I read a news item the other day that clamped my throat shut with rage tears and will not fade from my brain.
Did you see this article?
It’s not just how deeply fucked up it is to starve children, period; or to do so because they can jump higher when they’re skinny. It’s not just the horrible culture of child athletes being broken like ponies, and worked harder than rented mules. The anger about all of this is real, for me; immediate and deep.
But it pushed other buttons, stirred some deep pots in my basement hearth.
Food is involved. A child in need of food.
An evil man disguised as kind…who won’t feed a child for nothing. Coaxing trust with a trail of breadcrumbs. Betraying the real gratitude and abusing the trust. Being a savior but also cutting a kid open, taking a pound of flesh from a kid who has none to spare. A kid who is hardworking and hungry and trying so hard…cut up for his pleasure. What kind of monster doesn’t take care of a kid?
I’m just so upset about this I can’t even describe it.
I never told Mom about the abuse. For a lot of reasons, but foremost because we relied on Papa (and Grandma) for food and shelter. We lived in their house and ate at their table; they watched us while Mom worked and commuted. My step-grandfather was kind to me. He taught me a lot of lessons in how to be a stand-up guy, so to speak; how to be loyal to friends, how to laugh off embarrassment, how to enjoy hard work. He taught me how to dance in the tiny kitchen. He taught me how to joke around, and pushed back against my grandma’s overprotection and fear for me, which taught me to be fearful. He tried to teach me to be less afraid of bees and swimming and dead things, when I was very little, and he was the only person in the family who made statements of praise or appreciation — not only for me — but it was alien to the culture of my grandmother’s family, which he joined.
He always tried to take care of me. One time, he was framing a porch addition and a piece of lumber slipped, cutting his head open, and you know how head wounds bleed. He needed help and ran up to the door, shouting for my mother, and seeing me see him through the side window, turned his back and tried to modulate his voice to calmly convince me that I mustn’t look out the window but needed to get Mom right away, fast as you can.
He started molesting me when I was 8, almost 9. I started having panic attacks. I got my first bad grades…then overcompensated and never got a bad grade for years. And I started eating to feel calm. Pictures of me from that era show a healthy, smiling outdoor kid with long blond hair turning to a frowning brownette chub, over the course of a few months. I cried a lot and acted out — sarcasm, tantrums, attention-seeking, other criminal acts in a Norwegian farm environment. Family decided I was envious of my baby sister, who had stopped being a wailing red grub and became a delightful cherub wreathed in golden curls, getting all the positive attention I used to receive. An aunt gave me a kids’ book about transactional analysis (T. A. for Tots and Other Prinzes, by Alvyn M Freed, PhD) and I read it over and over, not understanding why it wasn’t helping.
What helped was eating. Lots of reading, too, since I wasn’t sleeping anyway. Eating was a sensory pleasure and made me calm, through digestive torpor rather than self-regulation. I felt hungry all the time — or what I thought was hunger; I was starved for calm. I ate and ate and ate. And I never spoke up.
So when I read about a man who bought a girl’s trust with a loaf of bread, I wanted to vomit my every excess, consumed over decades, ever since I was 8, almost 9.