Thoughts in an MRI

Thoughts in an MRI

By Virginia Carraway Stark

“I read what you wrote,” She said. Her flame of red hair was ringed in platinum, making her look like an angel as she pulled broccoli out of a shopping bag to make a salad.

I scanned my mind, such a loaded statement, I couldn’t think about which ‘what I had wrote’ my Godmother meant but I suspected. How she would have found it was what surprised be as I rarely saw her around my Facebook page and I had never told her about my blog.

molly and charlie

My Godparents

The machine whirled around me while I thought over our visit with Molly and Charlie.

Chug chug chug chug whir whir whir

mri scanner

I had dosed myself with sedatives and I wasn’t feeling particularly anxious or upset. I had the stoic feeling that settles on me whenever an ordeal befalls me, this too shall pass.

I had always had a huge reserve of stoicism to me, it was at odds with my delicate nature. I’m not build for endurance physically but mentally I have always been unstoppable. The physical world was something that put my will on pause from time to time throughout my entire life. My basic belief structure is that the world is made up of good things, good time, love and beauty that are occasionally disrupted by waves ‘real life’ happening. It happens to everyone and it is always in my mind this too shall pass.

My eyes were closed in the machine. They had offered to put a face cloth on my face and I had looked at them like they were insane. One of the worst feeling of claustrophobia is having your airways obstructed and having my nose and mouth covered and being shoved into a tiny loud tube seemed absurd to me even in my sedated state.

mri

They argued with me and insisted that it was the sight of the machinery was what would be upsetting for me. I had heard a lot of people who comment about their MRI experiences say that it felt like their brains had been ‘rifled through’ and had laughingly said that this must be what it would feel like to be probulated by aliens. One person said that if you listened closely you could hear a robotic voice saying ‘taking picture’ during the loud whirling part of the noisy procedure but I sure didn’t hear anything like that.

All alien probulations aside the machine itself wasn’t as bad as all that and I thought about dinner with Molly and Charlie Mumert to distract myself.

Molly had been referring to the letter I had written to everyone who knew me as a child. It was a hard letter to write and her first words to me were an apology. Uncle Charlie didn’t say anything, he just hugged me extra hard.

The problem with abused children is that there is no way to sweep them up into your arms and away from danger. No matter how much you know or guess, the best you can do is cause a disruption through social services and possibly put the child into strange environments and possibly new dangers that could be worse than the ones that they are already dealing with.

I remember one night when I was very young, only about three or so, we were driving home to Dawson from the Mumerts and my Dad asked what we would thought if anything ever happened to him and mom if we went to live with the Mumerts.

My first reaction was a totally disloyal feeling towards my family. Live with the Mumerts?

It was the equivalent of being sent to Hogwarts or some other magical place. I thought of the regular meals, of the massive library where I was encouraged to read and allowed to read any book on any of the shelves. I thought about their safe hugs and picking raspberries with Aunt Molly I thought of Charlie and his endless patience, not just for me but for every child, animal or human in his presence.

I terrible feeling came over me in that moment. I moment where I wished my parents would die. Just die. Just leave me alone. Just go away. Just be part of this too shall pass.

In the back seat of the car I choked on my ability to speak. My brother Leonard was the first to reply, “I guess that would be okay, I’d rather stay with Emily and Jerry though.”

Emily was Molly’s sister and she had two pretty girls around my brother’s age. I loved my Aunt Emily nearly as much as I loved my Aunt Molly and she too had a library. A narrow staircase made more narrow by being lined on both sides with books, books stashed in every room. The little house with it’s attic bedrooms was filled with books, whole shelves lined the area behind the toilet in the spare washroom.

She taught me how to spin on her spinning wheel and we made cookies together while Jerry smoked a pipe and told stories.

