Browsing Tag

child abuse

Abuse, Guest Posts

Closet Shots

April 20, 2018
closet

By Adele Zane

Your father just shoved you into his bedroom closet and slammed the door, entombing you. You tell yourself to get a grip, but your ears still pound and your hands still clench. You pant through your nose, purse your lips, squeeze your eyes shut, and grit your teeth. You do all of this so your head won’t explode like a watermelon rifled against a wall. So what, you tell yourself, this is nothing. Why not view it as a refreshing alternative to his usual forms of discipline? This one beats a harried chase through the house till he corners you in the dining room where you drop to the floor and curl up like a pill bug.

His fancy eel skin belt, the buckle flying, raining down on your back and thighs. In fact, when you think back through the fifteen long years of your life, as far as his punishments go, this shut-in-the-closet one is easy. It hasn’t involved belts, wooden spoons, or yanking of hair. So get ahold of yourself, calm down, and above all, do not cry. He hates that. He says it’s manipulative and that he’s way too smart to fall for what he calls crocodile tears. Whatever that means.

It’s Saturday afternoon and time for his nap. No one in your family will want to wake him once he falls asleep. Even as a toddler you knew not to go near him when he slept, but if you had to, to wake him for a phone call or because it was dinnertime, it was safest to stand at the foot of his bed, and say, Daddy, Daddy, several times with increasing loudness. If that didn’t work, then you would touch his big toe lightly, recoiling fast so he couldn’t clobber you when he came up from his dreams, arms swinging at imaginary assailants.

You realize you could be in here for hours. The door doesn’t have a lock; you could open it if you wanted to, but you won’t and neither will anyone else. Now that you’ve calmed down, you better find some way to entertain yourself. You slowly turn around and move your arms like you’re doing the wave at a football game until you find the pull chain to the overhead light. You wonder if turning it on is against the rules of his new made-up-on-the-spot punishment. You decide to chance it and pull the chain, real slow so it doesn’t make a clicking sound. The bare 40-watt bulb illuminates two identically tailored pinstripe suits, one brown and one navy, from Roos/Atkins, his favorite store, and lots of work pants and shirts from Penney’s and Sears.

On the floor are his polished black dress boots and his dusty work boots—the ones he whistles for you to come and remove from his feet when he gets home from work. You quell the urge to kick his stupid shoes and yank his dumb clothes from their hangers because you know your father can go from charming to ballistic in less than a second without discernible provocation. This would be too discernable an act of provocation. You could go through his pockets—maybe there’s something interesting in them—but he’d know you looked, for he’s all-knowing or so he tells you and you can’t take that risk even though you doubt he would really know. You dare yourself to look in his jacket pockets anyway. Nothing much—a silver lighter, a toothpick, and a couple of pennies.

What is interesting is what’s lined up against the wall to your left, almost as tall as you are. Careful not to touch, you use your index finger to count them. There are a total of nine zippered cases of soft beige suede, each holding either a rifle or a shotgun. You don’t know what makes a rifle a rifle or a shotgun a shotgun. Is there a difference? You’d never realized he had this many, but then again, you’ve never hung out in his closet either. To your right are shelves he built. On the shelves are boxes and boxes of bullets and a pair of sheathed hunting knives. He’s got enough firepower to kill every deer, duck, and quail in the state of California, and maybe Nevada too. At least that’s what it looks like. He’s even got handguns nestled in boxes. You read their labels: .44 Mag, .357 Mag, and something called a 1911. Why the heck does he need all these? To sneak up on an unsuspecting pheasant? You think it’s extreme overkill to own so many guns and smile to yourself at your wittiness.

You hear the thwack, thwack of a tennis ball being hit back and forth. Your father, now lounging on his bed atop a faux fur bedspread the unnatural color of a teddy bear, smug in the knowledge that his oldest daughter is confined ten feet away, has resumed watching the Wimbledon finals, a match between Jimmy Connors and Arthur Ashe. You hear him fire up a Camel no-filter. His chain smoking makes your family and your house smell like you all roll around in dirty ashtrays.

