I am facing my forty-year graduating class anniversary dinner in August. Such an event usually causes people to look forward to speaking with and seeing the people with which you went to school.
For me the prospect brings back memories and emotions that are not lovely.
I can remember moving to Illinois from Tennessee when I was a little older than eight. We moved here in the spring of 1968 a few months before mankind took its first giant leap onto the moon’s surface. I was content at first, but we had moved to within a fifteen-minute drive of one of the people who traumatized me in childhood.
The Maltreatment Escalated.
In the fall of 1968, I began attending Lincoln grade school. As if moving to Illinois with its corn fields and bean fields wasn’t enough of a shock, attending school certainly was much more so.
Not only were there no African-American children in my school, even the janitors and lunch ladies were white. The children seemed different too. I can’t explain exactly what I meant, except to say they were more jaded and cruel than those I had left behind in Shelby County Tennessee.
It was only the first day of school when the teasing began. I spoke with a heavy southern accent and the kids picked up on that quickly. To make matters worse, in the fourth grade I began to develop breasts and a girlish figure which made the other little girls laugh. I don’t know if they were laughing in jealousy or because they didn’t understand. Either way, their giggles seared my soul.
Even though I was laughed at and ridiculed, I still could surf the waves of disappointment and homesickness.
The homesickness was Dreadful
I would sit upstairs in our little house on Marshall Avenue and daydream of moving home to Tennessee. I couldn’t stand the idea that I was going to have to live out my life among the cruel Yankee children I had encountered.
Also, I had never slept at night, but my insomnia became even worse in Illinois.
My father knew I was miserable and that I wanted to move back to Tennessee. It hurt him that he couldn’t fulfill his little girl’s wish, but he was powerless to do anything about it. Although he had served his country during the Viet Nam War in the Navy, he was penniless and had been forced to relocate his family in Illinois where he had been raised. He had hoped to offer us some sense of stability, not understanding he was dooming us to poverty and despair.
I spent the fourth grade at Lincoln grade school spending most of my time switching from one alter to another and trying my best to get by. My teachers thought I was a daydreamer because I paid so little attention in class. I was mentally present only part of the time and I was bored. I found the lessons in math and reading in Illinois boring compared to the classes I had attended in Tennessee.
Shortly after I completed fourth grade, we moved to a little town nearby. The person who did perhaps the most damage to my young mind and body lived on the other side of a fence of our backyard. As one might suspect, the traumatic injuries increased by multitudes. It was while living there that my first neck injury occurred when I was throttled for not cooperating.
By the time we moved back to town, my mental health was in shambles. I was eleven-years old and had already made the decision to never play again with other children again. That decision isolating me from any hope of having friends.
Luckily most of the children in my sixth-grade class were easy to get along with. They only teased me mercilessly when the rare occasions came for me to kick a ball during a game. Most of the time I maneuvered myself successfully out of that situation though by becoming invisible.
Oh, I don’t mean physically and literally invisible. But if I stood about quietly and was careful, I would be passed over by a turn at bat unnoticed by the teachers at P.E.
It wasn’t long before I was utilizing this ability in all my encounters with people. Not just kids and teachers at school, but also with relatives and friends.
The problem with being invisible is that no one can hear or see your distress.
When I entered puberty, which for me came early, I became more and more depressed. I often contemplated death by suicide, and was suffering at the hands of a person I loved very much.
To this day I cannot understand why he would want to hurt me like that. I loved him so much. It was so unnecessary.
An invisible person cannot tell you they are hurting. I suffered in silence, praying to die.
The bullying at school grew. I had the air of a person who was bleeding, and like chickens peck at blood, so did the kids.
Looking back, I can see that what the kids were doing wasn’t meant to be as cruel as I perceived at the time. The things they were saying should have been laughed at and not have been so devastating. But I was in too much pain. My heart was broken and bruised so I took every little tease to heart.
When I was fifteen the unspeakable happened. My 39-year old father dropped dead of a heart attack in front of myself, my two brothers and my mother in our kitchen.
My only hope of going back to Tennessee also died that day.
I Hated Illinois
Oh God how I hated Illinois.
I felt I had been robbed of my life and by this midwestern state, and now it had taken my father from me too.
It was only a few short months later that I told on the man whom I had loved and who had so horribly harmed me all my life.
Things did not go well.
When I was taken to confront him directly with my accusations, he not only denied doing anything wrong, but said, and I quote, “How could you say those things about me?”
I became an outcast of those people related to the man that day.
The entire lot of them, except one brave soul, discarded me like yesterday’s garbage. They did this to a fifteen-year old girl who had just lost her father, and whom they knew was telling the truth.
I became even more invisible as this man’s wife would bring presents for my brothers but not me. I never received another birthday card or acknowledgement of being alive from people who had once meant the world to me.
To this day, I cannot stand the thought of being in the same room with them. I don’t identify anyone anymore in my writing to protect the people who were innocent children at the time, but I have no love for the lot of them.
Being an Invisible Human Being Hurts
No one can love you if you can’t be seen.
No one can help you navigate life or teach you how to live if they cannot see you.
So, when I received the invitation to my forty-year class graduation party, I almost said no. The old anger resurfaced with force and I strung a long list of curse words in describing the people of that class. Facing those people who were around when all this pain was happening seemed to be a bigger trigger than I could face.
Then I thought on in harder and in a clearer manner.
It is not the fault of the people with whom I graduated that my life was so horrendous. They were just kids too. I have gone as far as going down a different aisle in a grocery store to not speak to any of them for many years. It’s time to lay the illusion that it was their fault to rest.
They were just kids. They had no idea what horrible maltreatment I was enduring, nor were they at all responsible for it. The dissociative disorder I developed also was not their fault. I used my hate for them as a cover for where that anger and resent belonged, on the adults who were hurting me.
Nor was it the state of Illinois’ fault.
No matter where I had lived as a kid, my life had been full of trauma and a geographical move did not make it worse. It just changed the dynamics of what was happening.
The man who hurt me here came to Tennessee on visits on a regular basis and the DID I now live with began to form in infancy not after the move.
I guess the biggest reason I write this blog is to not be invisible anymore. I fight myself constantly to get out and be noticed in public. Being physically out in public is extremely trying and tiring for me. Yet, I go out anyway and speak and write about my traumatic history.
I don’t want any other people who experience being invisible as children. I want to shout from the rooftops that childhood trauma is preventable and unnecessary.
I feel the need to raise awareness in the public’s eye that we must not avoid discussing what happens to children every day in the world.
My message is simple. Children are being harmed in your community, in your neighborhood, and possibly in your family.
No one is immune and everyone is responsible for these unspeakable crimes that are committed every day against the most innocent among us, our kids.
Right now, I am appalled at what is happening to the children who are being ripped from their mothers and fathers at the southern border of my country. We are all complacent with bullying and child abuse on a massive scale that has been sanctioned by my government.
Oh god, every time I read a new headline about that atrocity, I wish I could be invisible again.
But to become invisible and not be noticed is to do what my adults did to me, keep quiet even when we know for certain a child is being harmed.
I do not want to be invisible anymore. No, never again.