I’ve never understood when people would say or I would see signs that said “Home Sweet Home”. Standing in front of the old and slightly charred house that used to be my home, I didn’t feel any emotion but repulsion and fear. There was nothing sweet about this structure. Standing there on this beautiful sunny day glaring at the place that held me trapped in a nightmare for years, I felt like my feet were cemented to the ground.
I told myself that I would never come back here. This house, where I endured so much pain and anguish, was the last place on earth I wanted to be. My therapist had the bright idea that I should come back here. She believed that reliving the past for me would help me cope with it and strike up those memories I repressed.
“You need to open that door and feel that pain or whatever it is that you feel when you think about what you endured. It is the only way you will heal.”
I didn’t like the idea.
I wanted all those memories to stay dead and buried. I knew she was a professional but when she went home at night to her handsome husband and her beautiful children, she would not have to deal with what I would. She would have sweet dreams and not be haunted by the monsters that live in my head and every corner of my house threatening to send me to an insane asylum before the age of 30.
I spent years trying to forget everything or as much of it as I could. Some things just don’t go away no matter how hard you try and standing here only made me remember. I didn’t want to remember…
“It smells like love in this place,” my mother would say every morning.
I never knew what love smelled like but I was sure it was the beautiful perfume that my mother wore. It filled my nostrils every time I hugged her.
The house was not always a source of fear and pain. At one time there was happiness and joy. It was occupied by me, my mother and my brother Kenny. We lived in this small three bedroom house with just each other and it was perfect that way.
“We are so blessed to have what we have. You children must remember that.”
During those days I did feel blessed. Those were the memories that I didn’t want to escape.
I kept hold of the good memories. My favorite was waking up to the lovely smell of bacon. I would rush to the kitchen only to find my brother already there at the table waiting for his share. We were always happy when we discovered that the bacon was accompanied by eggs.
“Anything for my babies,” she would say as she poured us both a glass of orange juice.
Just those small memories of love and joy kept me from falling prey to the darkness that my brother gave in to.
My father died a year after I was born so I have no memories of him. My mother said that he was a great man and that she missed him so much. There were still days when I could see the tears glistening in her eyes when she spoke of him, but they would never fall. We knew that she was lonely at times and we tried our best to fill that void.
Eventually we were not enough for her. She needed someone to cuddle up with at night.
I used to wish that I knew more about my father. I always wished he never died. I never knew that my mother’s fear of dying alone would almost kill us all. When the monsters began to enter my room at night, I wished that he was still alive to protect me. Lord knows my mother was never there to protect me. As a matter of fact, it only made her resent me.
My brother tried to protect me and because of his bravery and his love for his sister…he is no longer here. The monsters finally overtook him and he took his own life rather than live with them in his head.
When I was 13 and Kenny was 15, my mom met a man that swept her off her feet. His name was Gerald and he was tall and very charismatic. I’m sure his smile could charm many women but when I looked at him, I saw something behind that smile. I could not put my finger on it at first, but my gut was telling me to run.
He made promises to her and offered things that she could not turn down. There were times when he came to our house and I could hear him whispering sweet nothings to her.
“I can give you the world baby. I just want you to be mine.”
She felt it hard to turn him down. It only took three weeks for him to sweet talk her right into our house and then permanently into our life two weeks after that.
He didn’t waste any time either throwing his weight around like he owned the place.
“Things are going to change around here,” he said sitting me on his lap.
My mother was beaming.
“Doesn’t it feel good to have a father in the house again?”
My brother wanted to please her so he nodded.
I just sat uncomfortably in his lap wondering why his hands were caressing my back.
Only two days in our home and his reign of terror began.
One night my mother and my brother went to grab something for dinner. That left me alone with my new stepfather. I knew that I didn’t feel comfortable and I wished that my mother would have taken me with her.
I was sitting on the couch watching TV when he entered and sat down without a word very close to me. I became stiff not wanting him to sit so close and because the hairs on the back of my neck would rise whenever he came near me.
We sat that way for a few minutes, and then I felt his hand on my thigh. I moved my leg hoping his hand would just fall off, but he dug his fingers in until I looked up at him.
