Sunday, June 6, 2010

The truths we can and cannot bear

There are many ways to take the measure of a man, to sense the heft and weight and deepest recesses of his character. You will learn them all eventually, usually out of necessity, and often when you least expect to.

We were sitting in my father's apartment at the time and he looked at me kindly, as he always did. “I'm sorry,” he said. “I think your mother and I made it worse that it was.”

I don't remember why the conversation had come up. It's not something we ever talked about. In fact, I don't even remember how old I was exactly, probably in my teens, as that would have been just before he left. But I remember his words exactly, and how they shifted the geography of my world.

“We made such a big deal out of it, when really it was nothing.” And he laughed a bit here, as if to underscore the lack of gravity. “After all,” he said, “all he did was touch you in a few places.”


* * * * *


When I was a child I thought I could fly. I had done it before, or I must have, because the memory of flight was etched in my soul. I would often dream that I was running down a street or across a field and I would suddenly lift up off the ground. One minute I would feel the earth beneath my feet and the next I would be clutched with the sweet sensation of weightlessness, my momentary surprise giving way to a sense of familiarity and rightness, and I would think, “yes, of course, I remember this.”

I believed that this ability to shift realities in my dreamworld should translate into real life, that while running through the fields behind our house, if I just willed it, I should be able to take flight. We lived where the homes were spread apart and the grass grew long and free and blanketed the hills as far as I could see. While we had a proper patch of lawn in the front, the back of the house was given up to a wild run of meadow that spilled over and down the hill until it met with the scrub oak and elms that grew along the valley floor. In the summertime its silken fronds reached to my waist and I ran through the waves of gold and spread my arms out to catch the wind in what seemed the proper prelude to the attainment of flight.

I had lots of time to chase dreams because my mother had gone back to work and my brother and I were now on our own for wide swaths of the day. After all, I was eight and he ten. And there were adults around – the neighborhood parents, a cleaning lady on Wednesdays, and of course the gardener, that other man who taught me to take measure. He just always seemed to be there.

But my milieu was the hills because I belonged to the wild, as all children do, and I spent my days exploring, wandering, discovering the secrets of the outdoors. The meadow hid worlds of wonder, quails nests and field mice and sudden bursts of bright orange poppies. Lizards sunned themselves on gray rocks and white tailed deer drank from the creek at the base of the hill.

In the afternoon I would come back to the yard, hungry and spent and lost in thought. And then I would look up and he would be there.

“Hey. Bring me a beer from the house.”

He would wipe the sweat from his brow and cock an arm against the side of the house, blocking my passage back to the hill, and my cat senses would bristle.

Before he set down his shovel, I would go get the beer, but I knew enough to shake it up before I came back out. I would hand it to him and run back down the hill and into the trees, far and away.

My father had dug a series of steps in the dirt where the ground sloped down at the side of the house. Years of rain and wear had rendered them almost useless, but one day I dragged the hose across the lawn and turned the water on low, and they were transformed into a mountain stream, complete with cascading waterfalls and quick-flowing rapids. I had a collection of small plastic animals which I positioned at various points along its descent. A tiger drank from a pool of water, a Holstein waded in the shallows and a red kangaroo bathed in a narrow gorge. I lay on my side in the cool shade of the pines and admired my peaceable kingdom.

I should have known that the sound of the water would get his attention. As usual, I looked up and he was just there. This time, he wanted to show me a pond with fish. It was several blocks away and we would have to go there in his truck. I said no thank you. He insisted. I sat there, mute. I had no idea what to do. Come on, he said, and motioned towards his truck. But then my father drove up, home early from work. I exhaled.

I realize in retrospect I could have spent the summer indoors and thus avoided him. He wasn't there every day. I know there were days when the cleaning lady shooed me outside but then again I just needed to be outside, it called to me like a siren's song. I think that was my downfall.

But I remember this clearly. One day I came home from a friend's and walked behind the house and the grass was gone. He had razed it the ground, all of it. Gone were the thick stands of grass that hid the fox burrows and quail's nests and doorways to hidden worlds both real and imagined. The hill was unrecognizable. I stood in shock, taking in the destruction. And then I sensed him behind me.

“It was a fire hazard,” he said. I heard him take a long draw from his beer.

I stood still and didn't turn around. I could feel the heat from his body. I turned my eyes towards the back door, as if I could will my brother to appear. In the end I ran, but not fast enough.

When you are pinned to the ground there is nowhere to escape to but into the earth itself, and that is what I did. I closed my eyes and surrendered and let my soul sink into the cool breast of the earth, and she opened up to receive my shock and my child terror and the thousand fractured pieces of my innocence.

