Collateral Damage

Collateral damage.
The most accurate way to describe how I have come to this point in my life. To know how it feels to exist in a space I wasn’t wanted. To be born into a world I was never meant to be in. My entire existence is wrapped around situations I never asked to be in, consequently my presence caused crisis after crisis.

Do you know what its like to be the child of someone who has “made it out”?

My dad, he made it out of his abusive home. He was the oldest, the man, the child who bore the brunt of his father’s cruelty. The man who ignored him at a gas station in high school, the man he invited to his wedding who proceeded to punch him, the man who was arrested for his third DUI, the man my Nana refers to as Jekyll and Hide.

“When he was here he was kind, caring and good. When he wasn’t himself, he was stuff nightmares come from.”

She speaks to me as if I don’t know the substance of her words. As if, I the oldest daughter of the oldest son didn’t experience my father’s unresolved childhood issues on my flesh. Before I knew other people’s dads loved them unconditionally, I knew mine only appreciated me when I was quiet, pretty, clean and well behaved.

I was not allowed to embarrass him. I was damned if I spoke out in church, jumped on furniture, argued with my brother, climbed a fence, looked at him in the mildest of disapproving manners. I existed for him to prove a point to himself and to the father he no longer spoke. I existed as a possession, a piece of property, a trophy on the shelf he could shine when needed, but leave to collect dust when un-useful.

My existence was formed in the dust.

I learned to speak calmly, gauge his moods, and monitor his face/actions/ words for any signs of damage. I learned to be the best I could be, knowing that any mistake would result in his hatred for me flying into a full rage.

I knew by the time I was nine he hated me.

He didn’t understand love, not the type of love you give to a child. Children require unselfish love. Love they cannot return. Love adults must produce from their hearts and souls and give and give and give without getting anything in return.

The love he never received and was not able to give.

He was able to love a woman, my mother because she gave him something back. She unequivocally gave herself to him. She offered him the warmth of a human who would never leave him. She offered him, unselfish love. She believed in him. She believed in her ability to fix him. She believed their love could withstand the vicissitude of day-to-day life.

What neither of them could comprehend was the amount of love a child requires.

While she grew to understand and did her best to provide, he held her back. He refused to let her love her children more than him, for fear of being left behind. His inadequacies held back his love for her and his love for his children. It rendered him unable to love a figure outside his own body. To do so, he would have to confront his demons.

The strength to admit demons lodge in the labyrinth of his brain was lost. That power would never come. Instead, he found it in physical strength. He learned by brute force his possessions of offspring would head his every word if he raised his fist. To him it meant respect. To us, we feared the movement of his every step.

By 13, I was a grand liar.

I could spin a tale at the drop of a dime. I learned to cover for my bruises, our lateness, his absence, my mothers’ sickness, my brothers’ obesity and my inability to eat lunch. By that time I had fractured ribs, broken bones, multiple concussions and a quick temper.

No one would threaten me. I was the badest bitch in the school.

A fact, surprisingly, that made my father happy. No one could touch his little trophy. She could shine herself. The trophy, however, better remember her place is on the shelf, not in a glass cabinet or to be seen when not allowed.

His hatred for us grew as we did.

Size alone can control children to a point, but once they begin to grow, once they begin to see the world and recognize the treatment that has been handed down, the fear starts to lesson. They begin to test boundaries.

Some of this is pure adolescent power. Mix the growth spurt of a teenager’s brain with an air of normalcy in a war zone and only the damaged survive. Collateral damage.

To grow in a war zone means the air is never clean, the night is never pure, and nothing is free or easy. There is always a price to pay.

The minute I glimpsed a glimmer of a door out I jumped through.

I chased wild, unrealistic dreams and men across the country. I scattered my heart and injuries on coast-to-coast highways, ducking away from anyone who reminded me the least of him.

Then I fell.

I fell for the man who reminded in no aspect of my father. He was the opposite as opposites can be and I flourished in his love. We thrived together in quick, messy, loud, antagonistic, beautiful, krypton love. Our souls spoke the same language we needed no others in the vastness of the world. Suddenly our existence made sense; we existed for each other. We survived for each other.

Romance novels are written in grit. Grit we have found. Slowly, like the beginning of a spring rainstorm, it began to unravel. The love started to show the cards of years of damage, of unfixed wear and tear on our hearts.

Slowly he spiraled downward into a pit of loss of self-control. He swallowed me in the downward spiral. I allowed myself to go; I became a willing victim in his descent of madness. I didn’t know how to be without.

Who I had become was interminable upon who he was. If he became a demon, then so must I.

