The Nasty Details

I was born in 1959, in Dayton. OH, as the sixth child of my parents, Raymond and Rosemary. By the time I was born, some of the abusive family dynamics were already in place. Mom was being beaten and raped into submission. My oldest sister had been sexually abused but, because she zoned out and “wasn’t good at it,” my father moved on to Mary. He had already taken to “picking on” a brother who has cerebral palsy, to “toughen him up.”

Regardless of common belief, children can and do remember things from a very young age. We moved from Dayton to Ann Arbor, MI, when I was two. Yet, my very first two memories are from Dayton. The first is of a gorgeous, teardrop, cut chandelier that sparkled and threw light everywhere. The other is of a large walk-in closet that was next to a built-in dresser, behind which was a crawl space that led to a second walk-in closet. I clearly remember hiding in that crawl space, terrified that my father would find me and I’d be beaten.

Ann Arbor is much clearer. All three of us girls shared a bedroom, me having my crib moved out of my parents’ room as a result of the move. I do not specifically remember my sister Mary being sexually abused in that bedroom. She assured me she was, with all three of us girls present, the older two sharing a bed.

Mary said, however, that I would wake up and stand in my crib, watching. At some point, I stopped watching and started shaking the crib. I must have picked up on the energy in the room, because I certainly had no understanding of what was going on. The shaking earned me beatings, so I learned to be quiet. But, somehow I “coincidentally” started to have seizures. Only at night. Only when my father was in the room. I was diagnosed with Juvenile Epilepsy and put on medication that knocked me out at night. For my father, problem solved.

When my little brother was born, when I was three, the only place for his crib was in my parents’ room. I don’t know how long after it was, but my father declared he wasn’t getting enough sleep because of the baby, and moved himself into a bedroom he set up in the basement. This is where I first remember being sexually abused by my father. I couldn’t have been more than four, because that’s when we moved to St. Louis, MO. That particular memory was one of “seduction.” The common excuse among perpetrators is, “this is how a father shows love for a daughter.” And I remember the disappointment when it switched from watching the Danny Kaye show on TV to “that again,” so it wasn’t the first time.

Most of my memories, though, are between four and seven, which is when my father (thankfully) left. By then, I’d learned the different “faces” of my father. There were the times he raged, looking for anyone to be a victim to his beatings. There was his seductive face, when he wanted to have sex with either me or Mary, and he knew which. If he was looking for me, it wasn’t smart to hide because that would put him in a sadistic sexual rage.

Then there was the flat-out sadism which, for some reason, he felt he had to have an excuse of “teaching me a lesson.” And for some reason, he singled me out. He’d have me wait on him, hand and foot. Fetch his slippers, take off his shoes, put his slippers on, and his shoes under the bed just so. He might claim I hurt him. Or he’d have me fix his whiskey sours, made with ice water from the fridge instead of tap, three uncracked ice cubes, and a wedge of orange between two cherries with stems. I couldn’t spill a drop on the napkin I carried it to him on, or look up at him. He often claimed something was wrong with it. I had to say “yes, father” and report to his bedroom as ordered.

I won’t go into detail about what all this “punishment” consisted of, except to say he was careful not to leave marks where they’d be seen in public, and I believe the sight of blood, especially from rape, turned him on. I was to be a compliant slave, standing, sitting, turning over when I was told. Somehow, I found it in me to develop the ability for him to never see me cry — even to the point of crying tears silently out of only one eye. I don’t know if that egged him on, but I know it gave me a sense of control, which helped save me later.

Through it all, from birth to age seven, he told me how bad I was. He’d denied paternity at my birth because of birth defects in my legs. No child of his would be “imperfect.” And he’d tell me how I was “born evil.” I had a birthmark on my forehead he called “the mark of Cain” as proof. He used to say, “your mother must have really scraped the bottom of the barrel when she screwed whoever it is that’s your real father, judging by the way you turned out.” I took it all in the way any young child does.

The worst of it, though, is when he decided to divorce my Mom to marry his mistress. He got it in his head that us kids were going to live with him, because Mom was “unfit.” So, he kicked her out. There was no longer anyone there to serve as a buffer or hide the abuse from.

I became his prisoner — literally. (Years later, I had to read books about prisoners of war to understand what it was he’d done.) Stripped naked, kept in a dark room with a bucket for a toilet. I was denied sleep and food. What food I was given was spoiled. The abuse became ritualized and he became more distant; an observer. He beat the soles of my feet. He dislocated my joints. He inflicted pain on the most sensitive parts of my body.

I don’t know how long it was, or what made him stop. I suspect I was missed at church or by neighbor friends. I had no idea how to act after he let me out. He acted as if nothing had happened. I was terrified whenever he was around.

I remember, though, why he left and Mom came back. I was playing Barbie dolls with a girlfriend down the street. I’ve no idea what it was I said or did, but her mother suddenly had me on her lap, asking questions. How things were going without Mom. All I remember admitting was “sometimes he hits when he gets mad.”

That did it. We walked to my house, hand in hand, with her reassuring me everything would be fine. I was so scared! When my father answered the door and my friend’s mother said they needed to talk, my father suggested it not be in front of me, and separated us. But I only went as far as to stand behind him so I could hear.

