Thoughts on My Childhood

Reading a book on incest survivors which says we need to accept that childhood is gone, unregainable, and then work on our adult abilities to trust, feel childlike pleasure, all the stuff we should have had a chance to learn earlier. Something inside me yells, "No! I still a child" in a pre-schooler's little voice. But I'm twenty-three years old. I'm working on a master's degree. (That latter I can accept, but even this young I tend to flinch at the thought of my own age. I simply cannot be twenty-three years old yet!)

I remember childhood. I read until I got headaches; I carried ten books out of the public library every week, to say nothing of school libraries, the books in teachers' classrooms, and the few I actually got to own. My mom forbade her parents to buy me books for presents, and used "You can't read for an hour" as punishment. One time it went up to a week; I think I had broken a vase.

I made up my own stories too. I was often exasperated with my playmates because the stories they acted out with their dolls or among the group of us playing just rehashed the plots of movies or cartoon shows. But then, there were recurring themes in my stories too. Perhaps they were all just influenced by the fairy-tale and folklore books from the school library. I read them voraciously once they finally said in second grade that we could graduate from picture books. Or maybe I liked the fairy tales because they resonated with my experience.

The usual theme was someone with magic powers or royal say-so, or occasionally a group who could rule by force of numbers, keeping a girl or young woman captive, using her as a slave to do their menial work, and doing stuff to her I didn't know yet was sexual, or maybe I did. It's difficult to assign dates to versions of this. I have two half-finished versions written down, dating from ages 10 and around 12. It's odd to see that earlier one written there in my copy of Dr. Seuss's My Book About Me. Both half-finished because even then I knew this stuff was bad and secret, but I remember how the stories always ended.

I remember the dolls, too. Just like I didn't finish the stories because someone else might read them, I didn't play this way with my friends, but I remember the dolls. One tied up with purple yarn, so tightly it took scissors to get most of the yarn off, and even then I couldn't wedge a blade under the loop around her neck, so it stayed on. Dolls "punished" by being stood naked in the display boxes they came in, along the streets of the doll city. Dressing the Barbie dolls in the most revealing clothes possible -- not the merely clingy outfits that are standard Barbie issue, but things like a wrap-around skirt positioned so that in the front it was opened to the waist. Barbie dolls were also fun to tie up because their arms and legs bent.

I remember rubbing lotion on Mom's back. I hated it, her lying on a towel on her bed, just out of her bath, I think another towel over her hips, and me rubbing in that lotion until it was all rubbed into her skin, and me hurrying into the bathroom to get the grease of the lotion off the sides of my fingers where it hadn't rubbed off on her. I don't remember rubbing anything except her back; but how many late-elementary/early middle school girls have to give their parents back massages?

I remember trying to avoid going to the bathroom after she had bathed me, because the stream of urine burned so much coming out. I don't know enough to know if this is normal! (Comments?)

And of course, I remember Mom and Grandmother going out shopping and leaving me with Granddaddy. I cloistered myself in a locked room till they returned, trying to make sure Granddaddy was safely outside mowing the grass before I even dared to make a run to the bathroom down the hall.

I remember fear and guilt and secrecy. Secrecy I'm breaking here, though not to those who it would really matter to tell. The others are still with me. No wonder it doesn't really feel like my childhood has ended. I wonder if my Mom's childhood was the same, and if she ever accepted that it's ended?

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