ellensagh

10. Pain

Living in Oiltown, my mood was fluctuating every few minutes. One minute I was in the depths of despair over my daughter, the next I was feeling wonderful because the sun was shining. I had no money, no job. I was on social assistance. Part of me was ready to crumble.
 I wrote Social Assistance, requesting more shelter money. My rent was $450 and they only allowed me $385. I had rented a three-bedroom apartment, hoping my daughter would live with us. I was told to find a cheaper place to live.
 My daughter phoned. She and her Dad had had another fight. She been so angry at both of us that she started burning the words Fuck You into her arm. I could only cry. I couldn’t drive. My son had been waiting months for me to take him practice driving, but I couldn’t. I woke up each morning feeling desperate, reciting childhood prayers over and over.
 I had been in Oiltown for eight days and already I had gone to three Shelter House Support Programs. I had gone to the Sexual Assault Centre three times, to a mental health worker once, and a social assistance worker twice. I sobbed. They listened.
 While I went for a walk one morning, a worker from the financial unit of Social Services paid a surprise visit and questioned my son and the landlord about me, my finances, and whether anyone was living with me. I was angry that I hadn’t been notified. When I called Social Services, I was told that they needed the element of surprise.
 By the end of July, I had no idea how I was doing. I looked okay on the outside, but tears were never far away. Sometimes I thought I was fine, only to find out later that I wasn’t. I read a book of fiction and experienced a sexual response. “Is this a breakthrough?” I asked in my journal. It was nice to feel sensations of pleasure in my body, which for so long had been a battleground. Then memories of Stretch intruded, and that was the end of that.
 I was writing poems every day. Morning, afternoon, the middle of the night: they came out as fast as I could write them down. Even though the words seemed simple, my mind couldn’t comprehend them. I could only recite them to safe people who would listen as I cried. (See chapter 12.)
 August continued with images of growing up flashing in my head, and the following voices that went with them:
“For Christ’s sake!”
“Jesus H. Christ!”
“You should be ashamed of yourself!”
“Don’t be so stupid!”
“How many times do I have to tell you?”
“If I want something done around here, I guess I’ll have to do it myself.”
“Don’t worry about it. I’ll do it.”
“All you think about is go, go, go!”
“What do you think you’re doing?”
“I’m going crazy, that’s where I’m going!”
“You’ve got nothing to cry about!”
“I’ll give you something to cry about!”
“If you’d get to work you’d have nothing to worry about.”
“I’ve had a lot of disappointments in my life, too.”
“A little hard work never hurt anybody.”
“Don’t count your chickens before they’re hatched.”
“You’re getting a little too big for your britches!”
“You’re going to get it when your Dad gets home!”
“Shut up or I’ll give you something to cry about!”
“You’re never going to grow up!”
“Grow up, will you!”
“It’s always darkest before the dawn.”
“You should be happy you have two parents!”
“Now cut the whining!”
“You get what you deserve!”
“All you ever do is think of yourself!”
“Watch your mouth or I’ll watch it for you!”
My sister who lived in the United States was coming home for a visit. I debated whether it was worth it to spend the weekend with my family in order to see her. In the end, I decided to go.
 During July, I had sorted through the scrapbooks I had kept during my marriage, saving what I wanted and ripping up the rest. I hadn’t been able to throw them out, though, so I took them along with me in a black garbage bag. I thought maybe I would return to the farm where Alfred and I had lived when we were first married and burn them there.
 My son, my daughter, and I stayed at my sister’s cabin at a nearby lake. My daughter was basically living with her twenty-nine-year-old boyfriend, whom I had never met. There were some fun times, some special times with my kids, my nieces and nephews. But most of the time it was hard for me. By the second day of trying to set up a time to talk with my parents, I knew it was not going to work. My five sisters listened to what my July had been like, and I really appreciated that.
 I did do the burning – not at the farm but at an outside fire. I threw seventeen years onto the flames. It was a freeing experience. Then my son and I went back to Oiltown, without my daughter, and without having talked to Mom and Dad about anything to do with abuse.
 During July I hadn’t been able to go to the basement to wash clothes. Odd as it sounds, I felt little – too little to operate an apartment-style, coin-operated washer and dryer. It didn’t make sense. It wasn’t until I remembered Calvin abusing me in the basement and Mom walking in and blaming me that I could go down into the basement and do my laundry. Sometimes when a memory surfaced like that, it no longer affected my daily life.
 I still hated how much doing the laundry cost. Being on welfare was not easy. Food and rent were expensive, and there was no bus service in Oiltown. Often I had to walk the four kilometres to the Shelter House because there was no money for gas. My sister gave me a lot of rides. I did a lot of walking.
