I was molested by a relative when I was a preschooler.
Some of my memories of this are murky; others are surprisingly vivid. I remember blue-jeaned legs, a round red face, and not being able to breathe. The most disturbing emotion, which can send my heart racing even today, was fear for my baby brother in the next room. I was his big sister, entrusted with his care. I loved him with all my heart. His happiness and suffering I felt as my own.
I also remember what I was wearing at the time – a blue sailor dress with a red tie. I loved Popeye the Sailor Man and felt invincible in that dress. I remember standing on the couch in my dress with my arms out like Popeye – showing off my muscles. That dress and the big sister status — it had to be heady.
In one fell swoop, in that one miserable day, a terrorist entered our home and changed the course of my life forever.
When my parents reappeared to save me, I remember longing to sail off on a fairy boat with my mother.
That this occurred, is not a particularly unique thing. It is estimated that one in ten children are abused before the age of 18.
I believe my parents and other relatives knew what happened but, as was typical of the time, it wasn’t talked about. I am guessing they all assumed (hoped) I was too young to remember.
And I didn’t for a time, but eventually the clues kept appearing, memories returned, and certain mysteries about my life started to made sense.
A month or so before I moved to the Oregon Coast from Portland, I found an old photograph of a little girl at a thrift store I haunted for vintage art supplies. She cost a full $1.00, which was a steep price for where I was shopping. But, after I kept returning to look at her, I splurged and bought her. After I settled into my new coastal house, the first thing I did was pull the photograph out and begin a collage not knowing why or where I was going with it.
When I had finished, I saw a sepia toned phantom of my past – the Popeye girl in the sailor suit.
That little girl had gone away and I would never know her. I was consumed with grief. I call this collage “Lost at Sea”.
There is a memorial to lost sailors in the coastal town where I lived then. Their names are carved in stone and I think about the people they might have become had they lived.
If I could, I would carve the words “Betsy the Sailor Girl” into the stone. Instead, I made this collage memorial to the girl I was who was lost at sea – who didn’t become who she was meant to be, but lived to become another – no better or worse, but who, frankly, has had to swim through a tsunami to get this far.