When he released my wrists I didn't move. I remained fixed to the earth until I heard the clank of tools being thrown into the back of his truck and the low groan of the engine disappearing down the road. I'm sure I got up and went inside eventually, I don't remember, but a part of me remained deep underground, eyes ever shut.

This went on for a full summer because the heartless are cunning and can persuade a child of the need to bear secrets, bear onus. But they can also become overconfident and one day he had the thought to throw me down and kiss me in front of my brother, who did not bear secrets, but instead told my parents, who told the police, who took him to trial and put him in prison. And thus my own sentence was ended.

I remember the day of my liberation. My mother crying and vomiting in the bathroom. My father raging into the telephone, threatening the life of this man. My brother sitting quietly against the wall of the family room, wide-eyed, sensing the perimeters of this new truth. Me, breathless, immensely grateful, coming back to life.

“Why didn't you tell us?” she asked. And it was such a simple question.


* * * * *


My mother was undone by what happened that summer. I know this because she told me. Not often, just once. She carried the full weight of my truth with her every day of her life. She stared it full in the face and never looked away. This was the gift she gave me.

As for me, I retrieved the remnants of my soul a bit at a time. Years later, when I was stronger, I called back my own lost truths from the earth. I would lie very still and listen and I would begin to feel the heartbeat of another time and place, feel the slippage of years, feel in my bones the distant wail of anguish never given voice until it rose to a pitch and cry that split the canvas of my heart and immersed me in the smell of beer and sweat and the taste of horror that is the very darkness.

For the longest time there is only fear and more animal fear and the blunt edges of an untold anger. Then one day there is not. One day, there is the taste of forgiveness. One day, there is a lightness that is redemption.

Today I live far from my childhood home. I've moved a dozen times or more, lived a dozen versions of my life. I live out on the Plains now, on the edge of a community with my young children, a son and a daughter who is on the cusp of turning eight, doing my best to guard both their truths and their innocence. Outside my door there are acres of farmland, which abut more and more farmland, which abut endless ribbons of undulating grassland.

Here is what I know. Each of us – daughter, father, lover, friend – walks the earth carrying the burden of certain painful truths, and at times we must set down our load. But the earth is patient and holds for us the truths we cannot abide and returns them when we are ready to bear them, if ever we are.

She guards our dreams and the quick tumbling years that stretch into the past to trace the fractured lines of our long-forgotten selves. She sees the broken lenses through which we view life and the means by which we take the measure, or mismeasure, of those we love. She looks upon all this without judgment, for only she knows the long history of the truths we've been asked to bear. The earth, who holds for us our hopes, who once held for me the lost pieces of myself, and now holds the ashes of my mother and father, who also holds the promise of riches yet to unfold.

From her I have learned many things. She has taught me how to untangle my truth from the easy words of those around me, how to retrieve it from the deepest reaches of darkness and breath life back into it. Because of her, I know that beneath what passes as restlessness is an unknown strength; that all these years later, I still belong to the wild. I know that to heal, we need to trust the slow unwinding of grace; and that in order to take flight, we merely need to let go.






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65 comments:

  1. I wish I had the words to explain how I feel. I don't. I also wish I had your strength. I don't. I wish no-one had to go through that.

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  2. crap. I am dealing with this very issue in what is the most f-ed up scenario imaginable. I feel your pain.

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  3. I don't have the words for this, but I didn't want to not comment. x

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  4. I am sickened by what the gardener did to you. Thank goodness for your brother, and for everything that followed to put this sick individual behind bars.

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  5. I'm speechless too, but just wanted to say what a heart-wrenching, beautifully raw and amazing post that was. Your strength of character is inspirational.

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  6. You, my friend, have conveyed what is unspeakably horrific and ugly in incredibly poignantly beautiful words. It is true, no-one, no child, no adult, no living being should ever have to bear such abominable attrocity, but they do, and your voice will allow others to speak out and to heal.

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  7. I admire your strength and am so sorry you went through this; it should not happen to anyone.

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  8. Like Marilyn I have nothing to add but had to comment. Thankyou for sharing.

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  9. Kristin, what a brave post for you to write. You wrote such a heartfelt piece on such a difficult topic - it is hard to know the right words here but I hope that in writing that it helped you to let go.
    xxx

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  10. Kristin, I have not read anything as powerful as this in a long, long time.
    A story of healing, beautifully told.

    Thank you for sharing it. My heart goes out to you.

    x

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  11. But the earth is patient and holds for us the truths we cannot abide and returns them when we are ready to bear them, if ever we are.

    True, my friend.Very,very true.

