Tuesday, December 21, 2010

My Wall

When I was a preschooler, my cousins, living with us in kinship foster care, sexually abused me.
I was a good kid. I didn't tell anyone. I don't remember that time, but I suspect I didn't realize they were doing anything wrong. After all, I was under 3 when it started. And to them, it was natural. Their father had trained them, groomed them to do the same as he did (he liked bringing people down to his level, so they couldn't criticize him). It probably never occurred to me that once I knew how to talk, I could've told Mom and Dad and they'd have stopped it. I did show it in my behavior, masturbating, regressing and acting depressed, but the counselors assurred my parents that nothing was wrong.
The lesson came in a series of events when I was 5-6 years old. The older of my cousins had already left by then, so this was about her brother. He sexually assaulted a classmate at his high school. He'd been a constant problem at that school, but this act was especially bad. And my parents suddenly realized that I wasn't safe, living in the same home as a teenager willing to engage in that behavior.
So off he went to another foster home. Realize this: my parents still didn't know what happened to me - they only suspected, and they weren't willing to take the chance that their suspicions were unfounded. But a year later, he confessed. Charges were laid, the police came to take my statement, and I told them everything. (My older cousin never got charged, because it was only my word saying what she'd done and they didn't want to put me through a trial, but telling still was powerful.) And I learnt that if something hurts you, it's not OK, and you have a right to protest it.
Around this time, I was attending school. As a traumatized, undiagnosed autistic kid with a subtype of autism that causes a phobia of being controlled, I was obviously not your typical student. And my school decided they wanted to stamp out everything that made me hard-to-manage or unusual.
But I'd learnt my lesson - don't let someone else's demands take precedence over your self. And so I learnt to build the wall.

I have a collage I made as part of a therapy program. I actually made two collages, which portrayed different pictures of myself. One accidently turned out as the four parts of self (mind, body, emotions and spirit), much to my surprise. The other one, which is the one relevant here, depicts the wall.
This wall isn't a bad wall, like the one in Pink Floyd's album. I can put it away when I'm safe, so I can accept love and caring. It's a good wall, that shields me from damaging attitudes.
In the collage, I cut out three categories of pictures. There were simple things that I liked. A disabled woman laughing with a friend, a beautiful dog, something sparkly, that sort of stuff. On the other side of the page was stuff that bothered me: a man precisely measuring his trimmed bush, an aging woman with her flaws pointed out, a fat woman in a 'before' picture of weight loss, etc. And in between is the wall, with a feminist cartoon, a story of a mother advising her son to help an unhappy classmate, a cat and a dog reacting differently to a command, and so forth. That wall is necessary. Without it, the bad outside would touch the good inside, and damage it.
The wall leaks, unfortunately. And sometimes it blocks good things from coming in, like when I have a meltdown. But it's much better than letting everything in, like I used to do.
This post is for the disability blog carnival, theme 'let your freak flag fly'. So, what does it have to do with that topic? Well, the wall is my freak flag. That's how I block their attacks. It long predates my diagnosis, so only recently have I applied disability language to my wall, but before then, I talked about unfairness, about being myself, about how they were wrong and I was right. When they tried to rush into my heart and rearrange things to their liking, I put up my wall to stop them.
It was never much good at attacking back - I'd try to persuade them and they wouldn't listen, probably because I was a child and kids are stupid - but there was no force of arms that could bring that wall down once it was up. I could out-stubborn anyone, mainly because my sense of self depended on it. My mantra during these fights was 'they can't kill me', meaning that I'd get through this and have freedom later on.
This wall is why I never seriously contemplated suicide, despite sometimes wishing I was dead. This wall is why I went to college despite my teachers thinking I'd never succeed there. This wall is why I've only shoplifted once and returned the stuff with apologies the next day, despite my teachers saying I'd be a juvenile delinquent by the age of 16. This wall kept me safe throughout my childhood. And though I'm learning how to not bring it out sometimes, I'll never let it go, because I might need it someday.
Oh, and one last thing: I couldn't build the wall by myself. My parents provided the scaffolding when it was weak and new, and the foundations keeping it from crumbling. If they'd ever joined forces with my teachers, I think the wall would have come down.


Blogger Cara Liebowitz said...

This is such a powerful post and I thank you for sharing it with me and the rest of the bloggers for the January DBC. I know all about people trying to mold you into something that's easier for them to handle - I had a few teachers in high school who would "forget" to give me my testing accommodations just because it created a hardship for them, and then I would have to chase a teacher down to get my test. Again, I thank you for contributing and I hope I will get more posts as powerful as this!

2:05 PM  

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