Poetry


The first time ever I saw your face
I thought the sun rose in your eyes
And the moon and the stars were the gifts you gave
To the night and the empty skies my love
To the night and the empty skies

Roberta Flack

The pain of my parents’ betrayal lies deep in my Psyche. It’s hard to talk about how deep the wounds my mother and father inflicted go but especially my mother because she was the supposed sane one. My father was certifiable, in and out of psychiatric wards from the age of 17 until his death at age 47.

My Mother didn’t “go crazy” until I started talking to her about how hurt and angry I felt about some o the things she did. Then she had a “nervous break down,” effectively shutting me down and protecting her status as the victim. It’s hard to write about it. It’s hard to think about it because I get so angry at her for manipulating me for so many years and for continuing to try to manipulate me now.

The closest I’ve come to actually talking about the ways my Mother abused and betrayed me is some abstract poetry that really doesn’t tell it all. It just hints at what happened and how I felt at that moment. None of my therapists have really wanted to hear about what my mother was up while Daddy was putting his filthy hands all over me.

That was secondary and she was not at fault. My father was the offending parent. Like Harry they aren’t listening to what the hell happened in that situation. They aren’t hearing what I am saying. This woman told me she wished I had died instead of her first born son. She told me this repeatedly for 17 years.

God damn-it, I’d rather had my father’s beatings and his hands in my panties than that refrain echoing in my head for 55 years. Why can’t these crazy therapists understand that?

Truth be told, I feared my mother more than I feared my father because there was no end to the torture she inflicted upon me and my brothers. Daddy was violent at times and he was crazy heavy-handed. Mother had good reason to say “Stop, you’ll kill her!” He could become that enraged and he drew blood on more occasions than I care to count but once he stopped hitting you he was done.

Mother’s psychological warfare never let up though. The guilt at not having been the child she wanted when I was born still haunts me even though intellectually I know that this was one of the most patently ridiculous guilt trips of all. There was nothing I could have done to alter being who and what I was at birth. Had she said this to me once or twice, I might have remembered it and felt grieved but this was a litany that I heard at least once a month for 17 years.

And then there is the complicity and her actual participation in the sexual abuse. Perhaps this poem expresses it best. I don’t think I can write about it without becoming overly emotional and giving our perverted lurkers too much gratuitous information. This is my first memory of the incest.

Complicit

Three…I am three years old and it is dusk
the last few moments of daylight cast feeble shadows
across the white counterpane of my bed;
the sky is glowing pink fading to gray and
I can smell newly mowed grass and the bitter green
of dandelions gone to seed, the sweet yellow roses
blooming on the porch trellis beneath my window
and the faint whiff of Daddy’s Pall Malls.
And I, fresh from a bath, wearing only cotton panties
smell like ivory soap and baking soda
dabbed on mosquito and chigger bites that still itch.
My hair is damp and your hands are harsh
brushing out the tangles, warning me
“Sit still! Don’t wiggle! Be quiet, you’ll wake up the baby!”

I have this memory now, I’ve brought it up
from the cellar where bad dreams and the sad tears
of little girls are kept when it’s too hard to remember.
I’ve claimed it now even though I’d rather push
it back to that time and place when I was only three
and freeze myself in that chair getting my hair brushed free
of snarls and your hands are impatient and tired.

It came to me in bits and pieces at inconvenient times
in inconvenient places as if it had a life of its own,
refusing to be denied, ignored. It came and insisted
that I recall every single moment, every single
assault on my senses, every single thought and emotion
that ran through my three year old mind that night.
It comes again and again insisting that I recall this information
And when it comes I am, for the duration, three again…

Listening to you walk wearily down the stairs,
the soft murmur of your voice and Daddy’s
deeper and louder, the thump of the screen door
and the heavy tread of his weight on the stairs.
The smell of oil and grease on his blue jeans,
stale cigarette smoke lingering in the fabric of his shirt.
The heat and humidity, sweat on his hands
when he rubs my back and whispers, “Turn over, Baby.
Give your Daddy a kiss goodnight.” The thumping of my heart
as I turn and give myself to his hands and meet
the vacant stare in your eyes as you stand,
watching from the doorway before you turn and walk away

Barbara Gavin-Lewellyn

B

“Courage is resistance to fear,
mastery of fear — not absence of fear.” — Mark Twain

When I turned 11 or so and entered puberty my father became very jealous of the attention boys began to pay to me and became much more controlling of my free time. I also began to realize that the incest and other abuse was fundamentally wrong and became very angry about it and rebellious which of course, meant the abuse escalated.

