Memory # 5,892

Note: The Memory Series is made up of entries that are my attempt to puzzle together so many disjointed and out of context memories and pieces of memories that float around in my brain. Most of these are memories I’ve always had, but even though I remembered these events, I never really examined or understood them. They are now critical memories to revisit as I work through my healing process. The numbers attached to each memory aren’t that important; they’re mostly random but the do indicate their order in my life.

From my journal on July 11, 2015

It’s been two months, and this is the loneliest place I have ever been.

Sometimes my chest feels like it is going to explode with rage and sadness. Sometimes I want to scream, “Somebody DO SOMETHING!” Sometimes I do scream it. Sometimes I scream for help.

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No one helps.

Because no one can.

My good friends, who are wonderful people, don’t understand, and I know it’s not their fault, because no one understands. I am glad that they don’t understand, because it means they did not have to go through what I have.

Where I am, no one can help. Because what is there to be done, anyway?

No one can help me.

No one.

It doesn’t matter that some of my other “friends” heard my story and then disappeared, while other “friends” barely noticed when I fell into this abyss two months ago and disappeared from all the regular places they would have seen me otherwise.

Because even if these “friends” were present, what could they do?

It occurs to me that my entire life through I’ve never had that one person, a best friend, a best BEST friend. One that I could show every part of me and not be afraid. I suppose a lot of that is my own fault.

But if I did have a real best friend, I imagine that she would come over in her sweatpants with her hair in a messy ponytail and bring me some sweets and plunk her ass down on the couch next to me.

And just be there with me. In this black hole of tears and screams and quiet or not so quiet sadness in front of a stupid sappy television show or another raunchy comedy.

This best friend, I imagine, will bring a pint of Ben and Jerry’s and eat it with me while we watch American Ninja Warrior, and listen as I fantasize that I will RISE ABOVE THESE CHALLENGES and create a backyard training facility and lose a hundred pounds and become THE NEXT AMERICAN NINJA WARRIOR and show them all that I am stronger than what they did to me.

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Well, I am not going to be the next American Ninja Warrior. And I don’t have any friends like that. And there are no pints of Ben and Jerry’s in sight. And I can barely walk a half mile without my tendinitis acting up much less run up a vertical wall and everything just fucking sucks anyway and I am sitting here alone.

Because, even for the real friends, good friends, true friends, life goes on. I am stuck here, in this place, and everyone else’s life goes on and I don’t have a bestie best friend who will bring the Oreo brownies from my favorite bakery and sit next to me and say, “What shitty romantic comedy are we watching next?”

Maybe then I wouldn’t feel so alone.

Maybe there are friends in my handful of good ones that would do these things if I asked them.

But I won’t ask. I can’t. It’s not who I am today. I don’t want to be a bother. I know they have lives to live and their own kids to tend to while my two kids wonder what is wrong with Mommy, why she is always sitting on the couch crying or laying in bed crying or standing in the kitchen crying. Because usually Mom cooks when she’s in the kitchen but now she just cries everywhere.

So, anyway, people must live their lives and I am alone.

My husband has been a champ, but he has to keep the family trains running. Keep the kids moving to school, camp, etc. Do the grocery shopping, make the dinners, wash the dishes. While I am sitting or laying or standing and crying.

This has been a huge burden for him and he is rising to the occasion, mightily. But it doesn’t give him the room to sit down next to me, and he doesn’t really like brownies or ice cream and frankly I think that he, like others who love and care for me, is a bit bewildered and at a loss of what to do for me.

Because really, what can anyone do?

So I’m still alone.

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On Telling True Stories

This week, I made a commitment to write every day, and I did. Some of what I’m writing goes into my personal journal and some is for sharing on the blog.

I spent hours and hours working on a post this week. I couldn’t get it right. I worked it, I revised it, I edited it…I revised it some more and realized that I hated the post. HATED it.

I gave it some space and waited a day then came back to it.

I hated it even more.

