I believe I’ve survived baby incest.
You wonder how I could remember something that happened to me before I could walk or talk. I wonder, too. I doubt myself.
I come from a crazy family. Just how crazy we were may never have been known to me if my aunt and uncle had not committed suicide when I was 10. Their children were 10, 8, 5 and 2.
This was not my first clue that I come from crazy people, but at least it was verifiable. It was not every day tragedy happened to middle-class people in a small town in the 1960s. It was unthinkable. And it had happened, right here, to us. To my cousins, now orphans. To my mother and father when my mother stepped into the breach and didn’t have a clue. To my sisters and me when our needs were dwarfed by the needs of my traumatized cousins.
I tell you my family story to sketch in the background, though, in truth, children abandoned by suicide can hardly be background, even to baby incest. No, I’m here to tell you that abandonment by suicide hardwires children with lifelong, self-destructive behaviors that can make suicide seem sane.
One of my cousins says she has been emotionally rock-climbing her whole life. She has been suicidal and knows that she might be again. She knows she has Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and when she is trapped in a flashback. She knows how to get herself back into the present and reassure herself that she is safe. I would not be surprised if one day I picked up the phone to learn that one of my cousins had committed suicide.
Until last week, I would have said the same about me. There have been too many depressive episodes and breakdowns, too many years of intractable, chronic pain. Too many days of spiraling into worthlessness for me to pronounce myself healed, even though I am getting better all the time.
The good news is that I think I left a huge piece of my trauma on my massage therapist’s table last week. The bad news is that I relived almost being choked to death by a penis forced down my throat. I didn’t see it coming; not when I was a baby and not last week.
Maybe it’s too soon to say, but consciously surviving the choking, gagging and thrashing left me more whole than I have ever felt. I feel proud of having survived. I should be passing out cigars! Hey, what a baby I was! Can you imagine??? And I survived!!!
I have studied my alleged abuser’s psychology and my family’s pathology and child abuse and still, in the days following the reliving, I was reeling with why, why, why. And then I had a flash of awful insight: A baby cannot talk. Baby cannot tell.
I can’t prove that it happened. I can’t prove that it was my father or my grandfather or an uncle or a friend of the family. I know that there was plenty of opportunity. I have spent years gathering first-person narratives about my family and my childhood. Ours was a family overflowing with trauma, abandonment and abuse. There are witnesses to neglect, regular violent outbursts, emotional cruelty. My sisters and my cousins and I agree that we survived something no child should ever know, and yet I am the only one who believes incest was part of the package deal.
Some years ago I made a deal with myself that if I did not have my act together by the time I was 55, I would cash it in. Lately I’ve been thinking that I’ll outlive my mother and my oldest sister. My mother died of cancer at age 54 and my sister died of diabetes at age 53. I think they were played out and had had enough. I’m 52 and feeling better every day.
Tomorrow I will wake up as I do every day, feeling sad, worthless, ashamed of existing. I will look at the various pieces of incest art I made about 10 years ago. I will touch them. I will cry a little, I will shake my head in disbelief. Then I will take my anti-depressants and begin reminding myself that it is not I who should feel shame. It’s emotional rock-climbing every day.
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