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

Monday, March 22, 2010

Catholic Witness & Those Who Bear The Imprint of Hell

”…my body flesh is learning Christ's mercy.”

Fallen Sparrow and I often discuss that people don't know how bad it is out there. Most people don't. And with the exception of two with whom I’m particularly close, most of my friends don't know how bad it was for me. If they have read this blog, they know some of it - just as all my readers do. Conversations with me reveal more. But there are things I share with no one. And then a time comes when they must be shared. This is one of those times.

For long, my first memory was of standing with my mouth pressed against a rusty, dusty screen door looking at adults reclining and children playing beside a creek. In the distance there was a thicket of trees. I did not know who the people were. I did not know where I was. I did not even know my name. But I knew I wasn't alone. A Presence was with me, it was almost tangible. A woman shouted at me: "go and finish your nap!" I ran back into a bedroom, climbed into the lower bunk, stared up at the rungs of the bed above and shrugged to the Presence. That Presence has been with me ever since. I came to know Him as my Friend. Through everything else that has ever happened to me, that Presence has been with me. It is important to remember that. It helps.

I've written much about the man who "raised" me and many of the horrible things he did. But there were some horrors that neither he nor his wife directly visited on me. He had children and foster-children. In particular there was his eldest daughter who used her seniority to arrange our lives as if we were in a brothel. She assumed that we all ought to be having sex with at least one of the other children in the house. It did not matter that I was not quite five and had no ability to give any sort of consent. She simply assigned boys to have sex with me and that was that. Except it wasn't. When she wanted satisfaction and none of the boys was available, or later when her boyfriend wasn't available, she used me. Imagine being eight years old and having a sixteen year old thrust her fist into your body? Imagine lying there and waiting for it to be over or hoping it hurt because that's what you deserved? That was my life. Not every day but on many occasions, whenever I was desired.

For me, it all ended one night when I was about thirteen. I had begun to worry about getting pregnant and I just didn't like it: I had a Catechism under my mattress that told me such activities were wrong. I heard sermons in my foster-father’s Church that said the same. I didn't want to be that way and I didn't want it in my life. But I didn't know what to do. When I was desired, I was supposed to remove my clothes and let it happen. But that night my foster-father came home late and the lights were out in my room and when I heard him coming up the stairs I pushed my foster-brother away, put on my nightie and turned on my television. My foster-father pounded on my door and we opened it; by then my foster-brother was dressed. We asked what he wanted, told him we were just watching TV. He gave us an odd look. I bought a lock, put it on my door and when I heard a knock and a voice asking for entry, I said, "No." And when that voice insisted, I said, "No." And I kept saying, "No" until they stopped knocking. And through it all I asked God to please help me to continue saying “No.”

I paid for saying it. They were seriously confused that I would refuse to have sex. I was beaten up, my secrets betrayed, one of my foster-brother's threatened to kill me. Even after I learned my foster-father was dead, I knew I could never return. Though I have often longed for a family and there have been those who suggested I might seek out some of my foster-siblings because they are the closest thing to family I have, I've never returned. There is much I've come to understand about the people who lived in that house and why they behaved as they did and much I will never know this side of heaven. Many children went through that house. As far as I know, they were all sexually abused – if not before then certainly while they lived there. Some introduced new experiences of abuse. One thing I do know, that was not family. That was not even a whacked out, crazy family. When you put it all together, when you realize that the children were as vindictive and destructive as the adults*, when you accept that each person's purpose was to dominate and enslave those below them, then you realize that was an image of hell "and I alone have escaped to tell you"** because of my Friend.

But He didn't exempt me from the horrors of hell. He allowed me to live there for 11 years. And when I tried to leave, tried to enter the foster-care system and get a new set of foster-parents and a new home, I learned that there was even worse out there. My foster-father wasn't poor. Add poverty and you get a whole new level of horror. So back I went to hell. And hell left an imprint in my flesh. From a very young age, I was repeatedly dehumanized. I was at the service of others rage and hatred and sexual desire and just plain boredom. I have spent many years since working to become human. It’s not an easy job. Therapy helped. More knock down, drag out fights with God than I can remember worked wonders. Coming to see that God really loves me and is the Friend who has always been with me made a huge difference. Human friends have helped enormously. And then I returned to the Church and being made human took on a whole new meaning.

