I have had the extreme pleasure to be a part of a weekly writers group for over twenty years. Through these years I’ve come to write about my experience of surviving incest both through non-fiction and fiction pieces. Sometimes the fiction can be just as empowering for my voice as the memories. Recently our wonderful leader, Nancy Smith of Shelburne Falls, MA, gave us our starting prompt: “Think of a photograph and enter it.” Here’s what I came up with:
A photograph slipped out of my memory and onto the movie screen that resides on the inside of my forehead. It’s where so much played the two years I did EMDR trying so hard to reconcile the shunning of my family when I came out about the incest.
The photo is black and white, 3”x3” with the date printed in the bottom margin, 1959. I’m seated on our front stoop comprised of two cement steps and a 4’x4’ platform in front of the door leading into the duplex – we were living on the bottom floor.
The sexual abuse had ended though I didn’t know that at the time. I was still keeping vigil through the night – sleeping lightly so as to steal myself if the door to my bedroom should open.
In the photo, a step behind me stands my three-year-old brother, David. I called him Davey. His right forearm leans on one of the posts holding up the roof over our stoop. His left hand rests on my right shoulder; he’s wearing a pullover shirt with wide black and white horizontal stripes, and a white collar with three buttons going down the front, they’re all open.
In his freshly combed hair you can see the neat part on the left that will disappear once he’s off the stoop making a run for it down the front walk. But he never beat me – I always caught up with him before he got to the curb.
We both have short hair. I had just gotten a new and special haircut called a ducktail – though try as I might with the sticky gel the beauty shop lady gave me – my tail would fade and fall within an hour.
I let my imagination take me into this fifty nine year old photograph. First, I stand silently on the walkway – letting the two of us get a good look at the adult me, get a little used to me being there. I don’t want to scare us anymore than we already are cause dad’s still drinking and that’s enough scaring for a couple of kids.
Geeze, writing that phrase – ‘a couple of kids’ –stops me in my tracks. Usually, whenever I let myself glance back at any of those days I think of Davey as the kid. I’m the big sister. But I started being a big sister at the age of nine. That’s two years after the incest started in action. By “in action” I mean my dad probably had predatory thoughts earlier on, before the rapes started.
Anyway, back to the photo. I take a long time approaching us. Davey immediately gives the adult me one of those sparkly smiles of his. But the twelve year old me is not so quick to respond to strangers. In fact my first instinct is to slide across the stoop and scoop Davey into my lap and wrap my arms around him, which causes him to put his favorite thumb in his mouth and stare up at my chin.
I wait some more. Then in a very soft voice I ask little girl me, “Mind if I sit down here on your stoop?” Little me shrugs her shoulders in an ‘I don’t care’ sort of way. I take care not to touch them, to move slow and smooth, to keep my face at rest – no large grins of friendliness or measured scowls of concern.
Eventually I say, “Hi my name is Donna.” Little me looks up, “Me too.” Her response makes me want to place my palm on her cheek – she doesn’t know what prophecy she’s just uttered – but I don’t. I keep my hands to myself.
I take a deep, quiet breath. Looking down at the walk I tell her, “The worst of what he’s done or going to do to you is over.” I let that sink in. Little me presses her lips together and lets her eyes glance to the side away from me in disbelief. Why would she believe me? How could she believe me?
I keep on telling her what I know, what she can’t yet know, “You are going to get through this. You are going to decide that no matter how hard it feels you are going to do everything you can to heal from all the awful things your dad has done and said to you. And you’re going to heal from the travesty of your mother not ever protecting you. Then you’re going to find the medicine your heart will need when this sweet boy brother of yours - in a few decades – abandons you for making what he’ll say are false accusations about the man that is father to you both.
You’re going to forget that I came here today to tell you all this – but not completely. A tiny spot in your heart is going to know that you can and will believe in yourself.