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!)