The year was 1999. It was my third session with Dr. Roberts, a beautiful woman in her early 30’s with shoulder length blond hair, caring grey eyes and a warm smile. For brief periods, there was a spiritual interconnectedness we shared, a deep mutual understanding and caring. Almost sacred in a way. A strong bond.
As I sat in a comfy, large black leather chair, I took in a deep breath and opened my journal to tell my childhood story of horror in 1955 in Shreveport, Louisiana when I was just five. The house was a large three bedroom red brick house with a living room and den. It sat far off the road with a long driveway with a carport. Across the road in front of the house was a levee.
“It’s pitch black in the closet. I’m hanging by my hands from the hanger rod inside,” I said, looking down at my journal.
“My hands and feet are tied together. My body wrenches with pain. Across my mouth, a handkerchief is tied tightly, the knot pulling on the hair on the back of my head,” I told Dr. Roberts, my voice flat, a glazed look in my eyes, no awareness of my body.
My body shuddered at the memory. I stared blindly out the window. Hate filled me. Rage filled me. Sadness filled me. I closed my eyes. I must stay numb, I told myself. It’s the only way I can go back to the horror of that night without falling apart.
“It’s alright Ernie. Take a few minutes if you need to.”
I lifted up my head. “I’m okay,” I muttered under my breath. I stared down into my journal on my lap and continued slowly, breathlessly.
“Closet doors flew open. The light blinds me. I see the shadow of my mother holding a butcher knife high above her head, her dark brown, almost black eyes piercing me. The knife flickers in the light. I shut my eyes tight, waiting for the blow.
“I feel a tug on my hands. And then I’m floating in air. I dropped to the floor like a rag doll, no strength to lift my arms.”
“’You learn your lesson boy?’” my mother shouts, eyes on fire. She’s 5’6” and her broad body looms over me like a giant. “I’m talking to you boy!” A slap on the side of my head with the flat side of the knife blade. Unbearable pain fills me.”
“’Quiet, you little shit!” she yells. “I’ll give you something to moan about.’”
“She lifts my left arm over my head. ‘You’re raw under here, boy.’”
“She pokes and twists the tip of the knife blade into my underarm and slices my underarm open. My body stiffens. I convulse with pain.
“’Now isn’t that better,’” she whispers, grinning. She drops my left arm and grabs my right arm, raising it above my head.
“My mother slowly takes the tip of the knife blade, pokes and twist, slicing open of my right arm. Again, my body stiffens. Again, my body convulses.
Dropping my right arm, she emits a sickening cackle. “’That’ll teach you boy.’”
“Staggering, she stands up. The knife drops from her hand and hits the floor. I jump with terror.
“Slam! The closet doors shut.
Again, my head slumped forward. I froze.
After a moment, Dr. Roberts asked, “How did you feel?”
“Broken… Crippled… Abandoned… Alone… Unloved... Unwanted... I lay on my side like a rag doll, just as I had dropped; unable to roll over; my underarms on fire; fresh blood flowing from the cuts. Life has left my body. Only a small flame flickers within me.”
I looked up at Dr. Roberts. “There’s no fuel left to keep the flame of life burning. I wanted to die—to be free from the pain… to be free from terror … to be free from her.
“And then what happened?” Dr. Roberts asked.
“I heard a loud bang! The closet doors flew open. Above me she stands, drinking from a bottle, her shadowy figure outlined in the light. Tilting her head back, she takes a long swill. She moves the bottle down from her lips and bends over.
“’You learn your lesson boy?’” she yells, face red and puffy, eyes bloodshot and crazed, hair wild and greasy. I nodded my head.”
“’Good,’” she snarls.
I stopped talking. The pain of that moment now almost 50 years ago is more than I could bear. My head slumped forward. My body trembled. Tears rolled down my face. My hands clutched my pants. “Hold yourself together, Ernie,” I kept telling myself. I must finish telling Dr. Roberts the story. I had to.
“It’s alright, Ernie,” said Dr. Roberts. “This is more than any child should have had to bear. Take all the time you need.”
I lifted my head. “No. I must tell it now.”
“’Looks like you need some doctoring boy,’ my mother continues. ‘Here, let’s pour some whisky under your arms,’ she says raising my left arm. A blinding pain shoots through me as she pours whisky on the cuts. I black out for a moment. She pours more whiskey under my right arm. Again, I black out.”
“The pain must have been unbearable,” said Dr. Roberts.
“I must have passed out. When I awake, I’m lying on the back porch of the house, naked, the gag gone from my mouth, my hands and arms free. Outside the sky is black, intensifying my terror.”
“My dog Cider, a brindle boxer licks the blood on my arms. I motion Cider away. He whimpers, lifts his head and moves away. My head clears. Like a penguin, I hold my arms away from my body to keep them from hurting and sidle up against the brick wall of the house.
“The world stops spinning. I see Cider’s water bowl and food bowl. Thirsty, I drag myself across the concrete floor to Cider’s bowl and, like a dog, lap up the water. A sudden sharp pain in my side and chest as I take a breath. I could only take shallow breaths. I wrap the doormat around me to keep warm and collapse down. I fall into a nightmarish half-sleep, Cider beside me.”
My eyes closed briefly, then my head fell forward, as if replicating that moment. Then I felt myself go into almost a fugue state where I felt as if I was outside my body, seeing the whole nightmare from a distance.
“Are you okay?” asks Dr. Roberts.