But back to the guns. He didn’t put you in here so you could peruse his gun collection, choose your favorite one.

For a moment you flirt with the fantasy of hurting yourself, but it seems too obvious a move given the situation. Too bad you didn’t pay more attention when he first showed you how to load his BB gun, then how to aim and shoot at the paper target he’d taped to a stepladder in the basement. A good starter gun he’d called it. You’d bawled and made it clear that unlike him, you weren’t interested in weapons or hunting or killing animals. Besides, your eyesight is so bad you didn’t even come close to hitting the target itself let alone the bullseye.

To kill time, you imagine the headline in the San Francisco Chronicle, if you successfully loaded a gun, and managed to fatally shoot yourself in the closet’s three-by-six-foot space. Poor Misunderstood Girl Shoots Self Dead in Father’s Closet. Now you’re feeling sorry for yourself. How about Trapped Teenage Girl Shoots Self Because of Idiot Dad and Stupid Family. Your attempts at amusing yourself wear thin, and you collapse down to sit cross-legged on the cherry red shag carpet to wait him out. You cover your face with your hands.

You’re lulled into sleepiness by the sound of the television audience’s polite applause and the announcer’s soothing voice as he loudly whispers Love, Fifteen. Your dad’s rooting for Connors. You think Connors is a hotheaded jerk and hope he loses to the black guy Ashe. If your father knew you were dozing during your punishment, it would anger him even more. You don’t want to do that because he can be inventive. Besides his trusty belt, he has a dog whip for special-occasion infractions. It stings like hell and leaves the nastiest welts, worse than the belt buckle. He’s careful to hit you above your knees so the marks aren’t visible below your skirts, but his thoughtfulness doesn’t keep you safe at school. It’s against the rules to take your gym clothes into a bathroom stall to change, but you do it anyway. You don’t have a choice, you have to; you know instinctively that if anyone were to see your body, it would be too difficult and embarrassing to explain.

You imagine standing in front of your dresser and contorting your body in the mirror so you can count the multicolored welts that adorn your butt and thighs, fingering them gently, monitoring them day to day as they change from angry red to mellow yellowish purple. Proof of his unfairness or your uselessness. You’ve dozed off but wake up fast when you hear your mother’s voice. Maybe she’s come to remind your father you’re still in the closet.

“Manuel. Wake up. Ashe won, but Wide World of Sports is about to start or maybe there’s some soccer on. Want me to get you some Sanka?”

You’re happy Connors lost. Then you hear the jingle of the keys that hang from your father’s belt. A sound that elicits fear in your family because it tells you he’s coming but doesn’t telegraph what mood he’ll be in when he gets to you. The closet door opens before you can jump up to pull the chain and turn off the light. You pray he doesn’t notice.

“Had enough?”

He looks down at you on the floor. You look up, squinting against the daytime brightness. You pull yourself to a standing position using the ammo shelves as leverage. Your legs don’t quite cooperate. You remember to drop your eyes to the carpet because looking directly at him is considered a challenge to his authority. Yes, I’ve had enough, you tell him, because that’s what he wants to hear.

“Good, I hope you learned your lesson,” he says.

“Can I get back to my algebra homework, Daddy, please?” you remembered to say please.

He flicks at a speck of cigarette ash on the ratty terrycloth robe he wears over his work pants.

“Say sorry to your brother then go make me some Sanka. Not too hot, and don’t fill it too full either.”

“Yeah, say you’re sorry.”

You raise your eyes at the sound of your seven-year-old brother’s voice. Across the bedroom, he stands next to your mother and little sister, his arms folded across his chest like an angry genie-child denying wishes. You grit your teeth and take a deep breath through your nose, careful to keep your face blank. He is the worst brother anyone could ever have in your opinion, but you don’t want to sit in a gun-filled closet for the rest of your life so you apologize to him.