My father began beating me with a belt much like one imagines or has seen slaves beaten in movies at every opportunity. I would have to remove my blouse and llean against a door jamb or lie spread eagled on the floor while he whaled on me with his heaviest leather belt which he sometimes doubled over and sometimes used as a whip.

At some point (when I was 13 or 14) I became so angry I made up my mind that I was not going to allow him or my mother to make me cry anymore. I had shed so many fearful, painful and sad tears from their abuse over the years that it occurred to me that they were feeding off them like some kind of sadistic monsters who needed me to express those emotions more than I did. From that moment forward, I refused to cry out. In time, I never shed a tear in their presence and eventually I took those beatings without even feeling a damn thing.

The mind is a wonderful thing when it comes to protecting itself from trauma. I learned to go into a safe place in my mind and just not be there physically while I was being beaten. When it was over and I had won that battle, I always felt a sense of smug satisfaction and triumph as I would lay there being lectured and not listening until I was given permission to get up and go to my room.

What I did do was begin to read very sad novels and cry my heart out at all the sad parts. I reread Flicka and began crying the moment she was born in anticipation of all the bad things that were going to happen to her. And I began helping the school science teacher take care of sick and dying animals which gave me another outlet for tears. I was one sad, depressed teenager most of the time. Had I lived in today’s world I would have been a Goth, dressed all in black with saftey pin mutilations everywhere. <heh>

I remember a few times my mother stopping my father when he was beating me and crying out “Stop Bill, you’ll kill her.” I was laying spread eagled on the floor with my bare back exposed and my brothers were lined up beside my mother watching while my father used his belt on me. I remember smiling when she stopped him because I knew I had won.

I remember once my father yelled over and over “Cry damn you, cry. That time was particularly satisfying. I remember once that one of my brothers (the other two were there as well and all three were crying begged me to start crying and making noise as soon as he started hitting me because it was so awful to watch him hit me so many times. I told them I was never going to let either one of them make me cry again, I didn’t care how hard they beat me and besides, it didn’t hurt so don’t worry about it.

It didn’t hurt even though I had horrible bruises that hurt like hell the next day. But I learned to deal with them by dissociating away from that pain as well.  I just wasn’t going to allow them the satisfaction of seeing me cry one tear caused by anything they did to me.  I simply sasn’t going to react to anything.

I don’t know how many beatings I took over that summer when I was 15. A lot of them. Every time I stood up dry eyed and looked him and my mother in the eye with a defiant smirk was a victory. Eventually they got the message and the beatings stopped when I turned 16 on September 5th or school started and they didn’t dare continue to leave those kinds of marks on me.

I asked my mother if she remembered when I learned not to cry and she said “Yes…” in a horrified voice.  I asked her what she thought about that and she said she didn’t think much about it.  I asked her if she remembered telling my father to stop before he killed me and she said that she remembered that too.  I asked her why she stood by let him abuse me so horribly in the first place.  She said she didn’t know.

I asked her if she knew she could go to jail for what she had done to me and my brothers as a child in today’s world and she stuttered out a “Yes but in those times…”  I cut her off and said  “There are no excuses for what happened Mother and if you were going to say everyone was doing it you are so full of shit you can’t even see.”  I told her the only reason she didn’t go to jail back then is because it wasn’t illegal to damn  near kill your kid (my eldest brother) and then humiliate him by hanging his sheet up on the front porch with a sign identifying whose sheet it was, making him wear diapers and locking him out of the house for peeing the bed.

Maybe I should be grateful my parents taught me how to cope with extreme emotional and pain. There are times when I am grateful I learned the art of dissociation because being able to detach from my body is what keeps me off narcotics and halfway sane. But my Psychiatrist says that I might not have developed this auto-immune disorder if it hadn’t been for all the stress my parents heaped on me for seventeenn years. Not to mention how ill equipped I was to cope with life as an adult in many ways.

“A man of active and resilient mind outwears his friendships just as certainly as he outwears his love affairs, his politics and his epistemology.”

