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First Memory

First Memory                                                              page 1

I awake, careful not to let my breathing change.  Survival tactic. I don’t want to give any signs that I have awakened.  I am so much safer if they think that I am sleeping.  They are less apt to approach me.  But, I am awake…alert…tense, in defense.  Somehow, in my intuitive self, I know one of them is nearby somewhere, approaching my vicinity.  My ability to survive in this hell depends on my knowing, on my alertness, beyond physical cues.  I must stay focused and take care of me. I know it.  Even my body knows it.  I sleep lightly.  Any perception that warns of threat pulls me from sleep instantly into a hyperalert, focused, and, yet, terrified, state.  My whole being is ready—ready to attempt one more time to survive invasion. 

I wait, listening with body and soul, taking long, deep, slow, silent breaths in and out through my mouth. Long, deep, slow, silent mouth breathing is a  difficult tactic to perform while afraid; the more harmful the situation perceived, the more rapid the heartbeat, as the body adapts for battle or flight.  But, I had to be stronger than my body’s programmed reactions.   I had learned that physical “facts” of body function had to be irrelevant to my focus.  I had to survive by drawing on a different plane of awareness.  Long, deep, slow, silent mouth breathing was essential to avoid detection so I had learned to force it…I could push my body into full alert and still keep my heartbeat slow enough that long, deep, slow, silent breaths for long periods of time, even in terror, were possible.

I had learned…long ago…but, right now, I didn’t think at all about any of this.  Right now, I pushed myself into this other realm, this strengthening realm, not thinking, not even knowing or having any inkling of how very untypical it was for a tiny little preschool aged girl to live this way.  I didn’t think.   I didn’t know and wouldn’t know safety in a so-called human world for many years.  I didn’t think…not now.   I listened, from deep within.

I sighed relief, silently, and even emotionally, inside myself.  As long as I feigned sleep, I was probably safe now.  it was the “Watch” coming through, checking on us and I could sense that I was probably safe enough for now.  the footsteps that I would soon hear would not be heavy nor far apart.  Ah, yes, there was rustling, a sound to confirm…this was a woman, shorter legs than a man, starched skirts, never silent.  A woman usually didn’t find a little girl restrained,

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spread-eagled on a bed in cheap plaster even the slightest bit enticing.  Some even took a moment or two to remember compassion—until the environment reminded them to shut down—this was strictly business and hearts were unprofessional in their world.  Anyway, a woman on watch…

I sighed relief.  Isolation from this earthly human world, my only protection, depended upon my ability to feign sleep when she approached to check on me.  I waited, breathing slowly through my mouth; my heart beat slowly, easily, on its own.  Shortly, I heard her stop at the foot of the bed, checking me over.  I centered deep within myself, breathing slowly though my mouth while totally relaxed throughout every muscle and nerve.  In case she touched me, it was imperative that she felt no tensenesss or the defense provided by my deception would be forfeited.  If she knew that I deceived her, she could tell others.

I lay still,  trying to sense if she were suspicious.  She seemed to be standing there forever!  Finally, she raised the huge metal flashlight to make the routine thirty second invasive study of my eyelids.  In this place, even light was aggressive…but, I was not concerned.  Sudden, overwhelming flashlight studies of eyelids were routine, happening to each of us at least four times a night.  I was not concerned, in fact, I smiled inside myself.  Long ago, I had perfected the art of keeping my eyelids relaxed and still under long or short, sudden or anticipated, flashlight scrutiny.  I wondered why they did this to us, though…what  behaviors were little kids imprisoned in plaster going to do in the night, when we  could not even move?!  (Maybe they did it, just because they could, I reasoned). 

Anyway, I was good at surviving here, in this life determined and created for me by people and I was proud of myself for it.  I could even be startled by a sudden flashlight, all the while never flinching or allowing my face  to break from a “deep sleep” image…yet, of course, wide awake, alert, breathing deeply, slowly, long, slow breaths through my mouth, body so relaxed.

For now, all was well.  Just routine.  Satisfied, she moved on, policing other children.  For a while,  they would leave me.  I could count on an hour  to two of sleep before I’d be disturbed

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again…probably.  At least I hoped that I could…unless…unless…unless what, I never knew.  I never understood what drew them out amongst us off their routine schedule.   I only knew that sometimes, when we least expected it, there they were, AGAIN.  Never safe.  No one here was ever truly safe.  Not ever.  I sighed, realizing that I couldn’t waste my time, thinking about that now.  For now, they were gone.  I relaxed deeper, bringing on self-trained, deeper relaxation.   They were gone.  I sighed relief.  For now, they were gone.  For many years, the absence of human beings would be my definition of comfort and safety. 

For now, I would use this time to deeply rest.  I would turn myself back into my centered world, deeply relax and let myself be lowered back into sleep, but only light sleep, always, with some part of my brain ever conscious, ever on guard, ever preparing to warn me at their approach.   Light sleep.

