Every once in a moonless night, when I drift between wakefulness and sleep, disjointed images slip in and out of my mind's eye. They are carousel slides from childhood, whitewashed and spotted from exposure. Each one lingers only moments before morphing into the next. With these images, I spiral backward in time to the days when my hair was blonde and baby-fine, turned-up nose like a spot of clay on my face, hands and fingers tiny and awkward, toddler legs struggling for balance. Smaller and smaller I shrink until only pinpoints of light surround me like flashing snow on an old black and white TV. As the points disappear, I become a speck, floating into a void as bottomless and black as space. I can reach out with my hands and feet and touch… nothing. Inside me, it's the same, as if my whole being is a blank slate. And I think, this is the place where I began. Before feelings, before touch, before knowledge. Before I knew the brilliant glare of the sun in my eyes.
It scared me, that place. Not only the first time, but every time. It would find me only during rare moments of deepest relaxation, on the hazy fringes of slumber. Just as I slipped into the void, my racing heart would rouse me and I'd lie awake for hours. How old I was when it started, I don't know. But in my adolescence, I puzzled over it and fretted that it was a sign of something broken deep inside my brain, another reminder of my seemingly endless quirks. I was alone in that space. I didn't like being alone. As a teen, I felt driven in search of answers. What was the void? Could I get back? What did it mean? I continued to be lured by the mystery.
Do it, I prodded myself. I dare you.
Now, with the wisdom of living nearly half a century, I see the void as a beginning and an end in itself; a black hole that opened up for me as a refuge -- a place I invented when I desperately needed somewhere else to go.
At three, I was molested. Even now, I clearly recall being bare and exposed, made to lay back on a couch in the shadows of a den with drapes drawn while a prepubescent boy with freckles and a white t-shirt talked softly to me, lowered his mouth onto me, did things to me that left me feeling strange – not quite good, yet shamefully bad. And again, in the back seat of a 50's era sedan parked on the lawn for washing. Older boys were there too, squirting water on each other under a big tree and sponging off the car. Did they see the things he did? I think so. Did they interfere? No.
He was the son of a grandmotherly babysitter my parents trusted. A son too old to be playing doctor, too engaged in intimate, grown-up acts to claim a childlike curiosity about anatomy, too calculated and covert to make the excuse of not knowing any better.
I still remember. Do you know I do?
I carried my secret for seventeen years. By then I had tired of telling myself, Hey, no big deal. With a stone face, I confided in a high school friend, and though she showed the shock and empathy I needed, I could see she doubted that memories from a three-year-old could be so intact. I was certain my mother felt the same way when I gathered the courage – and belligerence – to tell her. To be fair, I only gave her the abridged version, the one that tiptoed around the details, the only one my wounded child's soul felt strong enough to part with. Would she sit in judgment? Look what you did. Look what you let happen. Or would a more careful exposition make her cry? I shouldered enough guilt for both of us. And I might have cried too. Better to tuck the whole thing back into my most secret place where the acts of the past could touch no one else. But mostly I kept the vivid particulars out of sight because even at twenty, I could no more describe what happened in adult terms than I could vocalize them at three. When I tried, the grueling effort of description disintegrated into a lumpy cancer in my throat.
My shame has faded with time and acceptance, and the void rarely calls for me anymore. Now, when I remember the shadowy den, instead of slipping easily to the dark space, I become an unyielding force keeping vigil on my three-year-old self; guarding the perimeter for someone who looks like a friend but is not. I am not afraid to stand in his way, not ashamed of who I am or who I was then. I hold my three-year-old self in my arms the way I wish someone could have back then and I rock her close to my heart, dry her tears, tell her how good and worthy she is.
I make the bad man go away, and I dare
him to come back.