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  12. I'm so sorry for what happened to you Kristin. I don't understand why there are those in this world who reek such havoc and steal away innocence and trust. Thank you for your words of hope that will inspire others to lay their burdens down and let go as you have done.

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  13. What a a beautiful piece of writing about an extremely horrible experience. Thank you for this post Kristin, all too often, these memories are swept under the carpet. Gone, but not forgotten...thank you for shining a light on this darkness.

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  14. Healing is hard. Especially from traumas like this. Much love to you.

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  15. I don't know what to say, but also couldn't just read and leave. That must have taken some amazing strength!

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  16. Oh Kristin. You are a brave and beautiful beautiful soul! Thank you for sharing your story. I am honoured to be called your friend. Million hugs.xoxoxo.

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  17. Your writing makes the whole situation jump off the screen and into life. Honestly, I wasn't strong enough to read through. From the comments, you are a strong woman. Bet I could learn from you.

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  18. Wow. For the story, for the girl in your heart, for the writing. Wow. I personally and completely relate to "I've moved a dozen times or more, lived a dozen versions of my life." Why are we running still? "Set down the load."

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  19. Beautiful words for such a terrible terrible thing.

    xxx

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  20. I can't say anything that would make this remotely better or easier. I hate how people can do this stuff.

    Innocence just can't be claimed back. And it should never be stolen.

    I'm so sorry you had to live through this Kristin.

    Lots of love to you xx

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  21. Thank you for sharing your pain, Kristin. I know by posting this you will help someone else realize their pain and realize how to grow through it and come out strong the way you have. You are so beautiful, wonderful and inspirational.

    All my love is going out to you.

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  22. If I could write like this I would die happy.

    If I could take away your pain, I would die happy.

    And if I could give you back your childhood and innocence, I would die, happy.
    {{{embrace}}}

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  23. Oh my.

    I have no words. No words at all.

    But you do. Along with mountains of stregth. And thank god for that.

    This can't have been an easy thing to share, but they are truths you have bared and truths we must hear about.

    Much love. Much much much love xxx

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  24. I'm caught between the beauty of your writing and the shock and pain of the content.

    Oh Kristin. I am crying tears for you. Thank you for writing this, for speaking. May others take strength from your experience.

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  25. What strong, amazing writing, and what a terrible experience. I cannot express myself as you have, but I needed to comment to say I have heard and thank you.

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  26. Kristin, such a horrifying subject, but written about so beautifully, and with such courage.

    Love and thoughts and prayers with you. xxx

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  27. yes, each of us walks the earth carrying a burden of truths, and we gotta set them down sometime. yes, the earth is patient. i'm clearly paraphrasing. your words are beautiful, truly. that graph is majestic.

    i have a very brilliant friend who has the sort of painful past that's, well, tough to believe. she has said about dealing with pain in this world: sometimes, it takes time.

    i wonder sometimes if this why god gives us such long lifetimes.

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  28. Beautiful words for a terrible subject. I'm sorry that this happened to you but grateful that you can share!

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  29. I've just burst into tears for you.

    This should NEVER happen to a child. NEVER.

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  30. You are a truly talented writer, Kristin. I hope that your gift of writing helps you heal, as I'm sure you will help others with this post.

    Many hugs.
    x

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  31. Unbelievable writing. Forgiveness is not for everyone, but I love the concept that the earth contains our pains until we are ready to bear them again. I know someone else who will understand this at a very deep level. Linking to this post (just in case anyone reads mine!). Peace, dear heart. X

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  32. I think about you often...and appreciate your willingness to also check in on me even when your own life was chaotic. This memory resonates in the core of so many...your words; untouchable, raw and real. I admire you and the way you conveyed your strength with this unguarded writing. Bless you.

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  33. Holy cow.

    I'm completely staggered by your ability to write about this the way you have, Kristin. You've just blown me away.
    You are incredible. I wish I knew you IRL.

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  34. First, many hugs to you for this brave post and sharing an experience that one should never have to go through. I am hopeful you will help someone else out there who might feel as if they are alone in something.

    I am wishing you healing through sharing and letting it out and letting it go. Peace and blessings....

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  35. I hate what happened to you, and I am stunned at how beautifully you write about it.

    You are a brave woman.

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  36. Powerful stuff written wonderfully - I dunno woman - how can you take that subject and weave something so spellbinding from it? You amaze me you do.

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  37. Kristin, this has evoked many emotion in me. I think the strongest, though, is a very maternal urge to fight back against the evil that ripped away your innocence, as well as the very maternal urge to wrap you in a hug and a soft blanket, make you a cup of hot chocolate, and tell you that somehow, it will all be okay.