I shake my body to pull myself back into the world. I nod my head and continue.
“The sun wakes me. I drag my body up and slumped against the wall. The air is cool and fresh. Hunger and thirst overwhelm me. The throbbing pain from my arms and chest beat in rhythm with my heart. Constant and ever present.
“In Cider’s bowl is some old dog food. I reach over and take a dried-out piece. I hesitate. Then put it in my mouth and chew. The taste is bitter, sickening. I eat it all. Cider looks at me with sad eyes, feeling bad that I had eaten all his food.
“A chilly rain falls. I drag my body to where the rain falls from the porch cover and drink the cool water as it drips. I wash my bloody hands and body. I’m afraid to move or wash under my arms, which scream with pain. Shivering, I coil up in the corner and pull the doormat over me to stay warm.
“I’m numb. Alone. Abandoned.
“What a bad boy I must have been for my mother to want to hurt me so. I want to die. I close my eyes and fall into a deep sleep.
“Cold and wet, I eat and sleep naked on the porch. In the morning I eat with Cider, my mother having put food out for him.
“I go to the bathroom at the back of the v-shaped backyard. An eight foot high double-sided redwood fence wraps around the huge back yard.
It’s doubled sided so no one can look through and see me.
“Several huge pecan trees are in the yard. I think it had been a tree farm before it was made into a housing development.
I hear my mother’s voice in my head, “Pick up those leaves or I’ll beat you, boy.”
“Frantically, I pick up the never-ending fall of leaves and put them in a gigantic pile, knowing the wind would come blow the leaves and I would have to pick them up again, and again.
“I find refuge from the cold in the giant pile of leaves. The leaves have a woodsy dirt smell, an odor I’ll never forget. I eat some of Cider’s food and pecans scattered on the ground.
“Days seem to come and go as I play and cuddle with Cider, my only friend. I would rub and pet him to no end as his short tail wagged away. Protective of me, Cider would growl and move between my mother and me if she moved towards me.
“And then … the worst day of my life.” I shuddered. “I….” The words stopped. My body was trembling.
“It’s alright Ernie,” said Dr. Roberts. “Take all the time you need.”
I took in a deep breath and continued, my voice so low and I didn’t know how Dr. Roberts could hear me.
“The night is cold and damp,” I said, the words coming slowly as the memory of that night dribbled out of my mouth.
“Cider and I were outside. Like a raging bull, mother bolted out the door, yelling for me. Her words were slurred. I knew she had been drinking.
“Was she often drunk?” asked Dr. Roberts.
“And when she was, you knew horror would strike,” Dr. Roberts said.
I nodded my head. “That night was one of the worst of all my nightmares.”
“’Come here you little shit,’” she says.
“As I approached her, I see the belt she wore around her shoulder in her hand. Another beating to endure! I would come at her callings, turn and kneel so she could beat me and call me names till she couldn’t anymore. Out of breath, she would stagger back inside the house.
“But this time is different. As she swung to hit me, Cider growled and jumped, knocking her down. He bit her arm.
“You fucking dog, I’m gonna get you,” she shrieked. Pulling her arm away, she staggered into the house and came out with a gun in her hand.
“Cider is by my side, as I rubbed his head.
“’Get out of the way. I’m gonna kill that dog!’”
“NO! NO! Please NO!” I muttered, my gut in spasms.”
My voice is now high, the words spilling out fast, as I breathlessly recounted the nightmare.
“I held Cider behind my back. She swung and knocked me to the side with the gun.
“Cider growled and jumped! A shot rang out. Cider fell.
“’That will fix you,” she yells at Cider and staggered back into the house.
“I went to Cider. He is barely breathing. He looked at me with sad eyes. I cradled him in my arms and cried out as he took his last breath. My friend is gone. A part of me died.
Dr. Roberts’s soft eyes were fixed on me, her lips parted in disbelief.
I looked away from her. Her empathy at this moment is more than I could bear. I feel a suit of armor encase me. Feelings are dangerous. Just tell the story, I told myself.
“The next morning, I dug a grave with my hands at the back of the yard,” I said in a flat tone. A cold rain fell from the sky and a fog formed with each breath I took.
“Gently I carried my friend to his resting place. Heaving, I covered him. Naked I lay over Cider’s grave, convulsing with sobs, sobs that stayed with me all my life. Gone from this world but never forgotten.
I looked up at Dr. Roberts. “Cider still lives in my heart.”
“How are you feeling now, Ernie?”
“Somehow through all the abuse, something made me want to stay alive. But to live through all the abuse I had to die emotionally and spiritually. I repressed all the feelings associated with my abuse. I kept on living but my spirit withered deep into the recesses of my being.
“I cry tears of sadness for my loss childhood. Such sorrow I feel for my hurting child and all he suffered. Oh’ how I feel the sadness.” My tears flowed freely. “I mourn a death—the death of my lost childhood.”
Dr. Roberts stood up, “See you next week.”
“Yes” I said. Dr. Roberts turned her back to me as I walked out the door. I guess that was her way of ending the session. It was okay with me. Everything she did was okay with me.
When I left Dr. Roberts’s office that day, that night the following poem poured out of me.
Someone hear my cry
Please rescue me from my abuse
Release me from the grip of my
Horrible childhood. Set me free
To live and to love. I’ve done no wrong,
I deserve not one moment of this abuse
Away I cast you my horrible childhood, away and forever
I destroy you
Like a newborn child
I shall awake to a world free of my haunting childhood.