Strange title, huh? I know you are probably thinking what in the world is Elizabeth up to with a title like that … so I’ll tell you, but be forewarned it is not pretty and it will not take you to a happy place.
I have a reader who shows up on my sitemeter with an IP address from or near Evansville, Indiana. I cannot tell who it is but every time I see they have been by to have a look at my blog posts I have a memory that links me to Evansville as clearly as if I were a small child again. I wish I could say it was a pleasant memory, but it’s not.
Some of you may have read posts of mine in the past like this one or perhaps this one where I alluded to some of the difficulties my sister Margaret and I went through as children and this post gets a bit more specific than in the past. I think it is necessary in order to share the story properly and it is something I have debated for months, but know this … what I am sharing today is one of the milder things I could tell you.
Living as we did in a violent household some days were better than others and trips to Evansville were always something of a toss-up in terms of whether we would be safe for a few days or not. One would think a family gathering with lots of children and adults around might be a good place to go unnoticed for a few days lost in the activities and chaos of a holiday at Grandma’s house except she wasn’t really our Grandma, something our step-father never let us forget.
We knew in no uncertain terms that we were there with his family because he allowed it and it was a privilege he could and did take away as easily as he withheld food when punishing us for made-up offenses. I remember his mother as a small, faded, apron wearing woman who seemed to circle the edges of her own home never coming into the center of a crowded room except to put something down or carry it away.
The two-story white farm-house stood in the center of a large piece of land where she lived with her second husband who I can’t remember ever saying a word although I am sure he must have spoken at some point. Acres and acres of farmland came almost up to all four sides of the dusty house that was edged with just enough green grass to make a place for a border of flowers and trees.
It always looked lonely to me sitting as it did at the end of a dirt lane that was fenced on both sides to keep the animals either in or out depending on what year it was. For a while it was cows and I remember pigs some years, but mostly when I think back I can see the empty fields around Thanksgiving and the homemade pies lining one side of the last seven or eight stair-steps going up to the bedrooms on the second floor.
At mealtimes we’d sit at a long table that would have sagged with the weight of the food piled upon it had it not been built by hand for the large family seated on either side. There were multiple kinds of meats, vegetables, and breads, all made by an old woman’s hands that already had too much to do on the other six days of the week leading into the holiday period and I can only imagine that she might have preferred to go out to eat rather than hover in the background refilling platters and bowls from the kitchen before she got a good mouthful in herself. She always seemed quiet but kind and I never could understand how she had raised the child that grew into the evil masochistic abuser that her son became.
Sadly, my mother found him and married him the summer before my seventh birthday and almost immediately our lives became a free-fall into a never-ending cycle of abuse too terrible to discuss even now. One might have thought oneself safe in the company of others, but in the 60s and 70s no one in my life said anything even when confronted with obvious signs of physical abuse … not my mother who witnessed much of it and doled out her own, or my teachers, or even the people who sat at the table and watched that day as my stepfather licked his fork slowly before stabbing it deliberately into my arm with a flourish meant to attract attention.
What grievous infraction did I commit? The table was a bit high and the chair too low for a child of ten and the edge of my arm touched the edge of the table for a half second too long. Clearly in pain after being stabbed hard enough to draw blood but too afraid to speak, I sat there ashamed as my eyes filled with tears and thought I must truly be all the bad things he said about me because the others at the table watched and did nothing.
From years seven to fourteen I fought to hang onto some sense of self that was not tainted by the evil things he said and did. Strong in spirit and smart enough to seek therapy when older, I think I managed to turn out pretty well in spite of it all, but I am still haunted by the memory of that meal and that day and how no one spoke up when they could have made a difference, when they could have said enough and taken the fork from his hand.
My reason for sharing this painful story with you is one of hope really. I have thought about this for some time and I hope by writing this the person who reads my blog from or near Evansville Indiana will leave a little message in my comment section or possibly send me an email off-line to say hello and maybe share a happy memory that I can think of when I see Evansville in my sitemeter instead of the images I remember now.
I’ve done my best to forget or replace it with a memory of my own, but I am hard put to come up with one and I’d be grateful to hear one of yours. Won’t you take a minute to say hello and tell me a little about yourself.
We all have more power to make a difference than we often know and although it is not always as obvious as helping a child in need, a kind word or a helping hand may be enough for someone who needs it today.
Whenever you see the name Evansville now, think of all the love we are sending both to you now and to that frightened little girl long ago.
We can never escape permanently from our unhappy memories, particularly when the circumstances have caused us so much pain. Terrible events like that reinforce beliefs that we must really be a bad person for someone to do these awful things to us. We grow up with an inherent guilt and lack of self-worth.