I loved Emily and Jerry but Molly and Charlie had my heart. They were kindred spirits. Their house was filled with quietude and oddities. Molly’s grace and elegance and the love she and Charlie had for each other were hallmarks I held for myself in any relationship I would ever have in the future. I saw the looks between them, the way he held her, the love and trust between them and that was the gold standard of love to me.

grandfather clock molly

Their house was filled with silence, only the ticking of the grandfather clock telling the time and tolling the hour interrupted hours of reading in the many nooks of their house. When we arrived a half wolf dog would greet us. Inside dachaunds ruled the roost. There was a drawer at the bottom of an ancient sidebar filled with coloring books and toys that would change from time to time, but the only time I played with them was when I wanted to listen in on the adult conversation. The rest of the time I was a spirit in their house, roaming from room to to room. Marveling at the wonders on the glass shelves that lit up and lined the hallway to the basements. An ostrich egg that had been collected, a rock with eyes glued on it, a dozen stories inhabited the things that lived in that house. Quiet or loud, the house had a way of silencing the noise and making it a place of hallowed sanctuary.

If I made it past the fascination of the wonders on the hallway shelves I would be sure to be found in the first door on the left where the library hid. Behind one of the shelves was a semi-hidden doorway that I made much of in my mind and played out stories of magic and wonder of castles and forbidden labratories and the libraries of magicians. In reality it was where Molly kept her freezers and her preserves but in my mind it was a secret place that could become anyplace.

secret passsage mother and child

Upstairs was the kitchen, and the heart of the house that beat every minute around Aunt Molly. Her laughter penetrated the walls and her food held her happiness and her prayers in every mouthful.

I would often navigate past the kitchen and into the living room if haunted laboratories and secret castles passages were not what interested me, or if my brother Leonard was being a bother big brothers so often are, and into the living room. This was where the grandfather clock lived. I would watch the chains move slowly as the seconds at them up. They were an invitation to my mind to think of perpetual motion machines and my heated disputes with my brother that you could too make a perpetual motion machine, most of those discussions started by that clock.

In this part of the house it was nearly always dark but there were chairs, couches and lamps placed anywhere a young girl might want to read. A piano sat in one corner and a perfectly sculpted ‘infinity’ sculpture of a mother holding a child sat under the picture of the moon. An owl haunted another wall that guarded the way to Molly and Charlie’s bedroom. A sacred room that I had never been in and had no wish to explore. The owl watching would have warned me off if my heart hadn’t already been happy to leave their secret safe and untainted from the blight of my parent’s marriage that I had no doubt followed me like a cloud. This part of the house was always silent. Even when the adults retired from dinner and on the rare ocassion they went to the den, their voices were quiet and thoughtful. It was a good thinking room.

cozy molly

(Room not actually pictured, it was quieter than this but as close as I could find)

Those were the thoughts that I choked on while my brother prattled on about the benefits of living with Emily and Jerry and I, for one, evil, heartfelt moment, wished both of my parents dead.

Those thoughts, congealed like a jello mold were what flooded my mind when my Aunt Molly apologized after all these years for not doing more. How to explain to her what she had one for me in showing me how love could be. How to explain that I knew, even as a child that there was no way for her to scoop me up in her arms and to keep me.

“There was nothing you could have done,” Was all I replied. All these thoughts hammering at my heart. All the peace she gave me, all the ideas of what a home could be, what love could be. How her example, her grace, her fortitude, her love and her smile and helped me to sidestep the pitfalls that turn children into their parents. How could I explain to her how closely I watched her ever movement when I was a child, how I internalized her as my mother when my own mother failed me. How I would never let a man treat me the way my father treated my mother or how he treated me because of their example.

Meanwhile the machine whirled around me chugging and whirling and being entirely inexplicable. It was like being a child all over again. Subjected to noise, not understanding the purpose of the loudness or discomfort but trying as always to be very very good. Trying not to move, it would blur the image. The surge of happiness when I was told through the nearly inaudible microphone, ‘You’re doing very well, Virginia. Just a little bit longer.’

That was the mantra of my entire life ‘You’re doing very well and the pain will only be for a little bit longer.’.

There were times I admit, when things were very bad for me that I went to a facsimily of my godparents house in my mind. I could listen to the godfather clock ticking and believe in the endless possibilities of perpetual motion machines of mother’s holding their children and having only love in their eyes as they looked down at the baby they held in their arms.

