It's spring of 2004. The red, LCD-lit alarm clock five feet from my bed is blaring, screeching for me to get up. Gotta get ready for another day of torture. I slop out of bed, wishing it was the end. "Bang!" I slam my hand on the clock. Quiet... Each day I go outside it's like my skin is on fire, burning with angst, a constant experience that shrouds me with suffocating anxiety. I don't have many friends and the friends I do have, I'm not too close to anyway. Even at home, I feel out of place and anxious. I just prefer to stay alone like a recluse. What is my problem? What's wrong with me? I am still very young at this point in my life (about ten). But already, I feel like something isn't right with me. This feeling started subtly when I was about six years old.
I can say without a doubt that I had this daily struggle and crippling anxiety partly because of the effect that not having a father figure in my life had on me. There was no guiding masculine presence in my life, no man I could look to as an example. Although I did not personally witness my father leave me, my mother, and my brother, I no doubt felt the effects from my distressed mother over him cheating on her. She didn't have any good relationships with the other men after their divorce either. She told me that at the time my father left, I was about two years old, my brother Andre was about ten.
My abuse started early on in my life, like a lot of people, perhaps like yourself. My brother sexually experimented with me when I was about nine. This left me confused and intensely untrusting of other people, which is probably why I kept my distance from others growing up. But I still wanted some form of connection, attention if you will from schoolmates, the connection and attention that I didn't have at home. During my pre-teen and adolescent years, I recall my mom always working. She'd work 9-5 in the healthcare service industry Monday to Friday. I'd always have to go to a babysitter after school, and even before I started school, I would have to go to a babysitter's house with my brother until she got off work. The ride to the babysitter itself left me in tears and intensely afraid many times. I hated being separated from my mom, and having to stay with a stranger was scary. From five years old to about seven, it was particularly painful. I got used to it as the norm when I started school up until around 5th grade, but I still didn't like it. Dad of course was not there, and having my brother and I over his house only on the weekends (or whenever it happened to be convenient for him) didn't do much to buffer the damage that was already done. So that's where that all left me, feeling alone, disconnected, afraid, fragile, and generally untrusting.
School was very stressful to say the least. I fought daily with trying to fit in, how to deal with girls, and how to be comfortable being me. I did not have a social life in school because it seemed to me that I was in the "unpopular kids" category, even at the early stage of first grade. I had some idea of who I thought the cool kids were and who weren't, and in my mind I was one of the uncool ones. It was a constant pang of anxiety to be in school. This negative thinking and daily struggle grew more intense as I grew older, and by third grade, it was already cemented in my mind where I "fit in." At the bottom, unimportant, insignificant and invisible - not to mention feeling like an emotional basket case who no one would want to deal with, the weirdo. Only that's not really where I fit, it was just a story I was telling myself and in which I was playing as the lead character. Of course, I assumed this role early on as a result of my emotionally intense. But some other events prior to third grade can explain more about why I felt like this.
There was a time period early on in my life where my mom remarried. I was about six years old, January of 2001. The wedding was a blur. All I could remember was eating some cake and laughing. But the laughing soon stopped after he moved in with us.
Enter Ken. Ken and my mom were both in their mid-thirties when they wed, and Ken had a strict religious background from childhood. But unbeknownst to my mother, he battled with years of a very dysfunctional and abusive family life that would repeat itself under our roof. Quickly, maybe a year or so after he moved in with us, my brother, about sixteen now, was having problems getting along with him. The typical teenage boy struggle with the "man of the house." The constant screaming matches and verbal fights soon escalated into pushing and shoving matches and fist fights. Once I remember Ken punching a hole in our wall in a burning rage. Another time, he put Andre into the corner in the kitchen, choking him and my mom desperately trying to pry them apart. I could only stand there and watch in a frozen state of panic and powerlessness.
