Content warning for abuse.
She knew how to hide it.
It makes sense. Looking back, I know she learned how to from her father.
She knew the right places to hit, to scar, to burn, to pinch, pull, twist, and bruise where no one would ever see.
I was seven, and she was thirteen. She hated me and I didn’t know why. The only thing I knew was that my dad started dating her mother, and they were happy together. For some reason she hated me.
Being alone with her was my biggest fear, because it meant it was time for pain, for tears, for screaming at the top of my lungs until my throat was raw and knowing that there was no one who would save me. I was afraid of our parents going out for date nights, and dreaded the 90 minutes after school let out until her mom would get home from work. When my friends and peers looked forward to summer vacation, I was terrified, because it meant full days home alone, with her, despite my best efforts to dash for the neighbor’s house at the earliest polite time possible, because she would yell for me to come back home.
“If you tell on me, it will only be worse next time.” I never doubted that threat, and never tested it, because I did not want to ever find out what could possibly be worse. She already treated me like a punching bag, chased me around the house with knives, taunted me with fire, destroyed my favorite things in front of me.
I can’t handle the scent of hot sauce anymore.
I flinch when someone handles a knife around me.
I have mild pyrophobia.
It got worse anyway.
Because our parents made friends with one of my school friend’s parents, and they would all four go out together, leaving her to babysit me, my friend, and her younger brother. She took them under her wing. I was eight.
I hate “Truth or Dare” now.
I am ashamed of my body.
I learned how to be afraid of intimacy.
I learned that no one should ever see me naked, because they will humiliate me and violate me and take advantage of my vulnerability.
To this day, that thought still plagues me. There are so many adult experiences I have never had, experiences that most people have had by my age, but that eight year old girl still lurks in the back of of my mind to remind me “never give anyone the chance to hurt you like this again.” I’ve resigned myself to being single; as I was told growing up, I would look better if I lost weight, and no one would want me the way I looked. Well, they were right. Sometimes I think about getting in shape, but then I think what if someone notices you; it’s safer not to be noticed. I know the health benefits, and maybe I would “look better,” but it’s safer to be invisible and undesirable than to get hurt again.
I learned that I could not trust or rely on adults to protect me. Either they didn’t notice, or turned a blind eye to it all, perhaps chalking up my skittishness around her as “sibling rivalry,” or an adjustment period. No one ever called it abuse.
His drinking got worse as the years wore on, and although he never laid a hand on me, he knew how to cut with his words, and over time I learned my place in our house; I was a burden, an obligation, someone who was around to do the cleaning and took up space. They forgot about me a lot when I got older, often leaving for the evening without telling me where they were going, or to expect to fend for myself for the night. I got used to being forgotten. They talked me out of visiting my mother, and by extension my younger sister. I know sometimes he tried, but I stopped caring about his efforts when my step-mother made it clear that I wasn’t worth helping, and he told me that if I made him choose, he would choose her. I didn’t make him choose; I made the choice for him.
I learned how to vanish.
I’m afraid to have my name on anything they can find.
I can’t get hurt if I can’t be found (until I was found).
I was twenty-two when I had my first kiss, and I thought maybe with this guy. He was great to be around when he was sober. But that was the problem, wasn’t it? It was a red flag I ignored for a while because I thought maybe he’ll change. Except he didn’t change, and was far too much like my father when he was drunk, and I reminded myself never again, you said no one would treat you like this ever again. No one else has ever reciprocated my interest, which is both disheartening and a relief. I don’t know what I would do.
I’m looking for baggage that goes with mine.
This is where it all comes from, right? It’s behind every choice I make. I try too hard, because people-pleasing was how I survived. Standing up for myself leads to confrontation, and confrontation means it will be worse.
I’m not even sure what urged me to put this out in the universe. Maybe if I get this off my chest I can work on letting it go and become a better person. I want to be a better friend, and want my friends to know they are loved. I want romance, but I don’t think I’m worthy of being loved or desired to begin with.
I’m lucky that I have people in life I’m able to let those defenses down for. I still catch myself trying to be perfect for them, and I berate myself when I fall short. I’m still quick to blame myself for every little thing because that’s how I spent two-thirds of my life. I’d rather let other people come to me, because otherwise I might be imposing myself on them and I’d beat myself over it for ages if I accidentally invited myself somewhere I wasn’t wanted. I’m aware that all of that it is irrational, and it is a constant war I wage with myself. I know these things work both ways, and I’m working on it.
I’m not looking for pity, or attention. I guess I’m… trying to chase my demons away. It’s spring time, and it’s my year of change. Maybe it will even help someone. It would be worth that.
I can love everyone more. I can take care of them better. Maybe one day I’ll be less afraid.
I’m not alone.