Friday, August 11, 2006

Defining Moments 6-12

This is an extremely difficult process for me. I keep stopping to see if I will feel better so I can continue, but it doesn’t really help much, and I really don’t want this to drag on and on. I survived all of this when it happen, and I have survived the currents these events have caused since. I am trusting that this book contains help for actually healing, because if it is just about regurgitating this shit over again, it’s really going to piss me off.

First grade is mostly a blur. I do remember I got my first kiss then, but I don’t remember what the boy’s name was. I do remember that he was cute and really sweet.

Second grade was anything but a blur. It was Mrs. Moore that made sure of that. She was young and beautiful. She wore a red dress that hand the most beautiful princess puff sleeves that I had ever seen. She hated me. She is one of the most influential people in my life, and I will write a lot about her in a later exercise. But here I want to write about an incident that reinforced all of the other lessons of worthlessness I had suffered.

I was in class, in my desk, taking a test. It was hard, and I didn’t know all the answers. I felt very anxious about a grade I knew I would be in trouble for. I chewed my fingernails then, and that’s what I was doing when Mrs. Moore came down the isle. “Cheri! Take those fingers out of your mouth or I will cut them off!” she screamed. She sounded just like my mother. Someone who was not my mother was treating me with contempt and disgust.

So, my mother was not the only one who felt I had no value. Others felt that way as well. As the school year went on, more and more people treated me with that same contempt. I learned that year that there was really something horrible about me that made people hate me. I didn’t know what it was, but whatever it was, everyone else could see it. Everyone else knew how worthless and valueless I really was. I was not likeable.

I wish could go back in time and tell that little girl they were all wrong - that Mrs. Moore hated my mother and was taking it out on me, and that the other children were simply seeking Mrs. Moore’s approval by treating me badly. It wouldn’t have helped though. I tell myself that now, and I know that now, but I don’t feel it deep inside. Deep inside I still feel worthless.

The third grade brought a new kind of experience to me. In at least one area, I did have some value.

It was lunch recess time and everyone was out playing after lunch. I had no friends, so I was wandering around the playground, daydreaming. It was then that a group of four boys two years older than me began to tease me. One of them had a crush on me (he was as hated as I was), and the other boys were going to make sure he got something from me.

They grabbed me and wrestled me to the ground. I was screaming, but no one came to my aid. They pinned me down and held me there. They told the boy to kiss me. He was reluctant at first, but complied with their demands. He kissed me on the lips. When he was done, the other boys started laughing and making jokes at me that I didn’t understand. When they had gone, I looked for help, but received none. Apparently, no one saw it happen - and no one really cared.

I can’t begin to say how lonely and confused I felt at that time. I was completely powerless and helpless. I was at the mercy of anyone who wanted a piece of me. But at least someone WANTED a piece of me.

Later that year, my mother and step father went out one night, and my grandfather (my mother’s father) stayed to baby-sit us. It all started out innocently enough, Kim and I were just sitting on his lap being the little girls we were. Then he decided he wanted kisses. So we gave grandpa kisses. Then he decided to teach us how grown-ups kiss.

We did that for a while and Kim managed to get up and leave. I wanted to know how grown-ups kissed. It progressed from there. He started touching me in places grown-up women get touched. I thought it felt good, and he seemed to think I was wonderful for playing the game with him. It only stopped because he couldn’t figure out how to unbuckle by belt. He wanted me to unbuckle it, but I knew that this game was wrong, so I got up and went into my room.

I was scared to death that he would tell my mother that I had played that game with him. I knew she would have blamed me for being a skanky little slut like the 13 year old pregnant daughter of grandpa’s current wife. Like the 13 year old pregnant daughter of my uncle’s wife. I liked being touched, and I came so close to letting him take it as far as it could go.

It was something I liked doing, that someone else thought was valuable. The thought of that toothless, drunk, disgusting old man makes my stomach churn. But the idea of someone wanting me bad enough to get in trouble for it physically arouses me even today. It doesn’t make sense to me, but there it is. (P.S. My uncle was the father of his 13 year old step-daughter’s baby, and though my grandpa’s step daughter had a boyfriend, it is unlikely that her baby was actually fathered by her young boyfriend.)

When I was in the fourth grade, I tried to get my teacher to call me by my nickname, Cheri. She refused to pronounce it right, though. She insisted that the French pronounced it Shurieee and pronounced that way until I told her to call me Cheryl. She didn’t seem to have any problems pronouncing that with an American accent - guess she couldn’t figure out how the French would have said it.

Sixth Grade was unforgettable.

I had been attending the same dance school since I was 5. They liked me there, but they didn’t really know me. They just thought I was cool because I was so flexible. None of the kids I went to dance school with attended my elementary school, until sixth grade. Boundaries were re-drawn and an already difficult situation became nearly unbearable.

I was standing in the lunch line the first day of school. There was this really pretty, tall girl standing in front of me. She had the most beautiful, shiny, copper colored hair I had ever seen. The sun was shining on it and I was mesmerized. Suddenly, she turned to me and told me to stop staring at her, that I was sick for staring at her and she didn’t want my stare cooties. The stage was set.

Ruthanne McNeese was one of the children forced to attend my school after the boundaries were re-drawn. She was a friend of Shari M. who I attended dance school with. Shari liked me. I didn’t know why, but I was terrified she would soon find out why she should hate me. Ruthanne was not shy about telling her.

