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?
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.