Now we have so many platforms for expression, especially as adults. We have online forums and communities for saying literally anything you want to say. I have a safe and private place now to go and pour it out to friends when I need to lay down a thought or feeling because it’s become too much to bear in some way. I thought I did as a child. When I don’t put the thoughts down somewhere they become nagging, tiresome, abrasive threads that itch and worry from unseen places. They are invisible, but can unravel you from the inside out if you don’t just go ahead and pull it yourself.
For a period of time, as a child, I pulled them loose with the tip of a marker or pen or pencil that I drug along the underside of a plywood board that held up my mattress. The space was a safe place for me since I was 2 or 3. I ran to it’s safety when I felt unsure or afraid of the strangers my mother would have over when my father was working his second job. She said to call them cousin or uncle so and so… they were not mine. They were not people I knew. I came to unknow her too, years later. But the space I knew, small and dark and out of sight, was a haven. I could stare up at the pressed together chips of wood and watch them come alive in shapes that existed in a world that would stay safe until the things I had to let out against the surface of that wooden world drug it into a reality I was ashamed of but was forced to grow from. When I slept on my bed atop that board I made it bear the weight of my dreams and nightmares. And when I hid below it I made it bear the weight of fear and hate that I didn’t want to carry around anymore. It was a private wall of graffiti that was meant only to be a release, as I saw it then. It should have been a red flag. It should have been a neon flashing sign that read “Hannah is in pain.” But was somehow translated by adult ego to mean “Hannah is hateful and malicious.”… and to set this right I would have to pull the thread until this whole garb unravels and I’m bare and naked utterly.
I don’t talk very much about my experiences as a kid in real life. I don’t make any concerted effort not to… it’s just as if it’s separate from me. I know I was there. But there was/is a sense of detachment most of the time. Actually, I very often feel that. Like there’s another person that is the observer in me that is really the one taking notes, the one seeing. In my memories I often don’t see things happening first person. I see them happening from a corner. I see my own reactions and sometimes I don’t even know how I reacted until I’m processing later with the observing side of me. I’ll know how I felt, even if I haven’t assigned the feelings words, but I have no idea how or what was expressed unless it got a reaction and then I could sometimes puzzle out what I’d done and what it meant. It can really mess with me though. I thought for a long time (without being able to put words to it; just a haunting faceless idea) that I was making things up. That maybe things were not happening as I thought or had “observed” and this created an internal tension because I felt I needed to watch closer the part of me that exisited to watch… I had to keep that aspect of myself in check, verify the material collected even. Because I could not lie to myself. Could I? Eventually I realized we all did. We all lied to each other and worst of all, to ourselves.
My childhood was full of intensely clear and focused moments and then great periods of… absence, numbness, dumb empty bleakness that was at the same time heavy and seen through eyes I was hesitant to trust because it was processing so many lies that were swimming out of the mouths and actions of everyone around me, and they appeared to be contagious. I wasn’t so much afraid of being called a liar by anyone else as I was seeing for myself that I’d lied. I was quiet. I worried but I couldn’t articulate what I was worried about. Around this time my father divorced my mother. I was 4 years old when she left after my father caught her in bed with a teenager on his lunch break. She, a substance, any substance abuser, and now adulterer, had crossed his lines. She was toxic, it was very clear. Her brand of toxicity didn’t afford her a clue of what she was doing to the ones that could love her along her own path to wholeness because she was convinced that she should be carried the whole way. If you didn’t, then it would become a “look what you made me do!” senario… and that was one of the few things she would say that didn’t swim from the dark places of her mind that lies come from… she believed it. To her it was true. And to anyone that loved her, which was as easy to do as breathing at first, those non-lies but untruths would begin by being disguised as concern, then doubt, by the end they were accusations. They’d become heavier and heavier. They would stick to your feet and your hands and make it harder to guide her to the other side of them, which… even if you got her there would still be clouded for her. My father had become oppressed by what amounted to her lack of self love. Funny how there are so many things that in lack are heavier than when in abundance. But I watched. That observer in me watched, and together we discerned, behind a curtain in my mind. I step out of it with answers without even knowing I’d been there. I have the pieces, the equation, but I can’t show my work. I knew my mother had emptinesses… in her heart, her mind, her ego, her spirit flew through them like the whole of her was a drafty house, and when she tried she could not hold her own spirit in front of her to do the work of repairing herself. So, she tried to shove the empty spaces full of substance. Food, drugs, alcohol, sex… they didn’t fit of course. They fell around the holes, making messes and cluttering the space her heart and mind and spirit were meant to commune and grow. So she didn’t grow. She held herself hostage, an intangible weapon to her own throat screaming “look what you made me do” “this is all I’m worth” falsehoods from where I stood with my watcher that I was and was not, but which was truth from where she stood. And my father couldn’t watch anymore.
