She remembers a warm day in 1965. She pedaled her brother’s old hand-me-down Schwinn as fast as she could. Sweat collected around her sun-streaked hairline and ran down the back of her gingham dress. She could still hear the crashing of the wooden dresser onto her mother’s tiny body, still see her father’s nostrils flaring and eyebrows curtaining his eyes. “Leave. NOW.” Her mother had whimpered, looking at her four children with all the protective fierceness she could conjure.
“How’s it going, Debbie?” Jan- the neighbor girl- asked cheerfully as she approached.
“Fine.” She finally took a breath and wiped the sweat from her forehead. “Just fine. Can I play over here for a while?”
You’re not supposed to be scared, and you’re not supposed to tell. Be numb, like everyone else, and act like it never happened. If the little girl inside you should ever acknowledge her fear, sadness, or anger, you must kill her immediately.
“So, how’s your summer going, Jan?” She smiled.
She remembers an evening in 1968. She had been growing her hair out all winter, in hopes of channeling Ali MacGraw in time for Spring Break at the roller rink. “That mop of yours looks straggly and unkempt,” her father had announced over dinner that night. She had just been touching the back of her head, noticing that her hair was finally almost to the middle of her back- It felt as though he observed and resented her satisfaction. “No!” Tears welled up in her eyes, realizing that her protest was futile. “Cut it short, Mother,” He commanded coldly. “After dinner directly.” Her mother opened her mouth to speak, but he touched his hand to his belt and raised his eyebrow, causing “Mother” to flinch and retreat. She cried silently to herself as she forced bites of food into her mouth.
Your sense of control can be taken away in the blink of an eye, and the people that are supposed to care about you sometimes take pleasure in your pain. Be on-guard. Remain detached, and maintain control whenever you can. If the little girl inside of you should ever want to stand up for herself or relinquish control, you must kill her. After dinner directly.
She remembers an autumn day in 1970. She had dog-eared the pages of Tiger Beat that showcased her favorite looks from Farrah Faucet, and had been applying baby-oil and Sun-in all summer long. She hoped her uniform of ironed-hair and hot pants would make her as popular as the magazines seemed to promise.
“Good Lord, Debbie,” Her father had met her in the hallway, wearing only his underwear. “Go back upstairs and change before I slap your perky behind. Or is that what you want?” Her mother had continued looking at the floor, concentrating on her sweeping.
As she changed into her bell-bottoms, she wondered why she felt so violated, so scared, so hurt. Obviously she was overreacting; her mother hadn’t corrected him or said anything about his only wearing underwear. And he had actually given her a compliment, hadn’t he?
Your feelings and perspectives don’t matter, and the only thing about you worth loving must be your sexuality. If the little girl inside you should ever feel a voice or a sense of value and worth, you must murder her on the spot.
She remembers an autumn evening in 1973. Rick had flatly invited her to make-out after the football game. He had found a dark area, hidden between the bleachers and some bushes, and started quickly unbuttoning her shirt. Any momentary excitement or fear was automatically pushed aside. She was used to numbing her feelings. Any momentary consideration of what she wanted was quickly pushed aside. She was used to denying her perspectives. She observed the pushing between her legs as a detached science experiment. I wonder exactly how this works; What is he going to do next? Oh he is doing that? She escaped the pain by counting the berries on the branch next to her. 17…18…19… When he was done, he mumbled, “See you ’round; Let’s do this again some time,” and zipped up his pants. She smiled, not because she wanted to do it again, but because she- for some reason- wanted him to want to do it again.
She remembers sitting in the court room one chilly morning in 1975, tears streaming down her otherwise stoic face. “If I saw you laying on the side of the road, I would spit and keep walking,” He had sneered at his daughter before the proceedings began. “You are nothing but a whore.”
“It is ordered that custody of the currently pregnant minor child, Deborah Weiss, and her offspring, be granted to foster guardians, Mr. and Mrs. Alvin Simpson. Financial support for both mother and child will be provided to the Simpsons through the fund of the State until the minor child’s 18th birthday, and medical and legal decision-making for both mother and child will be their prerogative until that day.” The judge pounded his gavel resolutely.
The doors to the courtroom opened, and she watched her mother and father leave, without a look back.
You are rejectable and unlovable and not worthy of others’ understanding and acceptance; You are disgusting. If the little girl inside you should ever desire to expose vulnerability, humanity, sexuality, or your true self to another soul, you must promptly strangle the life out of her.