When my own mother refused to move or feed or clothe me I would think of Molly and her endless grace and I would find a way to be my own mother. I would find food, I would find clothes and I would seek out others with the resonance and kindness that she emitted like a beacon to me. She showed me that there was always good in the world and even if I couldn’t stay with her and Charlie forever I could align myself with them in my heart and mind. I could find my own way to grace and love and happiness because I was a good girl and this would be over soon.

mother mary

They finally let me out of the machine. I could barely stand I was so dizzy and as soon as I left the ‘safety zone’ area my husband was waiting for me. The husband I had found for myself that looks at me with the same sort of love that Charlie looks at Molly with. The husband I know I can trust and who would never do any of the things to me that my father did to mother, especially when she was weak and vulnerable like I was now.

I had formed a life for myself that lacked the stability and grace of my godparent’s life. My life is dynamic and terrible and wonderful things are a staple in my life but nearly always, the good things outweigh the bad.

Even after being run over by the minivan people tell me they are jealous of my life. I laugh and ask them if they’re sure of that and to be careful what they wish for.

Maybe one day I will master the peace my godparents exude and that I was never quite able to capture for my own understanding. Maybe one day I’ll figure that part of things out, or maybe my nature is too much to ever be like that. Maybe I will never have an angel’s corona of silver to give my flame a halo. Maybe I’m made of a different sort of substance too dynamic to ever find that sort of quietude.

little virginia

(Picture of Me, too dynamic to be held down for long, my life has an air of the ‘curiouser and curioser’ that  better angels are not cursed with)

Maybe I wouldn’t be happy if things were ever that calm. Maybe my nature is so dynamic that to imitate her peace is to betray myself. Understanding such things, coming to the wisdom that we can learn but we cannot emulate is something else entirely. I have learned that stoics learn wisdom even if it often comes to us the hard way.

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On Bravery

A Note on Bravery

By Virginia Carraway Stark

“You’re so brave.”

lions mouth brave

It’s a phrase that is said with envy, appreciation, pride and genuine joy in the ability of the human spirit to recover from trauma and harm or even facing the threat of them.

I am someone who is extraordinarily brave. I have learned this mostly from having it repeated to me by so many people, most of whom have only heard a fraction of what I’ve experienced. I don’t feel like I’m a brave person. I feel like I’m just a person.

author pic fiesty

This is just me. If I can be brave you can do it too.

The difference that I’ve learned between those who are called brave and those who are not is that brave people have limits. Brave people have boundaries and these boundaries are inflexible and will not, cannot be sacrificed. Brave people don’t know how to be any way except brave. To our admirers we are told we are strong, beautiful, courageous and to our enemies we are obdurate, frustrating and devastating. Brave people can still have fears, anxiety, problems and enemies.

brave greek

I have a lot of enemies. I have a lot of people I have said, ‘no’ to. I have a lot of people who I have had to say, ‘I cannot go on this path with you, it goes against my heart’. I have lost friends, I have lost family, I have found myself in danger because my boundaries are what they are and when they are impinged on my heart speaks loudly and I am sworn to follow my heart. I have problems. The Universe may love me, but he’s also not at all concerned with giving me an easy ride.

To those people who are not brave it is confounding. We cannot be bribed, cajoled, convinced or threatened when our heart speaks. We, the brave, will die for our convictions without a second thought because to betray our hearts is to betray our souls, our very selves and to unmake ourselves.

I have been told that I am impossible to understand. Why could I go for years having forgiven my father and my family only to speak up now. The answer is simple: I realized that to not tell my story with the new information I had would be a betrayal of myself. I have to tell the truth now and to do anything else would be to obliterate myself. I have been demonized and shunned by my biological family and I have been abandoned since I was a child by those whose sole duty to their child was to protect them from as much harm as possible.

None of that mattered until I realized that my Dad ‘merely’ hadn’t violated my body and mind, he had also violated my soul and fed others lies about my very nature. That was the line for me. That was the boundary.

boundary brave

There is no trick to bravery. It’s hardwired into you. The universe guides your footfalls and when your heart bids you to speak up against a wrong you must. When your heart bids you to protect someone who is being attacked you must. When your heart bids you to face your enemies down no matter the consequences you do so.

brave girl

It has been a surprise to me throughout life that bravery is a rare quality. Fear is a predominate characteristic and people care more about offending strangers than they care about betraying their own heart. People would rather be ‘friends’ with relatives they despise than speak out and face the danger of creating an enemy even though every minute with the relative is a corruption of your own essence.