As anyone who writes knows, this happens at times. Sometimes writing is just work; it doesn’t always flow out like a waterfall of magical pearls of beautiful and meaningful language. Some days, it’s an ugly brick of concrete that you slap onto the ground, accidentally (or purposely?) let dry, and then earnestly work to chip and sculpt into something more pleasing from its hardened and unattractive form.

I did the work on that post, but it didn’t help this time. I had a paragraph that was a gem, but everything else was so bad that it made me question all my life choices. I was bored re-reading it myself.

Here’s the problem with this post: I had decided that I (and probably you, reader) needed a break from writing about IT.

And by IT I mean, me, my survivor-ism, my healing process, my sad/happy/angry/miserable by turns day-to-day existence as I figure out how to make peace with the past, be present in the now, and move forward into a future I claim as my own.

(First the letting go, then the rising up.)

I wanted to write about something else. Scratch that–I felt like I should write about something else.

And that, my friends, is why the post I worked so hard on just flat out sucked.

It wasn’t true. It wasn’t real. So I finally said, enough.

I’ll keep that one shining nugget of a paragraph and try to find a place for it at some point. But I have to focus on what is most real. I have to keep telling this story. My story.

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I loved reading this quote–and ordered Brene Brown’s book–because it hit such a note with what I’ve been grappling with lately, and it helped me realize that what I’ve been grappling with is the truth.

What is true? Are truth and perspective different? These are the questions that haunt me.

One of the things I have been working on in therapy is letting go of my over-compensation for those who have hurt me. Not just the abusers, but more importantly those who should have taken care of me, made me safe, and didn’t.

I tend to take more than my share of responsibility for things. I tend to give these people a pass, or at the least wonder what I might have done differently to lessen the impact of the harm others inflicted on me, either by their direct actions or their abandonment of me in my time of need.

I tend, too often, to try and see the perspective of these people to understand how I could have behaved in another way to make them behave better…or at the very least to make them feel ok about how badly they were treating me.

I tend to paint my own experience as “my perspective” instead of “the truth,” and do you see what that does? It makes it subjective and therefore open to interpretation and criticism. “My perspective” is vulnerable to being revised by those who are uncomfortable with what happened, with what they did or what they failed to do.

Even as I type these words I see the dysfunctional thinking that informs these beliefs, but they are hardwired and so incredibly hard to overcome.

These beliefs keep me thinking that I am somehow responsible not only for their behavior, but for fixing it for them so I won’t be hurt by their continued harm, leaving them free to go on hurting me.

Really it’s the result of years of manipulation as a child that created these pathways in my brain that their hurtful actions (or non-actions, as the case may be) were not the cause of my pain. That instead, I was the cause of my own pain for allowing myself to be hurt by them. I was too weak. I felt too much. My feelings were my own fault, my own weakness.

Because that’s a totally reasonable way to deal with a child, right? Well no, no it’s not. It’s sick and it’s twisted.

This is what happens when you grow up in the midst of people who manipulate reality–who manipulate the story–to meet their own needs and then call it truth and share it with others as such.

The hardwiring is so embedded that even at 42, and after all I’ve learned in the past year, I still wonder if I have done enough for these harmful, toxic people that I have since removed from my life.

No wonder my therapist yelled at me when one day I said, “Should I be trying harder to maintain a relationship with these people?”

She yelled emphatically and quite unexpectedly, “NO YOU SHOULD NOT!!!”

And then we laughed, because she had never done that before…even though we had been having the same version of this conversation for months, with my obsessing over whether severing these toxic connections was the right thing to do.

She had never answered this question so directly before, but I was so grateful that she did. It gave me the permission I needed–the permission she knew I couldn’t grant myself–to believe the truth of what was done to me not only by those who abused me directly, but by those who left me to suffer the abuse when they should have been the ones keeping me safe.

