I remember it all, every single second of it. Let me rephrase that. I remember my version of everything, which is what matters to a person, isn’t it? There is a snapshot album in my head; Kodak pictures of my memories taken with an old Brownie Box Camera. The album has a tattered brown cover with a faded bouquet of wildflowers in the center of it. The title is Life, The Rise, the Fall, and the Rise Again.
I was a scrawny little girl with bouncing light brown ringlets. My grandmother would stand me on a chair, drip slimy, cold Wave-Set down my back as she wound my hair around her finger. I hated standing still for it. My memory picture is me stepping off of the chair, and her naturally pulling upward. The curl tightened on her finger, and it almost pulled my hair out. I cried four-year-old tears.
My mother was a single mom. She worked as a waitress at an upscale steakhouse in Jackson, Michigan. Since she worked nights, I lived with my grandmother through the week and went home with my mother on the weekends. We lived in a single-wide, in a trailer park just outside of the city limits. My mind falls on the next picture. I’m helping mom count her week’s tips. I’m sitting on the floor making piles of coins. I loved playing with mommy. I didn’t know that every single penny counted toward our survival.
When you’re five, you don’t think about life ever changing, but when mommy brought “him” home, everything did. I have a memory picture of him standing by my bed, whispering to me. “You’re a big girl. You’re so pretty. Does this feel good?” I didn’t know that the things he did to me were wrong, but I did know that I didn’t like it. He made me feel funny, but he made mommy happy. He told me that if I told mommy, it would make her sad. It was a heavy secret for a little girl. I couldn’t even tell grandma because she might tell mommy.
There is a beautiful picture in my album of a white, one-room schoolhouse where second grade was taught. In front of it, there is a tree with a tire swing that the kids could play on at recess. As it turns out, my grandmother had been teaching me to read, and when I told the teacher that I could already read, and asked her if I could go to her school, she let me as long as I promised to be good. I completed second grade in that little schoolhouse, and then when I went to regular school, I did it again. I loved school and was always at the top of my class. My first-grade teacher wanted me to skip a grade because I was ahead of most of the other kids, but mommy didn’t think that was a good idea.
Turning the page in my album, there is a picture of me at seven years of age. My mother had just come home from the hospital. She handed me, my baby sister. She told me, “You’re the big sister now, so you have to help take good care of the baby.” Every time I saw “him” holding my little sister, I wanted to scream. The only way I could think of to protect her from him was to keep letting him touch me.
In the coming years, my snapshot book filled up. There were new puppies, snowmen in the yard, lots of packages at Christmas, and pretty dresses my mother sewed. We went on camping trips, and we moved around a bit. There is a memory picture of the day we left Michigan to move to Alaska. I was nine, and I have a forever picture of my grandmother’s goodbye tears; of my tears. I was leaving the one person that I felt safe with.
If I had been older, I expect I would have thought Alaska beautiful, but at nine I was too busy avoiding bears and moose on my walk to school. I have a memory picture of an old, rusty van that was parked in the woods halfway between school and home. When I got scared, I could get in it and honk the horn for help. I was glad we only stayed in Alaska for a year but sad that we didn’t go back to Michigan. “His” job moved us to California’s Bay Area where he would work as a meat carver at a new Hofbrau Restaurant.
As I grew up, I hated that I couldn’t take friends to my house because “he” would touch them. Still, there were friends in the neighborhood I got close to. One summer all of us worked together and we built a stage in Susan’s backyard (with the help of her father.) We wrote a play and invited all the parents in the neighborhood to watch it. We made the costumes, decorated the set; we sang and danced. Good memory pictures.
There are wedding pictures in my snapshot book. I married my high school sweetheart just two weeks after I turned eighteen. I loved him, but marriage at that too-young age was mostly just to get me out of the house and away from “him.” Had my homelife not been so intolerable, I’d have gone to college before marriage, but living with a pedophile and a very strict mother took that away from me. The downside of my leaving was that I had to leave my sister behind. In my mind, I told myself that “he” wouldn’t touch his own daughter.
There is a glaring snapshot in my book that I can’t ignore. I am thirty-five years old. It is a picture of a subpoena that I was served with. “His” attorney wanted me to testify as to what a great father he was. He had molested another child, but that child had told. I had finally had all I could take. I picked up the phone and called him, and told him that it was time for my mother to know. The cocky bastard said, “I’ll bring her to you.”
I have several memory pictures of the look on my mother’s face when she had to accept the horrible things that he’d done; that he’d repeatedly raped my sister, his biological daughter. Then there’s a snapshot of my mother telling me that she believed me, but I can still see her leaving to go home with him, even after I told her there was a place in my home for her. That day was the turning point for me. The anger bubbled over because I realized that my mother had known all along. She had sacrificed her children for her own security. I was done.
I can see a memory picture of the compassionate face of the counselor that helped me through not only the painful experiences but the very heavy feelings of guilt that I had for not finding the courage to stop him sooner. I was so crushed; so broken that I didn’t think I could ever stand up again, but I came to understand that if I quit – “He” would win. I couldn’t have that.
While it is true, the memories in my album are for the most part sad and painful, I was no quitter. With the counselor’s help, I came to understand that I had been a child and it hadn’t been my fault. It isn’t a child’s place to protect their mother. I had to learn to forgive her – for not protecting her children. It took a while. Even my twenty-six-year marriage didn’t survive the fallout. There was a lot of work ahead for me. It was a long road, but let's jump ahead and turn the page.
Look, there are pictures of me finally going to college. I have memory pictures of every hard-earned A. I finished with a Bachelor’s In Business Administration and a Master’s in Education – with a 4.0. I love the pictures of my success.
There are fond memory pictures of the kids I taught; many of them in Special Education. They would stay in at recess just to have me read to them. I love the pictures of their smiles when I bought books that they could keep. There is a snapshot of one of my favorite students, Trevor, who hated special education at first but when I let him team up with me to teach the others, his face shone such a light. I love his picture.
I’ve got some truly beautiful pictures of the foster daughters I raised. Every one of them had been molested, and I held their hands in the courtrooms when they did what I hadn’t been able to do when I was their age, and when they had bad nights, I let them climb in bed with me. I took them for the counseling they needed, and …they all called me mom.
My own, beautiful daughter grew up to be a success. I have a memory picture of her graduating from boot camp; another as she left home to go to Lackland AFB for four years. Today, she is a licensed counselor, and her wisdom is helping others put better memories in their albums. I like to think she learned something from me that she’s passing on.
I’ve got two beautiful grandchildren; one who is attending the performing arts college in Los Angeles and doing very well, and the other; well, he’s still young enough to be tucked in bed at 8 o’clock every night. I love the pictures I have in my mind of them.
I’ve chased my writing dream and successfully published more than forty works. Every new cover is a great picture in my album. I’ve also passed the craft on to others because I’ve taught writing classes. One of my senior groups managed to get their anthology into print. I can picture their pride.
Where would I be without my memories, every single one of them?