I have spent the past nine months trying to write Loved As If so as not to offend anyone or trigger any painful memories in those who have been abused. It’s been a dismal failure. So here is the beginning of my stripped down rewrite. If I don’t tell the brutal story, the miracles of healing will not be miracles at all. Your comments would be most appreciated:
Chapter 1, Suffer The Little Children
Rust, dust, grittiness against my tongue: I pressed my mouth against some sort of metal mesh. My feet were bare. I stood on a cool, smooth surface, wore pink and white pajamas with legs that ended before they reached my ankles. The mesh was set into the upper part of a white, wooden door. Outside, trees bloomed, a few puffy clouds wafted across a blue sky; the fragrance of grasses, wild flowers, growing trees tickled my nose. Where am I? I was like an electric light that had snapped on. I felt inside myself for my name and encountered a palpable blackness, a thick, rubbery barrier.
I was not alone. A Presence was with me. Separate. Accompanying me. My physical senses were intensely aware of Him. I felt on the verge of touching, smelling, seeing Him. He was absolutely clear to the eyes of my heart. Though He spoke no word, I understood. I stood there probing the barrier, mutely questioning the Presence in my heart and mind. A harsh, angry voice intruded: Go and finish your nap! I looked toward the sound, saw a narrow stream to my right that disappeared between the trees. Several indistinct figures sat or played near the stream. Who are they? The voice intruded again, louder, angrier: Go and finish your nap! I turned, ran into a room, climbed onto a bed. With the eyes of my heart, I looked towards the Presence and shrugged.
We walked through the woods to visit a neighbor. The woman led. A long line of children followed. I, dressed in too big jeans with legs rolled into cuffs and elastic suspenders holding them up, was last. My footsteps became slower and slower as tears spilled from my eyes. The indistinct trees became watery shadows of brown and green. Keep up! the woman’s voice called back to me. A well of hot, salty fluid sloshed around in my heart. It overflowed into the back of my throat. Tears leaked from my eyes and left red burning tracks on my cheeks. My nose was stuffed; I breathed through my mouth as I struggled to catch the others.
I fell amid giant cotton balls. Some of the balls fell faster than I, others at the same speed. All fell at odd angles as if a giant was trying to hit me. Some of the big white balls connected, pushing me off course so that I did not fall straight down. If I can just get atop one of them, I won’t die when I hit bottom, I thought. But as I tried to pull myself onto one ball, another knocked me away. Finally, I hit the ground with a start, confused for a moment that I was in bed and not smashed on the floor.
It was night. I snapped on as I had that day at the mesh door. I was standing outside dressed in pajamas, robe and slippers. I held an old, ragged bear with no eyes. Other people stood watching smoke pour from the house near the stream. With flashing red lights and screaming sirens, giant red trucks pulled up. Men in yellow slicker suits and big black boots sprayed water onto the house. The woman held the hand of a little boy. The man came out the back door holding a girl’s hand, Can you believe it! Eve locked herself in the bathroom. I didn’t know she was that stupid. The man and woman called the names of several children. They did not call me. When the fire was out, as I reentered the house, the woman looked down at me, Oh. You’re here.
On a sunny day a big truck pulled up. Men began taking things from the house by the stream. Other men came and tore away the steps to the front porch with a big, yellow machine. Its diesel-ly smell overpowered the fragrance of grass, trees, flowers; it made my stomach heave. Other machines were demolishing all the houses near the woods. Once the machine that had ripped off the steps left, I went to the edge of the porch and peered down. Come back in! The woman shouted as she passed carrying a box. I ran in. After she had passed, I quickly slipped out again and peered over the edge. Don’t use the front door! There are no steps! her voice came again. I scurried inside. But soon, I went out again. The ground is so far away. Can I jump? The woman pulled me inside and locked the front door.
At the new house, I went in search of doors that led outside. I found them on the first floor and in the cellar. On the second floor, inside the rooms shared by the man and the woman, there was a door to a wooden balcony with stairs that led to the back garden. From the window in the hallway bathroom, the balcony railing was just a few inches away. I climbed onto the toilet, raised the sash, sat on the sill, then swung my feet over to the railing and pulled myself onto the balcony. On many days after, I locked myself in the bathroom and climbed out the window and onto the balcony.
From the doorway, I saw the woman sitting on her bed. She was taking things from a round, red, velvet box. I went in and saw next to her a pile of yellowing envelopes that had been ripped open and a small cream coloured book with gold edged pages. What’s this? I asked, my hand on the book. It’s a children’s Missal. My Father gave it to me. I opened the Missal to a page with a picture of man holding a cup and, above it, a small, white round thing. Inside, I was suddenly very, very still. The woman gently took the Missal from my hands and placed it back in the box. Go play, now, she told me. Half way to the door, I stopped to look back at the box.