“I don’t believe you,” he says, tapping his foot for emphasis.

“That’s enough Mark,” your mother says, “she’s been in the closet for hours.”

You blink your eyes slowly and force your mouth into what you hope passes as an apologetic smile and try again.

“Really Mark, I’m sorry,” you say, “sorry I yelled at you. I just got to study.”

Your brother looks at your father, then back at you and states, “I can come in your room anytime I want.”

You admonish yourself to stay calm. Yes, your father shut you in the closet because you yelled at your do-no-wrong brother, interrupting an important tennis match, as well as your homework; however, this closet punishment trip wasn’t so bad, you handled it.

“Sure, anytime you want, Mark.”

He smirks with triumph.

You remind yourself that in three years you’ll graduate high school, you smile for real at the thought and head to the kitchen to try to make your father the perfect cup of Sanka.

Singer and songwriter Adele Zane was born in Brazil, grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, and now lives in Brooklyn, New York with the fine artist Richard Rosenblatt and their rescued terrier, Wally. She has taken memoir writing classes at both FreeBird Writing Workshop and Gotham Writers Workshop.

Donate to the Aleksander Fund today. Click the photo read about Julia, who lost her baby, and what the fund is.

 

Join Jen at her On Being Human workshop in upcoming cities such as NYC, Ojai, Tampa, Ft Worth and more by clicking here.

Guest Posts, Sexual Assault/Rape

Truth or Dare

April 23, 2017
dare

CW: This essay discusses sexual abuse.

By Galla Peled

“Truth or dare?” Russell, our babysitter for the night, demanded. Russell was the oldest cousin. He was 17, and deemed responsible enough to babysit. Every Saturday night my parents dropped me off at my cousin’s split level home in suburban Detroit, while they went out for dinner and maybe a show with my aunt and uncle. Every Sunday morning they came to pick me up, and we would all have breakfast together before we went home. My mom made tomato sauce for my Aunt’s scrambled eggs and we kids took turns shaking cinnamon sugar out of a plastic bear dispenser onto our toast.

Shortly after the adults went out, we gathered on the brown shag carpet of the master bedroom and closed the door.  Playing there with the door closed felt clandestine and was a little bit exciting. “Truth or dare?” Russell pressed his sister, Lizzie. She and I were both six, and Neil, Lizzie’s other brother was eight. Lizzie had lost a hand at Blackjack and the rules were that if you lost, you had to choose a truth or a dare. Since Russell was the oldest, he always got to deal and make up the rules. For some reason he almost always won; Neil, Lizzie, and I took turns losing. With each loss we removed an article of clothing. Once we were naked, when one of us lost a hand, we had to choose a truth or a dare. Our choice could be overruled by the dealer, so essentially we were always dared to fulfill his fantasy. It was a punishment for losing.

TRUTH: Childhood sexual abuse can be defined as any activity that engages a child in sexual activities that are developmentally inappropriate.

DARE:  Lizzie was flat chested and hairless. The veins that stood out on her skin were as blue as her eyes, her six-year-old body a stretched-out version of a toddler. She instinctively used one arm to cover her nipples and the other to cover her private parts. She cowered next to the bed. “Dare!” Russell decided for her, and challenged her to walk atop his spread-eagled legs as he reclined back on his elbows. His penis stood in the nest between his legs, threatening all of us with its presence. We knew if she could not complete the dare to his satisfaction, she would have to perform another task until he was appeased. I watched, afraid for her, but stimulated at the same time.  The woolen carpet scratched my own private parts and I liked how it felt. At least I still had my shirt on. Continue Reading…

courage, Guest Posts, healing, I Have Done Love

The Way Things Overlap.

June 3, 2014

The Way Things Overlap by Deb Stone.

