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Hitting, Hiding, and Becoming Visible

In therapy today, I was talking about how my feelings about myself have changed as a result of my physical therapy, about how I feel stronger when I walk with my shoulders back and my head held high than when I slouch in my lifelong habitual inward curve. We talked about how my posture has been one of the many ways that I unconsciously protected myself, like I was curling around my vulnerable middle, like I was making myself smaller, less likely to be noticed, easier to miss, harder to hit.

Out of nowhere, I said, "I feel like I've still been living in Ernie's house ever since we left," and it gave me a jolt, the kind of jolt that tells you, "That was important." It feels remarkably, surprisingly, deeply true, like I've been living the past 40 years frozen in a dim corner of Ernie's living room, trying not to move, trying to avoid attracting attention, trying not to catch the eye of the monster, alert to everything around me but trying to be separate from it, surrounding myself with a cloak of invisibility as much as was humanly possible.

Immediately upon saying those words in today's therapy session, I saw myself as this small girl, trying not to be seen, trying to protect herself, afraid of this lurking, lumbering shadow, this monster who could pulverize her if he noticed her there. She saw him hurting people every day, knew that he could hurt her just as badly, knew that her only defense was to make herself as small a target as possible. I saw this little girl, but I was her, at the same time. I realized that she'd been there all along, that I'd been her all along.

It reminds me of my response to one of the recent prompts on oneword.com (the website that gives you timed 60-second writing exercises). The prompt word was "crosswalk":
She holds the child’s hand and they cross carefully. “Look both ways,” she says, looking down, and the girl looks up into her face and nods solemnly. “Always look both ways,” the woman repeats, “because then you’ll be safe. Then no one will hit you.” The girl looked down at the lines on the asphalt and thought carefully, then nodded again.

"[T]hen you'll be safe. Then no one will hit you"— those sentences really jarred me with a jolt of emotion when I finished writing them. They didn't feel like they were about crossing the street.

There's a lot of stuff about hitting, violence, and hiding in my 60-second writings at oneword. Apparently, that stuff often comes up for me when I write from a purely gut place without having time for any filters.

Hell, even my mom used to hit us. It wasn't just Ernie. He just seemed to enjoy it more ... and he was a lot bigger. A lot scarier. Really really scary.

I'm dealing with all this stuff now, and just recognizing the fear makes it less frightening, deprives it of some of its power. There is no lurking, lumbering monster—he's been dead and gone for decades. I can stand up straight and not be afraid that I'm going to get slapped simply for being visible. I won't get punched or pinched or slapped or kicked or cut or bitten or hurt in any way. I can just be a regular person, and it doesn't necessarily mean pain. It means potential for pain, obviously, but that's what life is. I'd rather be visible and take my chances than live my life hiding in fear. Pain comes either way. I might as well be standing up instead of crouching in a corner.

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