It’s not my “perspective;” it is the truth. It is what happened–or, better stated, it’s what was done to me. It didn’t “happen,” it was done. Perpetrated. Both the abuse and the abandonment. They are equally as bad. (Actually, the abandonment is probably worse but that’s a story for another day.)

But even as I acknowledge this truth, I still worry, have fear and anxiety about the story I know these people to be telling.

I know they are not telling the same story as me, even though I know the truth. They are telling a false truth to others who I imagine now have a negative opinion of me.

They are painting themselves as the victim of my “drama,” blaming others and/or blaming me, and I know that some people are accepting their stories as the truth.

This is so, so very hard on me. Even though none of these people has contacted or confronted me directly, there have been some subtle things that have happened to indicate their disapproval of my story and their acceptance of the other stories.

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Knowing these false stories are being told and believed impacts me more than I want it to. I have to acknowledge that. Anger and indignation can’t mask that there is a deep hurt that these people, who should love me and accept me and be walking in this painful journey with me, have not only turned away but have thrown lighter fluid on the fire by spreading a false story.

I have been abandoned again when I needed help the most. Again and again and again and again because they can’t face their own culpability. They have to tell themselves and others a different story to preserve themselves, while I stand alone and abandoned once more.

I want to let go of how much I care about what people think of my story–of whether they believe me or not. But I know that getting to a place where I can walk confidently with my story, with the truth, is part of the process. I am not there yet. I will be someday.

(First the letting go, then the rising up.)

In my finer moments I know that this thing, the truth, is a hard thing. It has sharp cutting edges sometimes. It is uncomfortable. It is not for the faint of heart.

Not everyone can walk in the truth, even when they haven’t been told a false story. There are definitely people who have walked away from me–or at least looked away–because this truth is too much for them to see and acknowledge.

I get it. I understand how difficult a hard truth is to swallow. It has literally taken me decades to acknowledge my own truth!

But it still hurts when I see people walk away because of my story and my choice to tell it. It still makes me wonder if, because my story is too much, am I too much? Which in turn pushes me to try to play smaller and write a shitty, lame post that I hate.

Making that connection this week has been a huge win for me. I can’t back away from my story. I won’t.

My story is the truth. I am learning to walk in it without shame or hesitation or fear of how it will be received. And once I do that, I kinda feel like I’m going to be unstoppable.

 

 

 

Memory #377

Note: The Memory Series is made up of entries that are my attempt to puzzle together so many disjointed and out of context memories and pieces of memories that float around in my brain. Most of these are memories I’ve always had, but even though I remembered these events, I never really examined or understood them. They are now critical memories to revisit as I work through my healing process. The numbers attached to each memory aren’t that important; they’re mostly random except for their order in my life. This is the first I wrote in the series.

This day, she was 14 or 15. This day, she was tired of the front. Of the cheerful, sociable exterior. It was exhausting to keep up and she was sick of it all.

Bitterness blossomed within her, sharp like acid, hollowing her out. She looked around her room, which was a disaster, strewn with clothes and cassette tapes and paper and dishes and books and a million other things. She felt so much wrong inside of her.

She smashed a picture in its frame. The shards of broken glass mingled with the rest of the rubble on her bedroom floor.

That girl, she picked up the biggest shard and held it in her hand. She caressed the flat side. It was smooth and shiny. She tapped her finger against the cruel point at one end, wondering what it would feel like.

She dragged the point across the inside of her arm, watching a trail of red bubble up in its wake. Interesting. It hurt, but not really.

I was that girl. I was that girl who spent the next hour and a half carving up both of her legs and arms. My legs. My arms.

That girl, that me, was so desperate to be relieved of her anger and her sadness. I wanted to release it, to bleed it out, a painful but satisfying purge.

I felt better, for awhile. And then, as always, I felt worse.

I went to cheerleading practice the next day, not even considering what my body would look like to everyone else until my friend looked over at me during stretches, just two minutes into practice.

“Jesus, Stephanie! What the hell happened to you?”

She was staring with horror at my legs, splayed out in a straddle.