Abruptly I understood what my mother felt all those years ago. To be entwined means no longer having one’s own post to hold onto. I lost myself in him and had no idea how to get back. In his final act of self-destruction, I tried to save him, then realized there was no saving I could do.

The saving could not come from me. As hard as I loved him, as fiercely as I needed him in my life, his choice to accept the darkness was not mine. I, as collateral damage, was offered a choice.

The hardest choice to choose is to stand in a hurricane when shelter is offered.

I choose to try and stand. I choose to not be dust, or waves, or damage. In the eye of the storm, in the blue of the fire, in the beckoning of darkness, I choose to find myself.

I looked for my voice and was shocked when she answered back. She hadn’t forgotten me even though I had forgotten her. What a comfort.

There’s something about uncovering emotional trauma that is similar to surgery. Go in, pull back the covers and bleed the wound. The bad bleeds out hits the open air and is swept away into the mixture of energy in the world. Once it leaves my body, it should get easier.

Should is such a deadly word. Should so rarely happens.

When the first bullet of trauma tears thru it leaves everything empty and raw. Its leaves me exposed and uncovered in the world and suddenly I have to find my place all over again. Suddenly I have no idea who I am anymore. That can seem like the scariest part. Unfortunately, it is only the beginning.

Sometimes being that vulnerable, raw and empty can be the safest I will be in a while. The rebuilding is painful. The reminders are painful. It comes in waves when I least expect it when it’s least convenient and threatens to swallow me whole or otherwise.

Pain has no agenda than to reclaim me as the prisoner it kept me, for so long. The fight isn’t fair or noble.

It is dirty and gritty and not paved with good intentions. It is paved with potholes that I will fall into. No one can escape all the potholes. But that’s part of learning. It is part of healing. It is part of standing up to the pain and saying not this time. It is reminding myself that the hardest part is over, the physical trauma is over and I am safe.

I may not feel safe, and healing may feel harder than the trauma itself, but I am alive. The pain I feel means I am alive. That is a beautiful gift to be alive. I take life as a gift because during the trauma I didn’t always believe I would.

I would count to 10, and if I made it to 10, I would start over again until I made it to 1 minute. One minute would become 10 and 10 minutes would become 30, and then I would set dates to meet. I would set calendar dates to live until. When I reached those dates, I would celebrate because I had made it through a painful time, one that I didn’t think I could endure.

These are the things we do to survive. When the trauma comes back when the waves threaten to crash in, and the pain attempts to swallow me whole, I count to ten. If I can make it to ten, I can make it to a minute. It may not sound like a lot, but it may be all I have.

The sound of a thick leather belt hitting a small child’s flesh still makes my heart quicken. It is no longer real, but I hear it. I can smell the sweat dripping down his face and the physical excursion required to swing. Over and over and over again. I can hear the screams turned to grunts turned to silence my brother and I exhibited.

At an early age, we learned not to beg him to stop. Not too long after we learned to be silent while he raged on. It was better that way. It seemed to finish quicker that way. If we kept our thoughts and feelings to ourselves, his inner demons grew tired more easily.

He only fought himself using the leather, but our bodies were his targets. His possessions to hurt, collateral damage to his mind.

Watching someone take off a belt still, makes me do a double take. When I meet people, I notice if they wear a belt, the thickness of it and now and then I wonder if they have ever thought to use it for more than holding up pants.

I wonder how many others walk around this world with demons in their frontal lobes. How do we survive the cruelty we have all been subjected to? Where do we find the strength to be different and change the course we were plotted on?

These life lessons we learn, the growth of dust we come from, the patterns we establish; they repeat in our lives like a clock. We are destined to go around the circle in an endless time loop until we decide to change.

It seems impossible, improbable and hopeless.

But to come from fire, to emerge from flames bent on destruction proves one thing; way more credit is due for being incredible.

Collateral damage often makes us indestructible.

Photo Credit: H o l l y. Flickr via Compfight cc


Jackie Filer

Jackie Filer is a freelancer in the entertainment world. She works in television, theatre and film in a multitude of aspects; covering any ground that needs to be covered. New York has laid a stake in her and Jackie now calls the city home. Any spare time she has you will find her drinking wine with her girls or on the top of a mountain discovering new perspectives on life.

3 thoughts on “Collateral Damage

  1. Jess Reply

    This is so powerful. I too suffered from childhood abuse and have PTSD. My situation was different but I can relate so much to what Jackie wrote. I am working on healing the trauma and it truly can be so much more difficult than when it was inflicted. It is wearing on the soul. This was a wonderful read.

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