Fear is an easy cage. Fear is the idea that different is bad. That ‘what ifs’ are dangerous. Fear is the idea that the only point to living is to live as long as you an despite your circumstances, despite your joy, despite your love, despite your heart screaming in agony inside you. Fear is prolonging life at any cost. Fear is doing the same thing that you hate doing every day because it’s ‘not so bad’ and ‘it could be worse’ instead of taking the plunge and running to see what’s over the next horizon.

brave cat

Bravery. I am me. I will follow my heart and if I die tomorrow I will know that I died without regret or betrayal of myself. Bad things can happen to you and you can still live without regret. You can have deep sorrows in your heart as I do and still know that you did your part. You can live every day making the best choices from where your path leads you.

I want to thank everyone who has told me that I’m brave. It’s so much better than being told that I’m wrong for listening to my heart or that I’m lying for telling the truth.

I also want to tell everyone that you can be brave too. You don’t need to do battle with monsters who abuse you in ways so horrific that they are worthy of being ogres out of a dark fairy tale to be brave. You can be brave by being the person who is kind when others are being cruel. You can be brave by saying, ‘this is wrong’ and not just looking away. You can make boundaries and you can keep them. You can be happy. You can be proud of yourself for making and keeping boundaries.

boudary fence brave

If everyone is just a little bit brave everyone will have a better life. The evil bullies and monsters that infect this world will be shocked to learn that they can’t do whatever they want to you or to anyone else. You’ll make them mad, even if you do it a little bit. Do it anyway. Then do it again.

There are worse things than death and cowardice is one of them. Be brave. Love. Laugh. Don’t be captive to your fears. If you are sad be brave enough to ask why you’re sad and then be brave enough to face the answers you receive.

grave angel

You will face rejection, pain and death no matter what you do in this life. Choose to be the protagonist in your own story and start being just a little bit braver every day.

Walk with me, be fearless.

With much love,

Virginia

A Postscript:

Are you brave? Have you been even a little brave and it’s made you braver still? Please share your story to inspire others. Sharing your own story is yet another piece of bravery and I believe in you.

To Everyone Who Knew Me as a Child

Dear Everyone,

I have to wonder why nobody ever asked me if I was okay. I wonder about a lot of things from that time but it especially bothers me with my aunts and uncles and cousins.

Why did you think it was normal that I always had broken bones? Why did you think it was okay that I looked like a little starved thing? Why did you never ask what was going on?

ignored broken

When I ran away from home after a long history of being a smart little thing who cried when you asked me too many questions about what was going on at home to someone who became emancipated and ran away right before turning 16, didn’t you ever wonder what my family was doing to me?

After all these years I come back into your life and I was confused about why you, my family, wasn’t happy to see me. My Dad and my stepmother apologized and cried for what they had done to me, they begged me for forgiveness and I never for a moment thought that anyone who was intimately connected to me as a child could be unaware of what was going on, even to a small degree.

emo broken hearts

When I started writing my blog it was a way for me to work on my own feelings which I planned to eventually turn into a memoir. When my family found it they reacted universally as though it was a frightful lie that they could never have imagined as happening.

I know my dad was very charismatic, but you guys, what about all the broken bones????

I never broke a single bone after I left home. Not one. I went from one a year or more to not a single broken bone. I got run over by a frickin’ cab and I didn’t break a bone.

As a child, nobody bought me clothes, nobody bought me food and I relied on the friendship of strangers to feed me and clothe me in second-hand clothing. My little brother was diagnosed with malnutrition by a doctor and still nothing was done. I told my school counselor that I was hungry and that there wasn’t any food in my mom’s house and the little bit of food there was had bugs in it…my entire family turned on me then too.

The fact of the matter is that none of my aunts or uncles or cousins or immediate family wanted me to have food or wanted my broken bones answered.

