Vacant Eyes

Guest post by Shea Clarke

My mother and I have never really had a relationship. Last year I contacted her and asked her to send some of my baby pictures so my kids could compare them to their own. I opened the envelope, immediately disturbed by the images. My heart cried for the hurting child staring back at me. It brought back terribly painful memories.

It also opened a path to healing.

I love photographs. Miniature works of art, each one tells a story in multi-faceted media. When one is the subject or the artist, with one gaze at the masterpiece the observer might recall the moment and see the scene play out like a movie clip in the mind—all from admiring one still shot. Should the shot be a random photo of someone else, one might imagine what the subject was doing/feeling/thinking the second the shutter snapped.

Perhaps I should rephrase myself: I love to capture and look at photographs. There exist only limited photos of myself. I am uncomfortable being the subject due to memories and the stories the images tell.

I view a particular photo of me, completely detached. I see a small, sad kindergartner not quite five, living in a nice house in an affluent Los Angeles neighborhood, attending an expensive private school. I recall people considering her such a lucky little girl.

From the outside peering in, her world looked perfect. But behind closed doors her life was dark and dysfunctional. Far too many things were wrong in that house.  Her parents always made sure that things appeared perfect, from beautifully landscaped yards to furniture and children’s clothing. 

But no one bothered to make sure the children did homework, brushed their teeth, went to bed on time, or other things most parents care about. The most important rules were, “Don’t do anything in public to embarrass us”, and “Whatever goes on inside this house had better stay inside this house”.  Her father’s favorite line when angered was, “I don’t give a damn if you love me. I don’t even care if you like me. But by God, you will respect me!” 

By respect, he meant fear, and he ruled the house with an iron fist. What he said was gospel. It didn’t matter if it made sense, was practical, or was a lie—if he said it, it was so, and no one questioned it without severe consequences. 

Maybe because the girl was afraid of her own shadow and rarely spoke, she was spared the physical abuse her brothers and sister endured. At times they were beaten so badly they couldn’t go to school. They all suffered verbal and emotional abuse, threats, insults, name calling. At least once a day they were told they were regretted mistakes.

While the girl was spared the blows, sadly she wasn’t passed over when it came to sexual abuse. Her father often touched his daughters inappropriately and made vulgar comments. As if that wasn’t enough, she was molested by her much-older half-brother and a college-aged neighbor—all by the time she was old enough for school. At school she was raped by a janitor three different times.  Over the next three years she would be violated by four additional men.  By the age of ten there wasn’t much about sex this child didn’t know or hadn’t experienced.

She constantly thought about suicide. But then, wasn’t the child already dead, murdered long ago by numerous abusers? They all had a part in the death of the child who had once lived within, because when one really looks deep into her eyes it’s clear no child is there at all. There is a shell, but the eyes are vacant, void of any emotion, empty. Just a photo of a child seemingly stripped of her soul.  

All these years later, I know the Lord was watching over me. Even though he didn’t stop those things from happening, He did protect me from much worse, and likely other things had I chosen other paths. 

There is so much more to my story. So much more to me. This is just the beginning of a little girl with vacant eyes longing to grow up and be loved.


 Shea Clarke was born and raised in Los Angeles, California, and after a 10-year detour in Boston now lives in Aiken, South Carolina. Having left behind a life that had played out like a bad Lifetime movie filled with addiction, abuse, and depression, Shea has now been happily married for the past six years to her very own Prince George. She jokes that he was worth the wait after sorting through a great number of toads. Shea is Mom to Kayla (26)  and Marygrace (16)–her princesses here on earth–as well as Olivia (b/d 6-23-07)  and Alessia (born still 11-13-08)–her Angel Babies in Heaven. She is also Grandma to perfect little Lorelei, who doesn’t allow Autism to get in her way. A dedicated canine rescuer, Shea highly esteems all of God’s creatures and loves bringing hope to the hurting.


Read more encouraging stories from brave-hearted women here. Be sure to grab your free copy of inspirational quotes and writing prompts while you’re there. (Look over on the right hand side!)



19 thoughts on “Vacant Eyes

  1. I felt in many ways I was reading my own story. I think this is all one reason i love art, writing, and yes photography so much. Though it is painful to love back and see those moments in time, it is Great to know God was with me and still is each day.

    • I’m sorry that your story mirrors mine. ((hugs)) Yes, It is awesome to know that God is with us. Thank you for your comment. ~Shea 🙂

  2. Shea, your story touched my heart. I look forward to more of your story each week. You are an amazing women of God, full of strength and beauty. Thank you for blessing us with your words.

    • Thank you Kate. It’s been a long road….I am finally starting to feel comfortable in my own skin and after 45 years on this earth I am just starting to believe that maybe I am not a mistake and I do deserve to be here after all. Sharing this entry this week was one of the hardest things I have ever done. Then when I saw how many times it has been read in the first 24 hours it blew my mind and sort of freaked me out a bit. But…then I felt like a million pounds were suddenly lifted off of me. All the years of I guess keeping a lot of it bottled up inside was suddenly gone. Now, It’s finally all over. I can completely and 100% move on.

      • Shea,
        I love how you share your healing here, thank you for blessing me to be along for this moment. Sharing your story is such a blessing to others and I am so proud of you for writing through the fear to do that. You are a miracle, not a mistake!

