Friday, September 7, 2012

Still Crying: Pieces of Pipe

This post is from a reader named Rae. It's not too late to submit your story as well!

I was spanked as a child. My parents tried to keep it a secret. They kept pieces of pipe hidden in the most obscure corners of our house, and were careful to find excuses for us to miss our swim lessons if we had a suspicious bruise. They warned us not to mention it, saying the government hated Christians and homeschoolers, that we would be taken away from them and put into homes where we would get abused if anyone found out.

Then, when I was twelve, my mom threatened to spank me for the last time.

I responded by threatening to call child and family services. I knew that it was illegal to spank foster children. I was waiting for her reaction, weighing the risks and rewards, ready to calculate whether my odds of not getting abused might not truly be better in foster care.

The pieces of pipe disappeared the next day. They're probably still out in those woods, somewhere.

My parents say that we "turned out fine". That we're "perfectly normal". Maybe my siblings are. I don't know. But I do know that I've been conditioned to expect violence from other people. Especially men.

Like the time that I was so scared at a guy suddenly touching my shoulder that I literally ran away, only to later discover that he had simply been trying to return the wallet that had fallen out of my purse.

Or that time my best friend tried to tickle me, and I couldn't prevent myself from fighting back hard enough to injure her.

Or every time that one of my male friends tried to give me a high-five, and I flinched away, and they just laughed. "What? Ohmigod, I'm not going to hit you, you don't have to duck." Like it's some sort of silly idiosyncrasy.

And I have to wonder if any of those people, any of my friends or classmates or roommates or dates, have ever realized that there's a part of me that's instinct by now that really does think they'll hit me.

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  1. I only wish I hadn't been afraid to call Children's Services, or that the people I dropped hints to and tried to reach out to would have called them. How could so many adults have known and never protected me?

  2. I absolutely identify with the instinctive fear you talk about. My husband learned early on in our relationship that he could NEVER tickle me. He still has to announce his presence verbally when coming up behind me, because even years later I have been known to scream - loudly - if I'm touched on the back or shoulder without warning. Now that I'm pregnant, acquaintances somehow think it's okay to touch my belly without asking permission, but when I see hands reaching out to me, fear sometimes still grips me. At least now I know that it's okay to say "No, please don't touch me." I only wish I had been allowed to learn physical boundaries in a healthy way as a child, and I'm determined to provide a safe space for my own daughter to develop her boundaries.

    I hated being tickled when I was young -- it made me feel angry and helpless, but I couldn't control the involuntary laugh reflex, so everyone assumed that I was enjoying myself. And I was terrified of being accused of "talking back" so I never acknowledged my feelings to my parents in calmer moments, for fear of unwittingly earning a spanking. I've already instituted a ban on tickling our soon-to-be-born daughter. Although my husband thinks I'm over-reacting (since we won't spank, he doesn't see the harm in tickling), I think the dangers of teaching a child that she doesn't have the right to her own bodily space far outweigh the benefits of a few tickle-induced laughs.