When I was about twelve I had broken my collar bone again, I had broken it nearly every year since I was three years old. I remember the doctor who looked at the x-rays well.

His name was Dr. Browne. He had long, cool and gentle fingers that he touched my collarbone with. My right collarbone had been broken so many times by this point that it had scarred badly. I had a lump that was almost an inch high at its apex from it being rebroken and never properly tended. Of course it wasn’t tended properly; I still had to do all my chores every day even with a broken collarbone. It was bad enough that you could easily see it through my t-shirt and it hurt all the time, even when it wasn’t being actively broken.

Dr. Browne looked at the x-rays a long time and then he asked me about my other breaks. I glibly told him about broken wrists and hands and legs and bragged to him about how good I had gotten with crutches. It was at about that point that the old doctor turned on my father and demanded answers for my broken bones. To put it finely: He flipped shit.

“Why has your daughter had so many broken bones?” He demanded of my father and mother. Both of them jumped in guilt and surprise and I had no answer to give to protect them. I had been told what to say so often when I broke something and no one had ever questioned it. I said what made me a good girl and got me a pat on the head from my daddy and the doctors would usually look at the x-rays, sometimes set bones, put me in a cast or in a sling and sent me home.

Dr. Browne noticed though, he noticed through my well-practised lines. He fixed me in his pale, blue-eyed stare, “Why have you had so many broken bones?” He demanded, now of me.

My mouth was agog and the doctor narrowed his eyes at my parents and shook his head. “What about her broken collarbone? Why has it been allowed to get to this state? Why has it never been properly set?”

I shook my head again. I didn’t know what to say. No one had ever demanded answers since I had been three and had been told to tell the doctors that, ‘I fell off my daddy’s back while he was giving me a horsey-back ride and hit the coffee table and then it hurt’. How could I tell him sometimes we would just put my arm in a sling for awhile if it didn’t look like whatever lump of bones had been too messed up, just to prevent a trip to the hospital.

crying broken anime

Dr. Browne knew the score. He ordered tests to see if I had brittle bones or a calcium deficiency or some other undiagnosed condition that had previously gone unnoticed, all the while muttering under his breath and glaring daggers at my father.

The tests all came back that I had healthy enough bones, they just mysteriously ‘broke themselves’ all the time. One of my friends who knew me since elementary school summed it up best over coffee, she said, “You were just the girl who always had something broken on her and you had always been that way and so none of us thought to ask you why you always had broken bones.”

My Dad didn’t come into another appointment to see Dr. Browne who was also an orthopedic surgeon. He ordered surgery for me and they cut off the lump of misshapen, linked together bone and put a pin in my shoulder. After a few months he removed it and I was left with a couple of scars and a collarbone that’s nearly an inch shorter on the right than on the left but the constant pain was gone.

After that, the incidents of broken bones settled down a bit. For a while.

I had a broken foot from trying to run away from my dad once and a greenstick break of my right wrist from it getting bent backwards when I was defiant of my father. I had yet more casts. I had doctors’ reports. Dr. Browne retired and much later I was emancipated and ran away from home. I never told anyone that my dad had hurt me because I didn’t want to get him into trouble and he convinced me that they were all accidents.

Even running away from him, that was just another ‘accident’, wasn’t it? A girl shouldn’t be afraid of her father… should she?

SONY DSC

SONY DSC

Except for the wrist one I think they were largely accidents. He bent and crumpled me for his own enjoyment and I was too small and he broke me. ‘Whoops, sorry honey, it was an accident, we’ll go out for a banana split after we go to the hospital. I love you so much, you’re so brave not to cry.’

So to everyone who knew me as a child: Why didn’t you ever wonder about the broken bones? Why didn’t you ever ask me if someone was hurting me? Why didn’t you know someone was hurting me?

I don’t expect the people who were my friends, who were just kids at the time, to know any better.

