Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Memory: The Shield

Like so many of my memories, I'm not sure how old I was.  I believe I was in my early teens. Because we were cramming 3 girls into a 10' x 10' room, there wasn't much room for anything. In that room was an L- shaped double bunkbed, with one lower section being a desk, 3 dressers, a bookcase, and a nightstand. The bunk beds and one of the dressers were separated by a narrow space that led to the nightstand and the closet (we're talking maybe 24", maximum, clearance.)  Just big enough for a child or a thin adult to get through.
We had been told to clean our room.  I had sensed Dad's volatile state and was doing everything in my power to clean it up and get my sisters to help. 5- 10 minutes later, or so it felt, it was too late. He came in, saw that we "hadn't done a damn thing," turned around and left. I heard their bedroom door open and started herding my sisters towards the closet.  The sound of the tie rack on their bedroom door only meant one thing in this context: The Belt.  It had no buckle, only a loop at that end. I knew my father couldn't get through that narrow gap and didn't dare put his weight on the bed. I shoved my sisters against the nightstand and tried to place myself to absorb what blows might make it through the gap. I heard a few cries that let me know I wasn't completely successful. There was a groping hand, reaching for anything to yank one of us out.  I pressed them further back against the nightstand and closet. I don't remember anything after that except tears and a million apologies: "I'm sorry, Dad!  We'll clean it right!  I promise! I'll skip UIL and clean it, please, Dad!"  I don't know whether he gave up or sobered up, but he went away after a bit. I checked my sisters afterwards.  They seemed shaken, but not hurt (well, my middle sister had taken a couple hits.) I don't remember how badly I got hit. I honestly don't.  I remember pain, so I know I took some hits.
I remember shame. Shame at not being able to get it done right and quickly enough.
I remember blame.  Somehow, it was all my fault that the room wasn't clean to begin with. (Utter nonsense.  with all the stuff crammed in that room it would always look cluttered and messy.)
I remember fear. Fear of the belt, fear that I wouldn't protect my sisters, fear that my father would squeeze through that gap and really give it to us for trying to hide, fear of CPS, fear of marks I might hafta try and explain away.
I remember black rage, the evil twin of red rage, that wanted to yank the belt from Dad's hands and use it on him.
Mostly, I remember thinking "I'm not good enough to keep him happy and never will be.  Why can't I be good enough?"
That was the night my sister ran away to the neighbor's house, evoking a CPS call.  I blamed myself for that, too.  I caught her trying to get out the back door and made her to go back to bed. She did it later that night. If I had just stayed up and made sure she stayed in bed, that wouldn't have happened.
I think, to an extent, I still see that night and it's following drama and my fault, something I caused, something I could have somehow prevented by being a "good girl."  I know better, logically, I know he would have found some other way to target us or one of us. He was just in that mood.  I did it, though.  I'm the one that pissed him off by not cleaning well enough, quickly enough.  It's all my fault that all that happened.
I remember why I think that. I told Mom the next day that my bruises hurt.  Her response was "well, if you had just cleaned your room like you were asked, you wouldn't have made him mad." Bam.  Confirmation that I was the cause of the problem by not being a "good girl."

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