She remembers a day in 1980, packing her bags and pulling out of the driveway of her boyfriend’s house. He had willingly babysat her child whenever she asked, barely ever wanted sex, was content to watch MASH and eat canned Spaghetti every evening, and never once raised his voice or left her guessing. He was boring. Or at the very least, he didn’t redeem her feelings of worthlessness or fill in her emptiness- His niceness to anyone denied her of any specialness whatsoever. What she needed – what she knew and what was the only thing that could quell the numbness- was an asshole. If ever the little girl inside of you should dare to feel contentment and belonging, you must sabotage her existence until she ceases to exist.
She remembers a day in 1981, panicked and chain-smoking Marlboro’s on her front step. There were two lines on the stick. She had only known him a few months, but maybe this time she would finally be loved forever.
She remembers a day in 1986. The days were long and lonely, with her husband at work or the bar most nights. But she forged-on having practiced maintaining “numb” for years. Her daughter smiled broadly, “Look, mommy!” and she kept ironing, instead of looking up to see the little girl standing in front of her showing off her cowboy hat. I must do, do, do and clean, clean, clean to fill in the empty. The little girl inside who would have filled the empty with feeling, connecting, and being seen is now merely a corpse. Later that afternoon, her toddler had set fire to the bedroom with a tanning lamp, and fear couldn’t help but force its way in. She felt briefly alive…
She remembers a day in 1993. Her daughter had protested that she was too old to dress up as a baby in the fourth grade talent show. Her child had awakened the part of her that she had violently disowned. Fear erupted: “I spent all this time sewing you a costume! How dare you not want to wear it! How dare you honor your own perspective when someone else would rather you not!” Her daughter cried through her mother’s screaming, completely unaware that her mother was simply engaging in her own survival exercise. You must not advocate for your feelings and perspectives. You are not worthy of unique needs, and voicing your true self would only result in pain.
She remembers a day in 1997. She had just retrieved her daughter from a sleepover after finding out that a boy had snuck-in to the party late the night before. The parts of herself that she had disowned and feared came alive once again. She spoke to the little girl inside that she had murdered long ago. “Whore! Don’t you know, sex is something that destroys! It makes you BAD and DIRTY!” Her daughter cried, hugging her knees to her chest against the wall of the hallway, not understanding that her mother wasn’t even talking to her. She was talking to the little girl inside of her.
She remembers a day in 2001. She now had proof that her husband was cheating, and she felt both the despair of victimization and acute self-loathing. She couldn’t ignore her flood of perspectives and feelings. Hadn’t she subjected him to years of emasculation, picking fights, and anger, to push him away and create an emotional barrier of safety? Or was it because she sometimes felt accidentally safe enough to unload how she really felt about men? Either way, it was her fault, wasn’t it? No, he had committed to loving her, and she had been a GOOD wife, suffering quietly and remaining sexually available- Weren’t those the ingredients for everlasting love? And besides, her outbursts were only reactions to his cold behaviors in the first place. Or were they in reaction to her father? She felt sick, life now forcing her to recall the dying little girl on Sycamore street for the first time in decades (a reintroduction she had been secretly craving all along).
She remembers a day in 2012. She received a phone call that her mother had died. The feelings flooded again. So much regret, so much love. And so much anger. The little girl screamed, “Feel angry! It wasn’t right!” but she remembered the rules: Feelings should be denied; A desire for respect and acceptance is laughably wrong; And being “human” only leads to rejection. So she picked up a cigarette for the first time in two decades, guzzled a bottle to wine to stop the feels, and clenched her hands firmly around the neck of the little girl inside her, still fighting for her life.
She remembers a day in 2015, two months after she had first stepped into therapy with her inner child and vitality and sense of self hanging by mere threads. That day, her therapist felt she was ready to begin an important investigation into the loss of a child- Herself.
She took Debbie by the hand- through pauses to breathe and pauses to cry and pauses to ground- back to the violence and invisibility and twisted lessons and quiet sufferings of Sycamore street.
That day in 2015, a woman started to feel and to grieve, and let old rules and walls crumble with the weight of her own life hanging in the balance, for the first time in decades. That day she chose self-understanding and self-acceptance, and self-compassion over any unspoken laws she had been learning and practicing her whole life. That day a little girl, with wonder, and fear, and curiosity, and anger, and sexuality, and vulnerability, and joy, and a little gingham dress and blonde hair…. first gave the faintest flicker of hopeful new life.
As usual, just something to think about.
Signed, the therapist who believes that re-connecting with self-compassion and acceptance, even of the icky stuff, is the basis of all of life’s beautiful possibilities. And disconnection from self-compassion and acceptance only breeds generations of pain.