Sometimes I joke that my inner child is a twelve year old boy. Those are the days when my status as an adult woman, sometime lady, and gent by practice are suspended, and I revel in that which is vulgar and biological, from Beavis and Butthead to South Park to Family Guy to being slightly carbonated by the sight of nekkid chicks. Hur-hur-hurrr.
But this morning’s ethereal news brought word of Scout Longpaw, fellow traveler and the hardest working diva in know business, breaking up with her inner child. I had to step back and think for a minute.
What with one thing and another, life didn’t take long to teach me that I could bullshit other people, but I could not survive if I tried to bullshit myself. Not the little white lies about calories, but the big lies about history. Whodunit, and wit wat — and what it really means. Feeling that I could rely only on myself, I had to create a reflexive core self with whom there was zero bullshit, zero omission, zero knowing the truth and dismissing it. It’s the voice that tells me the right thing to do, with no fear, no favor, and no fuckery. But she’s not Jiminy Cricket, she’s a nine year old girl, the Self Mark II in my personal evolution, and she’s my inner child.
Inevitable backstory: growing up far from the nearest hamlet, being the oldest child by seven years, and being surrounded by many family members of grandma’s generation, meant lots of time spent alone. Thank god for books, which gave me “tongues in trees, books in the running brooks, sermons in stones, and good in everything” — not to mention socialization of a sort, and friends, albeit imagined. Thank god for nature, too, which was endlessly fascinating, and for my mother’s shopping for Christmas gifts out of the Edmund Scientific Catalogue. If I had grown up in the desert, I’d have been hooked on meth by puberty for lack of mental fodder.
But neither books nor nature nor any other agent came to my rescue when the bad times started. I’ve deleted a thousand words of the yucky events from those years of my kidhood (which was sufficiently miserable the first time around and doesn’t need to be relived here) but I will say this: when things got to be too much, when I had thought out all my options, my determination crystallized. I would do whatever it fucking took to get through it — sending my mind to another place, switching off altogether, just enduring — but I swore, with every ounce of my being and all the potency of intent I could muster, that I would do three things:
1. I would never forget what was done to me.
2. I would leave home as soon as I could, go far, and never return.
3. I would keep faith with my kid-self forever.
What this meant:
1. The family who reared me, stoics all, did their best to forget their traumas, thinking “putting it behind me is the best thing I can do.” Those women were hearty and hardy and fierce and wrong. Even at eight years of age, I could see how my grandmother and great-aunts were carrying out the nutty aftereffects of not acknowledging their traumas. I despise wallowing, but ignoring major sabotage condemns you to a life in a mental cage, insulated from pain, with boundaries that were not self-imposed, even if accepted under duress. Unacceptable.
Beyond this, our family of women have the strong tendency to forget ugliness as convenient, or not to see it at all. I knew I could go in this direction if I didn’t work hard not to, by reminding myself constantly: never forget.
Have you ever known a woman who had been raped and came out the other side sneering at other rape victims because “she asked for it, she’s a tramp anyway, it was her own fault”? I’m related to a lot of them. Easy to see the self-loathing trapped at the bottom of the idea. For my soul’s sake, and for proper justice to myself and others like me, and for those who hurt us, I could not allow myself to forget, no matter how badly I wanted to.
2. Promising to leave home ASAP and forever didn’t mean not going home for visits, or not loving my family. I’d rather miss them than hate them, or have them hate me. As much as I adore my family, being around them is a trap for my mind. It keeps me in a childlike state to be around older generations of my kin.
The seed for this was planted one day at my great-grandma’s house. I was young, but I remember it clearly: Great-grandma snapped at my grandmother (a strong woman in her own right, and God over my mother, who was the world to me) and spoke to her like a child. Instantly, my grandmother turned to my mother and likewise put her in her place. I fully expected Mom to turn to me, knuckle that forefinger into my sternum, and put me down even lower. Mom didn’t; she dropped her chin, shook her head, kept her mouth shut, and walked out. But I never wanted to be the low man on that totem pole. And I never wanted to be like my grandmother, a strong woman in her fifties being treated like a child — and allowing it, because she was trapped in the pattern of living next door to her mother for most of her life. My grandmother was still turning into a child in her mother’s presence.
I can’t say it strongly enough: proximity to parents can lead to perpetual childhood. Particularly for those of us who never joined the ranks of mothers, and have no authority with those who have.
3. Keeping the faith with my kid-self never meant any kind of vengeance or Peter Pan Syndrome; nothing like that. Part of it is being obliged to relish every day that I’m not living under the thumb of someone abusive. Being an adult means having the power to leave. There is no greater gift I can give someone than to stick around. Not that it might mean anything to them, but it’s a hell of a love offering from me. I won’t say I never look back — Lot’s wife and I have some things in common — but that doesn’t keep my feet in one place, and fighting the stone butch blues was a challenge sometimes. Life is short and joy is where you find it — and now that I’m living life on my own terms, not theirs, I am free to savor it the way I should have, back then, if I could have. I’m enjoying it on her behalf, and I am enjoying it as it should have been then: with wide-eyed glee at all the potential fun and awesomeness to be had. Whenever I can invoke that connection to my innocent self, I do so, to keep faith with the kid who spent a lot of afternoons throwing up with stress and dreading the nighttime.
The other half of keeping faith with my kid-self is keeping my eyes open and my mouth open, too. Confronting abusers. Confronting those who defend them. Objecting to people who rationalize and justify and condone and try to mitigate the facts. The hardest part is confronting friends, because when they do that, it feels like a personal betrayal, and it hurts like hell. Not a lot upsets me, but that turns my little applecart upside down. With strangers, I can keep cool and point out the facts and hopefully sway them with logic and with ethics.
Vocalization is so important to me now, has to be so important to me now, because I had no voice then. I knew, when I was little, that if I told my mother what was happening, she would either blow me off, or she would believe me. If she believed me, she’d be killing someone soon, and she’d go to jail forever. I didn’t know which was worse, but neither looked good. I decided that it was in everyone’s best interests if I just kept it to myself…
…and got the hell out, and never went back, but always looked back, and never forgot.
That little kid that I was is not my inner child. If anything, she’s my inner grown-up.