I don’t think a lot of people understand what intrusive thoughts and memories are like, and what they can do to you.
Starting on Sunday of this week memories from my childhood started coming into my brain uninvited. The first memory that intruded into my brain was a time when my mother took my sister and I and ran away from my dad after a big fight with my mom. My little brain was too small to understand/remember what the fight was about, but what I do remember is her packing up our stuff, and telling us that we were going to leave and not come back. I remember being so relieved and excited. We were going on an adventure and we were leaving my dad behind. He abused us all, physically, emotionally and psychologically. I was so happy to be leaving. We got in the car, we drove somewhere (that I couldn’t remember until I called my mom and asked her where- Wells Beach ME) and went to a restaurant. My little sister and I were sitting on one side of the booth and my mom on the other. I was so happy, this was how it was going to be forever, the three of us. No more of dad beating us, no more of dad making fun of me, no more abuse. But it was soon clear this dream I had been having for a long time was not meant to be. My mom seemed nervous, restless, not sure what to do next. It was then that she got up from the table, told us she was going to call dad so he wouldn’t worry. My heart and my stomach sank. I knew what that would mean. We were going home. We weren’t escaping to a better life, we weren’t going to be free. It would be back to walking on eggshells, it would be back to waiting for me to make anther mistake that would cost me. As she walked over, I begged her not to. I told her to just leave him. But she was determined to call him. She did, and shortly after we were in the car on our way back to that house. Even now my heart hurts thinking about it. I remember that little girl, no more than 8 or 9, dreading going home. Dreading going back to her life.
After that memory intruded on Sunday I got out of the shower and immediately called my mother. I told her that I remember that she used to run away a lot when her and dad fought (she did), and that she never took us with her, despite our begging and pleading not to leave us (she didn’t take us), she would take off on foot, Dad would give her about 15 minutes and he’d go find her. Until that one night, when she did take us. When we had the promise of a better life. A life free of him. I needed to know if that really happened or if it was something my little mind made up as a coping mechanism. And she said the words I was afraid I would hear, but that I also wanted to hear- yes it was true. Every bit of it. I asked her “why”, “why did you go back?”. She got quiet- and said “I think because it was easier, after all where was I going to go?”. As an adult I know she had a lot of options, but my mom can’t be alone. She too has scars from her childhood. But at the same time that this memory gives me great sadness, it also reminds me that at least once in my childhood she tried to protect us. I often felt like she would escape to work, and leave my sister alone with him. I wondered if she thought about us while she was there, whether she worried if we were safe, whether he was taking care of us. But I know that once, that one time, she bundled us up and was going to run away. Maybe if she had been stronger she would have gone through with it, but either way, it happened and now I can’t stop thinking about it.
There are a lot of other memories that have bubbled up to the surface in the past couple days. Painful memories, of abuse from my dad. So painful that when I was asked to call him today I had to muster every ounce of strength I have left in my body to do it. And what I was met with when he picked up the phone was mean dad. Dad who was yelling at me, angry with me, for something out of my control, out of my realm to fix. And if my little sister hadn’t been the one asking me to call him- I wouldn’t have, couldn’t have. But even now, at 38 years old, I am still her surrogate mother, I still will care for her, and do almost anything she asks me to without question.
Maybe later I will write more about some of these memories. Maybe on paper (screen) they will have less power over me. Maybe they won’t control so much of who I am, and who I am destined to become in the future. But for now, this one will sit here, and the rest will swirl in the vortex of my head, as I try to understand them years separated from them. As I try to understand them from the perspective of the little girl inside me, and the woman I have become.
It’s going to be a rough day.