Burying all of those hidden events keeps them locked inside. By expressing some of the dreadful things that have happened to you I hope that you can release some of those memories and replace them with the love that anyone who has read this will be sending out to that little girl.
Sending you much love and healing and hopes for a happy present and future.
Thank you Elizabeth for writing this post. My mother suffered from a terrible childhood but made sure that mine was not. I can only surmise from the close relationship you have with your daughter that you were ferocious about your daughter’s memories about her childhood, and I can tell you from a daughter’s perspective that our heart aches daily for the gifts that you all have selflessly given us from the horrific journey you had to take to get to where you are now. I was in an autobiographical writing class in college where it seemed that most of the class had experienced an abusive childhood and I was one of the few odd women out. The anger and hurt and mortification that I felt about adults abusing their children, stepchildren, nieces ect. made me realize all the more how much my own mother loved me, and how she could have easily let her own bitterness and fears turn her into the very thing she most detested. Yet, she chose not to. And she gave me an idyllic childhood. What a gift. The one thing my mother often questions even to this day was why nobody in her very small town ever noticed the bruises on her or my grandmother. By their silence and reluctance to ‘get involved’, the message to my mother was, “I must deserve this.” That belief has been hard for my mother to shake. And that breaks my heart. Love to you Elizabeth for shining a light on this in such a personal way.
Reading this post makes me so grateful for all the happiness you now have in your life with your wonderful husband and your lovely surroundings. It also makes appreciate what a wonderful person you have become despite all that you have gone through.
I am not your Evansville reader, but I wanted to share how much reading your stories about your life now have inspired me to go after my own happiness. I am drawn to your writing, your photos and the spirit that comes from your blog. I don’t know you personally, but your spirit keeps me going. I hope you receive a note from Evansville that helps.
A brave subject to write about and you do so so eloquently, I do hope your Evansville reader comes forward.
Oh Elizabeth. And bless Stacie for writing of her experience, which has to be so close to Miranda’s.
I can’t even begin to imagine — and can’t begin to imagine how you came out of this as the beautiful person you are.
Sending you happy thoughts for the lovely life you now have and admiration for the way you write with such strength and beauty on a subject so painful xx
It must have been an unsettling post to write but I love you for your honesty. I hope that in todays world we speak up a little more for those that can’t
Thank goodness you have grown up to be the strong woman that you are and not broken beyond repair.
I am in Crown Point, not Evansville, but feel sad to hear of your childhood and it is a pleasure to read the happy posts you now make with your nice husband. I have never been in your position, but hear of it so often it must be more common than we know and you wonder how these people can continue to get away with it.
On another forum I read a woman and her husband are adopting three children, 4-1/2, 2 and 10 months and the 4-1/2 year olds main worry is whether they will have something to eat the next day.
Thank you for sharing this difficult part of your past. I found your blog about 6 weeks ago. I’ve tried to write more here, but keep deleting. Know that you are loved and admired for
all that you have achieved. I’ll never understand the folks who won’t speak up or won’t get involved.
What a powerful series of posts. Thank you. They remind me of the book, “A Child Called It”. Though horrible things still happen today, the silence around such deeds prior to the ’80s is horrifying.
My Mom grew up in small towns in Kansas and Colorado. She was the oldest of 10 kids. Her, then a brother, then 9 sisters. Both her father and brother physically and sexually abused the sisters. My Mom escaped the worst of it, but always felt the pain and injustice of it all. As was true for your other commenter, she managed to raise three healthy kids. I am constantly amazed at her strength and warmth despite all she’d survived. I see that in you, too.
The missing years with your sister sound awful. Obviously your step-dad and mom had already done horrible things to you, but that just drove home how selfish and spiteful they must have been.
There’s also something in what you say that reminds me of things she used to say about the stoicism and reticence of midwestern farming communities. I remember her talking about how no one ever said anything. How it was considered personal business and no one interfered–which made her furious. She said one time one of her uncles talked about the ‘games’ that they all grew up playing together as if they were normal.
I had a conversation with a guy in college who’d grown up in a small town and saw big cities as evil. I went off on him. “In cities it’s hard because you can SEE what’s happening, but the quiet, hidden sins of incest and abuse are happening all through your small towns. Sin is everywhere, it’s just a little more concentrated in the city.”
Sorry to go on for so long, your post brings up so many thoughts.
One other one, when I spent some time in Ireland a couple years ago, I heard from many people that there it’s like it was in the States in the ’70’s. People were only just starting to talk about such things (abuse, alcoholism, incest). Is it like that in Cornwall? Are you there for ‘such a time as this’? Probably just a random thought on my part, but it makes me wonder.