January 10, 2000 was my daughter’s eleventh birthday. It was also my neighbor girl’s funeral. She was 23. That morning I decorated our home with balloons and streamers, wrapped gifts in bright paper and twisted ribbons. That afternoon I dressed in black and wore my hair in plain black clips. Joy and grief, sometimes they overlap.

At the funeral, Crystal’s brother Josh said that he and his sister had been so frightened when they were taken from their mother that she laid on the floor in the bedroom of her foster home and whispered through the heat vent so he could hear her voice. Some years later—I’m not sure how many—our neighbors adopted them. At Crystal’s funeral, her adoptive mother sang You Are My Sunshine. Where did she find the courage to sing? How did she have the heart to welcome a birthmother she had never met to a funeral where the daughter they shared lay in an open casket.

Hello and good-bye, sometimes they overlap.

*

I’ve been a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) for twenty years. I coach and mentor new CASAs, and I teach some of the training courses that potential volunteers attend. As a trainer, I try to impart a sense of urgency on behalf of the child’s need for permanence in a timely manner, but also, the importance of family ties. Most new CASAs, whether they know it or not, come into training believing that they are going to help children who come from bad homes get adopted in good homes. I was no exception. As a new CASA volunteer, I wanted to right wrongs. To ensure children’s needs weren’t ignored in the service of parent’s rights. I had no college degree, no little letters behind my name like the rest of the professionals at the table, so I made it a point to know the case.

Diagnoses? I could rattle them off.

Dates of incarceration? Those too.

I knew how many fires the four-year-old set. I knew the words each sibling used to describe what Daddy had done: Penis. Pee-pee. Snake. If you gave me a soapbox, I’d mount it faster than a circus seal could balance a ball. I dug into the parent’s past, pressed social workers to do more, agitated attorneys who were protecting the parent’s rights. I was the voice of the child. Right?

Knowledge and ignorance, they overlap.

*

I have friends whose parents were vicious drunks, drug addicts, or hopelessly depressed and unresponsive parents. Friends whose fathers, brothers, or grandfathers put their fingers in private places. I have friends who were beat. Abandoned. They share their stories. Sometimes I ask, “Would you have been better off in foster care?”

They stare at me. Maybe they think so, but no one has said yes.

Most of these friends still send their mom a Mother’s Day card. Arrange for holidays with their historically abusive dad. They believe their family was worth having, and keeping, despite the abuse or neglect.

You don’t need twenty years experience to understand that 99 out of 100 foster children want to go home.

Separation and belonging, they overlap.

*

On my daughter’s eleventh birthday, I kissed the corpse of the neighbor girl who used to babysit my children. In the evening, our family sang Happy Birthday and shared in the wonder of being eleven. We talked about how you always think you’ll have another birthday, only someday when you never even know it, you’ll be having your last slice of cake.

My sons told us about how fun it was when Crystal babysat. They had water fights inside the house. They roasted marshmallows in the woodstove and caught the couch on fire—just a little—then rubbed dirt on the brown spot so I wouldn’t know. They played in-and-out-the-window tag, which explains why the screens on the windows sometimes seemed off kilter.

My birthday girl said her favorite thing about Crystal was how she never made you feel small. “Even though I was littlest,” she said,” She always let me drink from a big cup.”

*

Making people feel small is a specialty with child welfare systems. Nobody intends it, but when an agency sets out to prove that a parent can’t keep children safe, nobody highlights the parent’s best moments. They itemize what’s gone wrong. If the Court determines that the state has jurisdiction, the social workers set out to help the parents change while the children remain in foster care.

CASA trainees always struggle with the idea that vulnerable children may return to parents with marginal skills. We have an official term: minimum sufficient standards. What does it mean? Nobody can say. It’s a marshy area that falls below the community expectations for parenting, but above the line where children are unsafe. That gray area varies from case to case.

*

“The biggest worry I have,” said a trainee, “is how I’ll feel knowing the child I care about is going from a life where they have better opportunities to a minimally adequate home.”

I might have reminded her that research shows that children usually benefit from being in their family of origin. “It’s not about you,” I could have said. “Your feelings aren’t part of the equation.”