Ken and my mom were constantly arguing on a daily basis, shoving each other and cursing at each other. He would drain and overdraw the bank accounts routinely, always lost a job after several months, and would scream about everything that upset him. When they'd argue and he wouldn't like something my mom said, it would escalate as they went back and forth. They'd say more hurtful things that eventually led him to pick up knives in a burning rage, screaming threats to kill her, or 'clean my brother's clock' when he got involved. It was too intense and I got tired of crying and being hurt so much. I eventually started picking up knives too to get Ken to stop. It was so intense though that it felt like the screaming filled the rooms, bringing an oppressive heavy cloud that permeated every corner of the house no matter what room I was in. I could never get away from it. I was miserable. It was like I couldn't breathe. The prime memory that surfaced whenever I used to think of that time period in my life, that house we lived in, was that of nothing more but screaming and pain. This became so routine to the point that my mom couldn't take it anymore and decided to separate from him. This became a cycle over the years where they'd break and make up, but still dysfunctional in their relationship nonetheless.
Although I didn't have a close affinity with Ken, he was the first "man" I had seen in the role of a father in my life, and as a husband of sorts to my mother. As much stress, strife, and struggle came from their union, I still remember kneeling on the couch, watching him leave while looking out the living room bay window; crying for him to stay when they first separated, as if he was the man that caused my birth. It was as if I was abandoned again. Left like I was unimportant and insignificant. Of course, with Mom always working and having to go to the babysitter against my will all the time, it reinforced this thinking in my mind. This provides us with a valuable lesson that the way we perceive events as kids is very different from reality. Of course that wasn't their view of me, but I internalized it that way and it fueled a negative self-image, crippling anxiety, and low self-worth. Interestingly, this "child-like interpretation" of our past, can carry over into our adult life. Not only that, it inevitably is cemented deeper and deeper in our mind as a "truth", and grows in intensity. It affects us emotionally more intensely over time. The good thing is, we can break the cycle.
Now when I was in second grade, one of the few childhood friends I had, Allen, would stay at his grandmother's house after school until his mom picked him and his siblings up. His grandmother lived right down the street from us so I'd get off the bus there at her house and stay there until mom got off work. At this point, we were all going to the Kingdom Hall of Jehovah's Witnesses. What I learned going to those meetings of the Witnesses was interesting and I'll go into more detail later. But it in part, it gave me a very sheltered, limited, and chasmed way of viewing the world. And it definitely affected how I dealt with girls, even Allen's sister Janiah.
I wasn't attracted to Janiah, but she would screw me if I showed any interest. I didn't until one day when mom was working late. I don't know what got into me that night. Allen was somewhere who knows where and it's just me, his sister, their parents, and the grandmother sitting in the living room. The adults were small talking and we were watching TV. At one point, Janiah looks at me with a seductive glare and proceeds to get up and go in a secluded room in the back of the house. I follow. When I get into the room and sit down next to her on the couch, she gets up to leave and goes into the living room again. I follow, again, completely naive and not knowing what to do or how to act. This goes on for about five to ten minutes, and of course I'm completely oblivious that the adults know what's going on right now. So on another trip to the back room, I sit next to her again. She just sits there, not making a single move. I then proceed to lift up her shirt and place my hands on her chest. She moans with pleasure, "Oh Damian..." Before I do anything else, her dad marches in the room. "Hell no! Get up! Let's go! You gotta go home, your mom is outside."
Great. I walk out the room and go outside towards our car, escorted as a convict. I don't know what her father told my mom that night, but I'll never forget it. I got home and she took me into my bedroom and whooped me like she could break me in half. Telling me while she's beating me that I know better, that I shouldn't be messing with girls and what I did was wrong. Balling my face off, I try to explain that I didn't do anything. But it was too late for that. From that moment on, it felt like I was cloaked with fear even if I thought about doing something out of line, let alone with a girl for that matter. Thus the abuse and the sheltered life had ensued, the beginning of a difficult reality that would last a long time.
I don't know how I could've ever processed all these things as a child, how I could turn out "alright" and function properly later in life. Really, how could I?