When I was in high school, Jeremiah was my best friend. I lived the farthest away from that rural school than anyone else, over in the next town. Every school morning my mom would drive me the mile from our house to the elementary school to get on an elementary school bus which would drive north for miles where I’d switch off to my school’s bus. The school times were offset so that once I got on the second bus, it sat there for about thirty minutes before actually going any further. Jeremiah was the second person (after me) to get on, so we usually had quite a bit of time in the mornings to just talk (if we weren’t catching up on sleep).
My parents had mean tempers and both severe and erratic punishments to match. There were times when my mom or dad would beat me severely enough that I would have visible bruises. Usually from mom because she used her fists. Dad used a leather belt most often, but rarely hit my face. Being beat by your parents is a shameful thing. I was ashamed. Ashamed of myself and my failure to meet their standards. Ashamed of my parents because I knew it was wrong. Ashamed that I never could stand up to either of them because that’s just how I was raised. Ashamed that I had no voice. I never told a soul about it. Shame and inadequacy shrouded my days.
But the thing is, I WANTED someone to know. Not to fix it or rescue me, but to just hold my hand, as it were; to simply share my burden. I never could get past the shame though. Sometimes Jeremiah would say, what happened to your face? And I would laugh and say, oh you know how clumsy I am… I fell down my stairs again. And he’d laugh too and say, yes you are very clumsy. Then he’d ask if I wanted to play blackjack or gin.
I reached out in my own way. Sometimes, when there were hidden bruises rather than visible ones covering my skin, I would say: well, I fell down my stairs again… but I guess he never did realize what I was actually trying to say. What my meaning was behind the shallowness. It was the only cry for help I could muster.
The first time I told anyone about being beat up by my own parents, was several years later. The guy asked me why I flinched whenever he gestured with his hands while talking. Initially I tried to play it off but he persisted and pried it out of me. And I cried as I uncovered my shame and embarrassment. He just looked over at me then back at the road and kept driving. But I noticed his knuckles turn a shade paler on the steering wheel.
And my shame loosened its grip on me just a little tiny bit that night.
tara caribou | ©2021
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