        Much love to you,

  3. Dearest Shea,
    Thank you for having the courage to share your story with us. I cannot imagine going through that kind of abuse. You did not mention whether you had wished you had died. You know that if you had as a child, you would have returned back into the arms of Jesus.
    You say that you know that God watched over you, but yet He still did nothing to protect you.
    Yes, He could have put a stop to all that was happening to you and your siblings, but for some reason He chose not to do so.
    So, we have to sit and wonder and cry out, “why didn’t You stop this?”
    What your parents did was plain evil and of satan.

    However, you have been redeemed by the blood of the Lamb. He has given you lovely children and a grandchild.. He has given you a loving Prince Charming. He has made you stronger.
    And he has even given you a desire in your heart to go out and rescue those animals that He put here on earth for us to love and take care of.

    Shea, thank you for revealing a part of your story to us. You are an inspiration to others and you will be rewarded for sharing this from the depths of your heart.
    I pray God’s blessings over you and all of your family. I pray for God’s mercy and grace and His protection over you and your family.

    In Christ Alone,
    Pat Eunis ( a sister in Christ Jesus)

    • Hi Pat.,
      Thank you for your comment….No, I never wished my Father would die. Believe it or not, I loved my Dad…I never understood why he did the things he did…my Dad always made sure we had the best of everything. After I moved out (when I was 16) If I ever needed anything, I knew if I was to call him, he would give it to me, and it was that was until the day he died in 2003. When he died, it was very hard for me….I had very confusing and stressful emotions. My mother on the other hand. I have always felt contempt for. I guess it was because she never took care of me, and allowed things to happen to me (and the rest of her kids as well), but she showed love to the other kids, but never to me. My Mother has never expressed any physical, emotional or verbal love for me. She shows no interest in my children (I have her oldest grandchild) and I don’t think she even knows her great-grandchild’s name (her only great-grandchild). So, as far back as I can remember, my Mother is the person that caused me the greatest mental agony, and I wished that she would die on occasion…then I knew that we would have been rescued because my dad wouldn’t have been able to care for us and we would have been able to go live with my aunt where I would have rather been anyway. Where I went and lived for a while when I was 16.

  4. Shea,

    Your story both pierces my heart and comforts it. Might sound odd to onlookers, but as a sister who has walked a similar path (I too had a black-hearted father) I feel the cries of that little girl.

    I thank God for the redemptive work He is doing in your heart. And your willingness to pour into the lives of others in the midst of the journey. Powerful words, my friend. Thank you for sharing.

    Much love,
    Jo Ann

    • Thank you Jo Ann ((hugs))
      I am so Sorry that you have a similar story. ((hugs)) No one should have to live with abuse.
      Child should be loved and cherished. I have made sure that my kids have known that they are loved, treasured, cherished, adored, the center of my universe, my entire being. The are the reason the sun rises and sets in my world…… Even when they make me angry (and right now my youngest is 16, that happens a lot, LOL) she knows that there is nothing she could do that would take my love away, I may not be happy with her at the moment, but I still love her more than anything and would lay my life down for hers. My grown daughter knows that if she needed me I would drop everything to be there by her side in a moments notice. I never felt that security and love. Financial security I felt from my Dad….that is the love I know…I knew that was his way of showing love. If you walked up to him and said, “I love you dad” he would reply, “I do you to” and that was as close to affection as you ever received. You were never told anything first and the words love never came from his mouth. I have never been told I was loved by either of my parents. I vowed my kids would know without a shadow of a doubt they were loved and wanted.

  5. Thank you for sharing your story Shea that tugged at my heart. I could especially relate to your words, “From the outside peering in, her world looked perfect.” Affluence can sure hide the painful truth—we are certainly not immune to abuse and dysfunction. And it didn’t mean our parents loved us more and we were the “lucky” ones. I always love reading a story where I feel connected to one’s journey from a deep part of my own being and I can be part of your rooting section :). Take care!

    • Thank you for your comment JoAnne,
      I’m sorry that you have the ability to relate. ((hugs)) no one should have to. Yes, I think sometimes affluence even makes it easier to hide the truth. Everyone expects “trailer parks” or “the projects” to have “those kinds” of families, but when you live in the “Nice” neighborhoods, in the “right’ zip code no one pays attention when things just don’t seem right. Because no one there could possible be “those kinds” of people. Meanwhile the poor children suffer in silence because no one is paying attention to the signs at the expensive private schools. It’s very sad. I hope that after reading my story, maybe someone might realize a child they know in that situation is trying to give them a signal and will help them.
      Thanks again, I can always use more people rooting in my section. 🙂

    • Thanks Althea,
      It’s taken me a very long time to realize that I don’t have to allow myself to be a victim anymore. That I have a voice and that I have rights. That I don’t have to be scared any more. Learning to allow God to be in control was a huge part in that. It only took me 45 years to grow up. LOL Thanks again for the comment. 🙂

  6. So very powerful, Shea. Thank you for being vulnerable and sharing your story with us. I pray for your healing to bring you complete freedom from the past. God has you in his loving hands!

    • Hi Susan,
      Thank you for your comment. Sharing this was very hard, but it was a step I needed to take towards moving forward. Thank your for your prayers. 🙂

    • Hey Steve,
      It’s taken me a long time….every day is a step forward. Your wife and Kelly and Kathie have been a huge help and finally realizing that I needed to just let God have control. I am finally for the first time in my life, at the point that I honestly think, I am actually going to be OK.
      Thanks for the comment. 🙂

    • Thank you Carol Anne,
      It’s been a long road…and it wasn’t always a choice I opted for. It took me a long time to get to the point where I can honestly say that I am happy to be here. Thanks again for the comment 🙂

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