I usually try to do things slowly, because I believe there’s wisdom in waiting more often than there is wisdom in jumping into action. The wisdom of this blog post has been of particular concern to me, so I’ve been sitting on it for more than a year.
About a year and a half ago, I discovered some childhood abuse I’d forgotten. “Discovered” isn’t the correct word, but there aren’t better words to utilize here. “Remembered” makes me feel a little stupid, because who forgets something as traumatic as abuse? – a lot of people, apparently – but “remembered” is also the wrong word because I didn’t actually forget. It was more like I didn’t have access to those memories, or forgot the paths I had to follow to get to them. We could say that I unearthed repressed memories, but that sounds very much like psycho-babble and I’m the type who is “above” that sort of thing.
Additionally, it’s inaccurate to say that I was the one who “discovered” anything. The truth is that it took a series of events and attentive people to help me out, but, more often than not, I’m ungrateful to those who did the right thing because, given the option, I’d “tell Morpheus to shove that red pill right up his ass.”
Knowing the truth changes things. It probably shouldn’t, but it does.
One of the most unexpectedly therapeutic things I’ve done since “remembering” is immersing myself in Marilyn Monroe’s biography. The first evening of Fall break went something rather like this:
And also, this:
The chain of events leading me to such a welcome relaxation are unimportant, but possibly providential. You see, I’m not at all the type who cares about Marilyn Monroe. Although my current uncharacteristic craving for nonfiction isn’t all that odd, I would have expected myself to pick up a biography of someone a bit more “spiritually magnificent” like Dietrich Bonhoeffer or perhaps Mother Teresa. They tend to be more prominent in my realm of study, but after completing an online search for the top 100 most fascinating biographies, I was driven towards the questionably-insane, Hollywood-raised, too-young-deceased, blond bombshell who’d never-before shown-up on my radar.
Admittedly disinterested in reading for the past few months, I figured, “What the Hell? – Now’s not the time to force academic and enriching literature on myself. If I want to read a trashy bio, I ought to allow myself that guilty pleasure just to reignite a love of reading.” So I ordered the cheapest used copy of the most positively-reviewed version of Marilyn’s story available from Amazon, and once it arrived, I poured a glass of wine, pulled out some expensive vintage cheddar, and lit every piece of ambiance in the house. Then, I read for the evening.
The first few chapters of Marilyn’s story seemed a bit superfluous because they aren’t at all about Marilyn. However, when I finally did get to 1926, all of that background came in handy because Marilyn Monroe, like all of us, was the product of a legacy. Her childhood was unstable, her father was impossible to identify among the many fellas her mom took up with, and she had something like three mother figures in the course of her first eight years, all-of-whom were neurotic in this way or that. One of those mother figures was intent on making the little Norma Jeane (that’s right, she had an entirely wholesome name in the beginning) into the next Jean Harlowe. Marilyn’s biographer, Donald Spoto, summed it up like this:
“Such early preparation and exhortation to become an imitation of a major movie star would naturally appeal to a child with a confused identity, a lack of normal home life and a pattern of needing to please so many mother figures. She was, in other words, primed to be the ultimate, manufactured facsimile of a culture’s fantasies,” (46).
This description of Marilyn Monroe’s destiny of stardom reminded me that we are all “primed” by our youths for seemingly inevitable adult lives, because kids have an innate, unconquerable drive to become what their parents dream for them. It’s only by the grace of God that any of us are born into a healthy legacy or escape an unhealthy one.
I used to think that my childhood successes, including good grades in AP classes, softball heroics, and general good kid-edness were a tribute to my discipline or something of that nature, but it’s starting to seem like I was motivated more by fear than anything else.
You know how sometimes you’ll be watching a movie where two people are being chased by a bear, and one dude will be like, “We need to think of a plan, because we’re not going to be able to outrun this bear!” and the other dude is like, “I don’t have to outrun the bear; I just have to outrun you!” And it’s funny…
When I remember some of the things that happened to me and around me when I was a kid, I sort of re-feel the terror. Right now, I only have three or four specific flashes of memory, but every time I remember them, they feel like they’re happening now. My stomach gets knotted and the adrenaline pumps, and honestly, when I’m feeling that way, everything I did makes sense, because I didn’t have to outrun an abuser; I just had to outrun his other targets. It wasn’t ever about being a fast runner, and it wasn’t about hurting someone else; I just had to save myself, whatever the cost.
I know that’s terrible. Sometimes, in movies, you’ll see a kid selflessly jump in front of a sibling to take a beating from their abusive parent, and I wish I could say that I was brave enough for that. The truth, however, is that I was a quiet, unassuming kid. I liked to sit quietly and think, and the only reason I ever started acting like a badass was because the abuse didn’t always only come from adults.
The analogy is something like this: I thought we were being chased by a normal bear, but it turns out, my sister and I were actually being pursued by a zombie bear (fast zombie-type), and when I outran my sister (by being the “good” or “easy” child), I successfully threw an invisibility cloak over myself and avoided the bear’s detection, but also inadvertently made things harder on myself because my sister was converted into a zombie and started chasing me. That started happening while I was in middle school, I think, which is also when I started to act like nothing hurt or scared me. I kept excelling in school and sports so the bear zombie would keep after my sister, and I lived out the “I’m rubber; you’re glue” method to perfection with my sibling-abuser. At first, it was a fictional numbness, but I got so good at it that wounds eventually just stopped hurting rather than ever healing.
So now that I’m away from it all and trying to deal with it like a grown-up, I don’t have any idea what’s true about me and what isn’t. I don’t know if I’m a badass chick, a smart, geeky girl, or a shy thinker. I don’t even know who I would choose to be, given the option; I just know I’d choose any identity over “victim.”