The Question

RIP Babyjane by Rich Hoppe

RIP Babyjane by Rich Hoppe

“What?”
He repeated his question.
I repeated mine:  “What?  I don’t understand what you mean. I don’t know what you’re asking.”
“Let me tell you when I did.  I was five years old digging through my dad’s closet and I found his guns and I’m holding them and playing with them and my mom finds me and goes off on me. She had just lost her daughter, my sister, to a terrible disease and she was afraid she was going to lose me.  And then, the first day of school a nun beat me for no reason. I hadn’t done anything wrong but she beat me and that’s when it happened, that’s when I lost my voice to fear and that’s when I started to kill the kid inside of me.  So, I’ll ask my question again ‘When did you lose your voice and when did you kill the kid inside?'”

Now I get it.  Now I understand.  He remembers the exact moment.  I’m struggling to find mine and then it hit me.  I know when I lost my voice and I know when I began to kill the kid inside.  I did it at the breakfast table.

It’s my oldest memory and it’s also when I lost my voice.  I didn’t even have a voice yet, but I lost it.  I wasn’t old enough to speak but I was old enough to think and I stopped speaking before I ever learned how.  When my dad’s open hand slapped my face, when he was screaming at me to eat my oatmeal and when my sister was crying more loudly than I was, begging him to stop, “Daddy, no! Please stop!”  I lost my voice and I killed the kid inside.

Oatmeal is still a trigger.  I still hate it and resist eating it almost always.  Every once in a while I’ll decide to try it again, only if it’s covered in things that kill the taste like butter or honey or brown sugar and I’ll taste it and as soon as the taste of oatmeal makes it to my tongue, I wince because I feel my dad’s slap.  I feel his huge, hard right hand knocking me in my high chair and I hear his grizzly, gruff, loveless voice shouting at me, telling me I’m no good, telling me I’m worthless, telling me I’ll never be anything and I believe it because I believed it then and why wouldn’t I? After all, it was my dad who was telling me and I was my sitting in my baby chair and the only way I learned about me and my value was from my parent who told me how little value I had.  I believe this.  I believe we come to value ourselves based on the value we perceive others, especially parents, place on us and when people tell us we’re nothing we begin to believe it and embrace it and act as if it’s our own.  I certainly did.

Right there and then perched high in my chair I knew I was worthless because my dad told me so.  I didn’t want to eat oatmeal.  I hated it.  It’s my taste.  It doesn’t taste good.  It’s as simple as that and I didn’t want it.  I didn’t want it anywhere near my mouth and I certainly wasn’t going to open my mouth to invite it in and I didn’t and my dad hit me because he was frustrated that he had a job to do, to feed his son who didn’t want to eat food he didn’t like and when I wouldn’t eat it, when I wouldn’t let my dad do his job, he slapped me.  As soon as I felt that sting, that stun, that sock that rocked my jaw I lost my voice and I began to kill my kid inside.

What I let out afterward was anger.  I let out a monster.  I let out defiance.  I let out adulthood because I no longer had a kid I was ever going to let see the light of day.  That kid was dead to me because he had to be.  It’s only thirty nine years later that I’m learning to let that kid creep out, that one I still sometimes see in the mirror, that one who writes stories he wants to tell that he couldn’t because he was never brave enough to talk before because he lost his voice and died inside.

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2 thoughts on “The Question

  1. Ahhhh – It is all so clear now. So for you it wasn’t an itty bitty moment, it was a big one. In the grand scheme of things it’s all the same. It could have been something as simple as a being bitten by a beloved pet at your tender to age to convince you, “if my puppy doesn’t love me then who could love me?” As very young children, we simply don’t have the tools to deal with any kind of rejection like that – yet. We don’t have an independent sense of worth as you suggested.

    I had a similar conversation with my twin brother a few weeks ago. We have completely different views of life and the world. He remembers every horrid detail of his childhood in vivid color and he is constantly asking me, “Don’t you remember that? How could you not remember that!” It’s like a broken record playing in his head stuck on rewind with no off switch. I guess I chose not to remember my childhood and couldn’t recall for you the name of one single teacher from kindergarten to high school. I know this – I don’t need to remember or even want to remember anything that does not serve me now.

    That was then and it’s over and I am living for NOW. It is the only place to BE. Otherwise, we are living in the past or frightened of the future. Neither exists. Trying to live in a place that doesn’t exist is terrifying! I know, I spent most of my life convinced that what I didn’t remember was destroying me. I also now realize we are a product of our experiences and our actions are ruled by them until someone finally wakes up and goes, “Hey! Wait a minute! That’s not working for me”, and decides to choose something different.

    My parents did the best they could with what they had (their learned parenting skills). I was raised in a generation that believed if you “Spare the Rod you Spoil the Child”. My brothers got the living shit beat out of them regularly. Sexual abuse was common back then and accepted as part of a silent family code. It’s hard to believe that some of stuff thought to be normal and even a beneficial part of a healthy upbringing is against the law today. Some people have woken up since my childhood.

    I did the best I could raising my kids with what I learned and if I knew then what I know now, I would have been a completely different kind of parent. I would have done everything in my power to uplift my children and instill in them a sense of self-worth and purpose. I never would have said nor done anything to discourage them or take away their innocence. But hindsight is 20/20. I didn’t wake up back then. I am guilty of every one of those parenting mistakes. I have apologized to my children for the lack of parenting skills they suffered through and my Dad has apologized to me. My mother and I have reconciled since her death. My grandchild is being raised in a completely different loving, caring and supportive environment, only because her father woke up and was able to forgive and learn from past mistakes, not perpetuate them.

    The truth is, every generation is learning how to become a better parent, person, teacher and student. That’s what life is – A gigantic class room. How we view our experiences (or courses) will influence what kind of person and parent we will be. If viewed from a victimhood perspective, that perspective will be passed down to the next generation and accepted as truth. The cycle will continue until a conscious decision is made to choose another way or “wake up”. Every generation has the awesome task of moving forward the evolution of man. Every experience and choice has the capacity to do that or block progress.

    My brother ask me recently, “Tell me in 3 words how I can stop this record in my head?” Obviously, he wants it to be an easy answer…lol, and it is! I said, “I can tell you in 4 words what worked for me – Look for the good”. Up to now he has chosen to see only the bad, every detail. There was good too. There always is. I’m just learning about my father’s childhood. He and his brother were abandoned by their mother when my Dad was just 13. My Dad somehow managed to take care of himself and his brother until he lied about his age and joined the Air Force at 16. This is going to be a fabulous book! Daddy is telling all the stories now and what’s really wonderful, is he doesn’t see himself as a victim. The way he tells it now, it was a grand adventure. Did he learn some bad parenting skills – absolutely! But, in so many ways, his adventurers made him the man he is now. He was a wonderful provider and even with all of his faults, I can see how he loved us in his own way. I’m sure my Dad’s stories will help my brother heal as they have helped my Dad heal by telling them.

    There is good in every event if we choose to see it. The more we look for the good the more we will see of it, just as the bad comes into view as we focus on it. We create our life and our world by what we choose to focus on and our capacity to forgive. It’s always a choice and it’s always our choice.

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    • What an miraculous journey of self discovery you’ve been on! And what tremendous insights you’ve unearthed as a result! Thank you for the important reminder that I need to be as patient and forgiving with my brother as I learned to be with my dad. That is still a work in progress and an area where I need improvement.

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