When I was a little girl, I was hopelessly trapped in a state of complete dependence upon two often violently abusive, egocentric adults. I also had two sisters, both of whom lived with us, who were equally as trapped. I made my first attempt at permanent escape 12 years ago, and was repeatedly drawn back in to the poorly enacted drama of never-ending guilt trips, grudges, poverty of interpersonal skill, passive aggression, avoidance of eye contact, the welling up of crocodile tears, strangely compartmentalized emotions, and defective coping strategies. I had myself convinced that leaving the confinement of those four walls, and being on the other side of the door rather than sealed inside with all the dysfunction, was enough. Then I thought that leaving a mystery where there was once a certainty of my physical location would provide the escape that I thought I would find in walking away. When that wasn’t enough, I tried moving to the other side of the Rockies. And when even that wasn’t the escape I had planned — when the people I was trying to escape were once again sitting across the booth from me, knocking at my front door and trying to force me to hug them, sending me tempered written messages for the first time in nearly a decade (without losing so much as a degree of heat) — I knew instantly that I needed a much more drastic, permanent escape, or I would never know peace within myself.
It’s now been 3 years of silence. I have begun to find what I seek, and have actually known the very real sensation of peace within myself. I feel like I have a second chance at life—like I have been reborn. I feel like I am, in a way, 3 years old again. I am getting to know myself anew. I know that if my family ever knew what it is to love someone, that this is what they would have wanted for me, even despite the pain it cost them. I also know that my family has never known what it is to love someone. They have instead only known what it is to confine someone. To inflict the very wound upon each other that they each bear from someone else. To take back their power by taking it from someone weaker than them. But I am no longer weaker than them. We all know it. My silence betrays the many barriers erected by the secrets I have kept, which are not my shame to bear.
One year after I began this journey, I arrived at a place within myself for which I had been searching for 8 years, though I would not have known I had been searching at all, were it not for a national scandal emerging in the limelight with a fraudulent identification of an otherwise irrelevant man. But that man had done something to his 3-year-old boy. Something like what I had experienced first-hand when I was a 3-year-old girl (and that I vividly recall). That memory suddenly welled up within my body at the time, and grabbed me by the throat while that man involved me in abusing his boy. That memory was the reason I didn’t have the coping skills to make sense of what to do about it or who to tell — because when it was happening to me many years previous, I couldn’t speak for myself then and no one was willing to be my voice. And when that man phoned me out of the blue and demanded in his most intimidating voice that I remove his photo from my blog, he must have known exactly who he sounds like. He must have known he sounded like the man who did it to me so many years earlier. The entire sum of that lifetime of abuse caught up with me at once—again—and much of it was the collective trauma of being an involuntary witness, which buries my own experiences under layers of chronic mental illness and infrequent, fragmented memories.
Without the sensation of confinement with my abusers (and all the family members complicit in their denial) clouding my vision even from hundreds of miles away, I knew the time had come to give that little boy a voice. It wasn’t going to be too late for him, like I thought it was for me. There was still time. And I did at last what needed to be done—not for me, as my abusers would have done for themselves, but for that little boy—without regard for how painful and taxing it would be for me to do it. What I did not expect would happen, was that when I made the effort to give a voice to that little boy, the little girl that once was me received a voice too. And I don’t mean that I initiated criminal proceedings against one or more of my abusers, even though I have every right to do so until the day they die. I mean that she is not voiceless any more. The day I entered the video- and audio-recording room constructed of concrete walls and gave my statement as a witness to what that little boy had been subjected to, I drew on that 3-year-old girl’s strength within me to speak. I gave her a voice as I gave a voice to that little boy. I just wouldn’t fully realize it for another two years.
And then I met a woman, by nearly improbable chance, who is about my mother’s age (a detail that has escaped me until the moment I found myself writing this sentence). And within weeks of meeting this woman and bonding with her as though we have known each other my whole life, tragedy hit close to her home. As she has revealed more and more details to me that I dare not repeat to a single other person—because that is her story to tell, not mine—it has become clearer to me that she was immediately and intimately involved in the aftermath of a small child’s very suspicious death. And this child, just 2 years old, was close to her.
As she disclosed details of her experience giving her statement that night, I quickly recognized and expressed to her the things the police wouldn’t have told her they were doing to manipulate her state of mind, specifically to prevent a potentially catastrophic polarizing of her feelings towards particular people of interest, until they had thoroughly obtained what they needed from her to further their investigation. These are things I learned during the wake of that national scandal and my own dealings with authorities through it — which endured, to my surprise, for over a year. Those lessons were burned even deeper into me when I was nearly murdered and my assailant was brought up on a simple assault charge, which was dropped because of a failure on the part of the officers who arrived at the scene to record an accurate statement from me once they finally decided to start recording.
What I am referring to is how authorities prevent emotional contamination of their witnesses during an investigation so sensitive as the circumstances surrounding the immediately suspect death of a 2-year-old girl. Only I sensed that the most important and reliable witness to the loss of this little girl’s life didn’t see it that way. I sensed that she saw it as a failure of her character. And I knew the police would never explain this to her to put her heart at ease, even now that it’s been safe to do so for longer than it hasn’t. I know this because I had to figure it out myself. No matter how compassionate a law enforcement officer appears to be, if they have so much as an ounce of professional integrity, it will almost always be as a means to arrive at some other end (either already known or anticipated). Methodical manipulation of every conceivable vulnerability of the human psyche for the greatest possible benefit to the greatest number of people is the career they have chosen and trained for. Act-utilitarianism is their profession’s code of ethics despite the fact that the ideology they serve attempts to be rule-utilitarian by its nature. This is largely why so many abuse survivors wait so long to dare to trust them at all, if they ever make that leap before it’s too late. So many of us are hypervigilant to master manipulators.
And this is where our conversation arrived at the words, “too little, too late”. Now looking back as a witness to a life so short that it seems unbearable to think of what could have possibly motivated any act of violence or neglect towards such an innocent and defenceless little girl, this woman now grapples with a sense of failure connected to her voice. I know this sensation. It was tearing me up inside when I found two confidants with which to share what I had witnessed that involved a 3-year-old boy and his father (my “confidants” disclosed what I had told them in privacy to others, and the real details of what that little boy went through became a pillar of the community’s gossip mill — and yet, still no one spoke for him). So I spoke from the pain of that familiar place, and I told her what a profound gift she has given that little girl. It is a gift that neither of us received yet each needed when we were small enough to fit in her shoes. I told her that she is the most courageous person that little girl knew. I know this, because I have been surrounded by cowards all my life. And she knows this too, because she has experienced the same. Too little would have been saying nothing at all. Too late would have been never speaking.
And as I said these words, I began to feel very emotional. My heart filled with grief and I began crying. Not because I knew that little girl (because I did not), but because I know the 2-year-old girl I once was. Rather than the familiar sense of displaced loss I have felt my whole life—when I learn of someone I never knew in the very same moment as I learn of the loss of their life—I felt (and worked through) a genuine sense of grief. But I also felt a sense of healing through this experience that I have been searching for, and that I have been on a journey towards for 3 years. This feeling, painful and strenuous, is a gift of unquantifiable worth to the 2-year-old girl I once was. Far from too little, or too late.