Twenty years ago, a man beat his son. The mother went to the school the next day and pointed out the bruising. He had been violent with the children many times over the years, and protective services had been involved repeatedly. This time, though, she decided it was enough. She reported the abuse, and then packed up her three children and moved into a shelter for abused women. Her daughter was two years old. In the months that followed, there was chaos. The man moved out, and the wife and children moved back into their rental home. Mom was very childlike, beaten down from years of verbal abuse, and was unable to be the parent to her three children. The oldest boy threw the younger boy down the stairs, causing serious injury. The younger children went to stay with friends until the oldest boy could be admitted to the psych unit. On the psych unit, the oldest boy acknowledged that he and the other male members of the family had repeatedly molested the two year old girl. Finally, in March, I received a phone call asking me to come get the two younger children. Mom had broken her shoulder, and no one else wanted them. The little girl stayed with me, the brother, who was acting out in frightening ways already, ended up in therapeutic foster care..
Daughter does not have verbal memories of any of this. She knows the broad outlines of her story, because we have talked about it many times. For a number of years she would ask me to tell her again what had happened around her adoption day. She doesn't have verbal memories, but her body remembers. Her body remembers, and every fall she struggles. Therapist told me the other day that we were probably dealing with anniversary issues in the fall, and we might never know exactly what they were. I began thinking, and I remembered. I received a call when the family moved into the shelter, because I was their pastor. I went to visit them in the shelter. I remember this little girl with very big eyes who stood quietly with her back to the wall watching everything that was going on. She was nonverbal at that time, but the hyper vigilance was obvious. Of course, back then, I didn't know what I know now, and I didn't recognize that warning sign.
When I agreed to keep her as my foster child, I believed that with love and stability she would heal and be fine. She has healed, but she will never be fine. She was forever damaged by those first three years in a house of horrors. When she was 18 months old she witnessed a knife fight between her brothers. She told me the story when she was young, and I doubted it was real. Her birth mother confirmed that it was real one day when Daughter was 6 years old and confronted her with some of her memories. When she woke up crying in her crib, her birth father would go in and backhand her. Her brother testified to that in the termination of parental rights case. When her brothers bathed her, they molested her. She was forced to perform oral sex on them. She wasn't even three years old. She told me that story one day, too. "Brother, snake, mouth, yucky." She was 4 or 5 and still couldn't put together a complete sentence. I don't think she remembers that now, either. I've talked to her about how her first family couldn't keep her safe. That's why she had to leave them. That's why she came to live with me.
I remember. I know the story. I know that it was the fall she was 2 that the final disintegration of the family began. I remember, because there were fall decorations at the shelter when I visited, and the move came right around Halloween. I remember. Daughter's body remembers, and the fear and terror of those days still play themselves out every fall. It's one anniversary I wish we could skip.