Like a Rock

by Josephine Riley 5 months ago in family

Or, Lessons in Love

Like a Rock

When I was a kid, my older brother used to grab me by the waist and throw me over his shoulder. He would swoop in catching me off guard with a triumphant, "HAHA! Gotcha!"

I kicked and screamed, punching his back. He'd laugh and spin me around so hard I would puke or cry, or both. He felt bad about it sometimes.

"Just trying to toughen you up, " he'd say, as I wiped my dirty tear stained face and slunk off into the woods.

Eventually though, I learned to see him comin'. He was surprised the first time I did it, I surprised myself even. Instead of letting him wisk me off my feet I made my body like a lump of lead. I stood stock still and willed myself right into the ground. He couldn't lift me.

I couldn't have been more than 11; 60 pounds of lean girl meat, usually clad in cut off shorts and a shirt I stole from this vary same brother. The shirt was so long you couldn't see my shorts. I rarely wore shoes and had wild blonde hair that I never brushed.

I have five brothers, four older, one younger. When my father found out about the sexual abuse, he went into a tyrannical rampage, screaming that we could all go to jail. All of us kids were crammed on the couch, my poor mother crying in the kitchen.

"You should be ASHAMED of yourselves!" he raged, spit flying from his mouth.

His whole face was a grotesque sort of red and purple, veins pulsing on his thick neck. When my father was angry, his eyes bulged out of his head and his scalp would pull back, jaw thrust forward as he spoke through gritted teeth. I will never forget this face, as long as I live.

After yelling until he lost his voice, he lined us up and spanked us one by one, hard, with a wooden spoon. My mother held our legs, she wasn't crying anymore. Her face was twisted, I couldn't tell if it was guilt or sorrow, maybe both.

I was crying so hard I lost the ability to breathe normally. I was sucking in air in loud gasps, drooling and occasionally blubbering like a baby. I was a baby. I might have been five or six.

"Stop crying!" My father yelled, as he lead me into the room. I responded with howling wails of despair. He spanked me anyway.

When it was over, we were all sent outside. My brothers were the ones who rubbed mud on my welt spattered legs and helped me to stop crying. We all sat around in silence in the treehouse. Breaking small branches from the willow tree and snapping them into pieces. Tear stained faces cast down in absolute shame.

It was only recently that I realized the shame I carried with me everywhere I went had more to do with my father's reaction than it did the actual abuse.

When in a meditative state, I asked shame why it was here and that horrifying face appeared before me, screaming, "You should be ASHAMED!"

It was my brother who taught me my power though. When I set my mind down, like a rock buried in the ground, I could not be moved. My brother tried to pry me up, but I stayed standing, rigid, solid. He could lift one foot about two inches before I magnetized myself back on the ground. I was immovable. I glared at him. He laughed and backed off.

"Wow," he said, breathing hard. "How did you do that?"

I didn't answer. I knew if I bolted, he couldn't catch me. I wheeled around and headed into the woods like a deer. I ran until I couldn't breathe and my mouth tasted like blood. But he hadn't caught me, and he never caught me again after that.

And so, my two favorite defense mechanisms were born into my life. An immovable lump of lead, or a wild disappearing act. It's ruined almost all my relationships. But I also think I've always chosen wrong. Men that are emotionally distant like my father, or sexually deviant, the way I felt after the abuse. I tried to be a lesbian once, sort of half heartedly, because she was insistent. Turns out, women scare me more than men.

I have used my steely will to plant myself in abusive relationships, thinking I can help them somehow. I've run like the wind from anyone who threatened to get behind my defenses. I think in never knowing a healthy kind of love as a kid, I built a high tolerance for bullshit love. Made my home in the midst of chaos and disaster, sought it out even. My idea of love and shame have fused together. It has taken me a long time to realise that. Even longer to forgive myself about it.

But I remember once, locked in a philosophical debate with my father over one of his narcissistic manipulations on me, I tried coaching him on forgiveness. He didn't hear me at all, but what I said has haunted me ever since. To this day, I don't believe it came from this lifetime.

"Forgiveness is about being honest and compassionate. It takes no response or participation from the other person, it's entirely autonomous. But before you can properly forgive someone else, you have to learn to be honest and compassionate with yourself, and forgive yourself."

I've decided that I will forgive myself of my transgressions and take my go-to defense mechanisms and transform them into something useful again. Maybe a steely resolve to always love and accept myself in any situation, regardless of how others treat me. I could root my mind firmly in the belief that I have value and no one is going to pick me up and spin me around until my head hurts and I feel worthless ever again. Maybe my disappearing act should only come out when I realize immediately that the person I'm interested in, has no good intentions for me. Instead of sticking around thinking I can heal them, I will run like the wind, laughing like a child, and never look back.

Josephine Riley
Josephine Riley
Read next: The State