The man had charm. There were reasons he got away with what he did. One was that it was entirely true that no one would believe a monster lived inside this intelligent, charismatic, empathetic man. And he turned it on with my friend’s mother. He convinced her, at least enough for her to doubt, that I wanted to live with my Mom so desperately that I’d say anything. Why, I’d already run away once (true, before I was locked in my room). So, my girlfriend’s mother left.

It felt like he changed with the click of the lock on the door, because by the time he turned around, he looked like a monster. His face was red, his veins were sticking out in his neck, and his eyes were bulging. When he growled at me, spit flew from his mouth, and by the time he was done, he was literally foaming at the mouth. I don’t think he finished any sentences. “How dare you…” and “tell a neighbor…” and “pack of lies…” And then he lost it. He hit me in the side of the head, knocking me down. And then kicked me. Everywhere. He wasn’t being careful. Gut, ribs, face. It didn’t matter.

I have a longish gap after that. All I know is that I “came back” sitting in my room, bruised and broken. My father was gone and Mom was back. Nothing had been made public. There was no ER or doctor. School was coming up, and I’d “taken a really bad tumble into a tree with my bike.” Period. I think what happened is that it scared the sh*t out of my father that he could lose it, because he was always in complete control.

Because the abuse included here has been denied by my father — Raymond Joseph Stith, last known to live in Tucson, AZ, on Ruthann Drive (go ahead and try to sue me, f*cker) — I feel the need to say the following.

These are my memories. They are no one else’s. They were not “planted” by any counselor, therapist, psychologist, or psychiatrist. They were not “recovered” through any sort of hypnosis or “altered state.” Some of them were held so deeply inside me that I only remembered the beginning and end — at first. (To be explained.

Some of the information, such as locations, have been verified by school records and dates of house sales. Some of the information had been verified by my sister, Mary, as to location and family dynamics (five years older than me). Some was also verified by my mother when she’d been drinking and forgot who she was talking to.

That being said, this is my story. I make no apologies for it, except for its length.

We had this odd relationship after. He ended up with visitation every other weekend, plus a vacation two weeks in the summer. He rarely spoke directly to me. I felt I had to go. I didn’t know I had a choice, even though neither of my sisters ever went. We usually played soccer or football, and we’d be on the same team.

The vacations quickly became awful. His new wife, who we all knew because she had been a nun at the church and Mom’s best friend, didn’t like kids. At all. It only took until I was 10 and we were packing the car to go, with her calling Mom all kinds of names, that I just stubbornly stood in the driveway, and told my father to unpack my luggage because I wasn’t going anywhere with “that b*tch” who disrespected Mom.

Since then, my father has tried different ways to reach out to me. He showed up uninvited to my HS graduation, when I tore up his check and threw it back at him, telling him I couldn’t be bought. I sent him a “f*ck you” letter, disowning him when I was 20, and he told me “any letter from me was good,” proceeding to ignore everything I’d written and tell me all about his life, as if we were best of friends. (And even though he was in a couple of 12-step programs, he never attempted an amends with me.)

I told everyone in the family not to pass on my address, phone number, or news of me, but periodically my oldest sister would buy into his “but I want to reach out to her” crap. A letter would come out of the blue. I finally started writing “refused” on them and put them back in the mailbox. His intention was always obvious — to appear to be a good father, reaching out to an insolent child. Never was there a word about the abuse until I confronted him. Then he said he “didn’t recall” what I was describing.

Meanwhile, I was healing mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. It took time. I had Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). I had Panic Disorder to the point of Agoraphobia — unable to leave my apartment. And, I discovered, my mind had splintered, creating hidden spaces where more of my memories were stored, and I wasn’t allowed to access them until I built trust with the “alternate personalities” that were protecting me from them. This is called Dissociative Identity Disorder, or what some call “multiple personalities,” though not to the point where they had lives of their own.

During this healing, I needed to reconnect with my body. I had no idea I was different, but I couldn’t explain what hungry or tired or scared or angry felt like in my body. I knew when I was, but it wasn’t physical at all. So, I worked on body stuff. And the more I did, the more I discovered pain. Pain in my gut that led to a hysterectomy “just in time,” according to the surgeon. Pain that was achey all over. Pain in my joints and back and neck. Knots in my muscles I didn’t know I had. That’s when the diagnoses began. And shortly after, the disability. And dealing emotionally with the fact that all of it could be tied to the abuse.

For 10 years, I gave in to the pain and fatigue, and related depression. It’s easy to do, you know. Doctors tell you that you need to stop working. But, when you meet someone new, what’s the first thing they ask? “What do you do?” Nothing. On a good day, I catch up on housework. We are a society that places emphasis on what we do, rather than who we are. When one can do nothing, one feels like nothing — unless and until we’re able to shift the paradigm.

I still have bad pain days, but moved on from my abuse issues years ago when I realized that, for me, there is no “closure.” There are permanent emotional scars that I’ve adapted to. But they no longer rule my life. And recently, I once again “found my passion” and am having a go at it. So, it’s a happy ending, after all. 🙂