This is a week that has kind of kicked the shit out of me.
I first experienced insomnia at age ten. Since that time, I have struggled repeatedly – sometimes for days or weeks or even months. I have come to realize that my insomnia is invariably linked to some experience of boundary violation in the course of relationships. Today I am unsurprised by the revelation.
There are the things that bring my ten year old self out around the Fourth of July:
When I was ten years old we went on a family vacation some 1,300 miles from home. It was in the course of this vacation that my father sexually abused me. We were staying with extended family in various configurations and the night my mother and brothers stayed with her sister, my father stayed with her brother, and my sister and I stayed with our uncle’s estranged wife and two children who were close in age to us.
In the late evening, my father made his way to the house where I was staying and had an affair with my uncle’s soon-to-be ex-wife. He made certain I saw and heard the whole thing. I was not able to sleep the entire night.
I tried desperately to hold it in until I dissolved in an emotional meltdown the following afternoon - tears spilling out of me like a tidal wave of grief. It was late afternoon when I told my mother, sobbing in the backseat of her sister’s car, what I had seen. That night we sat as a family on the beach, watching the Independence Day fireworks explode over the ocean.
Our vacation was cut short. The following morning the car was packed with luggage and children. My parents stood on the front lawn of my grandparents’ house, spitting venom at each other. “You do know that your daughter saw you, don’t you?” my mother shot at my father.
A tone between cool indifference and pride in a hit that landed well, “Why do you think I did it? I knew that was what was going to hurt you most,” my father retorted.
I was filled with intense fear. My father had never really seen me before. And now he had seen me and I had told. What would be the punishment for telling?
I was filled with so many feelings. Horror. Sadness. Anger. Confusion. What did it all mean? How does someone do that?
Later Thursday, I remembered the following:
Insult was added to injury when halfway down the Pennsylvania turnpike, my brother grabbed the My Little Pony unicorn toy with which I was playing (Glory – white with purple mane and tail, a shooting star mark on her hindquarters) and threw it out the window. I screamed for my parents to stop, to go back, to find it. My father never even tapped the brakes.
When I got home Thursday night, I lay down to rest for a bit as David ran to the office to collect research materials. I inadvertently fell asleep. I woke up remembering the following:
Somewhere in Ohio we stopped for dinner. I slammed the car door in frustration as feelings without names, and too big for my child's body to handle, coursed through me the entire ride home. The car window slipped off its tracks and fell into the body of the door. Another layer of protection gone.
Early July temperatures in the Midwest can still get down in the 50s overnight. This feels particularly cold as the wind whipped about at interstate speeds. We were all dressed for warm weather, sunshine, and light breezes, not anticipating that we wouldn’t have a barrier of glass between us and the world on the ride home.
Trying to escape the cold wind, my family, the terribleness of the aftermath, to find a place of safety in the midst of it all, I huddled on the floor of the car behind the front passenger's seat.
I remember the wet ice cascading down my neck, soaking my t-shirt and leaving me chilled to the bone. My mother, in retaliation for the window, finished her drink from dinner, took the lid off, reached overhead, and dumped the remaining contents of her cup over me, knowing I was huddled there, trying to stay warm.
I had one thought in my mind when I awoke from my nap Thursday evening:
I do not want to know these people.
Later in the evening I realized that there is one word that most adequately sums up my childhood:
Wednesday afternoon, I curled up in a chair at home to read. I was feeling particularly low already, what with the week I was having. Lois settled into the arm of chair to keep me company. She purred and she purred as she looked at me.
At the thirty-six, I am treated with more compassion, more kindness, and more tenderness by my cranky elderly cat who’s dying of severe kidney disease than I received from my own parents at the age of ten.