Saturday, January 9, 2016

Into the Desert

 Originally published on June 20, 2008...

There I was, living with my grandmother and grandfather when my father finally remarried. I was so excited as this meant that I could go live with my father. I was so excited to be getting a new mother.
So, I went back to New Mexico (where I was born). I entered the desert both literally and figuratively.

My earliest memory of this time was an evening in the first days after arriving. My Stepmother was preparing dinner. I was helping by setting the table. Well, my stepmother was German and had a thick accent. I was very unfamiliar with this accent. When she asked me to “please put the bled on the table”, I did not know what she meant. I asked her “what?” and she repeated it. I still did not understand and at age 7 1/2, I had no experience extrapolating meaning from such an everyday activity as setting the table. It seems obvious to me now that she meant “bread”. Well, she got so very angry and cursed me. I was stunned. I had never been cursed before. I may be particularly sensitive, but this event stuck in my mind and hurt me deeply. You see, I am a person who likes to please others. I was devastated that I had angered her so.

It was a slap in the face. I had gone from a home where my grandparents rarely yelled or hit – I had one spanking during the 4 years I lived with my grandparents and it was not that severe.
This episode was a somewhat mild introduction to a life that would include much yelling, cursing and sometimes hitting. Although the physical abuse was not terribly severe (I never got a broken bone), it was just enough to terrify me that her threats to “choke the life out of me” were real.

Living with my stepmother was like living with 2 different people. One was generous, funny, and loving. The other was angry and violent. She could change from one to the other in a split second. She hit not only me, but my father as well. She threw things and one night pulled a gun on my father.
Sometimes, when they had been fighting, she would come in my room and say she was leaving my father and was taking me with her. That scared me more than anything.

I learned to dissociate and compartmentalize. I developed “radar” – when I would come home from school, upon reaching the gate to our yard, I could sense if it would be a bad day or a good one.

I began to feel unloved – ugly, stupid, and clumsy. (She kept telling me I was.) I lived in an emotional desert. My father had become emotionally distant and allowed my stepmother to take charge of raising me. My grandmother lived in another state and I only got to see her once every year or two.

I have long since gone through psychotherapy for these issues and have forgiven her for most everything. However, I no longer speak to her. Because I won’t speak to her, she won’t let me speak to my father. He does not resist her and so I have not spoken to either of them for over 10 years.
The only event that still holds emotional charge for me and that I find I am unable to forgive them for is this:

I had a little bird dog. That dog followed me everywhere. She was the only one there in New Mexico I felt really loved me. (Occasionally, I would have a friend or two, but I did not like to bring anyone home to that house. Some did come, but most eventually quit visiting, except for the girl who lived next door. She remained my friend until I ran away and joined the Army at 17.)

Well, when I was about 10-11 years old and my dog Suzi was a few years old, my stepmother decided to get a German Shepherd. Suzi would occasionally snap at the new puppy. Even though the puppy was growing fast and was almost as big as Suzi, my stepmother decided Suzi “had to go”. My stepmother told me that we could not give Suzi away because she was too attached to us and would “starve herself” to death. Suzi had to be killed.

So, one Saturday (pardon me, this is difficult), my stepmother left the house and went down the road to a neighbor’s house. My father had a friend over and I was left in the house. Suddenly, I heard a shot and looked out the window. There, I saw my father and his friend had Suzi tied to a fence post. They were standing only about 2 feet from her. She was crying out and looking at my father with such trusting eyes as if to say “what is happening?”. They took 7 shots to kill my dog. From point blank range. She cried and cried. Something died in me that day. I “forgot” this event for many years. I remembered it when I was about 30 or so. It still makes me sob.

That is all I can write tonight. Let me click the “publish” button before I lose my nerve.

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