Reflections on loving God, being Catholic, being a woman, being ill, loving life and anything else that comes to mind.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Holy Innocents – Part II

As for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good. (Genesis 50:20)

There is much I never told my foster father. He heard many of my complaints, quite a lot of sarcasm, earfuls of vitriol; though it cost me in tears and scars, I refused to back down. After hitting me, he would say, “I am doing the best I can.” After my foster mother died, he often added that he had to be both father and mother to us. I would mutter that he was neither to me which often led to another attack. But I never muttered that I loved him. Nor did I tell him that his worst crime was that he was unable to give me my parents. And I never told him that his best, though it was filled with rage and hate, had had immense value in my life. But then, while he was still alive, I didn’t know how important he was, how God used him to help me.

In my foster father’s house, I was never allowed to speak of my own family. It was assumed that I would forget them, would accept his family instead of my own. My foster father prided himself on loving us all equally. But I ached for my parents with an indescribable pain that filled my life, made nearly every moment dark. I was never happy, only distracted for a short time. Everything, every book, every moment of play, every bit of quiet, every conversation led back to tears, to confusion, to longing for death.

From five until about a year before my foster mother’s death, I’d crawl under the bureau in my room, place my neck over the stretcher and wait for the executioner to come and chop off my head. I tried smothering myself but couldn’t keep my face pressed into the pillow long enough. Night after night I begged God to let me die but each morning I awoke to the pain. Eventually I began rummaging through the medicine cupboard and swallowed anything with a warning label – aspirin, Tylenol, cold medicine – except they didn’t work. When I was nine I found some quinine tablets. My foster sister had collected a prescription for her boyfriend who was planning a trip to the far east. I hid them, read and reread the warning label, talked to God about them and one afternoon, when I had been sent off to have a nap, I swallowed four capsules and thought that now I would go to sleep and not wake up. Half an hour later I was vomiting and crying inconsolably. No one understood the violence of my reaction. I had often been sick before.

Soon after that, my foster mother’s illness permeated every corner of our world. A nurse and daily helper supplemented the regular housekeeper – there were more eyes around and no opportunities for anything other than attempts at smothering myself. Within the year, my foster mother died.

While she lived, she had stood between her husband and my responses to the abuse. After her death I faced my foster father’s brutality without any mitigation. But he also faced me, my anger, my rage, my stubbornness. I fought him just as I had fought her and refused to give way. Whereas my foster mother had often tried to understand me, he only tried to control me, to break me. I would be neither controlled nor broken and continued to fight with everything in me. Fighting him saved my life.

I was deadly serious about dying, more serious than I knew. As I grew older I became more daring. And because I am so smart and so curious and so capable, I would have found a way, would have succeeded – eventually. Kindness hurt too much. My foster mother’s kindness, though sullied with her own brand of abusiveness, was still excruciating. But that brutal child abuser was not kind and neither was I. We fought and fought and fought. And I learned that my life was worth fighting for, worth living; I learned to fight my own desire for death. My crazy foster father directed my attention away from wounds that were too big for me, wounds that were destroying me. Had I not been forced to fight him, I would have died at my own hand and God knew it.

John Hume in G.K. Chesterton’s, The Moderate Murderer, asks, "Did you ever hang somebody to prevent him being hanged?" I did not know what God had done until my mid-twenties and when I saw it, I was awed that God knew precisely how to break my insane focus on death and bring me back into life, that he would risk hanging me to prevent me being hanged. The abuse in my foster father’s house was horrible, was absolutely real, something no child should experience; I saw it do immense damage to me and my foster siblings. But that damage is only one part of the story and not necessarily the biggest part. Once I stopped insisting that I had already fulfilled my quota of suffering, once I was willing to see how God used abuse for my good, it became a source of healing, became additional evidence of God’s favour and love.

I wonder what use God might make of the abuse in the lives of my foster siblings. What story might they someday tell? And I wonder about my foster father. Whether he sought forgiveness as he died. Whether God credited to him all he did for me. I was never able to tell him how God had used him to help a desperate little girl but perhaps he knows now. Perhaps he knows that for a time, he wasn’t my father but he was the father I needed. Perhaps I will see him again one day and with my papa, we will all laugh for joy because of what God has done.


Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for your writing. Your beautiful words and ideas stay with me for days.

Anonymous said...

Cripe, Lady.. I'd forgotten all about trying to smother oneself.. I thank God that you had a papa to turn in memory to, and I don't know whether you'll all smile one day together, but you have reminded me of the Ravensbruck prayer.. when the abusers come to justice, may what we have opted for -- may what we grew from it all rather than hatred, be their judge. You have also reminded me of the Jesuit exercise of finding the part that was God, in the horrible. It is impossible unless and until God gives it.. or until someone writes of it.

May God bless you with His more-and-more.


forget me not said...

"But that damage is only one part of the story and not necessarily the biggest part."
I too, think of the Ravensbruck prayer. Each of us can write something like the Ravensbruck prayer to write in our own blood and tears. We have something in common Drusilla. Doesn't matter what kind of abuse, it's still devastating. God didn't save me in the way I would have wanted, but he gave me something more. A seed that he planted in my heart and soul way back when I was only a few cells clumped together: The seed of hope, which generated perseverence, and the desire to find a way of going beyond the horizon to become what I am to become. God bless you and keep you. May He sustain you in your path towards Him.

PS: A useful website is Mary's Hope. A link is posted at my blog.

forget me not said...

By the way, thanks to Honora for pointing the way. :-)

Victor said...

I was very touched by your story. Thanks for sharing.