The brick building looked like a fortress in the middle of the city. It was cold -cement walls and tile floor. She remembers the desks all neat and tidy in rows, chairs facing towards the front of the classroom where the teacher’s desk sat in the center, while the blackboard stretched the entire wall from left to right – ending at the pencil sharpener bolted into the dark wood trim. The world map and projector were coiled up tight at the top and to the left on the floor, a giant teddy bear sitting in the corner. The reading circle, a worn rug with its threading stretched thin, yet thick and dusty from years of little learner’s making their way across it’s seams.
Her favorite place in the classroom was her desk. She felt safe there – like no one could see her, protected and sheltered from the other students. You see, she didn’t want anyone to notice her, at home she was being told that her only job was to be quiet, be sweet and nice. Even by the First Grade, her self-esteem and view of the world was distorted. Psychological and physical abuse does that to a child. She was mild, meek, timid, and scared. Trained to have ‘mean – world’ syndrome – everyone was a threat and everyone was dangerous. She had one friend in the first grade and whenever she was absent, she would wander; completely and utterly lost. She’d rather not be noticed. She remembers some days, visibly sinking down in her chair to make herself as small as she possibly could – ‘please don’t see me’, she would think to herself, as the other students chatted and played with their friends. She feared people and she feared authority. Not being allowed to think for oneself at a young age, does this to a child.
“he loves you, he loves you!”, the kids would tease. She walked to her desk – right up front – second in the center row. He was over in the first row, first desk. She caught his eye looking at her and smiling. Red hair, and caramel skin, and a smile that could outshine anyone’s in the room. She looked down at her desk and saw a note folded up, written on it were the words, “I love you”. she blushed – on the outside she could hear her parents saying, “kids aren’t supposed to have boyfriend and girlfriends.” But on the inside – her heart ignited with sheer joy that someone noticed her, he thought she was pretty and he loved her.
Everyday a new note or small trinket of some kind. A smile, a catch of his eye, teasing from the other classmates – everyone knew he loved her. The love notes on her desk made her feel so special and affirmed. She watched him bounce around the classroom, between the desks – filled with pride as he expressed his love toward the girl in the polka dot dress.
This little girl, being trained for a role to serve men – was also trained that her thoughts, feelings, and opinions don’t matter. Being trained that her value is based on her performance and that love is conditional. This little girl was taught that personal rights, dignity and boundaries are selfish – she was manipulated to believe that the zipper to her person-hood sits on the outside of her clothing, completely exposed and anyone may have access at anytime. She never learned the word ‘No’, she never learned she had choices, and her inner voice was silenced. She became a mold of a girl to grow into a woman, built to play a part and fill a role – rather than being loved as the unique individual she was. Her home looked neat and tidy – two parents, a brother, a dog. Her family went to church, her dad pursued seminary to become a pastor – working nights and going to school during the day – she never really saw him, except when it was time to be punished. On the outside it looked well but inside it was a roller coaster of chaos.
In her home it was the calm before the storm or it was the storm. Screaming, yelling, name calling, blaming, accusing, shaming, condemning, slamming doors, cupboards, windows, broken dishes and tires peeling out of the driveway – were all a bi-weekly, normal occurrence. Round and round the family went around the abuse cycle as daddy was triggered and mama defended herself against his outbursts. Dragging a woman across a floor requires a lot of rage, control and power. Whipping your daughter with a belt until she stops crying takes a lot of stamina, control and power. What can cause this? A man’s entitled view of himself, his rights and his emotions -narcissism. What did she do to deserve this? Nothing.
What she did not hear in her home was patience, kindness, compassion and understanding. She had no concept of healthy conflict or resolution. She never witnessed repentance and restoration. She witnessed blame shifting, sweeping things under the rug, gas lighting. She watched as her mama’s light got dimmer, year after year after year. She watched her daddy become harder and harder – year after year. She saw him abandon the hearts in his home every time he walked out the door to go to church. By the first grade – this little girl was already abandoned and alone. She beckoned to the world:
Do you see me?
Do you love me?
Her daddy manipulated her all along, blaming her for his angry explosions;
“if you would only pay attention while I’m trying to teach you…”
“If you would just come help me at church…”
“If you would just listen to your mom I wouldn’t have to yell at you or be upset”
“If you would just stop fighting with your brother…”
“Why don’t you wanna give me a hug?”
“What did I do? You don’t want to cuddle with me?”
“Your only job in this house is to be sweet, kind, and close your mouth.”
