[See: n, Below]

The ABC's of a childhood darkened by abuse

abecedarian      a novice learning the rudiments of a subject, a beginner or amateur; a student; straightforward, simplified; in literature, a work arranged in order according to the alphabet, often written about a single topic. 

believe       to have confidence or faith in the truth; to give credence to; as a child, it seemed certain no one would; as an adult, what I am learning to do in myself.   

character the combined total of features and traits that form the individual nature of some person or thing; moral or ethical quality; qualities of honesty, courage, or the like; integrity, reputation; idiom used by others to describe my father, along with such words as generous, thoughtfulfunentertaining, and a hell of a guy.   

divide and conquer     to gain or maintain control over two parties by pitting one against the other; the goal of all children, my mother used to say—to intentionally cause trouble in their parents’ marriage to drive them apart.      

excommunicate to sever ties with a person as a form of punishment; a potential consequence of telling; synonyms: ban, blackball, cast out, condemn, curse, damn, denounce, dismiss, exclude, expel, ostracize, outlaw, reject, repudiate, shun. 

fucked up suicide, depression, anxiety, fear, hostility, low self-esteem, substance abuse, borderline personality disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder—all potential long-term psychological and behavioral effects of childhood sexual abuse; that children are ever abused in the first place.   

guilt    the fact or state of having committed an offense, crime, violation, or wrong; the illogical, insistent sensation that it’s somehow my fault, that I am to blame.   

hunting rifle, loaded     the preoccupation of my daydreams; inexplicably, what I’d be holding when he opened the door, the gun discharging, killing him instantly, completely, accidentally. 

I am king of this castle!”     a dictator’s reminder that he is in control and above reproach; my father’s favorite decree, usually proclaimed from his recliner.   

journal     a record of a person’s thoughts, feelings, or daily events; something I always wanted to write but feared would be discovered.   

keep the peace     my grandmother’s mandate and guiding principle for dealing with any and all points of contention: “in marriage,” she used to say, “there are things we women must learn to endure.” synonyms: put on a good face, let it be. 

lewd and lascivious conduct with a minor     a legal charge more serious than exposure of genitalia but less serious than sexual intercourse with a child; complaint against the attendant at a nearby gas station where m  my mom wouldn’t let my little brother buy candy—there was just something about the guy that gave her the creeps.  

memoriesrepressed or recovered      also known as dissociative amnesia, for which the DSM-IV includes, in its diagnostic criteria, “one or more episodes of inability to recall important personal information, usually of a traumatic or stressful nature, that is too extensive to be explained by ordinary forgetfulness”; according to my immediate family, “a total bunch of bullshit.” 

naked     having no covering; bare or exposed; synonyms: defenselesshelpless, raw, unprotected, vulnerable; how I feel writing this, fully clothed.  

overnight at grandma and grandpa’s     a cherished childhood ritual enjoyed by my sons but on evenings inevitably and unavoidably plagued by manufactured last-minute wrinkles that understandably prevented my daughter from staying. 

pedophile    an adult who is sexually attracted to or fantasizes about young children; the term my parents used to describe a man who once approached my father when he was a boy—they would never elaborate. 

quandary     a state of uncertainty or perplexity, especially one demanding a choice between equally unfavorable options; a dilemma; what if I tell and no one believes? versus what will happen if someone does believe?  

raining     the reason my father gave whenever I’d wake up and find him in my bedroom in the middle of the night—just closing the windows. Even on nights the sky was clear.  

scarlet letter     a marker embroidered across one’s chest designed to inflict public humiliation and shame; the unshakable sensation that others know simply by looking at me.  

ten     the digit 1 followed by 0; the sum of 1 + 2 + 3 + 4; the Roman numeral X; the pennies necessary to equal a dime; the number of digits on a human’s hands, a knockout count in boxing; in a study cited by my counselor, the percentage of non-abusive parents unaware of the abuse inflicted by the other parent or, put simply, 90 percent know but look the other way.   

unable to support herself, let alone two kids     the reason she said she stayed married to him. [see: q, above] 

voice     to declare or proclaim; the power of uttering sounds through the mouth by controlled expulsion of air; a medium or agency of expression; a stated opinion, wish, or choice; the power or right to have one’s statement be heard. 

was mich nicht umbringt macht mich stärker    translation: what does not destroy me makes me stronger; the aphorism by German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche that I clung to as a teen, that still resonates today.  

x     in algebra, the variable or unknown; in childhood, fear of the unknown was always constant.  


zero    the line or point from which all divisions of a scale are measured, either in a positive or negative direction; the lowest point or degree; nothing; the probability that, if confronted, either parent will admit to any knowledge, wrongdoing, or abuse.  

[see: w, above] 

About the Author

Carrie Barker current
Carrie Barker

Carrie Barker's nonfiction has been named winner and runner-up of two Norton Writer's Prizes and has appeared in publications such as Everyone's an Author and The Norton Sampler. She is a graduate of Kirkwood Community College and the University of Iowa.

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