On August 22, 1995, I rewrote the statement I had written out concerning my brothers, including my name, address, phone number, my maiden name, birth date, and the name and address of everyone named in the statement. I wrote down every detail I could remember of the abuse – what happened, where it happened, who saw it. I wrote what I said when I confronted each of my brothers, what they said, and who was with me.
 On August 23, I got up and typed the statement. It ran to six pages. At 8:10 a.m. I walked to the police station. After reading what I had written, a female officer asked me twelve questions:
When did you begin to have memories of the sexual abuse?
April 7, l992.
How often did the abuse happen?
I can’t answer that.
Did you tell anyone while it was occurring?
No.
Would your sister be willing to give a statement?
Not sure.
Do you know where we could get hold of [someone who had seen me being abused by one of my brothers]?
The address is on the back.
Where did this abuse take place?
Nine miles west of Smalltown on my parent’s farm, or in my brother’s car.
Did either of your brothers have intercourse with you?
No.
Did you ask them to stop what they were doing?
I don’t know.
How old were your brothers at the time?
Calvin was fourteen, fifteen, and sixteen. Stretch was 20.
Did they ever threaten you in any way?
I don’t know.
Did this happen to any other siblings?
Everybody says no. I just . . . I don’t know.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
No.
“What they did to you was criminal,” the police woman said, giving me more understanding in seven words than I had ever felt from my family. She told me my statement would be sent to the Legend RCMP detachment, as the abuse had taken place in their jurisdiction. It was over in twenty minutes.
 At 8:30 I left the police station. I got half a block before I started to cry. I cried for about ten blocks, but they were tears of relief. I walked to the Sexual Assault Centre, where a support worker gave me a ride to the Shelter House. As luck would have it, an educational support group was starting that morning, but instead of following her planned schedule of education and information sharing, the facilitator threw the meeting open. I spoke for about twenty minutes. As the women listened to me, I gradually realized that I wasn’t afraid any more.
 My sister picked me up from the Shelter House. Right away I was coming up with explanations for what I had done. Then I thought of my father, and a new realization dawned: “I don’t have to explain myself to anyone. I am responsible to and for my children. Period.”
 When I got home, my son told me that my daughter had phoned. Her father was apparently bringing her up to Oiltown to live with us.
 I phoned Calvin and Stretch. Stretch told me he would have to think about what he was going to do now, but asked how I was doing otherwise. Calvin asked, “What should I do?” I told him one option would be to call the Legend RCMP detachment and admit to it, before they began interviewing people named in the statement. He said he probably would.
 My daughter didn’t arrive. She didn’t phone, either.
 The next day, I fluctuated between fear, confusion, and anger. How could I do this to my brothers when they were both so nice to me on the phone? What if some of the dates of my statement were wrong? So what if they are? They still did it. The police should interview Mom and Dad and everyone named in the statement about what they did to me.
 My daughter called. She said she might come or she might not. All I could picture that day was my brother’s bedroom.
 My sister-in-law phoned, wanting to know what I had said to Stretch that he was in such rough shape. She wanted to know how she could help him through it. Before I could answer, she asked about the extent of the abuse. I told her I couldn’t get into that. Abuse was abuse, no matter what form it took.
I phoned a crisis line and told the worker I needed someone to listen. When she asked, for the second time, “Have you talked to God about it?” I rang off.
 My daughter moved in August 29, l995. Her father dropped her off about midnight. Later, she made a bedroom for herself while my son and I struggled to catch up with her life. My parents phoned to say they were coming to Oiltown for the weekend. That day, I wrote a summary of where I’d been, where I thought I was at, and what I wanted to share with Mom and Dad when they came.
 I had been fighting for good all my life, trying to do good, but always feeling there was something wrong with me. These words came from a collage:
Something was my fault, and I was ashamed because of it, though I never knew what it was. I was obsessively concerned with what others thought of me. I continually had to prove myself. The memories of sexual abuse were a wake up call, like coming out of a drunken stupor, but they left me not knowing who I was or what I could believe in any more. That was the beginning of the end of a lot of things: my belief in people, in God, in the church. People aren’t always nice. Not everything in my family had been as good as I remembered – or, paradoxically, hadn’t remembered. People who are deadened emotionally hurt other people with their words and actions, their lack of respect, their justifications, excuses, and explanations. The church, Dad, Calvin, Stretch, Allinblack, Alfred, Mom: I see it over and over, and I don’t want to be part of it.
