missing don’t have a say.
Keema Waterfield is a 2011 MFA grad from the University of Montana’s nonfiction program. She has been published in Pithead Chapel, Redivider Journal, Understory, and the Anchorage Press. The title essay from her forthcoming memoir “Inside Passages”, won the 2011 Cross Genre Award at Mason’s Road.
My heart aches for all of the children who were never allowed to experience the innocence of childhood. Beautifully written piece. Thank you for sharing.
I believe I played the part of both you and your baby sister…at the hands of my adopted father…I am sorry for us all.
Thank you for sharing your story. I lost my childhood as well.