I looked down and saw myself through her eyes. My bare legs, riddled with angry red scratches in random patterns. My arms, covered in just as many cuts.

I hesitated, trying to process this. This was new to me, not being ready. Not having my story straight. Not even having thought through how I would explain this away, not even thinking I would HAVE to explain this away.

I ALWAYS thought ahead. I ALWAYS had my story straight. I was good at it. It was what I did. How could I have gone so wrong this time?

Because today, this moment, I was at a loss for the briefest of instances. How could I have let this happen? How could I have been so careless? I was going to be revealed. This was it. I had failed.

After two beats, I stuttered out, “Oh, uh, yeah. We were walking through pricker bushes. Pretty dumb, right?”

She knew I was lying. I could tell she knew I was lying. Everyone knew I was lying because by that time most of the team and the coach were all listening and looking at me with doubtful faces.

Then the moment passed and everyone let me carry on with my charade. Just like that, they all accepted my obvious lie without further question or discussion.

I was elated: Thank God they left me alone about it! That was a close call.

I was outraged: How the hell could they leave me alone about it?!? I need help! Can’t they see I need help?

On Bathrooms: Yes, it is personal.

Hey there, person who is boycotting Target or posting angry rants on Facebook about bathroom laws.

You say it has nothing to do with people who are transgender for you. You say you are worried about children and maybe women who could be assaulted by a man posing as a woman under the new laws. You say it is about safety, not bias and unease related to people who are transgender. You may even be outraged! Angry that our nation is one that will pass such laws putting children in danger of sexual abuse in such an open manner.

I am calling bullshit on you.

There, I said it.

Here’s my question to you, oh champion of children: why is your open disgust and protective instinct just rearing its ugly head now? Children have been suffering sexual assault for a long, long time in horrible circumstances and with lifelong consequences. Many turn to drug or alcohol abuse and far too many attempt or succeed at suicide.

And, by and large, they are victims to this sexual assault in a residence and by someone they know.

And yet you scream and cry about public bathrooms and hypothetical strangers dressed as women.

Bullshit.

These facts are not new. Where was your outrage before this bathroom controversy? Because the threat of childhood sexual assault is real, and it has so very little–really, nothing–to do with public bathrooms.

I am going to summon my better nature and assume you do not know the facts. Let me share some with you:

According to studies by the Center for Violence and Injury Prevention and the National Center for Juvenile Justice (US Department of Justice), 93% of juvenile sexual assault victims know their attacker: 34.2% of attackers were family members, and 58.7% were acquaintances.

Only 7% of perpetrators were strangers to the victim.

Based on these facts, your child is far, far, FAR more likely to be sexually assaulted at your family picnic than in a bathroom at Target.

Let me drill down even deeper. It’s hard to get a good grasp on the numbers, because of course so much of child sexual abuse goes unreported (like mine). But I tried to do a little research and get some numbers.

Most sources say either 1 in 4 or 1 in 5 girls are victims of sexual abuse as children. Since the numbers varied, let’s split the difference and say 1 in 4.5 of these girls will be (or sadly already are) victims of sexual assault.

For boys its more like 1 in 20. Sexual assault perpetrated against boys is a horrible thing, and should not be ignored. But for the purposes of this exercise and the bulk of the controversy over bathrooms (and to make me do less weird math) I am going to stick with girls for now.

Now let’s pause and acknowledge that 1 in 4.5 is a horribly, terribly, shockingly large number. THIS. MANY. GIRLS. Your fear about the threat of sexual assault is not unfounded.

But where is this threat originating from? Is it really about bathrooms? Let me dig deeper.

According to the US Census data (census.gov/popclock), as of the time I write this, the US population is about 323,547,400.

Girls between ages 7-13 have the highest incidence of sexual abuse, and they comprise 4.43% of the population (same source).

That means the number of girls ages 7-13 in the US right now is about 14,333,150.