“Dad, please don’t kick my cat” “I won’t kick your cat if you repent for fighting with your brother”
“Dad, I don’t feel comfortable with this” “Don’t you think God will reward us in heaven for doing this – you will receive a reward in heaven.”
“Dad, I don’t like when you kiss me like that”
“Daddy, STOP tickling me”
“Daddy, I don’t like when you tease me”
“Dad, I miss you I wish you were home more” “Well, what do you want me to do – just ignore my calling?”
All excuses to use his daughter as a verbal punching bag. She was a place holder for the shame he carried as a man – the knots in her back and shoulders reflecting the weight of his shame. Abandoning her heart to find her own way out of the scorched desert he created in his home.
Her mother was just as destructive, a cutting word for every new day of the week. Condescending, critical, depleted, bitter and angry. Unable to control her emotions – the girl was often subjected to verbal rantings, her person-hood daily being cut down to a small blade. Her self-image sunk so low because there was always something “wrong” with her behavior, appearance or attitude. Despite the girls efforts to be perfect. If she were perfect – then there would be nothing to criticize – unfortunately perfect was never good enough. Her mother governed by a lack of self-control parented out of fear and manipulation. Affirmation and nurturing were two things the young girl would not see or experience until she was 33 years old.
Across town, the red-headed, caramel skinned boy didn’t have things much better. Bullied by his own father, yet coming to school as the happiest creature. His energy sparked fire in an entire room, his laughter like the sound of music and his heart could be seen beating on top of his sleeve. If he was in love – everyone knew! He laid awake one night as he cried out in first grade agony, letting his brother know, “I can’t bare to be apart from the girl in the polka dot dress – I won’t see her for the whole summer.”
His passion for love followed him well into adulthood. You see, this little boy had a dream – he held this dream in his heart for it was a God-given gift of truth, protected inside this little boy’s heart. The truth never left, and it never burnt out. This boy had a dream to be the husband and father he never had. His ultimate desire to love a woman with his whole being and love his children as he loves himself.
There was an obstacle, which blocked this truth, a darkness which grew inside the boy – unknown and unseen – as the darkness was left there to poison the veins of this child – it twisted it’s way like a thorny vine around the boys view of himself.
This boy was innocent, he was good, glorious, worthy, love able, kind, precious and cherished. A father with wounds of his own, also found a place to put his shame. Kicking, beating, threatening..
“I’m gonna knock your teeth in…”
“You better stop crying or I’ll give you something to cry about…”
“I’m gonna crack your skull open”
“I’m gonna kick you”
“If you don’t have sex with her- your not a man.”
“Go ahead dad do it, punch me! Just get it over with – be a man and do it”
“Leave my mom alone. Your not a man”
The boy loved his mother, her nuturing and understanding heart was not powerful enough an antidote to protect the boy damaged by his father, rather she served as a life-line to the young boy’s humanity.
How does one survive this and not turn into the thing that destroyed them? How does one cope and not medicate the pain? How does one regain the child that was mutilated without collecting casualties of war? Death of self, loss of life, grief of relationship, pain of memory, lamenting over what once was and never is to be.
The red-headed boy and the girl in the polka dot dress went thru life hiding, coping, self-soothing, managing, surviving… one addicted to perfectionism, performance, validation, food, exercise, TV, fantasizing, love and avoiding pain at all costs. The other addicted to drugs, alcohol, love, validation thru attaining a partner and being the best parent. Both over-functioning for people in their lives who didn’t want to help themselves. Both still blaming others instead of taking responsibility for their own lack of boundaries and self-control. One ruled by a mindset of unworthiness, anxiety, and fear of man. The other ruled by a mindset of entitlement, pride, poverty and self-contempt. Both hiding in shame, regret, despair and pain – both set free, yet tied in bondage.
Twenty-eight years later the red-headed boy and the girl in the polka dot dress met in a hallway at another school. The cement hallway bright and warm. Voices of students and laughter piercing the air. “Excuse me, do I know you?” Her brown eyes met his, smiled and the little boy whispered ‘I love you’ to the girl with the polka dot dress. Neither fully understanding the damage and truth that would be exposed by the cosmic timing of their union.
The flames of truth protected by the dormant little ones inside both individuals, that truth never went out. Both learning to parent the little one who was destroyed by men drowning in their own self-hatred. How does one reclaim, restore and redeem that which was destroyed?
How does one let go to allow another to journey onward toward healing and restitution? Separate but together, alone but never parted the red-headed boy and the girl with the polka dot dress travel the road toward honesty, vulnerability, truth and exposure. Each desperately pleading to repave the crooked paths developed at the hand’s of another. What will their straight paths lead them to, I wonder?