These were back in the days when your buddies still came around. Your drinking buddies. They mysteriously stopped coming after you had to quit.
You would all stand in your workshop, leaning against the work-bench, the lathe, the table saw, in a circle of drunken comradery. The basement. The scary place. The forbidden place. The place of men. I wanted to come to the party too. To your party. You didn’t ever tell me this story, not even on your deathbeds when you told me so many others and, as you were leaving, you were finally able to show me your love. But I have told it to myself countless times. This is another brick in the foundation of my life-long fear of men. My anxiety in their presence. Nerves tweaked. My desperate need to please that, as so often happened, resulted in my getting hurt.
So I did. I couldn’t help it. I felt it was wrong, but I went down anyway. I came to your party. Even though I knew there was danger. Guaranteed. I yearned to be a part of it. To be a part of your laughter that I could hear as I stood at the top of the stairs, looking through the crack in the door I didn’t dare open any further. Yet. Straining to see what I knew was wrong to enter. A gut feeling denied. Four, five, six years old. Learning how to not say “No.”
Slowly. Holding my breath, I opened the door and placed one foot on the top stair. Then the other. Down one step. Two. A whole stairway until I would appear, stealth-like in my desire for you to love me. I can’t remember if you and your friends turned your heads. I imagine myself wearing the pink gingham dress, shaped like a bell, from when I was around two, the colour of the tea-rose perfume your mother always wore, even though I would have long grown out of it by then. White knee socks that underlined my still dimpled knees. Black patent shoes with buckles. This is how I remember it. Myself: a pretty-little-girl victim. All dressed up to lose a war I had no idea I was in.
I reach the bottom of the stairs. Did they look at me before it started? Their joking around interrupted by my need? Did I have to creep into the circle? Weighed down by being ignored? Humiliated before it began? Tug shyly on a pant leg?
Whatever way it happened, I was noticed. By you. Spotted as your convenient psychological prey in the crowd. Your self-esteem scapegoat. And I don’t remember why or when or how it started. I only remember the starting. The burst of a polka in 2/4 time. And you sang, pointing and laughing like an overgrown bully:
“I don’t want her, you can have her, she’s too fat for me, hey!
She’s too fat for me, hey!
She’s too fat for me, hey!
I don’t want her you can have her she’s too fat for me
She’s too fat, she’s too fat, she’s too fat for me! HEY!!”
Did you dance around? I know you swung your beer bottle like it was some sort of sea shanty. Maybe kicked a leg out drunkenly to the “Heys!” You thought it was funny. Harmless. All in good fun. Your face was red. Shiny. And, as I remember it now, your glowing cheeks had the innocence of apples. But yours was a tainted innocence. Snubbed and clumsy and lethal. That of a man who is still a child and begs “Pick Me” with a joviality that tries too hard. And I, your daughter, became the brunt of a big joke that you tried to get your buddies to join in on. I don’t think anyone did. I am happy to remember that now. I had allies. Maybe they were as horrified as I was. Some of them seemed uncomfortable. Squirmed. Scowled in your direction. Noticed the heat of my cheeks. The terror in my eyes. But you didn’t. Or maybe you did and it made you loathe yourself more. I can’t remember leaving.
Some readers may think, what of it? Big deal. What’s she complaining about? That’s not so bad. She’s too sensitive. She could have been sexually abused. Then she would have something to complain about.
But they are wrong.
When reading Dr. Gabor Maté’s book, In the Realm of the Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters with Addiction, the doubting of the validity of the chronic emotional rejection I had experienced into my 40s was lifted. I knew what I have always felt is true.
Maté diagnoses drug addiction as a result of dysfunctional human development rather than anything innate or, more typically, the addict’s choice, the “it’s all their fault,” and “they could change their lives if they really wanted to.” The majority of drug-addicted people were sexually assaulted in childhood—especially the women—who often continue to be raped in adulthood as they are prostituted to pay for their addiction; however, and here’s where my personal trials were finally honoured, Maté also connects physical abuse to emotional abuse and explains how the cause is the same, and the effect is only a matter of degree. And good fortune.
“The very same brain centres that interpret and “feel” physical pain also become activated during the experience of emotional rejection,” Maté says. He explains how on brain scans, experiences of emotional rejection “light up” when a person is emotionally ostracized in the same way as when triggered by physically harmful stimuli.”1 When I read this, I was relieved that what I have felt all of my life even has science behind it.
Yes, those who may accuse me of making too much about nothing, you’re right: we always could have been sexually abused as children. And those who weren’t are the lucky ones. Regardless of what I have survived and still struggle with, I am one of those lucky ones. But that doesn’t take away the fact that the cycle of emotional abuse has a profound and debilitating effect on the abused. Like when I didn’t listen to my gut feeling when being hunted by a serial rapist when the people at the Bird Cage warned me about him, said he was bad news, and I was still inclined to be nice. To accept the fated ride back to the motel, even though I was uneasy and I just wanted him to go away and my heart rose in my throat and made my voice small and I felt like I was floating, fading, and it was as though my limbs were dissolving in the air. I was afraid; I doubted the fear. I didn’t have the self-confidence to believe myself. To take care of myself. To stand up for myself. I was a little girl again wearing the pink gingham dress, eyes wide in their deadly desire to please men, even men who I wanted to go away. I wasn’t able to say: “I don’t want to talk to you. Please leave me alone” like I am finally, at fifty-three, learning to do and am still not very good at. But at least now I understand why.
Click Follow to receive emails when this author adds content on Bublish