we are spinning.
the time of year doesn’t help. the fact that i’ve just worked two weeks straight doesn’t help. the pandemic doesn’t help. the fact that it’s been five years to the day that i started to remember the sexual abuse at the hands of my dad doesn’t help. pocketbrit being on another continent doesn’t help. the fact that my body is so hot hot hot all the time doesn’t help, that i wake up from already-shitty chunks of intermittent sleep soaked in sweat from gross dreams doesn’t help. the fact that i was at a major medical emergency at work doesn’t help. having my ex-best friend suddenly text me out of the blue doesn’t help (though being reminded after about 20 seconds into our conversation why we’re not friends anymore was a positive thing.) wearing a mask for hours and hours on end as my body boils from the inside doesn’t help, as i work with people who are presumed covid positive doesn’t help. having to push aside my internal wee one to deal with all of the very adult things in my daily life for the past several weeks doesn’t help. my wife’s exhausted face and the fact that she is also not sleeping doesn’t help. dealing with stupid fucking people who don’t take covid seriously doesn’t help, lockdown in my city doesn’t help, the fact that schools will likely be closed in the new year and thus our kid struggling with OCD who is hyperfocused on screen time and will likely be doing online learning again, yeah that also doesn’t help. wanting to do christmassy things like bake and then recalling with a thunderous thud in my gut that i first remembered the abuse while innocently whipping shortbread with my daughter truly doesn’t fucking help.
but what extra didn’t help was being blindsided yesterday by a holiday package sent to our daughter from my parents.
i mean don’t get me wrong, it’s always unpleasant. trying to rearrange my face into a neutral sort of expression as our kid pulls out package after package from them is always a struggle. seeing the card addressed to my wife and i is always infuriating, as are the two cheques tucked inside of it (all of which goes straight into the bin).
but our kid pulling out an enormous photo album with my wrinkly squinty little newborn face on the front of it really didn’t help. and the handwritten note on the front of it to my daughter, telling her to ask me about some of the memories in the photos, was the icing on the cake.
i’ve spent the past many weeks compartmentalizing things. even when i could hear the little one inside rustling about, scared and sad and needing, i’ve been able to tell her (not always very gently) to wait, just wait. we would be on vacation soon. we would be able to sleep soon. we could rock in our chair soon. during a marathon overnight shift (after two previous marathon overnight shifts) with a difficult patient, i counted down the hours with her. made it into a game, promised she could snuggle all of our stuffies and that i would help us to sleep by taking something properly good to banish the dreams away. promised she could have waffles for breakfast, that we would wear our coziest jammies, and that i’d let her rock in the chair, that we could watch mindless tv and that drink hot chocolate with a pile of whipped cream. i would let her play the silly fishy video game on my phone, as long as she wanted. she could put on my daughter’s sparkly nail polish, she could wear comfy pants all day long, i wouldn’t say no.
and she tried to be good, i know she did, but it was hard. because our body has been gross (hello perimenopause and body memories, you’re such a beautiful combination, have i told you lately that i love you?) and i’ve been ignoring her. and it’s the time of year when our t found us too much and left. and she is missing S, because she would let us lay on her chest and listen to her heart sometimes and it helped. [an aside: i drove past her house a few nights ago, on the way home from work. i haven’t done that in a year. i used to go and park outside, and just sit there, coz it would make me feel calmer, make me feel close to something, make my heart slow, make me take deeper breaths. on this night, i just looked as i passed by. and instead just felt sick and sad and lonely and angry and stupid, so stupid for ever trusting her and also so stupid for driving by and hoping to feel something good.]
enter the fucking photo album.
so many pictures, like so many. from newborn to about age 7, i’d guess, which is around when the abuse ended. pictures with my grandparents from both sides (i was so grateful for the pictures with my grandmother), with my parents and aunts and uncles and cousins and friends. formal pictures, candid pictures, family portraits. a lot of pictures with my dad, like a lot a lot. christmas and easter and summer and spring. birthdays and pets and good god, the seventies made for some wild prints, didn’t they?
i was okay for probably half an hour after thumbing through the album. our kid soon lost interest, she’s good like that for when things don’t directly pertain to her, so i don’t think she noticed how quiet and quiet and quiet i got. i studied that little face in those photos. that little button nose and dark eyes, that fringe of bangs, the little tiny brown arms that i could likely encircle with my thumb and baby finger…the surprisingly delicate fingers, the knobby knees, the wee chiclet teeth and crinkled up eyes.
and it was my wife who spoke to the sick leaden lump in my belly best, whose words escaped tightly pressed lips and gritted teeth, about the mindfuck of those pictures. because they were exactly the age i was when he was fingering me under my pink flowered blankets, when he made me jerk him off in their bedroom with the mirrored wall. like, why those pictures, mom? i hadn’t even shared with you the timeframe of the abuse. so why those ones, why?
all night last night, all day today, i keep thinking about how i look happy in some of them. how i am smiling, open-mouthed with delight, as his hand encircles my small belly. that i am grinning at the camera, that i am hugging my brother and kissing my cousins. jumping on the couch with glee. a whole book full of evidence that it didn’t happen. because look, look at my face, look at the fact that i am healthy and whole and my cheeks glow and i am surrounded by family who very obviously love me and take very good care of me. tell your daughter the stories in these photos, she prompted in the note. tell her your memories.
and it worked. i feel guilt, i feel dissociated, i feel revolting and sick and sad and small and desperate. i am back full circle, to doubting the little girl in those photos. the one whom five years ago, whispered in my ear and initiated a relentless slideshow of images, ones that were not captured by a camera, ones that occurred under the cover of darkness with boozy smoky breath huffing in my face, or in our camper or in the bedroom or wherever else he fancied taking very good care of me.
and worst of all i am hating myself, i am hating adult me for not knowing how to sit with her in it. for having her delight in seeing pictures of our beloved grandmother but also feeling her stomach turn as she recalled other stories behind the pictures, stories that i won’t share with my daughter. like the picture where she was cross-armed and pouting into the camera, forever to be told how she ruined that whole day because of her sucky baby behaviour. or the pictures where she just looks so fucking sad and why is a three year old that sad anyway? plus there were the pictures that i didn’t even feel like i had seen before, pictures that i don’t remember at all, and i used to look at my baby books ALL THE TIME when i was a bit older of a kid, searching for evidence that i was loved and snuggled and mattered, at some point at least.
i’m a mess. she’s spinning and i can’t even access any of it, the grief or anger or any of it, i’m just a sodden lump of numbness. i can’t let myself feel her and i have half-heartedly rocked her and we had a bubbly bath and we ate peanut butter and honey toast and i put such a huge dollop of whipped cream in my chocolate-y coffee but i don’t think i can bear knowing she was me, i can’t stand looking at so many pictures during the time it was happening and seeing how little and trusting and dependent she was, knowing how trapped she was, knowing no one saw and no one lifted her up and away like i really wish i could do now. and the worst part is that i have the chance to hold myself, to hold her, and i just fucking can’t, and and i hate myself for that the most of all.