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“L’s got Jerk Radar,” my mother always laughed, “She’ll jump over a hundred good guys to get to the one jerk in the bunch!”

It did seem that way. My wake is strewn with jerks.

But, whenever a good man did enter my life, my mother always warned me, “You’ll be bored with him. Can you imagine what a life with him would be like? Always with his family? No TV? No music that you love? Nothing but beer and pizza with him.  You’re out of his league.  He’s out of your league; he won’t want you once he knows what you are.” There were dozens of reasons, according to her, for me to dump the good ones.

And, then, she chastised me for having Jerk Radar.

Two weeks ago I laid on the therapist’s table again and had another horrendous break through. At first I tried to fight it. I didn’t want to bawl in front of this young man. As if rubbing my old, fat, sweaty body wasn’t probably bad enough (I’d imagine smelly, too, since I’d just got off work), now I was going to become a blubbering, bawling mess for him?!

As he maneuvered and manipulated my wounded, wrecked body, my wounded, wrecked spirit leaked, no, gushed, forth despite my best efforts at keeping it all in check. It wasn’t like a sob. My body didn’t jerk. I didn’t gasp for breath. My eyes just gushed and the tears flooded down my temples like a dam had broken.

I guess it had. The dam of memories. The dam of resistance. The dam of resilience. It crumbled and was washed away by the rushing torrent of emotions and tears.

B felt horrible.  He hugged me and tried to reassure me that God has good things in store for me.

I know.

The tears were representative of a lifetime of pain.  But, they also represented a freeing epiphany.

I was an innocent child.  The ones who tortured my little spirit were sick fucks.  They were the ones who should have felt shamed, not me.

No one had the right to tell a preschooler she was born a bitch.  No one had the right to beat me mercilessly.  To deny me medical care.  To starve me.  To show me pornography.  To teach me how to perform sex acts at such a tender age.  To touch me and then threaten me that I wouldn’t be his girlfriend anymore if I didn’t do what I was told.  And. all of this before the third grade.

Then, when I reacted by hiding under my dad’s chair and pulling my own hair out, I was called crazy by the one beating, starving, and neglecting me.  The one who was sexualizing me and making me a prime target for my grandfather.

I was a little girl.  I loved cows and kittens and baby chicks.  I loved to draw.  I wanted to be a writer when I grew up.  I wanted to have lots of babies and a pond in my front yard.  I loved to ride my bike and feel the wind in my hair.  I was just a little girl.

I had the right to my own innocence.  I had the right to be cared for.

But, I was a little girl who was groomed and prepped and then condemned for following my training.  Like a well trained Pavlovian dog, I gobbled up the fodder of disrespecting myself with every ring of the bell of condemnation.  Instead of running away from cruelty, I fed off of it.  Because that’s what I was taught to do.

I’ve been judged my entire life by the mean girls in school and the mean women at work or at church.  I’ve been judged my entire life by the boys, and the men, who used me and threw me away.

I’ve heard their mantra about making better choices.  I’ve felt the sting of not being understood and not knowing how to make a better choice.

The bloody reality is that some of us don’t have the same opportunities as the rest of us.  Some of us are trained in such a way that sets us up for failure.  For abuse.  And, even for death.

I carry within me a legacy of abuse and shame.  And, the reasons are varied.  But, it always comes down to one thing……it’s what they were taught.  They presumed they had no other choices available to them.  And, in some cases, they truly didn’t because of the darkness of the society of man.

One of my great-grandfathers was of noble blood.  His family lineage was replete with stories of bravery and leadership.  His family still holds high offices in England. The values instilled in him as a young man were one of great responsibility to your family, your community, your fellow man.  And, so, he worked tirelessly as a community leader, a businessman, and a husband and father.  His wife was frail and ill, so he catered to her and gently cared for her, physically carrying her everywhere.  He never condemned her for her lousy mothering.  He excused it because of her “condition.”  And, she and her lover, his head employee, eventually killed him in a most gruesome way.  He wasn’t a dumb man.  He wasn’t ignorant.  He wasn’t weak.  He just was raised to believe that he was responsible for her, no matter what.  He was so focused on attending his responsibilities, he apparently never noticed her hypocrisy.  Perhaps he didn’t even consider it, since it would not have made a difference in his response to her.   He was, in essence, a slave to his family’s high standards for young men.