 I began the fight on behalf of other people who had been hurt, confronting Alfred because he was hurting the children and then divorcing him because he was hurting me. It was easy making a statement against Allinblack because the RCMP wanted me to. He had to be brought to account for his actions and prevented from hurting others. It wasn’t as easy going through the horror of locked emotions.
 Going to university gave me the opportunity to shelve my emotions and use my brain. The hundred or more women I met who listened to me going over the same issues again and again and supported me through my lowest times spurred me on to work for services for adult survivors. But six months of working full time was too much when my own memories of childhood were trying to push through. The pain of other women was a reflection of the pain inside me. I left Saskatoon in order to give myself space and time to feel and express that pain. I know it was the right thing to do. My only regret is that I have isolated myself a little too much, because when I am remembering the horrors of growing up, remembering my brothers abusing me, the trauma is not twenty-five or thirty years ago but right now and I need support right now. I have to say it over and over in a lot of different ways until the fear, anger, shame, and hurt are no longer inside me.
 I want to be independent, make a nice home for myself and my children, have enjoyable work where I can use my skills. I want fun times, and people in my life who respect me and my opinions and feel at peace with the world. I am trying to do this one step at a time, working toward the future while dealing with the past and living in the present. Making a police statement against my brothers is part of that process – giving the child inside a chance to air her wounds and heal, giving her a voice to break the silence and cast out the fear I still feel in the presence of my brothers. I am still in pain, but my pain will make a difference to my children and to my life in the future.
Mom and Dad brought a friend I hadn’t seen for years. The three of them stayed at my sister’s. My stepdaughter took my son and my daughter tenting for the weekend, so I had ample time to work up my courage to talk to my parents. I didn’t, though. It was no use, as I wrote in my journal: “What’s the point of being hurt again?” Instead, I went to the Shelter House – repeatedly, at any time of the day or night – and hoped there would be someone there to listen to me. The whole weekend, Mom and Dad did not once ask how I was doing.
 A woman who had supported me called and asked how it was going to help me if I crucified my brothers.
 I realized that the RCMP or a crown prosecutor would be getting in touch with me. I would certainly be willing to write a victim impact statement, stating that a jail sentence for Calvin or Stretch would serve no purpose, but if they were willing to take responsibility publicly, a period of meaningful community work might be an appropriate sentence. I didn’t know if that would make it better for everyone. I didn’t know if it mattered.
 I received a letter from my sister-in-law. I had gone too far, she said. It was time to let it rest. Her husband’s abuse of me was a mistake. It had only happened once. He was only fourteen. They had tried to help me and this was the thanks they got. I was just mad at myself for my inability to say no and that I hadn’t forgiven myself.
 I wrote her back the same day:
I appreciate your letter. I know it is what you sincerely believe. I am striving to be free – free of the anger, the fear, the pain – and to come to an acceptance of my being abused by Calvin.
 Part of that for me is putting closure to it and it’s something I feel the court process does. In your letter, the abuse was called a mistake. It wasn’t a mistake. It was a deliberate violation of power on Calvin’s part for his sexual gratification. Calvin abused me when he was fourteen, fifteen, and sixteen. He has never been held accountable.
 When an abuser justifies or rationalizes why he abused, he is not accepting responsibility.
 I did not make the decision lightly. I have deliberated for nearly two years on it. If Calvin is willing to publicly accept responsibility, without the rationalizations, etc., I would be the first to tell a prosecutor that I don’t believe a jail sentence would serve anyone’s interests.
 I believe in handing the responsibility for the abuse back where it belongs.
 Openness and honesty is what I need in my life, so I repeat, I appreciate your letter and am certainly open to that kind of relationship with you.
The National Parole Board advised me that the dates for Allinblack’s hearing would be October 3, 4, or 5, l995. Allinblack had objected to my presence at the hearing, but the Board had approved my application.
 The next week, whenever I thought about or looked at my daughter, I started crying. I knew it had something to do with Stretch when I was fifteen years old, but the memory got no clearer. I went through a week of sleeplessness, my skin crawling as if I were lying in fibreglass insulation.
 On September l7, I wrote Stretch a letter:
On Friday I had about an hour where I felt really good – first time I felt like I did in Saskatoon because since I’ve been here it’s been non-stop emotion. Anyway when I had that hour of feeling like a capable adult and that someday this will be over, I wanted to talk to you. I was able to tell Dad on the phone the other night that I’m dealing with the abuse from you. When he said, “And I imagine he isn’t having any easier time dealing with it,” I believe that’s probably true. I have not and don’t plan on telling him that I made the police statement. I don’t feel that is up to me. He also said, “If you haven’t been through it, it’s hard to understand or know what to say.” I felt like it was a breakthrough. For the first time it’s being acknowledged and talked about in our family and we are honestly talking about feelings.
