We are sitting around the supper table. In Northern Minnesota, the evening meal is called supper. And not dinner. We say it’s dinner time when we are eating lunch. I don’t know why. And, I guess this information is unimportant.
We are eating boiled macaroni noodles with hamburger and mushy, stewed tomatoes. It’s all mixed in together. I don’t like tomatoes, so I push them around and wedge them against the edge of my plate. I hunt for the macaroni first. And the hamburger after that. This is rather an ill thought out plan because, in this house, we must always clean our plate. So, despite my dislike of tomatoes, I will still have to eat them. And now without the macaroni or hamburger to help cover their yuck. I decide I am going to swallow large gulps of milk after I spoon in the tomatoes. Maybe that will help.
My cousin is here. He lives on a farm just up the road. He is standing in the kitchen. Over by the countertops. Next to the microwave. He is waiting there while we finish. My dad asked him if he would like to sit down and join us, but he said no because he already ate. I am not sure why he is here. Maybe to help my dad. Or to do something with my older brother.
There is a basket next to the microwave on the counter. It’s filled with “junk.” The junk is mostly stuff that comes from people’s pockets, like pennies and match books and Chapstick tubes and pieces of string. My cousin is mindlessly digging in the basket as he is standing there. I can hear the coins clinking against one another as he thumbs through them. In that moment, I don’t know why I say it. But I do. I think it’s because I am six years old and trying to be funny. I don’t mean any harm. But I say it. “Whatcha doin’ over there? Stealin’?”
Are you ready? Here it comes.
A hot flash of light. At the corner of my eye. My dad yells. “COLLEEN!!” Loudly. In his terrible, scary voice. In that same flash of light. It strikes. The lightning. He clobbers me. With his big hand. Across my head. Dizzy. The mean voice. “Don’t you ever say that again!” At the table. Stillness. Silence. Everyone looks down. Staring. At their plates. Paralyzed. Afraid. Me. Shaking. With terror. I stammer out the words. “I’m sorry.” He is looking at me. With those cold, hard eyes. In that crossed over place. That land of monsters and darkness and terrible screams and falling through the black sky forever and ever. A burning hot lump. Swelling. Inside my throat. Choking me. Hot tears. Clouding my eyes. The fear. The strongest. Always the strongest! Knocking my heart around. In my chest. Throwing it. With brute force. Against my ribs. Against my sternum.
My mind. Reeling. Is it over? Is it over? Please, let it be over. Is another blow coming? To knock me out of my chair? To let loose my bladder? To take away my breath? To steal all the light from the room?
Is it over?
I don’t remember what happens after that. It’s all fuzzy. In my mind. Like it is for many of these instances.
But I ask myself…
How did we move on in this moment? And the many moments like it? Did we choke down our food in silence and clear our plates? Did we resume conversation and pretend like nothing happened? Did we quietly disappear when our dad turned his head? How did we steal away from the fear? And the pain? Did we hide in the corner and cover our heads? Did we leave our bodies? And float into space? Did we grow wings and take flight? Did we dig a hole and burrow into the ground? Did we sneak off in the night and get lost in the darkness? Did we scream at the sky until our lungs burned red with fire? Did we walk off toward the horizon? Did we run? And run? And run? And run and run?
—Colleen, Child Abuse Survivor
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