“Say one more thing, Big Mouth.”
I remember saying one more thing. I don’t remember being picked up. I don’t remember being thrown. I remember feeling like I was flying. I remember hitting the iron banister flat on my back.
The posts of the banister, also iron, were spaced about six inches apart and luckily for me I hit the staircase with my head between the bars. I never took calculus or physics or whatever (remember I barely got 1000 on my SATs? I wanna say 960 or 980, but I know for a fact I wasn’t gettin’ in to Yale with those scores) but I do think I’d be correct in assuming had I struck the banister with the back of my head I’d be blind, paralyzed or dead. Imagine flying fifteen feet and coming to an abrupt stop on iron grating. Fifteen feet airborne is forever in child years.
It didn’t hurt, not right away. Not physically. But it didn’t need to hurt physically. A grown-up had tried to kill me, and I needed to run away. After I hit the stairwell, however, gravity finished its work and I fell down behind the television, tangled in a mass of electrical wires. Ever see a war movie and some poor dude trying desperately to get untangled from barbed wire but the bad guys are shooting at him and charging?
Now imagine all of that before kindergarten.
Big Mouth. That was my name.
Children can’t be expected to have the mental or physical capacity necessary to protect themselves from grown-ups intent on hurting or killing them. I’m a very lucky man that I have a group of people who loved me enough to tell me I was okay, that I had escaped that I was not like those grown-ups and with therapy, tears, sleep, space and honesty I’ve been able to begin to thrive.
Besides, I have my own children now, and I’m lucky that my greatest act of vengeance will be loving them with all of my heart and hoping one day when I am dust their lives will be rich and full in ways mine can’t be.
Understand I am not saying that my life can’t be rich and full. It already is. I have it all. All. Family, house, friends, career of my dreams. All of it. But every time something good happens I have flashbacks to when something bad did because my mind insists on reminding me how very far I’ve come. Whenever something bad happens, my mind insists on reminding me how far I still have to go. You have no idea what I’m dealing with.
“Yeah but it can always get worse, so be grateful for what you have.’
Don’t ever say this. I know it’s coming from a good place and you don’t mean any harm by it. I know it’s coming from a place of love, friendship and concern. Sometimes anyway. Some of you are insensitive little goblins and say shit like “Suck it up!” because you’re the one who probably does the hitting or trafficking. I see you and I’m watching.
Saying to me “It can always get worse” just reminds me of the time in my life when it was. I suspect this is true of other survivors. We know how much worse it can get. We have seen it. I know you don’t want to be told you’re wrong, no one likes being told they’re in the wrong on something. People have called me out on my shit the last few years and I’ve been just smart enough to listen, so please listen now.
I know it can get worse. You have no idea what I’ve been through. It can always get worse, and it can get worse in ways that are unspeakable. Better to not say anything than to say something empty.
This is going to be a lifelong struggle. I’ve got years of flashbacks to look forward to. It’s very important that you don’t mistake trauma for a lack of gratitude. Now that you have an idea of where I’m coming from, think about other people in your orbit. Do some people seem tense and worried about shit that other people manage to just let roll off their backs? Your reaction says more about you than it does about me.
Why be so up front about this? I don’t want another image or video of a child with empty eyes to cross my path. We are humans. We are uplifted enough to know pain and fear are wielded as weapons and not as means of survival.
I’ve survived more, Traveler, and we’ll get to that, but think about this: children are developing Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder on our border, in brick yards, sweat shops. It’s preventable, and that we don’t do more to prevent it is a failing of our society as a whole, and this isn’t just an American problem. This is all of us. Everyone, everywhere. We must fix this if we are going to survive the decades to come. If not, this shit’s gonna go full Auntie Entity, and children will be the first to suffer and they will not have deserved it any more than I did.
Big Mouth. That was my name.