It was when I moved from Dawson Creek to the Okanagan that things started to go wrong for my Dad and people started to ask me why I was bruised. It was there that they began to ask questions and while I never looked anyone in the eyes and said, “My Dad is hurting me”, I didn’t need to. They knew the answers and that was much of the basis for the emancipation that would follow.

help me abuse

To all the people who were adults then and noticed, I thank you. It was them who, when they asked me why I ran away from home and I told them a fraction of the whole story, they hugged me and said, “I thought something was wrong, honey, I’m so sorry,” I want to say thank you.

Thank you for believing me, thank you for wondering at the time. Thank you to the Dechiefs and the Bedells for letting me sleep at your house and for feeding me and not telling me to go home. Thank you to the school counsellors who tried to help. Thank you to Ms. Watts who helped me skip a grade of school and talked to me like I was an adult. Without you, I would have had to spend another year in high school and who know what might have happened in that time.

Thank you to all my friends from the Baptist Church youth group who loved me even though sometimes I didn’t know how to say the bad things that were happening to me. Thank you for holding me through it and forgiving me for being a spazz. Your unconditional love meant the world to me.

I don’t blame you for not knowing how bad it was. My voice was stolen from me by my father’s manipulations. I believed we had something special together, something I must never betray. I couldn’t speak the words that would damn him for the longest time.

fear abuse

Later on I blamed it all on my stepmother. I thought it was all her fault, she was the bad influence on him, but that wasn’t true either. The truth was that they were a good match for each other. Evil for evil, a love story of abusers, puddles of blood and booze ending in a frozen corpse in a snowbank and a man who has grown no less evil for age; he has only grown more canny at disguise.

Where once he hid his abuses behind his charisma and generosity he now hides it behind the guise of an old man, too old to remember the past, too distraught to talk about it, but wiley enough to hide it from everyone after all these years.

Ironically even though my stepmother abused me harshly she was a jealous woman and she put an end to things like ‘bathing with daddy’ when I was 12. She made sure he was rarely alone with me. The abuse changed at that point and I thought what I was now seeing was the first abuse, making excuses for every broken bone, dismissing it as my own weakness.

silence abuse2

I made excuses for my father until I finally realized that he had never done the same for me. He never protected my image, nor my soul, not like I had protected his darkest secrets so willingly. While I had been gone he had told people that I was mentally unstable, that I was all the worst parts of my mother. How tragic to see her go crazy like Debbie, he explained to anyone who asked him why I had left.

Then one day I came back and it was apparent that I was intelligent, beautiful and passionate. New excuses had to be found. Quickly. While I had been gone he had told people things ranging from believing I was dead to telling people I was in prison, and what could one expect? Best case scenario I was just too unstable. He covered up the fact that after I had left home I had worked a job at a diner and saved up enough while still going to school to run away to Ontario. He just told them I had run away and he couldn’t understand it except that I was a troubled girl.

Meanwhile, this whole time I’ve been making excuses for him.

My daddy hurt me. My daddy raped me. My daddy held me down when I was too small and broke my little bones. He left big bruises on my arms or my neck or my ankles. He did all these things and I lied and covered up for him because he made me believe we had an entente. I did it to be his good girl. I did it since I was three years old and until I ran away from home. I lied to the police who asked me if my daddy had hurt me in ‘that way’. I lied to the social workers who asked the same. He controlled me in every way and it was a miracle that I ever found the power to lift my chin and tell him ‘no’.

It’s taken me a long time to tell the rest, but here it is.

To everyone who shunned me and told me I was crazy when they first read my blog, I want you to think. I want you wonder about those broken bones. I want you to wonder about the quiet scared girl who still loved and embraced life even in a sling, even bruised and casted, in her tatty clothes. I want you to ask yourself if you really believe parents who let such things go on right before them are the ‘good people’ you assure me they are.

broken heart

This is a letter to all the people, good and bad in my life when I was a child. To those who were adults and who looked the other way, to those who were just kids like me and didn’t know that it was weird that I was always broken and bruised.

This is a letter to all the people who see children like me today and look away. Especially doctors and nurses who repeatedly see children in the Emergency Room and never say a word. When you are an abused child you remember every kindness and everyone who ever tried to protect them. Please, please, please do not ignore these children. We are all worthy of love.

you have to stop child abuse