 I really admire that you came to my party and how you handled it each time I spoke to you about the police statement. It was something I needed to do for a lot of reasons – mainly there was a girl inside screaming for justice – to be heard – it never felt over. I was deliberating this court thing for the past two years. I couldn’t answer my kid’s questions – What’s the difference between what they did and Allinblack did? There may be a subtle difference but it was still a violation of power for your sexual gratification. We grew up on “It happened in the family – it stays in the family,” or is dealt with in the family, as Dad said in March, but I can’t agree with that. Then we are not a close family, but a closed family. There is a difference. In a closed family, everyone is ruled by that and believes they can’t make it on their own or the family will fall apart. The family becomes more important than the individual and the individual gets lost, with an unhealthy dependence on family instead of self. When the self is healthy, we can reach out to others and be there for them, and I’d like to think our family can be those types of individuals.
 I could never see myself being able to work with children who had been abused within the family and be able to tell them its okay to speak up if I couldn’t.
 I know that the parts of me that were hurt and have been dead for years are coming alive as I reconnect with the emotions, express them, and come to an acceptance that it happened. For me that is what forgiveness must be about – not that it was okay what you did to me but that I accept that it happened and hope that I will be able to be at peace about it. Making the statement has been a form of closure for me. I don’t have to think about it any more.
 I know you probably do, and maybe this is what this letter is about. I know you are much more than what happened, and I want to let you know that you are welcome to visit. We are all on a journey of life – hopefully a healing one to a healthier one – I wanted to let you know where I’m at and that just as I needed support within and outside the family, I hope you are able to find the support you need.
I mailed the letter the same day.
 I had done a collage and brought it to a session with the mental health worker. Prominent on the work was the heading, “Enemy #l – Memories.” She asked me to see if I could look on my memories as friends. That was a new concept. I told her I would think about it. I went home and asked my kids if they would help me make a list of anything good about my memories coming back. We came up with a surprising number:
* out of denial
* more whole – better person
* helped others
* faced my fears
* helped the kids know more
* can be real
* don’t have to deal with it later
* aware of abuse
* helped to speak against violence
* learned about women’s rights
* Tamara’s House wouldn’t have got so far
* ended abusive marriage
* see now only responsible for my own feelings
* enjoy life and learning more
* fewer colds, vaginal infections, back trouble, fatigue, headaches, joint pain, depression
* I’m part of changing the world
* I’ve made friends for life
* I’m unravelling a secret history
* I’m no longer living in fear or life of tormented person – sometimes
* Can say NO
September 24, l995, from my journal:
MEMORIES -
Peter Jackson cigarettes on the ironing board
Semen on my legs
Semen gagging me – saying No
On September 25, I wrote to Calvin:
I wanted to write a letter to you – one that had warmth and compassion and humanness in it because that’s the kind of person I want to be, but I can’t.
 I am having a horrible time trying to get through the days and nights. It’s just like the very beginning when my memories came back. I want to throw up, gag, because of what you did to me. All I do is cry and cry and it doesn’t seem to get better.
 Yes, you listened to me different times while I was crying, angry at Allinblack, but I don’t know if I’ve ever told you how much I hate what you did to me, and because of what you did and everyone else did, it’s like I hate myself and I don’t want that. I feel like I am nothing, like I can’t take care of myself and it’s like a fucking depression and it’s never going to be over.
 I know you gave me money, but I don’t give a shit. It doesn’t take this away. I know I have to accept that this happened but it’s hard to accept when I’m so angry that you used me. I looked up to you and believed everything you said and my whole life I felt like something was my fault. Well, the girl inside knows it’s not her fault but has a hard time convincing the adult me.
 One thing making the police statement made clear for me: it happened to me, not to she or her like it says in my poems and I’m feeling it now – what you did to me. All my life I’ve felt like I was in the wrong and now I’m trying to listen to my inner self who speaks out in poems and tells it like it really was. One poem says – “He did the talking, persuasion his tool. Manipulation is how he got to rule. Mom saw it happen and did nothing for me. If I said it out loud, the blame’d still be on me.” That poem is about you and I know I’m not to blame. Yesterday in a poem it says “He was prepared, He even brought rags.”
 I am trying to listen to that scared little girl inside and assure her that she has nothing to be afraid of any more. I have to help her grow up because the fear still affects me every day. When I hear your voice over the phone, Calvin, that’s what I feel – fear – and never knowing what words I can trust, whether I’m being manipulated. I am not trying to judge. I am trying to get through, get on with my life.
That letter I couldn’t mail.

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