At 6 I told him I wanted to see a therapist or counselor. I knew he didn’t have the kind of watching ability to help me, and he was too busy fighting his own sense of emptiness and failure to see mine, much less the tools to help. Weeks of measured steps up dark marble business center halls, paced along side my father’s long strides. Intense waiting room mental storms calmed, preparing myself to be bare, to recieve direction and guidance. Then just asked to draw pictures for an hour.
This was not the thing I needed help with, time was being wasted. I asked for help with the bothersome threads that haunted me but that I didn’t know how to grasp alone much less pull, yet. I could draw pictures all day. I knew the kinds of pictures adults liked to see; here’s my family on a green cresent of grass with a blue sky and yellow circle in the corner framed in orange radiating lines. Here’s an portrait of my teacher at her desk who’s been out sick for a week. Here’s a picture of a forest and a picture of the weather and whatever else you want, I’ll draw it for you… but it wasn’t getting me anywhere. It didn’t occur to me that she wanted to see what I saw. She didn’t say that. She wanted to see my dad sitting on the edge of his bed taking his wedding band off and holding it in his red rimmed gaze before setting it on the nightstand. She wanted to see my mother coming by and paying off the babysitter so she would let her see us and feed us her custody battle ridden propaganda. She wanted to see all of my unknown uncles, and the salad that they wrapped up on a kitchen plate that I’d eaten countless pancakes off of, and put fire to the end of as they kissed the other end of it and blew the pungent smoke in my face. She wanted to see me run to my room and sliding under my bed where I’d said prayers with my father before he left to deliver pizzas after his 9-5, where I was sure I was finally invisible. But she didn’t ask for more, and I didn’t possess the articulation. The articulation I have now, however flawed, I’ve fought hard for through very dark places. Watcher in me stood between she and I and saw that she didn’t know how to find the confusion and I didn’t know how to offer it up. After several disappointing sessions I wrapped my small legs around a pastel floral waiting room chair, relentlessly gripped the armrests, and refused to move or speak, or look at anything but the long ends of my bangs falling into my eyes until I heard the words that would mean I give up, this can be over. They came and I never went back. I wanted help but I wasn’t going to get it that way. Watcher in me kept watching, and I think I must have spent a lot of time behind the back curtain of my mind where time was lost and I came out knowing things I didn’t know how to explain, like when women were pregnant before they knew it, and other small things that just felt like picking up a fact and handing it over. People don’t like to be handed those kinds of facts I found. I processed observations with my watching self. My father seated at the kitchen table with his head in his arms late into the night. Getting ready for church where he could feel like he was doing the right thing, and trying and seeking answers on filling his own holes with manufactured spirit. Riding to daycare in the black stillness of early morning after the mechanical ritual of pretending to be asleep while he pulled handme down clothes over mine and my sister’s bodies and buckled us into the car. I knew it was easier for him through this time that I seem to be asleep in one way or another. I tried to be small and quiet but very cautiously remind him that we were there, that we needed certain things of him. This is how I become practiced in taking up as little space as possible. I pulled what energy I could have used to process and express in the space that physical things happen, and I let it be used behind the curtain of my mind. But as practiced as I’d become at this, feeling myself almost invisible at times, I would not escape the attention of the woman that would be my stepmother.
She was sharp. She was present in a moment in a way I had never been or known was possible. She was worldly. She knew the arts of domestic life. Cleaning and organizing, hosting and cooking. She built a “white picket fence” around our lives and while I think we all appreciated for a time how people would look in on us now with less pity and more satisfaction. We looked to be a thing righted. And in a way we were, as long as we acted it, and acknowledged that she had righted it. But a picket fence does not a house make. And a mother is more than a cook and maid and planner. But, I wasn’t ever really going to be allowed in her heart. I was meant to hold her attention in a way, but certainly not her love.