Again, I’m sharing a prompt and a write from a Fearless Words group meeting. For this exercise, we first wrote for three minutes from each of the following phrases: I remember / I don’t remember / I wish I remembered / I wish I didn’t remember… then we took 8 more minutes to write about anything we wanted.
Here’s what came up for me:
I remember sitting slow on the back porch. I remember there was no back porch. I remember the concrete of the back patio, the smell of the yew hedge that separated the patio from mom’s garden, and how ugly those hedges were. I remember felling lost most of the time, and feeling broken and wanting to be really lost and not knowing how to run away. I remember when I understood I shouldn’t write anything real in my journals because he might read them —
She doesn’t remember exactly how it started or how old she was or where her body was or what the word “started” means when it comes to something like this, like his being in charge of her skin, her movements, her thoughts. She doesn’t remember when her mother lost her voice or when her mother stopped standing up for herself. She doesn’t remember forgetting how to breathing and learning to split her mind away from itself, learning to think two or more thoughts at one time — nor can she remember not being able to do that.
I wish I remembered those things. I wish I had concrete details, facts and numbers, time and date stamps, supportive documentation, ways to enumerate the step-by-step of his escalation. I want want to look back and point, stand with the young self I was and say, Look, there. That’s when it happened. That’s when he took over. That’s the moment when everything changed. You weren’t crazy. You were right. I wish I remembered all the ways I stood up for myself, the ways I tried to tell mom what he was doing, the ways I tried to escape, so I could tell the self who did those things, congratulations. And also, thank you.
I wish I didn’t remember everything he taught my body. I wish my body didn’t remember those long hours of lessons, the phrasings and indoctrinations. I wish my body could shed itself of that muscle memory, especially after all these years. I wish I didn’t remember how he taught me to shame myself, to blame myself or my sister, how he taught me I was at least (at least!) partly to blame. I wish I didn’t remember how he looked, what he smelled like, and how he cried.
What I remember now comes from the stories I have written and shared, what I remember rises out of the stories I tell myself. I wonder about allowing myself to remember my own resistance, how I pushed back at him and fought, that 15, 16, 17 year old girl in physical altercations with her 40-something stepfather , how I battled hm physically and in front of my mother and sister, how I forced him to show them, over and over, who he really was. This was a telling, one more telling, one more that my mother refused to acknowledge. I remember pushing his limits of what could and could not be said when my mother was present, I remember risking his wrath if only she could hear me, would understand what he was doing to her daughters right under her nose. She was not able to hear me — this is the way I save her now. I say that she could not hear me — not that she would not. And, of course, my body resisted — in her very musculature. I tell myself these stories to counteract the other stories, the ones I rehearse so easily, too often, that I simply capitulated, gave in, and never asked for help, never told. These are not true stories, and I want to honor the girl I was enough to tell her whole truth, with all its layers and mess. She did fight back. She fought like hell, and eventually she fought our way free.