Because I was a good girl, I helped my parents cover their tracks. They were covert. They knew what to do and to say to look like normal people in front of others. I mostly played along with the image they projected out to the public, not because I agreed with it, but because it was the only way to get through it. The physical, emotional, and sexual abuse had become “normal,” and I had become so conditioned to cope with it. There wasn’t any kind of big, After School Special-type moment to reveal it to anyone. What would I say? My parents are mean? The only thing that seemed to get anyone’s attention in the 1980’s were bruises, and even then, things like that could be explained away. All of my prior attempts to communicate it to others were shot down, and no one (by design) was close enough to my parents to really see it. Sure, some people clued in to the fact that my parents were “weird,” mostly due to their metaphysical beliefs, which I haven’t even addressed yet. Later on, when I was molested by people outside the family, who was I going to tell about that? My parents? Pfft.
I was about eight when I realized that my parents were the ones being irrational, and not me. But what could I do about it? Sometimes I argued back, but it was futile. Instead, I promised myself that I would not ever be like them. I would listen to my future children. I would believe them when they told the truth. I would let them feel their feelings and be themselves. I wrote notes to myself in a journal. I drew a diagram so I wouldn’t forget. It was a stick figure version of me in the center, with a lot of concentric circles around me. The outer circles were the things they said about me and did that were untrue. The inner part was who I really was.
I clung to the insight like a talisman. What was happening to me wasn’t right. In many ways, I raised myself, and did a pretty darn good job, considering. I got out, and I made good on my promise to be different. But I always wondered what would have happened if I told someone what was really going on. What if there was just one person who listened to me and could do something about it? What would my life be like today if I had been removed from my toxic parents and grown up in an environment where felt safe, loved, and respected?
There was one adult in my life growing up who treated me like a real person. She was my absolute favorite. She seemed to get me in ways that no one else did. She was smart, and funny, and insightful. In my teen years, I opened up to her about some things, and she gave me some wise advice about college being a good ticket out. I wished I had been able to tell her more. I lost track of her for many years, for reasons related to the abuse, but I held on to the many lessons she taught me. For me, she was the one person who made me feel like I had value. She let me be myself. Around her, I was allowed to be fun and creative. I could be silly. I could express myself. In many ways, she was the model for a lot of the adult decisions I made, personally and professionally. When I had kids, it was her traditions that I carried over to my children, like telling ridiculous jokes and eating pie for breakfast. I’ve always wanted to be like her.
I recently had the opportunity to find her and let her know what she meant to me growing up. I also got the opportunity to tell her, through a lot of tears, all the things I had been holding in when I was a teenager. And then she did the most wonderful thing. She listened. She heard and validated me. I was finally able to unload the burden I had been carrying all by myself for so long. All I needed was just one person who knew me as a child, and saw me for who I was, tell me, “It’s not your fault.”
For me, finding her and having her back in my life means there is something happy I can claim from my childhood. Something good happened. There was just one person, but she is the right person. Just one person is enough to feel seen, heard, and loved.