Shari and Ruthanne had a falling out, as young friends often do. I was walking the playground with Shari when Ruthanne came up to us and told Shari “You must be really desperate for friends if you have to hang out with HER!” Of course, she was looking at me with every ounce of contempt she could muster. I was so crushed. I fully expected Shari to stop liking me right at that moment.

She didn’t though. She never did stop liking me. It didn’t matter, though, Ruthanne had won. While I was relieved that Shari didn’t dump me, I knew that Ruthanne was right. Shari was desperate for friends to hang with me. If Shari and Ruthanne hadn’t been fighting that week, I would have been roaming the playground alone, daydreaming.

Even now, when I see Shari, she still chats with me like I’m her long lost friend. I never understood why she liked me then, I still don’t know why now. Maybe some day I’ll ask her why. Would that be weird? Is it possible that she liked me for the same reasons everyone else hated me? Is it possible that their feelings toward me had very little to do with me or who I was, but everything to do with them and who they were? If that is all it ever is, wouldn’t that make life and everything we do in it shallow and empty?

If I could talk to that young girl in me I would tell her it wasn‘t about her. That Ruthanne was being cruel - that she was wrong. She was angry about having to switch schools, she was mean to a lot of people. She couldn’t possible really hate me that bad, she didn‘t even know me. She hated me before she ever walked into that school, not because I had no value, but because I went to that school. And I would thank Shari for not walking away, for never abandoning me, for always liking me - regardless of the reason. I aspire to like me that way, some day.

Early in February we started making bi-centennial valentine boxes. I was on a basketball team with kids who didn’t know me. I think my mom was really trying to help me make my life better. We went to a Carol King concert in Sun Valley. She was starting to see me a little differently, probably because I was becoming a young woman.

On a very sunny and warm day, I walked home from school, as usual. And as usual, I suffered the anxiety of not know what I would be facing once I got home. Had I failed to wash the dishes right the night before? Were the dog kennels not cleaned well enough? Was my room picked up well enough to pass inspection? Would I face the wrath of my mother? Or would it be a good day?

When I got home I was so pleasantly surprised! She was in the best of moods, such a good mood that she even took me to Dairy Queen for a Peanut Buster Parfait! Yes, not just a cone, but a Parfait! We talked and laughed and had the best time. I was so happy and grateful. We came home, and she left. I was cleaning the kitchen when the phone rang.

It was my mother, and she was clearly very upset. She told me that my step-dad was on his way home. He was going to take us somewhere and I was to go with him without fighting him. Of course, she knew I wouldn’t have fought him, that was not in my list of accepted behaviors. By the time she hung up I was quite upset, and crying. When he came, he knew that she had called me and wanted to know what she told me. I told him, got in the car and away we went.

I cried all the way to Arco. By the time we got there he was quite annoyed with me. I’m sure he didn’t know about, or appreciate the events that had been my day. We got to Arco, and we stayed there for a couple of months, saw a psychologist, and went back home.

He stayed in his miserable marriage for another two years. By then, Kim was old enough to legally choose to live with him.

At that time I was absolutely clueless as to why he was “kidnapping” us. I didn’t understand why we had to be taken away from our home and our lives. I felt so powerless, just a pawn. I honestly thought at the time that he just wanted to live in Arco with his family. He kept saying he was doing it because my mom was abusing us, but I didn’t believe she was abusing us. You see, I honestly thought it was me, there was something wrong with me. How can you be ok in life if you believe that your parent is incapable of keeping you safe? How can you trust anything if you can’t trust your mother? How can anything in life be ok if she isn’t? Why did he wait so long to tell us it was her and not us?

I know now he was trying to protect us. He was saving Kim’s life. It was harder for him than it was for us. He must have been so frustrated to have the children he was trying to protect fight him as hard as the woman he was trying to protect us from. But, he went about it all wrong. If I could go back and talk to him, I would tell him to start earlier. To tell us from the beginning that we were valuable, and that we didn’t deserve to be hit by anyone. I would tell him not to spring it on us like that. Give us a heads up, let us know, way in advance, what you are planning. I would tell him that what he was about to do would hurt us as much as anything she had done to us, because we had no power to control any of it. Our opinions didn’t matter. Our feelings weren’t considered. Her message was reinforced.

I would tell the young me to listen, that this was a crazy attempt to save her. I just wanted to matter. I would tell her she does. I wish I could believe that now.

Obviously not all of these events will make it in the final cut. They all seem to be echoes of the same lesson. How does one come to unlearn something that has been taught so well?


  1. Cheri, I want you to know, I read every post, even when what you post makes me frightened for you. This is one of those. I cannot imagine the personal strength it took to survive these events, much less recount them now.

    How do we un-learn lessons taught so vigorously? Slowly. We unlearn them very, very slowly.
    But, I think you're doing far better than you suppose you might be.

  2. I appreciate your support more than you can possibly immagine. It's hard for me to understand why anyone would want spend so much time reading this. Dr. Phil thinks this should be for my eyes only, but I'm not ashamed of any of it - and the idea of someone else expecting me to finish this process helps. So I'm just going to assume you expect me to finish it! Then I will.