Being a kid is scary

July 15, 2006.

I used to be a child.

I had great parents who loved me and respected me as a person. But sometimes, it was scary. And sometimes, I remember.

So tonight, I was explaining something to my son, and I said, “Do you remember the story of that time my family was playing a game, and my sister rolled her die carelessly, and Dad backhanded her?”

M__’s mouth hung open. “Backhanded her? Hard?”

“She had a bloody lip,” I told him. “You sure I didn’t tell you about this? I thought we’d covered all that.”

“Well, we did, but… I mean, I knew you were hit, but I thought it was, like, a rare thing.”

“It was rare. That’s why I remember this particular incident.”

I wasn’t bothered by the discussion, as far as I know, but only a few hours later, when another son was upstairs and said something bold to one of his brothers, I reacted with a rush of adrenaline and fear. Whoa, where’d that come from?

I realized that I was scared. And apparently, my gut was scared that the people upstairs were going to get in a fight and scream at each other and beat on each other and break doors. And I realized why I react so strongly to my children’s inclinations to fight. I have very few non-negotiable demands, but here is one: “We do not speak to each other that way in this house.

I thought I was done with this a long time ago. I don’t dwell on misfortune, but I acknowledge it, grieve and move on. But this year has held some surprises. This year I remember what it felt like to be that little girl. I remember arguments and physical fights my parents had. I remember not knowing if they would still be there when I came home. I remember my half-brother. (And that memory was a god-send. I finally realized why, before I met my husband, I never believed anyone loved me.)

I know that people do the best they can in their circumstances, and that despite their efforts, certain kinds of chaos can be devastating to kids. I know that adults don’t choose to live in a chaotic hell, if they can figure out a better way, so I don’t feel inclined to lay a lot of blame. And, as I said, my parents were loving, and wonderful in many ways. They encouraged me to think, and gave me strength to endure the hard times.

But I’ve been getting blindsided by memories, and feeling scared again. My body feels it.

In the dark, knees crossed
arms wrapped, I’m not here

I’m not here but I’m shaking

The sounds find me hiding

muffled voices through the floor
front door latch
woman’s grief

car door
engine’s cough

patter of tires on wet road

Daddy’s gone, and I’m rocking
(or the house is)

and I’m waiting
in the dark

and I’m waiting

I’d like to know why I can feel this now, like it’s happening, now. It’s almost like the little girl is still here. Like time doesn’t exist. I can feel it. I could never feel it before.

Funny, to this day when something’s bothering me, I will stay awake at night. I’ve called it keeping vigil, but I never connected it to that memory before. Of course, I’ve never really connected myself with that memory either.

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