Another great-grandfather was illiterate though he came from a long line of doctors.  His father was tending to soldiers on both sides during the Civil War.  One day when his father was out, Union soldiers stormed the house.  His mother, fearing for her life and the lives of her children, took them and hid in the woods with them.  She sat in the cold and rain, covering her children with her body to keep them warm, until the soldiers were gone and her husband returned.  She caught cold from that and died shortly after.  Her older children, whom she’d educated, all grew up to continue on in the family tradition of practicing medicine.  Her youngest two sons had not received any schooling yet from her.  They were very small when she died.  Though my great-great-grandfather quickly remarried, the new wife only educated her own children born of their marriage.  She refused to care for those two little boys who belonged to “the first wife.”  My great-grandpa never could provide for his family.  He struggled his entire life.  And, my great-grandma resented him so much for it that she divorced him in mid-life.   While true, he was living in America, the land of opportunity and no excuses, the little semi-orphaned, illiterate “Jew boy” didn’t seem to have access to any of those opportunities.

One of my great-grandmas died in her 30’s, leaving six young children motherless.  I found her death certificate online, but there is no record of her birth.  Supposedly, they were keeping track of babies born to slaves by then, but I can’t find her.  The family stories are that her husband, my great-grandfather, was so mean–just a mean, old, drunk Indian who laid in bed, sending his grandsons to the store for more liquor, while he raped his granddaughters–that he refused to let my great-grandmother see a doctor when she became deathly ill.   He raised the children to be ashamed of her heritage and strangely proud of his.  Her older children, whom she’d had a hand in raising, were extremely sweet and kind people.  The younger ones, who didn’t remember her, were cold, cruel, and perverted, milder versions of their father.  I can’t imagine the options were many for a mulatto woman in the late 1800’s.  I can’t imagine her mindset.  What kind of self-degradation had been instilled in her?  What was everyone in her culture telling her about herself?

My grandmother, who married the son of the drunk Indian, can trace her lineage back to the Revolutionary War.  There were great men in her family.  Once upon a time.  Something, somehow, got lost along the way though.  Her father and brothers ran stills during prohibition.  When the revenuers came in, her brother shot and killed one.  He went to prison briefly, only to come home and continue on in the family business.  This time, a revenuer shot Uncle S.  Her dad had killed the neighbor man in an old fashioned quick draw shooting in the main street of town.  They were Southern trash at its lowest.  But, they didn’t seem to be aware of it.  When my grandmother became pregnant at sixteen, she was forced to give the baby away in order to maintain the family’s “fine reputation.”  Tears burned her eyes 60+ years later when she told me that you never get over that pain, every year on their birthday and Mother’s Day, no matter how many other children you have, you think about that one, you wonder where it is.  I’ve often wondered if she was married off into the drunk Indian family because “no decent white boy would have her now.”  I’d heard that statement too many times growing up to think that it didn’t have an origin.  How many choices did she have in the South in the early 20’s?

My family background is varied.  But, the common theme is abuse and shame.  Abuse and shame cross all cultures, colors, religions, and socio-economic backgrounds.  They know no barriers as they weave their destruction through generation after generation.  And, I, like my grandparents must have felt, certainly felt that I had no choices.  You do what you’re trained to do, what you’re shamed into doing.

I didn’t have Jerk Radar.  My mother refused to allow me options, choices, and a decent upbringing which would have enabled me to make wise choices on my own in spite of her cajoling or manipulation.

There are those of us, there have always been those of us, who are denied the benefits of freedom.  True freedom.

For one great-grandfather and one great-grandmother, freedom came only in death.

But, the thing that has continually come to me as I lay on that table is I AM ALIVE.  Unlike my great-grandparents, I survived what those evil, sick fucks threw at me.  I AM ALIVE.

And, live I will!