If 1 in every 4.5 of these girls already are or will become victims, we have roughly 3,185,144 girls. Just take a moment to let that staggering number sink in: over three million girls between the ages of 7-13 have been or will be sexually assaulted.

We can apply our earlier statistic that 93% of juvenile assault victims know their attacker. That means we can isolate the 7% who will be or already have been assaulted by complete strangers (this is the group to whom the bathroom situation everyone is in such a tizzy over would apply).

Let me just repeat this: 93% are assaulted by someone they know, yet people are screaming about the hypothetical situation that COULD POSSIBLY HYPOTHETICALLY happen to just 7%. (Bullshit.)

Continuing on with the facts:

This leaves us with 222,960 girls between the ages of 7 and 13 in the US who are or will become victims of sexual assault by strangers.

This is the pool of young girls who could potentially be assaulted by a stranger–such as a predator posing as a woman in a public restroom, which is the supposed source of the fear I’m reading and hearing about.

But guess what? We can narrow that pool even further by cross-referencing data on the location at which an assault is most likely to take place.

According to a US DOJ report on sexual abuse built from reports to law enforcement, 84% of child sexual assaults in a similar age range take place in a residence.

If we apply that figure to the pool of girls we have narrowed down, we have 16% out of our 222,960…leaving us with 35,674 girls who are or will be sexually assaulted by a person they do not know in a place other than a residence.

So that’s .25% of the entire population of girls in this age group in the US who will be or already have been assaulted by a stranger somewhere outside of a home.

That’s 1 in (roughly) 402 girls.

But this number isn’t even narrow enough, because we’re just saying the place of the assault is “not a residence.” This number would include places like parks and playgrounds and cars and is not just limited to public restrooms, so our .25% figure is not even accurate to describe the supposed threat of a stranger in a bathroom. Maybe it’s half of this figure? I am not sure. I could not find any data on this.

But the fact remains that essentially, you are speaking out in anger at something that has less than a quarter of a percent chance of happening to your daughter…and still remains largely a hypothetical.

No, we should not ignore the plight of these girls who are assaulted by strangers in places other than a residence. I am not in any way suggesting this. These girls need protection and safety.

What I am calling bullshit on is the extrapolation of a hypothetical threat from a small subsection of a shockingly large group of girls who are victims, because that is IGNORING COMPLETELY the largest, most looming, ugliest and most stomach-churning reality:

  • the biggest threat is in your own home, in the homes of your families and friends, in the places your daughter already feels safe and with the people your daughter already trusts.

Fathers, brothers, cousins, uncles, grandfathers, neighbors, family friends–they are the overwhelming perpetrators of these crimes, not faceless cross-dressing pedophiles.

This is the reality you are ignoring and I am just…stunned.

I am stunned and shocked and personally hurt by your blindness. YES I SAID IT. You are turning a blind eye to largest and most looming threat to your daughter.

You are turning away from the real threat because it is ugly and very, VERY uncomfortable and instead you are marginalizing even further a group of people who has already been marginalized, a group of people who are just looking for a place to pee in peace.

You are extremely uncomfortable with the fact that your daughter is statistically safer in a public bathroom than she is in the home of someone she knows, so you are transferring your fear to an easy target: people who are transgender.

BULLSHIT.

“But your facts will change, Stephanie!” You say. “Because PREDATORS! They will take advantage of these laws and dress like women and get my kids! The law is enabling them and they will use any opening they can to get my child. This law will change your data and the number of bathroom assaults by strangers will go up and up and up!”

Guess what? States that have had these laws in place for up to 15 years report seeing no incidence of increased sexual assaults due to the passage of these laws. Here you go:

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I hope by now you are calling bullshit on yourself, because you should be.

Listen, I have a daughter. And obviously I have a strong need to protect her from her being victimized in any way given what I went through.

And this bathroom thing is a non-issue to me. Because the threat related to these laws is non-existent.

Predators exist, folks, bathroom laws or no. They’re out there, but, far more frequently, they are right here in our homes and around our children on a regular basis.

