I was reminiscing with my friend — an old friend — from back when the 70s weren’t polyester nostalgic, but a flesh and blood, corduroy reality. We were kids back then, looking in amazement toward the fall when we would be juniors in high school. That summer night a zillion years ago, I hopped on my Schwinn 10-speed and rode back to my safe, secure home. She walked back into her hell at the house on the corner.
I didn’t know her uncle was a notorious sexual predator, even hitting her amongst his scores of victims. I didn’t know her father covered up for him for so long. I didn’t know about her mother’s insanity. My friend was beaten down, literally and figuratively. In the name of things supposedly holy, she was let down by her older sisters, kicked by her mother, all the while being ignored by her father, or worse.
As the unspeakable atrocities mounted, the years slowly passed. She fast-forwarded with me through some of the more mundane difficulties, pausing though, at the point when — upon the birth of her first lovely, amazing daughter — she received a fatherly phone call pressing her to have a nurse baptize her healthy child in case it suddenly died before a real sacrament could take place. Happy birthday, welcome to crazy town. Thanks grandpa!
I have to stop this story right here. Because that’s not exactly how our conversation progressed. Before I heard what she had to say about the birth, I interrupted her. “I don’t know what you’re going to tell me,” I said, “but from what I’ve been hearing so far, it’s not going to be pretty.”
And then I gave her an alternate narrative. “This is what should have happened when your first daughter was born.”
“Before you went into the hospital, your dad was at your place, massaging your shoulders and telling you stories about when you, yourself, were born. At the hospital he was waiting right outside of the delivery room, staying late into the night. The next morning he showed up with your favorite coffee (but decaffeinated, for now). He scooped up your bouncing bundle of joy and said, ‘Sweetheart, you get some sleep; I’ll just walk around cradling her in my supportive arms and look forever into her bright, incredible eyes.’“
She stared at me, my friend, after my fantasy description. Her eyes got teary and she hung her head. Obviously what I said didn’t occur in real life. But the simple power of What Should Have Happened somehow had the ability to clarify a little of the sadness. Perhaps more importantly, it gave her a sense of how much was missing and where she could start rebuilding.
Because that’s exactly what she’s doing these days. She’s rebuilding from the job she loved but that had an abusive boss. From the husband she married that abused by neglect. Through therapy, lots of therapy, and talking and thinking and processing and time, she is taking her life back. Her daughters are her world. They thrive and are thankfully shielded from most of their mother’s cruel past.
Back here in 2013, when we finished lunch, I hopped into my Prius and drove home. She went back to her safe home in the country. All isn’t rosy for her, not by any means. But the madness has stopped. It stopped with her. And she did it by shear will.
That’s what happened.