Light sleep was important.  I hated it when I lost control of my sleep, when against my will, deep, vulnerable sleep took me over.  Luckily, it didn’t happen often, usually only when long, hard days of pain had broken their spell or when I was still drugged from “exploratory, teaching surgery”, to help physicians learn skills they would use to help other “whole” people, not people like us.  Rarely, but occasionally, despite all efforts and will, it would happen unexpectantly.  I would sleep, deeply.  These were times when my self-induced relaxation states were insufficient for the rest I needed.  Still, so against my will.  I hated it.

Tonight was one of those nights. How could I know, as I let myself drift off into what I hoped was controlled light sleep, that deep sleep would catch me and hold me in its enticing, but unprotected and vulnerable reverie.  I hated deep sleep.  I became so defenseless.  I did not awaken to gather myself before they approached; thus ddeep sleep left me both physically and emotionally vulnerable.  I hated it. 

Tonight was one of those nights.  She left.  I drifted off into sleep…deep sleep.

My mind registered it first.  My mind instantly roused itself from deep sleep.  My mind responded even before my body did.  My mind knew.  My mind felt.  Invasion.  I awakened

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inwardly, though outwardly no one could know.  Body relaxed and still.  Breath slow, deep, even.  Breathing through my mouth.  Face relaxed.  Eyelids unmoving, seemingly registering nothing.  Mind, crystal clear and alert…

I had slept too hard, too deeply.  This had happened too many times before.  I had slept too hard.  My mind did not awaken at the slightest hint of approach.  I had no  time to gather my defenses of self or body.   Now I paid for it.  Paid for it by awakening to shock, rather than defenses, as he forcefully asserting familiar dominion into the valley between my legs.  I hated it…hated waking up in shock, unprepared.

No one knew.  Who could I tell?  Who would protect me…any of us…late at night if he or they were angry?  Adults got angry if children complained or cried.   Children should be seen and not heard.  It was not safe to talk.  I didn’t even try to tell.  Who could I trust?  As I learned many years later, a psychologist, Abraham Maslow, who also suffered as a child, said that trust is nothing more than a fairy tale word to a child who has never known safety.  Later I learned, that one has to have a context for a word to have meaning.  Trust and safety had no meaning for me…for any of us considered too disabled to matter, to be fully human.

For now, I didn’t know these things.   I was little.  I had learned some  things though.  I had learned that self control kept me alive.  I had learned to lay still no matter what anyone did or how it hurt, just as my parents and adult professionals had taught me.  I was a child of pain.

Body relaxed.  Breath slow and deep.  Breathing through my mouth.  Face relaxed under his flashlight’s scrutiny, as he searched for signs of some emotion.  Eyelids unmoving.  Perfectly, so perfectly still, yet, all the while, so alert, so tense, so hurt, so afraid.  What could I do but hope and will that I would somehow be alright if he just got bored before he hurt me too much?

  My strategy was simple.  I knew he was most likely to get bored with me if I continued to “sleep”.  He would be more apt to quit or go on to someone else.  It pleased him more to invade a  child who responded with fear, pain…anything, than one  who “slept” as if she were dead. 

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Yes, those children were hurt worse, but, not me.  I could survive.  Some years later, in adolescence, I would experience periods of depression and survivor guilt as I matured enough to realize that my will to survive increased the victimization of others who may have been spirit-broken by their lives in here.  Ahhh, but right now, I was a little child, and as a little child, I had learned and only knew one way to survive…I had learned to feel nothing.  To feel nothing…

Or, so it appeared.  If feigning sleep and feeling nothing made him want to leave my body, than I would feign sleep and feel nothing—on the outside.  On the outside….but on the inside…on the inside…how do I express what I felt on the inside of my body, my mind, my soul?  The pain and fear I learned to feel on the inside of my boy, mind, and soul was of an intensity that could then, and still can now, nearly consume me in trembling terror, nausea, and unfathomable grief.  I learned to feel so afraid of all humans for so many years that at times I was sure I would die from that fear.  Only something deeper than humans could reach sustained me.   I grieved those who had no intimacy with this deeper self, and whose souls broke without knowing.  I have seen such human death around me all of my life, since then, and have dedicated my life to trying to help each person find that wellspring of life within them, regardless of situation or experience.  I do so, today, as I write this.

Unfathomable.  Undescribable to those who have not experienced…for those who have, no description is necessary.  They know.  Here I was, fighting not to drown of psychic terror and soul damage, but, he never saw.  No one did.  Ever. They may have seen a withdrawn child who they thought was beyond human responding, or as some said, was too retarded or too crippled or too handicapped, to care or love, but they never truly saw.  Never.  They knew the problem to be some inborn inhumanness in me, as evidenced by my clubbed feet so they never needed to see.  Never.  Who would have wanted to really see?  They had been trained, professionals and parents…educated.  They knew what to believe in and it was not me…it was not any of us.

Now, though, I concentrated on what I knew.   I had to try to keep from being hurt worse…so, body relaxed and still.   Breath slow and deep, breathing through my mouth.  Face in peaceful sleep.  Eyelids still. Waiting, hoping, willing that he would soon be gone.

