Processing childhood trauma

Trigger warning— I’m not sure exactly where this post will go but it will discuss sexual misconduct between an adult and a child and it will touch on alcoholism.

I know some people in my family may be uncomfortable with what I am about to write — because what happens in our private lives should remain private. And I agree with that, and I prefer not to air private matters in a public forum. As a writer, I want my public space to reflect a more professional persona.

But I also know I “check a lot of boxes” for struggles and realities that may not be apparent and that other people share. And together we have strength. Commonality.

So here goes.

But please, as I’ve said in other posts that mention times in the past that include other people and the actions of other people, remember that this is my story, my experience and my feelings.

Whatever I write in this space, because I’m not even sure where it will go, I am merely trying to offer a glimpse into my grief and how that is triggering— and I hate that word ‘triggering’ — my past trauma.

And especially when people are trying to do nice things for you, it feels extra garbage-y to have your mind implode.

Gene Kelly prompted me to write this blog entry. Spotify provided me with a jazz mix that included “Singing in the Rain.” And “Singing in the Rain” left me analyzing the issues that have plagued me since childhood that overcame me this weekend.

“Singing in the Rain.” You know… “Singing in the Rain.”

I learned to whistle in the bar. There was a man, I’m not sure who it was, who used to try and get me to whistle “Singing in the Rain.” I’m not sure which bar, maybe The Red Geranium, which is also where my mom served as the afternoon bartender for a while and where the owner’s grandson almost drowned me one summer day.

I don’t even remember who taught me to whistle.

I went to the bar with my mother because my father usually stopped at a bar after work. And he often didn’t come home until he spent all his money or the bar closed. So, my mom and I would go looking for him.

Each bar had a highlight. One of my school friends hung out at Delaware House waiting for her mom. But Delaware House burned down in 1986— I think my Dad might have been there that night— and all I remember is purple-hued lighting and one time someone vomited on the sidewalk right outside the door while I was standing there.

In my memory, the fire took out my grandfather’s favorite clothing store (not true according to newspaper records)— Effross’s— though thinking harder I don’t known if that recollection is correct. Apparently, Mr. Effross died in November. My grandfather bought all his Levi’s from Mr. Effross.

My grandfather chewed Jucyfruit, enjoyed the occasional trip to Kmart, smoked Parliaments and listened to Jim Reeves. He would hand me an empty coffee can and tell me he’d pay me a penny for every cigarette butt I could find in our yard.

At one point, I spent all the time I could with him. My parents said we had moved to Pennsylvania to be closer to him and my grandmother, moving into the trailer right besides my grandparents in the trailer park.

My mother befriended an elderly man named James Wicks who lived in a trailer on the other side of us. He had no family, so my mother cared for him until his death. And we inherited his tan Chevy Citation.

On some days, while my mom went to see Wicky, I would go see my Aunt Sharon and my grandpa. I spent a lot of time with them as they served as my babysitter when my mom and dad would go for motorcycle rides or when my parents planned to go drinking.

They had cable. We did not. So if I was lucky, I might get to watch The Addams Family. My grandfather liked Highway to Heaven and Knight Rider.

At one point, my uncle had moved to another state. I seem to think I was 10, because I tend to think everything bad that happened to me happened around that time. My aunt had gone to stay with them. She and my grandpa had plans to move up there.

If I can trust my memory, I was wearing a pastel striped romper, with shorts. [Trigger warning] He asked me to come sit on his lap, so I did. He started rubbing my inner thighs. I remember his hands, and I remember how close they were getting to my romper.

There were a few other times where he touched me inappropriately in similar fashion, so I stopped sitting in his lap.

And eventually I avoided going to his house when no one else was home.

I told no one.

But then, a while later, and I don’t know if Aunt Sharon was home or not, I think she was… We ordered a pizza. My grandfather asked if I wanted to go with him to pick it up. I said yes, probably because I wanted a “jungle juice” and to play the Pac Man arcade game.

The pizza place was probably less than two miles away.

But he didn’t go to the pizza place.

He turned down a side road. And then to a dirt road. The night was dark. We had no street lights. I knew where we were, but I also knew it was the middle of nowhere.

He patted the seat beside him. It was a big old vinyl bench seat. He told me to come over and kiss him. So, as a granddaughter would, I kissed his cheek.

He told me no. That’s not how you kiss. And then his tongue was in my mouth. Deep in my mouth. Invading my mouth.

I was terrified.

I don’t remember what I did to get away. But we did go get the pizza.

I didn’t tell my mom until high school. I just avoided my grandfather. But my mom was going to ask him to drive me home from play rehearsal. And I knew I couldn’t be alone with him.

I didn’t tell my dad until I was in college. My grandfather and I had a tumultuous relationship because I called him a “selfish old bastard.” Yeah, no one knew the real reason why I said that. But my grandfather never spoke to me again.

And that hurt my dad.

One day he got drunk and asked me point blank, “what did you grandfather ever do to you, molest you or something?”

“Yeah, Dad,” I said. “Actually he did.”

And I will remember the shock on his face forever.

My father’s recent death has forced me to spend more time in memories like these than I usually allow.

I tell this story because I know others have similar stories. I tell this story because in the wake of my father’s death, I think of my grandfather more. I tell this story because yesterday morning I wept while driving to work at 5:45 a.m. because I use a country road that, in that moment, reminded me of that country road.

These stories are invisible. People don’t tell these stories. Skeletons belong in closets.

But I’m tired of these stories haunting me, circling my own head, so I’m going to leave this here.

I spent a good deal of my youth afraid of what my grandfather might do. To me.

My first kiss came from my grandfather. I didn’t even know the difference between boys and girls.

I still freak out if I have to kiss a man.

I’m grateful I had the wisdom to avoid my grandfather.

My grandfather is dead.

My father is dead. His brother is dead.

Aunt Sharon is still with us, but she has an intellectual disability that renders her an eternal child.

So this story can’t hurt any of them.

But maybe it can free me.

Because those memories still ignite fear in me.

One thought on “Processing childhood trauma

Leave a Reply to William D. Prystauk Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s