Summer of Love, 2009.
Assignment 3 from Stalker. Now that you told me the good parts, tell me the others. Tell me about sad and stressful things in your childhood.
Do I dare? How far do I go? Isn’t falling in love about risks and sharing? I always held back before. Is that why I have been so lonely? Finally someone asks. He tells you anything you ask about. At least try, try to tell him who you are.
Assignment 3. When I was about seven, my sister and I went to Ripley’s Believe It or Not museum with Daddy. One of the most horrible experiences of my life. Row after row of torture devices. Coffins to punish live people — with huge nails in the covers, complete with mannequins showing pierced, blood-stained corpses. The stuffed five-legged lamb was a particular horror. Daddy didn’t see my upset; he thought we were all having fun. I didn’t know how to say how I felt. I had nightmares for weeks. I should never had been let in there.
Then, to continue the horror, he would read from the book he picked up at the “museum,” “Believe It or Not” stories. For laughs. His laughs. I pleaded with him to stop, but he kept laughing. One anecdote had a man biting off his tongue to throw at someone. Still makes me ill. Always have worried about my tongue, ever since. I hated Daddy for putting me through it. What an insensitive thing to do to such a little girl.
The Twilight Zone was more than I could handle sometimes. I was sent to bed before it aired, but I was so lonely. I longed to be part of the family. Secretly, I would watch from a sheltered corner — they acted as though they didn’t know. They probably really didn’t notice; they would forget about me for long stretches. I regretted watching some nights, I was so scared. The episode of the little girl who fell under her bed, disappearing into a black hole. Her father came after her, but couldn’t find her. The opening between worlds was closing, closing. I couldn’t bear their being lost. Another episode of lost, confused people — who turned out to be dolls tossed into a bin. Or, the episodes where people discovered they were dead. So scary. I could not ask for comfort, because I would be punished for being a sneak and watching. It was my own fault that I was upset. “I hate nothing more than a sneak!,” said my mother repeatedly. I still must avoid horror stories, especially before bedtime, or bad dreams will visit me.
I have always been sensitive — to people yelling (yes, my parents screaming at each other bloody murder). To bright flashing lights. To those scratchy wool snow-suit pants I protested wearing, or that harsh wool blanket I woke up to one morning. Rough wool directly on my skin, it had my body on edge. I was age five or so. Yes, I was hypersensitive physically, psychologically, emotionally. It’s not an easy life, but being overly sensitive also helped me pick up on subtleties that didn’t register for others– and detecting those vibes could keep me safe, if I could sense the danger soon enough.
What was I MOST scared of? My mother’s rages. Her coming after me, after anything I loved, to destroy and wreak havoc. Slapping me, chasing me around the room to spank me. Not a calm, measured punishment. No, out of control. Smashing the doll carriage she had bought me just days before. (Knew that grand of a present was too good to be true!) Throwing out the cake I had baked the night before; gone before I could eat a bite. A special present. “After you get your tonsils out, we will get you a new toy; a toy bake-set.” Excited, I went to the refrigerator, to get my little cake — it was a pound cake, a miniature loaf. My heart sank. Not there! “Where is my cake, Mommy?”
“I threw it out.” Matter of fact. Eyeball to eyeball. My mind reeled. Why? What had happened? Had I done something wrong? I couldn’t remember anything. My heart ached for that adorable cake. The fun was out of the bake-set now. She is trying to hurt me and I don’t know why. I won’t let her she hurt me. Silent, expressionless, I turned my back and walked out of the room. She won’t see me cry, not if I can help it.
Or, her locking me out of the apartment as a seven-year old – humiliated, feeling half-naked in my pajamas. I banged and pleaded on that apartment door to be let back in. (Stupid me, I should have just kept going.) I felt a great deal of satisfaction when neighbors came by to see if all was okay, and I saw she was embarrassed. I hoped it humiliated her as she had humiliated me.
Her taking away my diary when I was in second grade. (My father intervened on that one; the diary was his gift to me. I got a red one, my sister a blue.)
Her ripping the film out of my Brownie after my afternoon documenting the Sedgwick projects and my friends, in preparation for our moving from the neighborhood. That was sixth grade. “You could have had a great memory of the day, but now you won’t!” Rip! Drama! Action! Film dangled, exposed, irretrievable. She was so frustrated I wouldn’t leave the apartment to go shopping for her. How could I tell her I was too afraid to leave? Too frightened to go to the store and be overwhelmed by the mob, pushed and shoved, waiting forever to be heard by the man behind the counter? She didn’t ask why I wouldn’t go, and I didn’t know how to tell her. She thought I simply wouldn’t help her; it was all about her, she was sure. But I didn’t know yet how to speak up in a store, or how to be seen in a crowd of towering adults, and I couldn’t tolerate the pain of it. Having failed at being a part of things, I had become too good at being separate. (Oh, how I wish I had those photos!)
Later I found myself in this book – The Highly Sensitive Child. Unfortunately, it was published years after my childhood; my parents never knew of it. Not that they read that kind of thing. They didn’t have a clue who I was, or their effect on me. I was a mystery to them, and them to me. End of Assignment 3.
Turns out, Stalker had Twilight Zone tales to share, too! “Did you see the one with Jack Klugman and the trumpet? Do you know that one?”
. . . to be continued