This post contains graphic content about rape and abuse of a small child.
Reader discretion advised.
I am 36 years old and still don’t know why my body tenses and recoils at the touch of a man’s hand slipping between my thighs in search of a warm, wet invitation. Instead of spreading my legs and lifting my pelvis into his fingers in anticipation of further exploration, my thighs close like a vice and my hand pulls his away, denying entry.
No foreplay. He knows I just want him to get it over with. I turn my face away from his, and focus on anything other than his eyes. I shut down, physically and emotionally, making intimacy painful and miserable for us both.
Sex disgusted me. I viewed it as a necessary evil, a role I had to play to keep my husband from leaving. I felt violated, resentful and enraged every time I had to “submit” and give up control of my body. To save my sanity and my marriage, I sought out a therapist and had now been a patient of Lorraine’s for over a year.
Once again, I found myself sitting on her beige damask couch. I was unaware that, on this particular day, she would unlock the key to my secret–my Pandora’s Box.
“I want you to imagine you are three years old, sitting happily on a swing in your backyard. Picture it as your mother approaches you.” Then, in a soft soothing voice a young child would easily respond to, Lorraine asks, “How do you feel?”
“Fine,” I say. “My Mom just wants to check on me to see if I’m okay or hungry.”
“Okay, now, still in your backyard on your swing, your father approaches. How do you feel?” she queries.
Even before the thought has a chance to fully register in my mind, my body tenses, my open hands slam shut into white-knuckled fists pressing on my knees. My gut is wrenching and it is hard to speak. I choke on the words as I struggle to force them out. A three year old’s voice now answers, “I don’t like him. I don’t want him near me. He smells funny and I want him to go away!”
“Mary, Mary, it’s okay, I’m here with you. We are in my office and I need for you to talk, it’s Lorraine, come back and talk to me now.”
As my cramped body begins to relax and I am able to breathe, I experience “that moment” when suddenly I know. I know all of it. I know that it really happened. My father was an abuser, a predator, and a maniacal torturer. My eyes meet Lorraine’s and it is clear that she knows… and that she knows I know, too.
My numb, sweaty hands are wringing themselves. I have a keen awareness of my body, which is unusual for me. Lorraine had diagnosed me with Depersonalization-derealization Disorder a few months into therapy. It was a relief to know there was a diagnostic term describing the feeling of existing outside of your body; watching your life unfold as a passive observer.
She now treads lightly, knowing I need grounding after being catapulted into the abyss of my childhood. She leans forward in her black swivel chair to regain eye contact with me. Lorraine is a bit younger than me with benevolent green eyes and a calming, compassionate smile.
“I’m here” I said, acknowledging her voice. She allows me time to become acclimated to my surroundings and purpose for being here. Her office is small, not terribly clinical, but enough so that there can be no confusion about where I am; that these are serious therapeutic sessions between a doctor and patient.
Suddenly overwhelmed by nausea, I tip over sideways and find myself in the fetal position, clenching my stomach. My thighs ache; my vaginal canal feels bruised, battered and on fire. Slowly, my hands move down to my crotch and my thighs tighten around them applying pressure to ease the pain.
My eyes are burning with tears. I can’t see. I can’t catch my breath. My chest is heaving, gasping for oxygen between each primal sob.
I am dying.
“Mary, tell me what you felt when your father approached you,” Lorraine pressed, realizing I am fully present and “in” my body.
Words begin to pour from my mouth, but they are not mine. “I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe,” I blurted out between gasps for air.
“Yes you can. You are breathing. You are safe,” she says reassuringly. “You CAN breathe.”
“HE HURTS ME; HE TRIES TO KILL ME. HE COVERS MY MOUTH SO I CAN’T BREATHE!!” I wailed. “HE HURTS MY LEGS AND MY ‘SISSY’ REALLY HARD, AND MY DADDY IS MEAN TO ME!” I exclaim hysterically.
It’s then I realize it is her.
Pookie is bellowing–the injured little girl inside of me, crying out for the first time in over three decades. Pookie is the nickname my father gave to me, his last born daughter, his “special girl.”
She deserves to have her performance… her soliloquy. After all, she is the “holder of the unthinkable truth,” the Gatekeeper to my sanity, my strength to live my seemingly-perfect suburban life. Finally, the time has come and on that day she makes her debut on stage.
