Girl Interrupted, Part II: Shattered Dreams
WRITTEN BY: MOTHER JUSTICE / October 21, 2017
“I’m so afraid to love you, but more afraid to lose – clinging to a past that doesn’t let me choose. Once there was a darkness, deep and endless night … ”
Another school reunion, another flood of bittersweet in which to drift, swirl and eventually drown. I am listening to the excited chatter around me of long-lost classmates as they buzz about “the-good-old-days” and “remember-whens” inherent to all high school reunions. Memories of life events shared, youthful goals attained, and other bonding experiences essential to our creation as people, partners and parents. And once again, I am a bodiless spirit floating among them, hearing but not comprehending, recognizing that their silly, ecstatic, limbs-akimbo-galloping-through-young-adulthood had absolutely no connection to mine.
Your senior year was the promise of new horizons, fulfillment of teen-aged goals. Mine was a living hell. You played sports; I missed tryouts for our first competitive cheer squad because I had a jealous boyfriend. You acted in the school play; I lost my one chance for a lead role, because it required holding another boy’s hand. You were inducted into the National Honor Society for your accomplishments; I was a “pity inductee” because Mr. P recognized that contrary to what my plummeting grades suggested, I deserved to be there. You walked down the aisle at graduation; I was pushed, shoved and slapped around afterwards because I walked down the aisle between Chris and Julius (so I must have been sleeping with them). You found yourself, and who you wanted to be; I was denied everything important to me: my foundation, my future, my family and friends. I was a lost and disembodied soul.
Nothing is quite the conversation-killer as, “I was surviving an assault while you were on your senior class trip” or, “No, I don’t remember the prom after-party; I was being violated.” And to be fair, what is the appropriate response? I know you don’t necessarily want to hear it, and I don’t want to tell it, either. But who says that high school reunions are only about sharing the good times – and I think it’s something that you all need to know.
You need to know that you are raising daughters who, because we as a society don’t want to hear about “that” – date rape, teen dating violence, stalking, sexual harassment, domestic violence – are every bit as vulnerable as I was to life-changing rape of body, mind and soul. How else are you going to stop it from happening to them – unless you can talk about it, and help them identify it? How else are you going to find out how to help them once they get entangled, unless you listen to someone who’s been there, and knows how to get through to the other side? You blithely believe that this can’t happen to your child, but ONE IN FOUR girls will experience dating violence before the age of 18 (and ONE out of SEVEN boys). Not good odds. You need to know.
I’m so tired, but I can’t sleep, standing on the edge of something much too deep. It’s funny how we feel so much but we cannot say a word. We are screaming inside, but we can’t be heard.”
Another sleepless night. I tried, but I have three dreams in particular that dominate my nocturnal travels, disturbing peaceful sleep. All relive my high school years. You attended a high school reunion last night; I’ve been attending our high school every week for the last fifteen years (ironically, now that I think about it, since our first high school reunion – there must be something to that). So much so that I could probably navigate our alma mater blindfolded now.
In the first, I am haunting the halls around the performing arts classrooms and auditorium, desperate to find this or that person because I can’t go onstage until said person is found. Time is running short, and I miss my cue … again …
In the second, I am running through the halls trying to escape “him” as he relentlessly hunts me down. His mocking voice is soaking through me, causing me to sweat fear. I take aim at a body-length hall mirror, shards of glass water-falling down around me, and I shatter like the glass. In blackness, my disembodied spirit tries to put pieces of me back together, and sometimes someone else comes along to help. “His” voice gets more faint the more I put back together, but I can’t ever quite find all the pieces …
In the third, I am in full uniform with the cheer squad, who is in determined practice. I try, try, try so hard to remember the words, the moves, the dance routines, but am failing miserably. The captain comes over – hand out – and orders me to take off the uniform; I’m being sidelined for all perpetuity …
Tonight, it’s the second dream that rouses me from sound sleep. People at the latest reunion were floating in and out, helping me to put myself together again. Every “new” story I heard is another shard that helps reconstruct me. You think these stories are little orts, tidbits, nothings; what you don’t understand is that with each story you share that includes remembrances of me, you are helping put me back together again (Humpty-Dumpty must have been a trauma survivor, much like me).
I instinctively know that once I am finally rebuilt (even if cracked and chipped), I will be able to release my seventeen-year-old-soul back into time, where she belongs. Until then, she firmly remains with me. I look forward to the time that I can finally be free from these rhythmic night-time imaginings, but a few significant others from my past are reluctant to engage, leaving large gaps in my shattered self. I suspect they are people whom I caused great pain. (I am so sorry for that.)
“I will remember you. Will you remember me? Don’t let you life pass you by … weep not for the memories.” – Sarah McLaughlin
I had a fabulous time at the reunion. It was a real privilege to reacquaint myself with people who had such a significant impact on my life, who have now grown up – all for the better. Gone were the cliques and artificial divisions of high school that kept us apart. Self-conscious, gangly young boys matured into really awesome family men, providers, and partners (believe me – in my line of work, that is a welcome distinction). Silly, image-conscious young girls blossomed into whatever we wanted to become (could it be that we’re the first generation of women who can say, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that this is true?).
But on the way home, I found myself sobbing. Deep, shoulder-shaking, feel-like-I-need-to-vomit crying. Because for as much as I have gained in my life (and believe me, I know I have MUCH to be thankful for), there is still the seventeen-year-old girl that has lost so much.
There was an unexpected gift, from a very surprising source. Dan R was someone in my class that I never really imagined gave me much thought. He took many of the same courses I did, but I believed him to think me a typical “air-head cheerleader.” He was serious, smart, athletic and quiet. Going from person-to-person in greeting, I ran into an attractive woman: “Hi, Kathy, I’m Dan’s wife.” I expressed that I was glad to meet her, but I didn’t think he would remember me. “Oh, but he does. As soon as you walked in, he pointed you out and told me how smart you were.”
After a lifetime of my scholastic achievements being obliterated, those words were a balm to my soul. One of my most precious assets – my intelligence – “he” did everything in his power to take away from me. In some ways, he was successful; I am not traditionally college-educated and that is a significant barrier in many of the things I would choose to do in my life. He made sure I didn’t go to any college where he couldn’t keep tabs on me. He did his best to reduce me to “a dumb, blonde bimbo.” When I married “him,” my parents disposed of my diplomas, my certificates of achievement, every trophy I ever earned. I have nothing to show I even existed in high school other than four yearbooks that another dear friend kept for me because he threatened to destroy them. So Dan’s remembering was a significant gift to me.
It’s not just about the fact that he remembered I was smart; it was the fact that he remembered me AT ALL. By the end of my senior year, I had – for all intents and purposes – been “plucked out” of my class. I was there in body, but no longer in spirit. I sincerely believed that if I had died, no one would have given it a second thought. And for someone who put much effort into making a positive difference in people’s lives (as I still try to do), my biggest fear was that my life would end, and it would matter to no one. No one would remember. No one would care.
Time spent with old friends during an all-too-short evening has certainly proven otherwise, and I have many to thank for that. Thank you, all, for remembering me, and helping me to remember. Thank you for sharing your stories, your time. Thank you for sharing your great big smiles and your snug hugs, letting me know that, even though time and distance have changed so much, I am still someone to be remembered. Thank you for helping repair shattered dreams. Thank you … from the bottom of my heart, thank you.