    That brings me to the other overly strong feeling: Admiration, because of the knowledge that it *WILL* be okay. You've made it okay, by protecting your children and sharing this with us, so that we may be even more vigilant in protecting our children and then children we're close to.

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  38. It has all been said, but I want to add my thoughts too, although I am too at a loss for words... thank you for sharing a part of your childhood terror so deeply hidden. Many *hugs* go out to you.

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  39. Kristin, I am almost lost for words.

    Your writing is so beautiful and evocative; your story-telling so honest and full of feeling. What an awful thing to happen, but what a truly moving experience it is to read your account of it.

    I felt horribly voyeuristic reading this story, yet so spell-bound by your writing that I couldn't stop.

    Thank you for sharing.

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  40. Kristin, may your thoughtful words and telling give healing to others who have lived through a trauma such as this. And open some eyes. Will send more thoughts over email.

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  41. You are scarily good at writing about you.

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  42. Kristin, the power of your writing , the sheer strength of your soul has left me utterly speechless.

    Unspeakable horror, raw and deep held pain, but somehow you have found the way to light.

    Bless you always

    You are a true inspiration

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  43. WOW.

    I just stumbled upon your blog this morning. As I read I kept wondering...is this about her? Or is she writing a book and this is the storyline?

    Beautiful writing. The pit in my stomach that knows such evils was awakened. What strength and bravery you have.

    I don't want to say how sorry I am for you. Not in a selfish b*tchy way...but in a way that wants to scream instead "WHY do we apologize to the victim? WHY do we women in the western world not clamor to get together and say ENOUGH? Why is it something we hide and shame instead of going to our leaders and DEMANDING that this no longer be tolerated?"

    Because it is tolerated. On so many levels. In so many families and communities and lives.

    It is not ok.

    Peace to you...

    Jen

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  44. "Because I belonged to the wild, as all children do." Sentence after sentence, you reward our reading eyes with pearls of beauty and pain and deep insight. What a pleasure to bask for these few minutes in the warmth and intelligence of your brave spirit.

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  45. Thank you for sharing your beautiful spirit with us Kristin.

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  46. I needed to read this. I've carried a similar burden from childhood. Your words have put into me a sense of comfort and understanding that I had yet to embrace. You expressed exactly what I've been looking for in my own world. Thank you.

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  47. You have such powerful words. Thank you for finding me so I could find you.

    I used to dream that I could fly too. It felt so natural. Maybe I can. Maybe we all can :)

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  48. What a powerful and moving piece of writing. I am in tears.

    Ever since childhood, I have watched my best friend struggle to shoulder this same burden. For twenty long years, now, she's struggled, while those around her, struggle to know how we can possibly help her. I hope, I SO HOPE, that she'll come to find peace, and lay her burden down.

    I feel sure there are many who have read your post, and felt hope rising, just to know that it IS possible to find the "lightness of redemption" on the other side. xx

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  49. Found your blog this morning &, while I am awed by great writing & sincerity, my heart aches for you.

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  50. What a sad, yet hopeful post. Beautifully written.

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  51. Thank you, everyone, for your support and your beautiful comments. I wish I could respond to each one. I wish Blogger collected emails the way that Wordpess does so I could thank you each individually. Alas...

    xo

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  52. Thank you for having the courage to speak out and share ...

    To share is to show a light to those who are still lost in the torment of secrecy ...

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  53. I have no real words, but I have tears, that fall slowly down my face. I have love that I am sending across the cyberspace. xxx

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  54. Kristin, thank you for sharing this with us. I can't think of the right words to say to you but I'm sorry that this happened to you. I admire you for the strength and courage that you have in telling us what happened to you as a child. Your writing gives us a glimpse of the beautiful spirit you have within you that saw you rise above it all.

    My heartfelt thoughts and hugs go out to you.

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  55. Really beautiful post and very courageous of you to write it and bare all for us to see.

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  56. Wow, I don't really know what to say but I couldn't read this and not comment at all.

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  57. So beautifully written...such an awful story...being strong inside is sooo important!

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  58. An amazing piece of writing and sharing. My heart was in my throat from the very start.

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  59. Now my new friend, I understand your comment to my post. This is a wonderful piece of work. Thank you for sharing! You have inspired me to share more and finish what I started.

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  60. I'm in tears for you and in awe of you. What a brave post and absolutely achingly beautiful.

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  61. Hi,

    I just came across your blog via a friend who follows you. This is a poignant and powerful piece. Thanks for sharing. I am looking forward to catching up on reading more of your material. I have just started a public blog, so am in the process of transferring much of the material I have compiled over the past three months from my previous site.

    Cheers

    Cindy

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