“It’s ok,” he said caressing my leg. “A girl your age needs to know what a man feels like.”
I had no clue what he was talking about, but I knew that I didn’t want any part of it. I stood and began to slowly walk to my bedroom. He got up quickly and followed me. I tried to rush into my room and close the door but he was there shoving it open and slamming it forcefully behind him. He locked the door and turned to me.
He grabbed me and tossed me on the bed. I was too afraid to move. As he removed his clothes he issued this threat.
“If you tell your mother or your brother, I will kill all of you.”
I at 13 had no doubt that he would do that. That was the first time he raped me.
I found out years later in his suicide note that my brother was also being raped by this beast yet we were two afraid to talk about it.
Once the defiling began so did the beatings. He beat us in order to keep us intimidated and afraid. There was no way we would open our mouths and say anything against him. It was hard to breathe whenever he came into the room and my body convulsed at the thought of him touching me.
He was a master of manipulation and he used my mother to get to her children. He had the perverted compulsion to ruin us and take our innocence. I wanted to believe that she didn’t know that this was going on in her home, but deep down I felt that she knew more than she let on and she just let it happen over and over again.
Eventually he turned her against us. She began to participate in the beatings. He convinced her that we were bad kids that needed a man’s discipline.
My brother eventually became virtually mute. He just suddenly stopped talking in the house. It usually resulted in beatings from my mother.
“Boy, I am taking to you!” she shouted at him.
“I know you hear me.”
I watched as she walked closer until her face was inches away from his. I always prayed that he would say something, anything to stop the beating that was sure to come.
My prayers were never answered.
Before we knew it, her hand would slam forcefully against his baby soft face.
It was horrible to see her turn from the beautiful mother that nurtured us and loved us into a pawn of the beast that wanted to swallow us whole and spit us out with nothing left of us but broken bones and little hope of surviving.
Throughout my ordeal, I never cried. I never once cried even after I left and was forced to talk about it. I felt that tears would only give him more power over me. As long as I didn’t cry, I had some ounce of dignity left. There was something left that I could control.
Then one day, hope returned in the form of my mother’s sister. Once she saw the bruises on our bodies and our spirits dead and buried, she snatched us up and took us away. I remembered her shaking me asking me what happened.
“Who did this to you?” she kept repeating as tears streamed down her face.
I remembered the heated exchange between my aunt, my mother and my stepfather. It almost became physical when my aunt told us to pack whatever we could.
“You can’t take my babies!” My mother yelled grabbing my arm and pulling me toward her. I snatched away and ran to my aunt throwing myself into her arms.
“Cathy, if they were your babies you would never have let this happen to them.”
My aunt took us away.
I never saw my mother or her wicked lover again.
My aunt took out an order of protection against both of them telling them that they would be breaking the law if they came anywhere near us.
I was glad. I didn’t want to see them again.
Years went by and I could slowly forget some of the hurt and try to forge a life for myself. My brother wasn’t so lucky. When my aunt rescued us, it was too late. He was damaged beyond repair and it wasn’t until his suicide that we realized this.
I didn’t know how I was still standing now after all these years. After what happened to me, I thought I would be the one convincing myself that this life was not worth living.
I didn’t need to be here. I listened to this therapist and now the memories came rushing back like a tidal wave threatening to drown me. Where is she? Shouldn’t she be here with me? Someone needs to be here with me. Why must I face this alone?
The sight of the old one story dingy green house with white shutters and a brown front door brought it all back to me. I began to remember things I had not remembered before. The flood of memories dropped me to my knees and I placed my hands over my face.
For the first time since it all began, I sobbed for the little girl that never stood a chance and for the woman that could not escape the pain. I sobbed for my mother and the pain she must have felt when we were taken from her. I sobbed for my brother who could not deal and who never had the chance to see the good in life.
I sat there and sobbed outside the house on the sidewalk that many people used to carry them to their perfect lives. Back home to their wives and children. Back to the love in the house. Could they smell it like my mother could?
I sobbed and realized this is what my therapist wanted for me. How did she know this would happen? She is the professional after all.
Let the healing begin.