I've always been a helpful, outwardly cheerful (inwardly too for a number of years now), caring person and that has helped me make friends. But in returning to the Church I found the kind of friends I never imagined. Not only do they not make it their mission not to hurt me, they make it their mission to love me. There are times when I'm like a burn victim having all the charred flesh scrubbed away, that's just how much they love me. I've awakened in a hospital bed to find a woman I hardly know has come to visit me. I've needed an escort home from the hospital and that same woman has been there - even if given just an hour or two of notice. I've needed help paying my rent these past few months and she helped me. And others have helped me. They've remembered my birthday and bought me toys and fruitcake and listened to me speak and responded as if what I was saying made sense and come to my home to feed me when I'm undergoing chemo and looked sternly at me for doing too much. I even had breakfast prepared for me in my own kitchen by a Jesuit Seminarian in his "SWAT gear" uniform and another friend even brought an upside-down doughnut cake.

Many of my friends will recount what I have done for them but they don't know what they are doing for me: they help me become human! Not fully human but just human. They help me become free to choose for myself so I needn't just remove my clothes and let it happen. This is what Christian witness does for those of us who bear hell’s imprint. It binds us back together. It gives us life. This is why Catholics need to get off their duffs and become active in the public forum because I am not unique. God how I wish I were. I am one of many, many imprinted souls. And I've known that for years. Some of the girls I knew at university, all from homes at least as "privileged" as mine, spoke of "fooling around" with their brothers. Brothers pimp their preteen sisters. Older cousins rape their younger cousins. Mothers and fathers sexually abuse their children. Sex parties are the norm for too many 13 year old kids. And all that sexual abuse, even when it's not considered abuse, does something to a child. It makes them hard. It leaves a deep imprint that poisons the rest of life unless it is healed and only Christ and we Christians letting Him use us in Christian friendship can really do the job.

You don't know how important extending an invitation to brunch is. It doesn't matter if you're shy, it's an easy thing to do. Do it. You don't know how important having a few people over for tea or a movie or a chat is. Do it. So many of us never learned to make a home, never learned to invite people, can't imagine why you'd invite us. Do it. It isn't help from the government we need. It's an invitation to lunch or dinner. Those of us who bear the imprint of hell need the friendship of those who had normal, healthy childhoods. And we need the friendship of those who are having their humanity restored too because we need to know it’s possible. We need to know that Christ comes to save us from the damnation others try to visit upon us. He comes through us. He comes through you.

Our country is in grave peril. We know that. Many traditional Catholics believe impurity is a root cause of that peril and that novenas to Our Blessed Mother are the response. Well perhaps some of those novenas got me to finally write this piece and I hope I’ve opened the can of worms that shows you don’t know what impurity is. Prayers of all sorts are certainly necessary to heal our land but they won’t replace Christian friendship. After the Annunciation, Mary visits Elizabeth. After Mass and holy hours and novenas, we need to visit one another and include those outside our regular group. Ultimately, the imprint of hell is a lie. It burns. It scars. But it needn’t destroy. If we are willing to be friends to others as Christ is to us, our people and our land would flourish.

* My foster-father was investigated for rape. His eldest daughter made the charge. The results were inconclusive.
** Job 1:15


Anonymous said...

I went through sexual abuse also at the hands of my biological father and the complicity of my mother. I have become human, too, through therapy and spirituality. Christ is not necessary, but compassion for oneself is, and faith in a higher purpose.

Drusilla said...

Anonymous, I am so grateful to God for your healing and pray the process continues each day (I find it a process that continues post-therapy, etc.).

In re not needing Christ, you do realize this is a Catholic blog and I am a faithful Catholic myself. Christ is always the one thing that is necessary though he usually works through other people. The important thing for you, at this moment, is that you have found your way back to being human and that is such great news. I will keep you in my prayers.