Instead, I said, “You know the videos on social media that illustrate someone overcoming insurmountable odds? Like the girl who broke her leg in the middle of a softball game and couldn’t run on her own two feet. The opposing team carried her around the bases. You know how that makes your heart catch in your throat? How it makes you believe in the potential good at the core of every human being?”

*

Imagine you have a friend whose partner left her. She’s been so depressed she can’t get out of bed. Sometimes she drinks too much. Her kids have learned to fend for themselves. On the day that someone knocks on the door for a welfare check, she’s still drunk from the night before. The children cling to their mom as the social worker tells her they are taking her children. Your friend stands on the porch and sobs as her children are buckled into a state car. She doesn’t know where they’re going. She doesn’t know when she’ll see them again.

Imagine CASAs interviewing your family and friends for all the things that have gone wrong in your life. Imagine having your worst parenting moment made public. Your worse fight. Your lowest point. The saddest, most shameful things you’ve never even told your best friend. Imagine standing in front of a judge while those things are being discussed. Imagine your family and friends in the courtroom listening to it all.

Shame and hopelessness, the way they overlap.

Imagine a phoenix rising out of that.   Witness a parent suffering through withdrawal. Earmark the day that parent becomes employed. Congratulate the parent when she convinces a landlord to rent her an apartment. See a parent ride three city buses each way to visit her child for an hour. See a person rise up out of wreckage. It can make your heart catch in your throat. See them stand in front of the judge while you attest that things have changed for the better. Not perfect. Better.

Know that if this parent can change, anyone can. You. Me. Those places in us we hide in shame? We can stop hiding. We can forgive ourselves. We can move on. Maybe we won’t be great, but we’ll be better. Maybe not even good, but better. Believing in others is ultimately about believing in yourself.

Failure and redemption.

Worry and hope.

The ways our lives overlap.

 

Deb Stone PR1
Deb Stone’s writing has appeared in STIR Journal, The Oregonian, Portland Tribune, Portland Upside, and Clackamas Literary Review. Her essay “Mr. Potato Head’s Secret Life” was selected for Portland’s 2014 inaugural Listen to Your Mother show. She has essays in The Truth of Memoir: How to Write about Yourself and Others with Honesty, Emotion, and Integrity and Stepping Up: Stories of Blended Families. Deb has been a birth, foster, step, and adoptive parent to over thirty children, a Court Appointed Special Advocate for another two dozen abused and neglected kids in foster care, and provides training to child advocates, social workers, and parents. She is seeking representation for her memoir Mother Up. Follow Deb on Twitter @iwritedeb. She met Jen Pastiloff in Portland at The Writer’s Voice Workshop with Suzy Vitello and Lidia Yuknavitch.

 

Jennifer Pastiloff, the founder of The Manifest-Station, is a writer living on an airplane. Her work has been featured on The Rumpus, The Nervous Breakdown, Jezebel, Salon, among others. Jen’s leading a long weekend retreat to Ojai, Calif over Labor Day in Ojai, Calif. She and bestselling author Emily Rapp will be leading another writing retreat to Vermont in October. Check out her site jenniferpastiloff.com for all retreat listings and workshops to attend one in a city near you. Next up:  Los Angeles, SeattleLondon, Atlanta, South Dakota, Dallas. She tweets/instagrams at @jenpastiloff.

 

 

And So It Is, Beating Fear with a Stick, Guest Posts, healing

All I Need to Know About Self Love I Learned from a Kindergartner.

March 26, 2014

All I Need to Know About Self Love I Learned from a Kindergartner. By Amy Roost.

Writing: It’s a numbers game. I send my editor a column knowing full well that most of the intended audience will never read it. And for those who do take the time, many won’t care and many more won’t like what I have to say.

And that’s fine because I don’t measure success by the number of people who read or like what I write. Rather I consider myself successful if what I share eases the way for just one reader.