She takes her mark, center stage, fade in, single spot, cue music and… ACTION!
Pookie sits alone, cross-legged on the stage, in her favorite sky-blue dress with the pink and white smocking on top. Puffy short sleeves with a single ruffle encircle her baby doll arms. Her dainty white anklets, adorned with pastel colored lace around the edges, are all wrapped up like a Christmas present in shiny, black patent leather shoes. A soft blue ribbon tied in a single bow holds one blonde tassel of dirty blonde, shoulder length hair separate from the rest of her wispy fine, golden locks.
I watch her sitting there, alone and vulnerable; a tiny, blue-eyed beauty, confidence exudes from her as though she has been born to the stage. She sits patiently–she knows this performance by heart. Her attention turns stage left and there, lurking in the shadows in a belted beige trench coat and snap band hat, stands her co-star in this familiar tragedy: “daddy.”
I stand in the center aisle, watching the performance that is my life. Suddenly, I feel a warm sensation between my legs and realize I have wet my pants.
My jeans darken further and further down my legs, exposing my sheer panic and humiliation to the lone person in the audience. There she is, wearing her most flattering “special occasion” belted gray dress with white splashy strokes on it. It is our mother–mine and Pookie’s. She is more than familiar with the dialogue, props and characters in our twisted little drama. She methodically lights her cigarette to settle in for the performance.
Out from the shadows emerges the man who is the cause of the little girl’s rage, insecurities, suicide attempts, fear and her long-since-stolen childhood. There is no mistaking his saunter, his self-aggrandizing “swagger,” and his purposefully slow but steady footfalls.
Even though she has played this role so many times before, she always hopes that this time will be different–it will have a happy ending. But in her heart, she knows there is no happiness here. Not this moment, not this time, not ever.
Her head lifts slowly and she watches our father find his mark, his place to stand for his favorite scene. He savors each step, for he knows that the closer he gets, the more terror he invokes.
Still standing in my urine soaked jeans, my overwhelming need to know the truth compels me to move in closer. With each step forward, my body quakes inside and I am consumed with the stench of him–single malt scotch and unfiltered Camel cigarettes–sending my head and senses reeling.
My instinct is to rush on to the stage and save the little girl. I would sweep her up into my arms like a superhero, arriving just in the nick of time to rescue the persecuted. But instead, I find my feet set in stone. I glance at my mother. Surely she will step in and save the day so we could all, for once in our lives, feel safe and know that all is right in the world. That the Earth is set properly back on its axis.
This didn’t happen. Ever.
When my father is only steps away from his “luscious little Pookie,” I can see the corner of his mouth turn up into a sinister half-grin, like the lips of a lion snarling to bare his saber sharp canines at his prey. Our father relishes these moments, the seconds just before the pounce and he takes special care to look deeply into her teary blue eyes to make sure she feels terror.
Suddenly, Pookie embraces her Swan Song moment. In an unscripted move, she surprises us by just laying down, slowly and purposefully, in silent submission. Her body is limp, as though she has been dropped and has just landed that way, on her back, broken and unable to move.
I am standing, still paralyzed in mind-bending terror unable to help her. My voiceless eyes cry out to her to get up, get up and run, run as fast as you can! RUN!!
She turns her head toward me, our eyes meet and lock and in that moment, her broken spirit says to me, “Remember what you are about to witness here. It’s likely to kill me. Know that this happened. Watch it, feel it happen to me now and… remember.”
My father kneels down and lifts her dress slowly, exposing her pink Carter underwear, and rips them off in one violent grab. He’s so hard and so rough that he pulls her hips off the ground. Her eyes never leave mine. She lays there in complete resignation as he straddles her fragile little body and slams his open hand over her nose and mouth.
I can’t breathe.
He presses so hard on her mouth that she feels the warm stickiness of blood seep through her wispy fine hair where the back of her head is being ground into the hard wooden stage floor.
My mother puffs her cigarette and exhales the smoke in a long, slow breath as if she were bored. She doesn’t shift uncomfortably in her seat or avert her eyes. Her legs are crossed and her dress is draped perfectly on either side of her. She looks posed, as if ready to appear in a photo shoot.
