At an early age, I began collecting odd things like rocks, a bag of dirt, a lock of hair, a cuff-link, or anything that I thought would provide proof of my existence. I hid these things in safe places all over my room. I didn’t keep too many of them in one place for fear that someone would find my cache and I would lose my whole collection.
I thought these artifacts could prove where I was, what was happening to me, and who was with me. In my mind, these were my smoking guns. I was already trying to gain control over my young life and circumstances. I couldn’t have known that years later, these would be precious breadcrumbs for me to follow as I began recovering my repressed childhood memories.
I was living in a world of secrets. I was born into a family with a strong European bloodline. I was indoctrinated into the family rules at a very young age, at the hands of my grandparents, uncle, aunt, and father. The secrets involved inter-generational abuse, incest, and seasonal secret society rituals.
At a very early age, I’d learned to disconnect from myself and either watch what was happening to me from afar or try to project the pain outside of my body. When I was abused at night, I would find a window in the bedroom and imagine the house next door on fire. I saw the flames shooting up the sides of the house in vivid orange and red; the heat and the spiky flames consuming the house. I found a way to externalize and dissociate from the pain and humiliation.
That fire raged outside my window most nights until we moved to Sheridan the summer I was nine. That fire and my dream of living alone on the lake were my golden thread of survival. That thread kept the pieces of my shattered soul together and gave me the strength I needed to wake up and face another day. My raging fires were imaginary, but there were countless times in my young years that I had witnessed real and frightening rituals. These took place in the fall and spring with a group of six men, five others and my father.
They took place in temple basements, houses, or the woods and once, even in a mausoleum. They were held in the fall and spring of each year around full moons or holidays. They seemed very elaborate in my young mind. The men were dressed in robes, with candles burning and someone holding a staff with an ornate gold medallion on the top. In shadows cast by the candles, they chanted, sometimes handled snakes, and engaged in ritualistic child abuse.
The fall rituals were held in the woods. I may have been taken to the woods before the age of seven, but that year was a turning point for me. I began to understand how dire my situation was becoming. It was a sunny but cool autumn day with brightly colored leaves on the trees. I was sitting next to a teenage girl who told me her name was Jennifer. She looked beautiful to me, with long blond hair that would blow back from her face with the wind. She was wearing a plaid shirt and jeans. She looked to me like a free spirit who belonged at a folk concert singing and dancing, but instead, she was on edge. Just like me, she was a frightened child watching the men in the clearing.
Without warning, Jennifer got up and started running onto the trails to the left of us. My only thought was to run after her. She veered to the right and I stayed straight. From the sounds of leaves crunching behind me, I knew someone was closing in on me. Before I had time to think, one of the men caught up with me, grabbing me from behind.
He pulled me along the path to meet up with the others who had run after Jennifer. I saw the men standing in a semi-circle. Jennifer was on the ground in front of them. She was lying quiet and still, her pretty blond hair covering her eyes. I don’t know how long I stood there but I do remember one of the men saying to me, “This is what happens to girls who run away.” As a man led me away from the clearing, I remember wishing that I could have pushed Jennifer’s hair away from her face. I didn’t want her pretty hair to be so messy in front of those men, and I wondered how could she see what was happening to her, with her hair over her eyes.
That thought and her image haunted me into my adulthood. I don’t know for sure what happened to Jennifer that day. She may have just been knocked out or something more sinister may have befallen her. The men weren’t done with their rituals for the day. They built a fire, carried in a tiny goat that made sounds like a baby, cut its throat and did more ceremony. I remember watching the men with the smoke rising and the smell of burning animal flesh and blood. I remember feeling terrified. Everything seemed to happen so fast that day. What horrified me was that Jennifer was lying in a clearing in the woods, and the men never stopped their perverse festivities.
A few days after the incident in the woods, I took the chance to stray from the safety of my backyard. I was sitting on my neighbor’s front steps looking at a little mirror with a red plastic case. I looked up and saw my mother storming down the street yelling at me. I panicked when I saw her, dropped the mirror and ran; but not before I heard it shatter on the concrete. My mother shrieked at me as she followed me back to our house. She came in and stood in the kitchen with my father, and I lost it. I started screaming at them that I knew what happened in the woods and that they had killed Jennifer.
My parents became enraged. My mother started toward me and I instinctively turned to run down the two steps leading to the back door, not thinking about the basement steps to the right of me. I thought I felt a push and the gut-wrenching surprise of losing my balance and falling down the basement stairs. I grabbed the railing to stop myself and felt my hip come down hard as I tugged in the other direction to stop my fall. I groped my way to the bottom of the stairs, hurt and stunned only to look up to see my parents standing on the steps.
My father looked down at me and said, “You are dead to us, and you will never talk about what happened the other day.” I was in pain, confused and terrified but I knew they were serious. They had looks of utter disgust on their faces. I vowed to myself that I would never talk about what happened in the woods and I believed I was dead to them. After what I had witnessed in those woods, I had every reason to believe anything they said. I only was seven years old.
Excerpt from Untangled, A Story of Resilience, Courage, and Triumph
Thank you for reading my memoir, Untangled, A Story of Resilience, Courage, and Triumph