Henry Louis Mencken quotes (American humorous Journalist and Critic of American life who influenced US fiction through the 1920s, 18801956)

I’ve been reflecting on the word resilience lately because I’m going to be taking a course of sorts called The Resilience of Being a Woman or something like that. It’s more of a workshop type thingie designed to senior citizens busy and out of trouble. Not that I’m a senior citizen because I’m only 54 but I qualify because I’m disabled which is really nice, isn’t it? NOT

OK, yes it nice that I qualify and they are willing to let those of us who are “differently abled” (oh gawd who ain’t save us from the politically correct, puhleeeze) into these things meant to amuse the elderly. I’ll try to stop being an ungrateful wench for being disabled. ;^)

Once again I digress. I’m going to have to write a piece just on my tendencies to digress alone. My digressiveness (is that a word? probably not but I just used it so now it is part of MY lexicon) is the main reason I was about to be fired before I sort of quit. Other than the fact that I just didn’t show up for work one day and didn’t come back for over a month with no explanation when I tried to take that big walk into the white light. I think that might have been a wee bit of a contributing factor. ;^)

But my employee review two weeks before had shown a marked decline and my wonderful supervisor had given me a sharp warning that I needed to get my game back or else. I had gone from being one of their top employees in terms of output in quantity and quality–in the very high 90 percent to under 70 percent for quality and under 80 percent for quantity. I wasn’t even meeting quota standards. sigh…

It was clear to me that I wasn’t going to be able to hold onto that job any longer and I certainly wasn’t going to be able to take college courses and work. I didn’t even think I would be able to take college classes at all. I wasn’t going to be able to finish up and get my degree. All my dreams were dust.

Damn, now I’m really depressed.

At any rate, while meditating on resilience I wrote this poem. This is the second draft. Please forgive the wonky lining. I can’t figure out how to do it with this wysiwyg program. :^/ A trip to the forums is in order it seems.

RESILIENCE

You will use different forms of media to express your resilience explains the pamphlet about the class                    I have decided to take for the next few weeks.                The Resilience of Being a Woman I doubt I’m the typical woman they had in mind when they dreampt up this class but here I am. How shall I express my silence, the silent screams, silent resilience that allowed me to retain a death grip on the shreds of sanity that I clung to while you and he were doing your best to destroy me with your ignorance and your dysfunctional neurotic, psychotic needs and love?

How can I portray a child younger than two watching a train slowly passing by, waiting for the caboose to come, hoping the conductor would wave and blow the whistle just for me so I would feel safe again, even if it was only just for that moment and my friend, the caboose man, who I had never met but knew I would love because his smile was so kind hadn’t stopped to take me away yet? At least he had waved at me and smiled and I believed someday he would.  Someday. Someday. There was always tomorrow.         There was always hope.

How can I communicate the shame and fear of a child who constantly heard about the nosy neighbors and townspeople trying to find out about family business from an angry mother? What family business? What did they want to know that they shouldn’t know? What was there to know that I didn’t know? Or did I know? What if I made a mistake and told what I knew but didn’t know I knew by accident? What had we done that was so wrong,so shameful that you would never let anyone into the house and sometimes made us all hide so they’d think no one was home? What secrets were we keeping?

How shall I depict the young defiant teenager who sat on her bed while her father lectured her about why she should not speak about the unspeakable acts he was committing on her unwilling body on a daily basis? To show that I had closed my mind and my ears, I picked up a newspaper and began to tear it into long strips while he talked and did not respond to his questions. It gave me great satisfaction when he slapped me and screamed “You are not crazy! You are not crazy!” Of course I wasn’t, not yet, but if I chose        to act crazy, I could freak his shit out and probably           yours as well! I was beginning to learn that I had some power. This was potent knowledge. I held it in reserve,       not quite knowing what to do with it but relishing               the secret joy of it.

Resilience. Yes, I had/have resilience. I learned to give like the Willow tree, branches swaying with the wind. At the slightest breeze I give way going with the flow but then I fall back into place exactly where I belong or where I want to be if I choose to follow another path, having learned from a stormy episode. I sway with the wind and absorb the shocks, taking in the information to use at my will. Resilient and powerful, I didn’t let you beat me down. I learned to thrive in spite of you and somehow I found my way out of the hell you created for me. I learned I didn’t need you. Then I learned that pity really isn’t the same as love and being the fruit of someone’s womb doesn’t mean you owe them your life or love or have to cater to their sick needs or anything they demand of you. Once again, I learned I really didn’t need you.