With the door open, I sat in the closet of the room I shared with two other girls, reading a big book of Mother Goose nursery rhymes: Peas porridge hot, peas porridge cold, peas porridge in the pot nine days old, I sang softly. The closet door was slightly ajar. I heard a door close and saw the woman come into the hallway and walk down the stairs. When the sound of her steps died away, I tip toed into her room. The red, velvet box was no longer on her bed. I went into her closet. There it was on a shelf above my head. I climbed onto her shoe shelf, lifted the box down, found the Missal and took it. After replacing the box, I returned to the closet in the room I shared and slowly read each page, drinking in each picture. On the page with the man holding the cup and the small, white, round thing, the words read: Look, the priest is holding up Jesus so you can see him. Something pulled at my heart. My chest heaved. A clicking, Huh! Huh! Huh! came from the back of my throat. Tears poured from my eyes. When the tears and clicking ended, I left the closet and pushed the book as far as I could under the mattress of the bed I slept in.
The woman went away. The housekeeper stayed overnight. The woman returned with a baby, little Jean. He was soft. He smelled sweet, smelled right. His curly fingers clasped one of my small fingers. His nails were pearly, delicate, his skin warm velvet. Jean slept in a cradle in the alcove in the woman’s bedroom. The woman let me sit in her armchair, she placed Jean in my lap. I sang to him, Hush a-bye. Don’t you cry. Go to sleep my little baby. When you wake, you’ll have cake and all the pretty little horses. When she took him away, the woman warned me, Never try to pick him up. He’s too heavy for you. One day, I was alone with Jean, watching him sleep. I carefully tried to lift him. He fell back into the cradle emitting a loud howl. I squeezed myself between the bookshelf and window frame, pulling a red drape over me. The woman rushed in, lifted him and soothed him back to sleep.
At breakfast one morning, not long after the baby came, the woman announced brightly, It’s your birthday! Sound became fuzzy, muffled. A thick fog enveloped me. Lunch was served in the back garden. All the children who always lived in the house, Eve, Gerard, Claire, Charles and Ames, who was not much older than me, several children who had only lived in the house since the move and others from the neighbourhood sat round the long, low, green play table that had been brought from the play room. I was at one end. The weather was sunny and mild. The wind felt chilly; I wore a white sweater over a yellow striped dress. Small packages sat next to each plate except mine. The boys each unwrapped a small car, the girls small dolls. From within the fog, I opened packages as they were passed to me. The housekeeper served sandwiches, lemonade, candy and cake. Afterwards, the other children ran off to play. I remained in my seat. Isn’t it supposed to be hot? Or cold and foggy? Why do I smell blossoms and mown grass? It all felt wrong.
Several days after the party, as I lay awake one night, I saw the man and woman rush downstairs. The back door slammed. There was the sound of a car driving away. In the foggy chill of the early morning, the woman gently shook my shoulder. The big girls were doing the same, without gentleness, to the two other girls who slept in the room. We three little girls bundled together on one bed, under one quilt as the woman sadly told us, Jean died. Died? a voice asked. He was very sick. He had pneumonia. The room buzzed. White fog descended.
A day came when someone dressed me in a short, cream coloured dress adorned with cream coloured lace. Matching pants covered my underpants. The weather was foggy. In the soft silkiness of that dress, the fog about me dispersed. I hugged myself in a rapture of pleasure: this dress smelled right, felt right. It was mine. I had not worn it on any other day since I snapped on at the door, not even when we went to church on Sundays. We drove along a winding path to a stone building. A white, wooden box with half the top open was at the far end of the room. My skin rejoiced as the fabric of the dress brushed against me. At the sight of that white, wooden box: my heart leaped. My knees raised themselves, one foot touched the ground toe first, then heel. The other foot followed. I am a colt. I smiled at the sight of my bare knees and legs. The man’s rough hand squeezed mine. Walk quietly! he hissed. My knees quieted. My shoes became heavy. The fog descended.
People sat in rows of white, wooden chairs. Some faces seemed familiar. The woman sat in the front row, hunched over, her face red, shaking with sobs. As we walked forward, female voices whispered, Why wasn’t the funeral held at the church? The baby wasn’t baptized. Well really! She said, No! The man led me to the box. The baby lay within. I touched his cheek. It was no longer warm. I sat in a seat in the front row. A man spoke: Even though we are sad, we must rejoice. Little Jean is with God now. Tears trickled down the faces of the women. I slid from my chair to the floor. Why are they crying? The baby’s small face was before my eyes. My mouth hidden in my hand, I smiled to the Presence: He’s so sweet, so beautiful. Afterwards, as I walked through the front door of the man’s house, he commanded: Change out of that dress. I left the dress on the bed. When I went to change for bed that evening, the delicious, cream coloured dress was gone.
The man called us into the living room one evening: A family ought to read the Bible together every day. He began reading from a book. My ears perked up: What is this? I asked the Presence. When some of the children were told to read a verse from the book, I piped up, May I read? You haven’t learned to read yet, the woman gently responded. I can read. No you can’t, the man told me. Pass the Bible to Charles, he directed the woman. But I can read! I insisted. The man turned the pages and then handed the book to me, Read this. He pointed to a line. Jesus wept, I read. Read the next verse. I continued, Then said the Jews, Behold how he loved him! A huge grin cracked my face. I bounced in my chairs as with open mouths and wide eyes, the man and the woman looked at each other. My heart pounded. I hadn’t known there was such a big book about about the Presence. This is great! I hugged myself in delight. He knows You!