Why are you not more outraged about these basic facts? Why is it only when the issue is around people who are transgender that you yell and scream and make a fuss and say our children are in danger?

The threat of childhood sexual assault is real, and you are right to want to protect your daughters.

But it has nothing to do with bathrooms.

If you believe it has to do with bathrooms, you are sadly mistaken and yes, you have hit a very personal nerve for me.

I was abused in my own bed. By two different people that I loved.

Statistically speaking, I would have been safer in a Target bathroom with a woman who is transgender, and you insisting otherwise makes my blood boil.

Because where was your outrage for me? Where is your anger and sadness and ALL CAPS PSAs for the millions of other children who are assaulted and abused and hurt and victimized in millions of other locations besides a public bathroom? Why is THIS issue around bathrooms the wagon to which you are hitching your angry star?

These are serious questions. I hope you’ll really think about them. I probably can’t change anyone’s mind, but maybe I can make someone think.

But I think my most important question to you is: Is this really about sexual assault at all? Or is it more about your discomfort with people who are transgender?

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I think for some people who are angry about the bathroom laws and boycotting Target, it is about protecting your children and now that you know the facts, you may see that the threat is not real. Hopefully you can see that your anger and fear is unfounded.

But that’s only some.

The rest are using this sexual assault nonsense as a camouflage because you are uncomfortable with the idea of a person who is transgender. And this is a convenient way to continue to marginalize this population in a way that makes it okay for you to do so because it’s about protecting children instead of your own biases.

You are the people that infuriate me the most.

How dare you co-opt the fear and shame and anger and grief borne by sexual assault victims to further your intolerant and hateful cause? How dare you insinuate that the threat is “other” when the biggest, most nefarious threat is right at home?

Your stance only serves to re-victimize girls–like me–who were abused by people we know in places we know. Girls who are left with a quiet sense of shame, who remain silent because people like you don’t want to face the hard realities of childhood sexual abuse and how close it is to home.

Because people like you continue to shake hands with our abusers and call them “good, family men” while vilifying marginalized populations. You bet your ass it’s personal.

You pervert our suffering to your own causes and make it that much harder for us to be safe.

Our children, our girls, ARE in grave danger and you are deflecting the real danger, and that disgusts me.

BULL. SHIT.

May 11, 2015

One year ago, it was an ordinary Monday, the day after Mother’s Day. There was work and lacrosse practice after school and the usual chaos that surrounds trying to get two kids to do their homework and chores and have something of sustenance to eat before they have to put on their gear before practice.

This Monday felt harder. The kids were borderline ornery–don’t get me wrong, my kids are smart and spirited and loving and kind–but on this day, they were not really emphasizing these traits, let’s say. Let’s say that on this particular Monday, what they were actually emphasizing was their worst selves, the selves that just want to sit on the couch and stare at the TV for a couple of hours, possibly while drooling, instead of taking care of their responsibilities. (I can’t say I blame them…but somebody has to keep the trains running, know what I mean?)

So it was one of those days when I had to push and prod and nag and wheedle, as I simultaneously tried to wrap up my work day, which had proven to have its own challenges.

It was just one of those fucking days.

We were late for lacrosse practice, and I drove as recklessly as I dared, feeling the anxiety building. In retrospect, I wonder if it’s really THAT big of a deal that we are the family who is late for lacrosse practice nearly every time. In the grand scheme of things, probably not.

But this day was about more than just being late. This day was particularly tough. With their laziness and pokiness and talk-backiness, the kids had pushed me to the edge of my sane place, where I sort of hovered with questionable stability, trying to balance on the right side of the line that demarcated normal mom from screaming irrational mom.

I fell.

Of course I fell.

I mean, I teetered for awhile and then I just went SPLAT! into the place where I shrieked for most of the somewhat-reckless car ride to lacrosse practice, using tired phrases like, If I had behaved like you when I was a kid!!! and Why is it so hard to stick to the routine after school? and Calgon, take me away! (ok, not really, but the sentiment is there).