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Tonight, one more time, my strategy worked.  Sighing, he removed himself roughly, as if in angry regret, and turned the flashlight from my face.  Less than triumphantly, he walked away.  Quietly now, oh, so quietly, I could let the feelings of terror and relief reverberate through me.  This time was mine.  Quietly, oh, so quietly, I could lay, tears flowing in release, body trembling, breathing through my nausea as my lower abdomen fought back in traumatic spasms of pain.  No more sleep tonight.  He was on duty and I was on his mind.

Yet, I was grateful.  Morning would come.  It always did.  I could wait.  Maybe he wouldn’t come back tonight.  Maybe, if I were lucky, it would be she, not he, who came by at first light with rectal thermometers.  Maybe.  If I were lucky….if I were lucky…If not, well, it wouldn’t be too bad.  I knew I could survive anything he did in the early morning because he was always in a hurry to meet his schedule…it wouldn’t be too bad.  Tonight was almost over and his shift would last not many more nights.  Morning would come.  I would survive.

Morning.  There would be breakfast and shift change.  Some of the other children could not eat after a night with one of the adults that hurt us, and there were quite a few, but it didn’t affect me.  Breakfast was proof that his shift was over and he was gone.  For that, at least, I could be grateful and look forward to breakfast and a new day.  And, besides, breakfast was mealtime and mealtimes were usually the only times in my life when people came near without trying to hurt me…they had to bring and pick up the food tray.

I could wait.  Breakfast would come. Night would end.  No matter how intense hell can be, I had already learned, it will end.  It would always end.  It always will.  As an adult, many years later, when persons might tell me their horror stories, I could always hug them, saying, “Good wins.”  Evil may seem all-consuming but there is a Greater Truth…Go(o)d wins.  Sometimes, if I were gentle and patient enough, they could learn to see the Light beyond the hell. Go(o)d wins. For now, I could only grit my teeth and hold on to that Fact.  Of course, it was and is true that some days, some months, some years, for any of us were sheer hell,  but not all moments.  Right then and there, in this moment, I could remember that Fact.

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I turned my mind away from hell and thought about how good some moments were.  There were even some times when my  mother would come and I would smile and try to be nice so she would have a good time and not leave me here one more night.  I would smile and try to be nice, hoping she would decide to take me to her “home”.  I would try to show her that I was worth it, but, always, no matter what I did, eventually he, my father (another man), would take her arm and say, “That’s it, Jane.  Come on now, it’s time to go.”  They would leave and I would scream, cry for them to turn back for me but they could not.  A culture I did not understand had convinced them that the only loving thing they could do for me, for themselves, was to leave me.

There were other special times, even special days…the days when they left me alone, as if forgotten.   Those were truly the best days of my life.  Nothing was better than being forgotten or ignored by every person.   I could speak with my Spirit and calm my Soul.  What a special treat that was…I’d do anything for it…never cry to empty my bowels or bladder (wait until shift change when they had to come by anyway)…never cry for water.  Just lay perfectly still in my plaster body cast restraints, watching the ceiling.  All day.   Quietness within.  Forgotten.  Ignored.  Abandoned.  The only hell being the pain in my body and the sores on my body.  The only horror being the sounds of other children screaming as they came up agendaized into “treatment” schedules.  But that wasn’t too bad; I could shut that out when I went deep inside.  I had learned.  I had to survive.  This was the “home” I had been given.  I could not even imagine a life wherein no one screamed in pain, shock, rage, or horror.  Could not even imagine….

Oh, well, morning would come.  I could wait.  And, maybe, tomorrow would be one of those special days.  Maybe my mother would come.  Maybe  she would want me and take me to her “home”.  Maybe…

Until then I would try to keep control…



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Turning my head sideways so the tears did not fall into my ears, I surveyed my shadowed grey room, trying to find something to concentrate on that would pull my mind off my terror, my trembling, painful body and the slow passing of this night.   Morning would come.  Hell would end.  I knew that for sure.  I could wait.  I could.  I was strong.  I had to believe that I could survive.  I shook in determination, seeing clearly, but never understanding the reality of my child-life.  There was no human to help me…on person to protect me…no person who wanted to see the harm being done to me, to so many everywhere in society….no one to understand.  I was tortured by a humanity that didn’t even believe that children warranted pain medications, supposedly because children, “retarded” and “defected” people, all sorts of different people, weren’t even human enough to feel “real” pain.

I saw my world clearly.  I was a physically, and supposedly, intellectually, unacceptable child in an ignorant, discriminating, human culture that had lost heart.  They could not help.  They could not see.  They could not feel.  Yet, I was perceived as the defective, not them.  I could not reach them.  But I was strong.  I believed I would survive.  I could wait.  I knew strength inside to sustain me. I could wait. I knew I could…because…I had to.

Morning would come, with Light always returning.  I smiled.  I rested, calmly, gently, within myself, yet always alert…