I watch this chaos unfold from the vantage point of my left shoulder, as a pet bird would see while perched there. This is where I have always watched my life’s video play, detached, never a participant.
My father fumbles with his pants, it’s hard to determine exactly what he is doing because he never bothered to remove his overcoat or hat. Then, while still staring into my eyes–my soul–her body spasms in agony, and although no sound leaves her mouth, her eyes–those beautiful, blue, tear filled eyes–stay stuck on me in inexorable grief.
I stand witness as he brutalizes her, thrusting harder and harder, faster and faster, until finally, when the pain is too much to bear, she cries out in agony. All that is heard behind his hand is a muffled whimper.
He’s done now and finds his feet. He tucks his now-disheveled shirt into his pants and closes his trench coat, making sure he also keeps a firm grip on the adrenaline rush that consumes him after breaking her yet again. He ties the belt tight around his waist, planning on reliving these depraved moments over a scotch on the rocks and a smoke. Finally, he exits stage right.
Where is our mother? The lone figure that was the audience is nowhere to be found. She is gone. She must have had somewhere more important to be. Perhaps that was her last cigarette.
Now it is me lying on the vast, polished stage floor. Pookie’s crushing pain, her burden and reality are now all mine. My thighs are wet and bloody. I feel as though a knife has been shoved hard up inside me and ripped back out. Am I torn in two? I can’t move. I lay there alone in my single spot light, now gasping for air. I can’t breathe. I begin to wail but know no one will heed my cries, they never do.
I turn on my side and assume the fetal position once again, placing my hands between my thighs and apply pressure to ease the throbbing. I am crying hard, guttural, primal sobs, unable to inhale. I can’t breathe. There is no oxygen here in this vacuum. I am dying.
Finally free from my father after 36 years, he no longer haunts my dreams or controls my emotions. I no longer allow him that power.
Instead, I spend a lot of time with the stronger part of me: Pookie. I allow her to be three, four, five or whatever age she needs to be at any given time. We color, sometimes outside the lines. She always gets the big box of Crayola’s, the one with the built-in sharpener. We play with her collection of stuffed animals, making silly elephant and monkey sounds and watch Disney movies under a blanket tent. We dress up, have tea parties and now live together in one place, in one body.
It took a while for her to convince me to come down from my left shoulder and join her, but she is so enchanting and beautiful that no one, especially me, can resist her. I grant all her wishes. If my mind wanders into the abyss, I hear her beckoning me to come play. “Stay away from there, it dangerous” she warns. “C’mon, c’mon, let’s go catch a Unicorn!”
She is my hero. She continues to be the brave one who saves me from myself. I kneel in awe of her and sometimes she catches me just watching her play in her own little world, a world belonging to that of a happy, joyful little girl. She loves to twirl in that little blue dress with the multi colored smocking, twirl until she is dizzy and falls into the lush wildflowers in the field where we play.
“Am I the prettiest Princess in the whole wide world?” she muses, knowing what my answer will be.
“Yes, my sweet Pookie, you are the prettiest Princess in the whole wide world!” I insist, spreading my arms as far apart as I can, her signal to run into them for our jubilant embrace, not only of each other but of freedom found through forgiveness and love.
When I pick that sweet little Pookie up in my arms and hold her close to me, our hearts now beat in one rhythm, one song, together. We see the world through eyes of whimsy and wonder. We are not always together but we are never apart. Sometimes, alone in my thoughts, I catch myself laughing, unsure of what is amusing me. I tilt my head, wondering if someone is watching me. It’s then I feel her presence, that magical, fairy dust moment, when I realize I am not laughing alone.
Mary Mclaurine is a new blogger at the Heart of Sassy and writes to share stories and poetry, mainly about life, lessons learned and finding humor in it all. Now pushing 60, she fully embraces Peter Pan’s philosophy and has no intention of ever growing up. Her two boys are ‘grown and flown’ but like homing pigeons find their way back to the nest, sometimes for a day, sometimes for a month. When she isn’t listening to Classic Rock/ Blues music, dancing with her girlfriends like everybody is watching (they are), or laughing like an idiot (gotta pee your pants once in a while) she is wearing inappropriately short skirts for her age. She is connected to the Divine by animals, and Mother Nature is her Goddess!