I had had these mom-freakouts before, occasionally. But this one felt different, exquisitely sharp. I felt like I was losing it, like I had to get out to go, to do something. There was something clawing at me, begging for my attention, poking at my insides to get me to see it or hear it or feel it. Something. SOMETHING.

When I had relieved myself of both children I started to drive home. I had things to do, you know.

Always with the things that need the doing.

I didn’t want to go home, though. That Something was bubbling up from my stomach, demanding my focus.

I was going to get a Starbucks and go sit by the pond. That’s what I would do, and wouldn’t that be nice?

No, no I didn’t want to do that either. That would not be nice at all.

I would just drive. I would just drive somewhere, nowhere. I just needed some time on my own, alone with my thoughts.

So I drove, and as I drove, I knew it was more than being alone with my thoughts. I didn’t think I was going anywhere when I realized I was actually driving Somewhere.

That Somewhere took shape in my brain, and a clear picture of a yellow house formed in my mind’s eye.

The House. I was going to the House.

The House was one where I lived from 7th grade through 11th grade, just four short years, but this house has lived on in my dreams…or, my nightmares, I should say.

For some reason, despite my less than stellar childhood spanning every house (or apartment) I’ve ever lived in, this house has come to embody the terror, sadness and loneliness of all of it.

My most frequent recurring nightmare is of this house, being in it with my children, knowing there is danger outside, and knowing I can’t protect them from it.

We are always in that fucking house in my nightmares.

By all rights, That House (which was repainted red at some point) should have been demolished years ago. It is practically falling apart anyway. It has been uninhabited for probably 20 years, as other houses in the area–not really a neighborhood, just a couple of houses along a major road that is right next to a major highway–were knocked down in favor of a hotel and a large office building erected there.

But that house still stands–barely, by now. But it stands, and this day I believed that it still stands just to haunt me.

As I drove toward Wallingford, I suddenly came to realize that I was not just going to visit That House. I was going to visit every house we had lived in since we came to Connecticut. This was a thing I decided to do simply, cleanly, as though it had been my plan all along. I didn’t know why I was doing it; I just knew I had to.

We came to Connecticut from Florida when I was 8, and the first place we lived was in Meriden, a bit further north than Wallingford.  I would go there next.

As I headed that way, my stomach started to feel unsettled and I tasted bile in the back of my mouth.

Why was this feeling so ominous? I didn’t really understand what I was feeling. I had memories in that first apartment that were happy.

For a time, in that Meriden apartment, I remembered happiness. I remembered the pond in our backyard that we used to skate on in the winter and fish in during the summer. I remember an old railroad track we could follow through a meadow if we walked through a wooded area and over a little bridge on the pond. If we followed that track, it ended near a playground.

I remembered our time in that apartment as a relatively carefree time when we spent lazy days catching sunfish with my cousins, going on adventures, riding our bikes to the dirt BMX track at Falcon Field, which was right across the road from our street.

My memories of living there are glazed with a golden wash of childhood adventure and leisure.

Why, then, did I feel like something terrible was about to happen?

My dread mounted as I turned left into the dead end street, our apartment having been in the third and last house.

The first two houses looked much as I remembered them, with improvements. One of the improvements in the middle house was a looming stockade-like fence built on only one side of the house, the side that shared a border with my old house. Odd.

But when I looked at the old house, I could see why. Two trucks and a shoddy-looking camper were parked on the front lawn, and the driveway/parking area was littered with car parts and a bunch of other unidentifiable “stuff.” It looked like a broken down junkyard.

I wanted to pull all the way to the end of the road and right into the parking area to get a closer look at the backyard, the door we used to use to go in, the path down to the pond, and the trail through the wooded area, but there was no way for me to do that without making it incredibly obvious that I was staking out the place.

I turned around in the driveway of the middle house and headed out, my heart hammering.

Something was bubbling in my chest. Something.

