I was told that it was good to tell your survivor story from beginning to end, as part of integrating it and setting it to rest.
Part of the problem with that is that I have some gaps and some memories that are still in dissociated states, but I’ll try. I’m going to ‘bold’ the memories where I remember what it felt like to be ‘inside my own head’ for that memory, to be the girl having those thoughts or experiences.
My first memory is before the age of 7, since it is in the front yard of the first place we lived in, one side of a duplex. For some reason I don’t know who lived on the other side, but the neighbours in the next house had a daughter a few years older than me who I adored and looked up to. Her mother was also nice, but looked more like a grandmother than a mother.
In my first memory I’m making mud pies sitting under a tiny weeping willow or similar tree, which had long dangling drooping seed clusters that were green and then would dry to a caramel colour. When they were dry you could crumble them into the seeds, which were like roundish flat stars. I put them on top of my mud pies like sprinkles and my memory is of being delighted with discovering their beautiful star shapes and deciding to use them to decorate my mud pies. I could hide under this tree and it felt like a bit of a fort.
I also remember being outside in my front yard when I came home found out my dog had been put down. The front yard was covered in small pools of yellowish vomit. I think he must have had a heart condition. They didn’t tell me beforehand so I didn’t get to tell him goodbye. I still think this was wrong, although I can understand why they did it.
I can remember almost the entire path to my elementary school from the duplex, which was black and white on the outside. We walked through a forest trail we kids called “the path” which ran in a cut between two rows of houses. I liked the path.
I remember sledding on that street one winter, with my dog Tony pulling me behind him on the sled. We thought he was a very strong dog.
I remember learning to ride a bike with training wheels, it was a blue bike I think, and my dad was helping me, and when he let go I crashed into the neighbours yard two doors over, which was on a slight hill. I landed on the grass so it was a good place to crash. This lady and her husband both smoked, which smelled bad, and had a daughter with bad asthma who had to have oxygen tents and go to the hospital, but her parents wouldn’t quit smoking. I wrote some of my first word ‘mom’ I think, when I was four years old, at her kitchen table, to much approval. I felt very smart. I also remember helping change her baby daughter’s diapers when she was little, this is the one who had asthma, and the beautiful pink drapey stuff on her crib.
There was another lady who I think lived nearby as well although she moved before we did, who had a son exactly the same age as me with my same birthday, so sometimes his mom and mine would have birthday parties together at their house, which I didn’t like.
I remember a chair in the front room, the living room, which me and a friend rocked on together until we crashed it over and I had to go to the doctor for stitches. I remember this because we were trying to experiment with trying to rock it side to side and around in circles at the same time. I remember the stitches felt stiff, like someone had laid a strip of glue on my skin.
I don’t remember my bedroom at all. I don’t remember much more than the hallway, where my dad, drunk and angry, ranted at my brother and I for awhile about what a terrible house cleaner our mother was, herding us around and showing us the dirt and dust bunnies. Our mother wasn’t home and we were scared.
I remember seeing my father ‘asleep’, passed out from alcohol, on the kitchen floor, which had a kind of U shaped cabinet with a sink and window and then another area with kitchen table and a red rotary phone placed high on the wall. I don’t know if I remember this phone directly, since it’s in a picture I saw as well. I don’t remember my mom there at all, except maybe at that garage sale we had.
I remember I had to stay home all summer and not go out and play at all, although my younger brother could go out (he would have been only 2 or so?) because I had to be there in case he needed me. This just doesn’t make sense to me now, since I would have been too young to babysit, and surely they didn’t let a 2 year old run free in the neighbourhood? Anyhow I wasn’t allowed to go outside and play with friends all summer. But when I remember it, I remember the duplex, not the later house, so I think that happened then. Now I think that perhaps this was a ruse to keep me inside while I was healing from the rape.
I remember having an elaborate cool-aid stand in front of the duplex that I ran with a much older boy (about 10 or 12) who tried to kiss me in his basement. Around the same time I was at a Halloween party at his house and saw someone sit up out of a fake coffin and got very badly scared, in a reaction that was much more extreme than warranted. His sister was about my age. I remember a girl named Carla who was relentlessly teased for being fat, who lived at the other end of the U-shaped street, across the street from the boy. I still feel sorry for her and hope she is now happy and grown up. I remember my kindergarten room at school.
I don’t remember the basement at all, although I have a vague recollection that it had a window that looked up into the back yard. The stairs led up and down from the doorway at the side of the building, down to the basement and up to the main floor. Apparently there was a play room there, chock full of toys. I think it was where I was first abused, although my bedroom is also a good candidate. How come I remember the yard so well and the inside of the carport, where we had a garage sale once, in front of the house, and a lilac bush my mom liked just behind the side door, but not my own bedroom or playroom? This is of course a rhetorical question, since it is likely where I was abused. I have fairly fleshed out memories of places in my front yard or neighbourhood, but not the back part and lower levels of my own house. I also remember my neighbours garden really well, and exactly where she planted the rhubarb that my neighbour and I would eat sometimes with sugar. I also remember my neighbour friend’s bedroom a little.
We moved from that place when I was 7, and to another house where we lived till I left home at 16 to go to university (yep, I’m kind of smart).
I remember the day we moved my parents brought us over to the new house and we waited in the basement, watched I think by my older brother, who would have been 12, while they did the final cleanup of the old place. This was during a brief prosperous time where they bought the house.
I was afraid of basements, and had a persistent fear feeling walking up stairs from the basement, especially if the light was turned off, as we were supposed to do when we left the basement. I would always run up the stairs, taking two at a time, in the new house, which had the same sort of entrance door that opened onto a landing between the basement and upper floor.
I know now that I was raped during my time at the duplex, probably in the basement. I have two abuse memories from that time, one of the pain of the actual first rape and belief that I was dying and afterwards, had actually died , a persistent terror of basements, and one of trying to climb frantically up the stairs at the duplex and being pulled down by someone bad, probably my father, by the ankles. Now perhaps I have no memories of certain places in the duplex because I was in shock so much of the time there.
There was a babysitter we used to go to named Mrs. L – she had a day care in her basement, and I didn’t like her. She was rigid and strict and unfriendly and English. My older brother didn’t like her, and my mom apparently stopped taking us there when my brother wouldn’t let go of her legs one day when she was dropping him off. We stayed with Mrs. and Mr. L one time when my parents went away on holiday. Mrs. L had nothing she considered age appropriate for me to do, she said all her toys were too young for me, and I was permitted to file my nails and clean them, and I think watch a half hour or hour of television, but otherwise had nothing to do. Mr L could watch TV, but we weren’t allowed in to bother him.
This is almost the complete set of memories from zero to 7. I have no way of knowing if that’s normal, but I suspect it is a bit sparse. I had a babysitter who would do crafts with us, a girl, who we liked. Once coming home from school a person (lady?) asked us if I wanted a ride and I said no, since you weren’t supposed to take rides from strangers. She wrote a note on a brown paper bag for my mother, since she actually was my mom’s friend as she’d noted, but everyone said I was good not to get in the car.
What I’m trying to make sense of, integrate, is the incidental non-traumatic memories of the time and the abuse ones. I’m looking for holes and for some bits to fit together to make others make more sense. Was my father the only one to abuse me, or did he get his friends involved? Were my brothers abused as well? My older brother hinted at some things he had to go to therapy for, triggered by me disclosing abuse. I’d really like to know what those things were. I shared a bedroom with him at that house, so he might have been abused or witnessed abuse. It’s frustrating to have gaps, and it’s also frustrating to have so few memories that feel ‘in the first person’ like I can remember experiencing the event and not just the details or that the event happened.