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the little girl

"run for your life if you can, little girl
hide your head in the sand, little girl"
- the beatles

i can't remember everything. i only remember little bits and pieces of what happened to me. they come to me at night, sometimes, when i'm trying to sleep, or sometimes they come when i am with my lovers, or sometimes they come for no reason at all, when i am feeding my cats or washing my dishes and looking out of the window into my garden. i try to put it all together and tell it to myself, and maybe when i put together all the lost memories like so many forgotten puzzle pieces, it will bring me closer to being free. these are the clearest memories. there are more, but they hide in my subconscious until some later time. i'll warn anyone who's going to read this: my story may bring on strong emotions, so please be aware of your own emotional and psychological situation.

i was young and the world was fresh and the apples were always ripe, it seemed. i was about five years old, and the sky never seemed to be unblue, the animals never seemed unfriendly. i was the kind of little girl you see on tv who has big elfish eyes and long curly hair that she wears with ribbons. that was me, but i had my dark hair instead of blonde and my tomboy streak too, which separated me from the tv girls.

my dad, a skilled carpenter, built my brother and i a beautiful elevated playhouse in the backyard that was so wondrous and perfect i couldn't believe that any part of it belonged to me. it was one of my secret places. there was a deck, seven feet off the ground, which seemed like miles up then, on which i could lay and watch the skies. and there was a shelter on stilts with lattice windows and a sturdy roof to keep out the rain for days when the sun did not come out to play.

he was nine years older than me. he liked to pull the wagon for us, and chase my brother and i, and play hide-and-go-seek afternoons after he came home from school. i was somewhat advanced for my age, reading chapter books and longing for faraway places already, but he seemed a man compared to my childishness. our names began with the same first letter, and he was my very first crush. i didn't know what it was i felt for him, but i was jealous when he would play with my brother instead of me, and i was angry when i saw him with his girlfriend. i would fantasize about falling from my playhouse to the ground, in a swoon, and having him come running and scoop me up in his arms and save me like a typical hero. i would gaze out my bedroom window at his house across the street and think about how wonderful he was and how much i wished he would play with only me.

and then one day he came over to see us, and i asked him to come into my room, and he did. my brother was playing in the corner. he and i sat there for a long while, on my bed, while i was embarrassed about my teddy bears because they weren't grown up and he was looking around my bedroom. then, a hazy memory tells me, he turned to me, bathed in sunlight by my window, and narrowed his eyes to slits. his tongue became like a serpent, playing games with me, telling me lies. i could tell what he was saying was a lie. i can't remember his words, just his expression, and his tone. then i remember he told me to touch him. i was confused, and in a corner, and i didn't like his face. i didn't move until he grabbed my hand and pressed it to the zipper of his jeans. i didn't know what to do. he smelled like hot asphalt and rotting fruit, and his hands were so ugly as they touched me. memory goes blank. he's gone.

i didn't understand. i was so confused and bewildered and somehow frightened by it all, and i still loved him. i still looked out at his house with the willow tree in front and the neat window trim and the manicured lawn, and i still thought about him every day, and for a few weeks i didn't see him. i think i forgot the day in the bedroom by the time he came back.

the next thing i remember was a day in the summer. he was babysitting my younger brother and i. i was so happy to see him, so excited, so eager and innocent. he told us we were going to play a game. first we played hide-and-seek in the yard, and when he found me he pressed me against a shrub and rubbed himself all over me. i barely remember this, just remember that it was suffocating, frightening, wrong. he was breathing in my ear. i was frozen, everything was moving in slow-motion, and i left myself and i could barely hear anything, i could barely maintain contact with my own fragile form. i was away with the birds, and i could hear their songs. i was at peace. he moved somehow, i was more angry at being distracted from the birds than i was frightened by him this time. i shivered, and heard clearly my brother shout that he was tired of playing this game. the man who was not a man was angry.

when he discovered my brother behind the apple tree and sat us both on the steps. he walked a few paces on our stone walkway and looked down at the ground. he was shaking, i think, his shoulders. i was staring at him, i could see his outline quivering against the clear blue sky. "we'll play house," he said. "i'll be the daddy, you'll be the mommy, he'll be our son,"

we went to the backyard, to the playhouse. i had said we could play there. as soon as we got up into the treehouse, he told my brother to go to the front yard and gather acorns, and they would be our food. he said that was grocery shopping. then he took me into the playhouse and said in the snake voice that we were going to have another baby. he asked me if i knew how babies were made. i said yes, which i thought i did but didn't. he said okay and pushed me down on my back, on the hard wood floor of the playhouse. there was something hard against me that i didn't understand then. he pressed his mouth to mine and for a brief moment i was overjoyed. he was kissing me! he was kissing me like in the movies and the books and he must love me too! then there was something wrong. kisses weren't supposed to be like this, hot and wet and smothering. i heard my brother yelling and i heard him snarl "go away" and my world filled up with stars because his face was pressed too hard against mine and i wasn't breathing. i couldn't breathe and i felt like i was going to die. i wriggled beneath his crushing weight but he didn't even pause. his tongue slipped over my rosebud lips and my wrinkled chin and my soft cheeks and he grunted and held me pinned like a butterfly under glass with it's wings impaled. when i think back to this now, i am afraid that i will not survive. i don't know if i felt that then, but i knew that i had to get away from him. i struggled harder, and i hit him accidentally, i think. i opened my eyes so wide it hurt, after realizing that they had been closed, and saw the light through the lattice hit his face and he looked so angry at me, like he was going to kill me. and i didn't love him anymore.

those are the clearest of the memories i've dug up from inside my head. it's been eleven years since i moved from that house, since i moved from him. i haven't seen him since, except in pictures where all i can do is stare at his awful hands. i refuse to have my bed face west. it's only faced west once in my life, and that was then and this is now and i'm doing all i can to separate the two. i'm almost a woman now, and i'm trying to move on with my life but i feel like my boots are filled with rocks that cut my feet and weigh me down. keeping the secret inside was impossible to do forever, though it worked for nine years.

for a long time i was only able to tell a few people. it was eleven years until i finally told my mother, and a few months more until i told my stepfather. i performed a piece with a theatre troupe that broke my chains without tattooing me as a victim, branding me as a survivor. it was personal enough that i could confront my demons and send messages to those that i love, and impersonal enough that i could keep these safety nets i have woven.

i still feel misunderstood and at times ignored, even in this newfound freedom. even as i open myself, petal by petal, i realize that the deepest core of the flower that i am becoming, the place from which life, memory, love, and fear emerge, will never be fully understood by another person. we are the only people who can ever fully know ourselves.

i still don't trust people easily, and i struggle with myself, one half saying that i'm completely crazy and absolutely hopeless and the other half arguing that i'm moving faster than the speed of light and that i'm one of the most glorious phenomenons to be witnessed. usually i end up somewhere between the two, with the image of a young woman who is a private, layered individual, a woman who isn't seen unless invites people to see her and who prefers to keep it that way. somewhat of an emotional hermit, but a devoted lover and a spirited artist. i'm learning to love myself, even with the repressed memories from the shutdown that happened years ago, when a little girl said, "i'll lock these things away so we don't have to deal with them until later."

the world loved me once, and then forgot my name. i am telling it my name again.