Trying to remain calm, I drove across the street and into the Falcon Field complex. To my great surprise, the dirt BMX track was still there, exactly as I remembered it from nearly 35 years ago.

To my greater surprise, I noticed I was crying.

I turned around in the parking lot and left the track behind, following the road around the pond to the far side opposite my old house. I pulled into a new playground area where I could park my car and study the back of the house from the other side of the pond.

The dread was still bubbling, but I felt a bit safer observing the house from this distance.

I saw the bridge we used to sit on when we cast our lines into the pond.

I saw the path to the meadow, and the hint of the old train tracks with the high grass growing around them.

Behind me, I saw another path into the woods and up a hill–I had forgotten about that path, but I suddenly remembered that it was a shortcut to my elementary school.

None of these sights made me afraid; instead, they filled me with a fond nostalgia.

But the house was a different story.

I had a memory in this house, one that over the years, I had all but forgotten. Sometimes, an image of it would bubble up into my brain under some other context, never the right one, never making sense, but accompanied by the same sense of seeping dread I had been feeling since I got off the exit two miles from this house.

In that moment, sitting in my car in that parking lot, with a few kids playing on the monkey bars nearby, that memory came back to me.

It was foggy and nebulous, but it was there in full context: a vague impression of being pushed down onto a bed. The loud creaking of the bed frame, grabbing hands, the full weight of a body on top of me.

A shared joke was made, and I laughed.

I knew something wasn’t right, but I laughed.

I was going to be sick. I was going to be sick in my car as I thought about it. As I realized that this was the Something. The Something had solidified into this thing, this thing that had been dancing at the edge of my memory most of my life.

And as I thought about it more, I knew it wasn’t the only time it happened.

As I sat there, fighting against my urge to vomit, I realized that this nebulous memory was simply a series of impressions of about 30 seconds of my life, but I know it went on for longer and it happened more than once. Maybe twice? Maybe 10 times? 35? I don’t know. I don’t even have a true memory of any other time except for the feelings, the impressions of it happening again, often with the same shared joke coming up.

I stared at that house and started to feel the shame. Shame for how I had played along. What was wrong with me? Why didn’t I push him away? Why didn’t I stop him? Why did I submit?

A young father nearby looked at me crying in my car. I tried to find a tissue and came up with a napkin from my center console to clean myself up. But I wasn’t ready to leave yet. The father turned away, chasing his daughter toward the slide.

I dug deeper, poking around in my memory, and found another Something. Another time when a memory had inexplicable dread and shame attached to it.

I relived this memory with this new context, remembered sharply the feeling of being trapped and scared and for once, for this one time, I found anger instead of submission. I wasn’t laughing, this time. I wanted to fight back, and I did.

He screamed out in pain as his face contorted, and I knew I was in trouble. Whatever he was holding back before, he released on me now as pure rage in the form of vicious punches and kicks. All I could do was endure it.

I was nine.

The remembering was too much.

It was too much for me to admit all at once, in a parking lot, in a neighborhood full of ghosts coming back to haunt me.

This is a real thing that happened to me, I said to myself.

I whispered it out loud in the car, I was abused.

This is a thing. This is the Something that happened to me. The Something that had been bubbling up, poking at the edges of my consciousness, for close to a year now. I had sought therapy to deal with family issues, things I thought were–or at least should be–long healed, but they just weren’t and I didn’t understand why.

This was why.

That Monday, I continued on to visit four other houses and two cemeteries. I yelled at uncaring headstones. I cried more. I remembered more. I got sick. I cried again.

Then I went home. But the real journey had barely begun.

I have been dreading  this day, May 11, 2016, for months. How would I react to the passing of a year, the demarcation of such a dubious anniversary?

It wasn’t a great day, to say the least. But it wasn’t my worst.

One year later, I call myself “survivor” instead of “victim.”

One year later, I no longer feel shame about what was done to me, although I do still grieve.

One year later, I’m still standing.