Anyway, sorry to ramble. I really respect you for your honesty.
Elizabeth, I had no idea. By the time I met you in high school, your life must have gotten better. You seemed so happy. Now I know one of the reasons you adore your step-mother so much. I am so sorry for what you had to go through. It made me very sad. I’m even more thrilled for the happiness you have found in Cornwall with your wonderful ‘English’ husband. You deserve this happiness in your life.
Thank you for sharing this….
Much love to you Elizabeth! :o)
I read this with tears in my eyes, what a cruel and evil man.
Your are a beautiful lady , inside and out, and have found a man who loves and cares for you , as you deserve.
Oh..this just made me cry – for you..and for all of the children in this world who suffer silently. Does the writing make it more real..or does the writing allow you to heal? I had to wonder that..as I read. You are brave..strong..talented. Wonderful post!
Thank you so much for your lovely comment. It touched me.
thank you for such an honest and open blog post-
what a horrible man- yuck. i am so sorry.
If that was one of the milder episodes, my heart breaks for that little girl. Thank heavens you survived and have such a lovely life now. You deserve it!
heartbreaking Elizabeth. I cannot imagine. I hear you as the woman you are now, strong, loving, appreciative, and honest and yet picturing you as the little girl being treated so cruelly, and well I want to give you a hug and feel very protective. Your reaching out is incredible and I appreciate you sharing even the hard things, with us. Love to you and God Bless you.
Elizabeth, I am filled with so much anger as I read this. This is one of the missing pieces I haven’t known about you. I don’t know whether to be more angry with that brute, or with your misguided parent. I would rather die than allow anyone to treat a child of mine like that.
Thank God you turned into a loving, caring, beautiful person who has touched other people’s lives and shared so much with others. You really are a very special woman. You deserve every ounce of happiness you have. You have a guardian angel who looks after you very well, I’m thinking.
Hope the person in Evansville declares who they are one fine day.
You are beyond anything that person can do now. You didn’t become like him. You moved out beyond his influence. This is the wonderful part of the story.
I think that whether or not your Evansville reader reveals themselves to you, the gift of your story is a special and tender one all by itself.
A post to be proud of for what it gives to others, Elizabeth. Thank you.
Even though you can not erase the painful past rejoice in the love that surrounds you now in person and from afar. Your bravery and beauty are a shining example of the power of self determination! Keep telling the truth my friend!
I maybe your Evansville reader, I have been out of town and just read your post. I found your blog a long time ago and so enjoy reading your adventures and seeing your photography. I love all things English, Irish and Scottish so I have gotten a lot of pleasure out of reading your blog. So sorry for the bad memories the name Evansville evokes for you. This is generally a caring, friendly area in southern In. I guess we all have good and bad memories we associate with places, events and people. My 3 best friends are sisters who grew up in an unstable home. The oldest has only bad memories of that time, the middle sister only good memories and the youngest very few memories at all. I suppose their individual personalities and coping mechanisms come in to play. I am happy that you are a strong woman who has had a journey that has taken you to a wonderful place in your life and a wonderful family to share it with. I do hope you now will think that this area, like all areas, has it’s share of the good, the bad and the ugly, but I think we could sit and talk and share some laughter and hike to some beautiful areas here and take pictures and replace more of those bad memories!
this is so heartbreaking and i appreciate that you can open up and share such hard memories like this. i admire you. you found a good man to love you deeply and honestly – so glad you found happiness.
I feel such anger and sadness when I read your story and those of other innocent kids. I want revenge on mothers and fathers who allow and perpetuate such meaness, I pray forgiveness for my judgements on these ugly creatures
Just received your latest blog in my email and am blown away by your family life and how brave you are to share your story. You have dealt with shame and are really living. I admire your courage and honesty.
Beautifully sad post. Thank you for your honesty. How interesting that we who were abused as children had such similar reactions. It’s comforting, I think.
Once my mother chipped a bone in my hand, but I didn’t realize it until later, when the pain became almost unbearable. I went to my older sister to ask what I should do to get help–should I tell our mother. No, she said, it would make her upset again. So I lived through the pain. And today, like your sitemeter marker, the occasions I overtire my never-mended hand or see the oddly shaped bone, I think of that time and of all the times we worried more for how someone else would react than for ourselves.
I fear at times I still do that, even though at 16 I set out to be unafraid anymore. But sometimes, I think, my being unafraid was just another way to ignore the pain by creating a different type of chaos. It took me a long time to live with stillness, and that only came by learning to be a good mother to my own daughter.
Wow. See what your writing evokes?