PART 1: COMPLEX TRAUMA
CHAPTER ONE: SMALL CHILD
Small child. Time bends. I observe:
Noise. Rushing, jangly energy. There is my mom. Short, curly, blondish-red hair, trying to smile, always trying. She works in the house, caring for five kids. She is young and pretty. Watching, waiting, laughing. She cooks and cleans, and I watch her sometimes. Special times when she is really with me. Spinning a globe, pointing a finger. Laying out a marvellous array of Christmas crafts. I am often merely in her shadow as we tend to business in the little town —at the post office, grocery store, driving here and there in the long green Buick. I recall few conversations. I am a small child, watching, waiting.
More often I am my father’s shadow. We drive in the red pickup truck; go fishing, to construction sites, to the gravel pit. He also is quiet, though softly laughs when I do speak. I know sometimes he is sad and anxious. Most of the time he is sick. This dad is not the man crashing and raging, driving his family before him. That dad is a shadow figure the others hide me from. That dad demon is not the one I curl up with, watching hockey, not the one I listen to sleeping, his snoring my comfort. Not the one who silently enters my room and checks that I am sleeping safely every night. The demon dad is seething, full of rage, hated and hating.
I watch my brothers.
Steven, the oldest, is quiet, sad, and angry; the growing image of Dad. Intelligent and sensitive. Hurt already.
I see Bruce, here and there, already trying to escape, his sardonic humour masking confusion and helplessness. Trying to be strong, though he’s terrified (justifiably); trying to pretend the smacks and the punches don’t hurt. I can’t help but see my sister Jo-Anne, trapped in a bedroom with me —her bratty, spoiled baby sister. We fight, as sisters do. Not fair. I am untouchable, Daddy’s girl. She leaves. For her horses, for her freedom, for her sanity.
Theresa sees me. Theresa, my sister-mother. Nurturer. Too grown up already —caregiver by birthright, oldest child. It is known she will go places. She obediently awaits her chance.
This is what my eight-year-old eyes see, what I remember. There are layers, all players have their stories. This is the cast in my memory, the opening act.
The setting is Ponoka, a town of four thousand, in the province of Alberta, in the country of Canada. We live in a house that my dad built, decorated in glaring seventies style: velvet-gilded wallpaper, purple and orange carpet, mirrored tile, and green appliances. This house is the symbol of our success. Look at us, a sweet, hard-working middle-class family. We fool no one, although the screams and bangs are never spoken of by the neighbours. We don our masks over our shame, hold our heads high. We are Greshners, and any challenge to our pride will mean an instant fight. There are few takers.
Theresa teaches me to read and write at a young age. Moreover, she teaches me storytelling. I am often in her bed, and we take turns weaving stories, back and forth, fantastic and fun. She teaches me poetry. We walk together, through streets and fields and woods. She is a photographer; I draw. At school, I quietly gather my A’s, following in her academic footsteps.
I follow my brothers in their love of the wild —summers at the lake, jackknives, fishing, and frogs.
I am a lover of animals like my sister Jo-Anne. My poor kitten, Tigger, hauled around in a baby carrier, stalked and imitated as I learn to prowl and growl.
I plant seeds of flowers and vegetables with my dad. The whole family harvests, Mom pickling and preserving. An idyllic dream of a perfect family.
Then there are the nightmares.
Adults loud and drunk, kids holding their breath. The boys rush out to hold my dad back long enough to get my mom and us girls out of the house. We cruise the streets in the car, lights off until we park in our grandparents’ backyard. We listen to our breathing, too loud, too loud, as we see my dad circling, searching, rage growing and reaching out in the dark …
My mom’s parents, Grandma and Grandpa, live two blocks away. We are there all the time. The parents and the parties are there. Also the Christmases, the summer backyard fires, games, and goodies.
The good and the bad.
My grandparents drink, too, of course. Everyone does. This is prairie culture. Drinking. Drinking and driving. Drinking and fighting. Of course. This is the way the world works. Love and fear.
Memories are like jewels on a Christmas tree. Some shine bright, glittering and precious. Some are dim and tarnished. And some lie broken in fragments on the floor.
I am cherished and often ignored. In the seventies kids are wild. I am independent.
I am okay. independent. I am okay.