It was a hot night. I laid in bed trying not to think about how hot it was. The cool sheet that laid over my skin felt good for a brief second and then it would be hot and uncomfortable again. My sister and I slept upstairs in an old Georgia plantation home. We did not have air-conditioning but we had fans in a few windows. The night was not cooling off very quickly and the fans were not helping. I found it extra hard to go to sleep because I could hear my parents arguing downstairs in the dining room. My sister, in the next room, had surely drifted off to sleep already. We had often had funny conversations from room to room before going to sleep but tonight we had been forbidden to talk. “Go straight to bed. No talking up there.”
My parents were in a bad mood. I didn’t understand what they were upset about but it seemed to happen a lot more often now. I laid wondering if I would ever go to sleep. “I have to go to sleep. Tomorrow I have to get up early for school.” It was just too hot, but I must have drifted off to sleep. I woke in a fog and heard a voice. He repeated himself, “Kids, get out of bed. You are going with me.” It was my dad. I was so tired. It was still dark outside and I was so confused. Why do we need to get up? “No, Dan, don’t wake up the children.” Mom replied. I could not see them in the dark but it was my parents arguing. Mom was crying and Dad was angry. I met my sister in the hall outside our bedrooms. We followed our parent’s voices into our playroom across the hall. My eyes slowly adjusted to the bright light in the room. There were makeshift shelves made of 2 x 6 wood planks and cement blocks that lined the walls of the large room. I looked around at the dolls, blocks, cars, and picture books that filled the shelves. I could see my favorite spot in the corner where my chalkboard easel stood. I would play school nearly everyday there, teaching to anyone willing to listen. Usually the room was a mess but we had spent time cleaning it up a few days ago and we had not had the time to mess it up. My thoughts were interrupted by yelling. “Kids, you are going with me!” “No, Dan, you can’t take them from me!” “Of course I can, they are my kids! You are certainly not going to keep them!” My parents were fighting over who would take us. I wondered for a brief moment where he thought he would take us. This was not the first time they had fought like this. I just sat there. Numb. Completely numb to the fighting. I had been here before. My sister rested her head on my shoulder. She was so young and tired. I felt sorry for her, “No 7-year-old should have to get out of bed like this on a school night.” I thought. At least I was 3 years older. I looked across the room. The box fan sat in front of the window. The fighting seemed to fade and I could only hear the fan. The fan just kept humming. There was something so comforting about the fan. The consistent hum of the fan seemed to drown out my parents continued fighting, yelling, and crying over which one was most suitable to take us. I knew I could not slip back to my room without being noticed and yet I knew my parents were not aware of my presence either. But the fan was a constant, comforting hum. I just sat. After what seemed like a long time, we were told to go back to bed. My sister had fallen asleep on my shoulder so I woke her up and sent her off to bed. The digital alarm clock beside my bed said 3:04. It would be a few short hours before I had to be up again ready for school. I was so thankful to get into bed. It was no longer hot. The sheet felt cool and stayed cool on my legs as I drifted off to sleep.
Through Story Exploration:
I love how this little girl looks around the playroom and sees her chalkboard easel. Something that I loved. Even in the midst of a traumatic situation there was a sweet oasis. However, that little girl is not only trying to make sense of a difficult situation she also takes on the responsibility for her younger sibling. These are some of the lies I came to believe that day:
I’m on my own
I have to be strong and care for others
It’s better not to be seen and no one will ever see me or notice me anyway
In this story, I checked out. As a child, my safe place was to disassociate in order to survive difficult, traumatic situations. Today, I still struggle with that and with the ambivalence of wanting to be seen and yet wanting to sit on the side, perhaps on a shelf, camouflaged among the toys.
The Truth: My home was hard. My parents fought often for a number of years before their final divorce. This left me often exhausted and confused. My only way of survival was self-sufficiency, staying quiet and unseen, and being disassociated. Now I ask myself the questions, Will I allow others to enter in and help me? Will I risk being seen as needy? Will I engage in the hard things of my adult world and not busy myself with distractions? Will I sit next to that little girl and be with her to be the constant sound of truth, fresh air, a cool breeze on a very hot summer night?