And so it is with this hope that I share a story of abuse and recovery.


Between the ages of approximately 5 and 8, I was sexually abused by my brother nine years older than me. He told me he would kill me if I ever spoke a word of his transgressions to our parents. I believed him and followed orders until I was 16.

Our family was gathered for dinner. My brother waited in prey until the most opportune moment when he made a cruel remark about my ass being too big for my chair. It was not the first time he’d substituted verbal abuse for his previous physical abuse, but for whatever reason on this occasion I snapped and ran to my bedroom crying. My mother came to console me but it was no use. I was so hysterical that she wanted to take me to the hospital. I refused. I wailed. I screamed. And finally, I spilled the truth.

She was devastated, as any mother would be who learned that in the anguish and self-absorption of her divorce she had not protected her child. She did not question my story; she did, however, ask me to keep my story “our secret”.

It wasn’t until years later, when I was going through a depressive episode in graduate school, that my mother finally confronted my brother, insisting he apologize for his actions. I vividly remember taking his call: Standing in the kitchen of the brownstone where I lived in New York City staring out a window at the Chinese restaurant below, I heard his small voice utter the words “I’m sorry.”

I’d had dreamed of this moment for years and the satisfaction I’d derive from hurling expletives his way. Instead what I felt was tremendous relief from the heavy veil of secrecy having been lifted and hearing by abuser acknowledge the truth–a truth the veracity of which I ‘d begun to question myself, so long had it remained dormant.

Sexual abuse survivors — and there are millions of us, men and women alike — will recognize this statement. As well as the narrative I’d constructed around my childhood trauma that went something along the lines of: “If you’d kept away from him it never would have happened.” “It was your fault for not telling your parents.” “You liked the attention and let it continue to happen.” Such was the guilt and self-loathing that had become deeply etched in my psyche.

Through counseling and the love of a select few I trusted with my story, I healed in fits and starts until a day not long ago when my whole perspective shifted.

I was babysitting a neighbor’s 5-year-old daughter. We made animal shadows on the wall and she squealed with delight every time I used my best ventriloquist’s voice to make the shadows “talk.” We laughed so hard that tears ran down my cheeks. She looked up at me concerned and reached to wipe my tears away. “Don’t cry,” she said. “It’ll be OK.” And that’s when it hit me: the 5-year-old me could no more have caused what my brother had done than this innocent loving child next to me could cause harm to herself.

Writing: It’s a numbers game. Many of you will think this story TMI. But perhaps one person will recognize her experience in what I’ve shared and feel more connected, less lonely. It is for her that I write.

Amy Roost is executive director of Silver Age Yoga and a multi-dimensional freelancer.

Click photo to connect with Amy.
Click photo to connect with Amy.

Her multi-dimensional suchness, Amy Roost, is a freelance writer, book publicist, legal and medical researcher, and vacation rental manager. She and her husband are the authors of “Ritual and the Art of Relationship Maintenance” due to be published later this year in a collection entitled Ritual and Healing: Ordinary and Extraordinary Stories of Transformation (Motivational Press). Amy is also Executive Director of Silver Age Yoga Community Outreach (SAYCO) which offers geriatric yoga teacher certification, and provides yoga instruction to underserved seniors.

Click here to connect with Amy.

***

Jennifer Pastiloff is a writer based in Los Angeles. She is the founder of The Manifest-Station. Jen will be leading a retreat to Ojai, Calif in May and again over Labor Day weekend. http://jenniferpastiloff.com/Yoga_Retreats_With_Jen_Pastiloff.htmlAll retreats are a combo of yoga/writing and for ALL levels. Read this post to understand what a Manifestation retreat is. Check out her site jenniferpastiloff.com for all retreat listings and workshops to attend one in a city near you. Jen and bestselling author Emily Rapp will be leading another writing retreat to Vermont in October. A lot. Next up are workshops in Dallas, Seattle then London!! Book here.

 

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