4476 Brill Drive.
I don't think that I'll ever forget that address. It wasn't my first. It wasn't my last. But, it was like a twilight zone, a portion of my life that seems so disproportionately strange in memory, and yet, so oddly fresh.
A part of me has always been afraid to tell of it. Another part of me feels as though it may burst if I don't. I have always been afraid of embarrassing those who endured those years with me, bringing shame to my family, or angering my parents in divulging so much of our private life. My daddy once said that the great thing about writing fiction is that you can tell your story without anyone ever knowing that it was your's. I, however, suggest that the great thing about writing nonfiction is that everyone will know that it was your's. How else would we be a testament to the majesty of God's grace? Without transparency, we would be nothing more than a fairy tale, unattainable in it's own right, providing warmth to the reader, but no hope for their reality. Christ has been diligent to teach me that I have nothing in this world to boast about, nothing less than his great glory. Likewise, I have nothing to hide, for I have been made new. And with keeping this in mind, I will share with discretion, but honesty.
"But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong." -2 Corinthians 12:9-11
We moved into the blue house when I was four years old. I was quite sure it was a mansion. The big empty rooms seemed greater than any house I had ever seen. But, then again, I was four, and they were empty. I was too excited and unaware to notice the missing window panes, the rotting floor, or the smoke stained walls. It wasn't until a few years later that I began to notice that my house wasn't up to par. The houses on the bus route to school looked nothing like mine. Not even the other houses on my street looked similar. Our house sat alone on a few acres of land, family-owned property, apparently. The house had been empty for years, possibly decades, and it was apparent as such. We were moving into this neglected house because there would be no rent to pay, as we couldn't afford to pay any.
It wasn't long before the floor literally fell out from under us. The window panes that hung like loose teeth in a snaggle-toothed mouth eventually fell, and the holes were covered by sheets of plastic. The front door was held shut by a twisted piece of coat hanger that latched onto a nail on the wall. The light fixtures stopped working, one room at a time. First the bathroom, then the kitchen. We showered with a garden hose that ran from the kitchen sink to the bathroom, and into the tub... the bathroom that was only lit by a flashlight that hung from the useless shower head. The broken toilet was flushed with a bucket full of old bathwater that we would save after a bath for that very reason. It was excessively hot in the summer, and the house was filled with the humming of box fans. It was excessively cold in the winter, and we fell asleep to the flickers of a kerosene heater.
We lived there for eight years. As frustrating as it was to live in such a circumstance, the challenges of being poor don't often stick out in my mind so much as the wars that raged within those fragile walls. It isn't easy being a little girl without the answers trying to answer to a demanding parent that expects you to have them. It is nothing short of confusing to be told that "all I want is your best", only to present your best and be told "I think you can do much better". It is beyond oppressive to be made to feel like you are always in the way, walking on eggshells, trying not to set off an ill-tempered parent. An emotional mine field is no place for children. It grieves them and destroys who they are. A child can easily become obsessed with "playing their cards right" in hopes of gaining approval, or avoiding wrath. When you say to a child, "Do it one more time and I'll knock you out a window!", a child, whether young or old, does not know that you are simply "speaking out of anger, and wouldn't actually knock them out a window". You are big, they are small, and it is a scary thing to be screamed at by an adult red in the face from anger.
I should put that a bit more personally:
It was beyond oppressive to be made to feel like I was always in the way, walking on eggshells, trying not to set of an ill-tempered parent. An emotional mine field was no place for me as a child. It grieved me and destroyed who I was. I became obsessed with "playing my cards right" in hopes of gaining approval, or avoiding wrath. When you said to me, "Do it one more time and I'll knock you out a window!", I didn't know that you were simply "speaking out of anger, and wouldn't actually knock me out a window". You were big, I was small, and it was a scary thing to be screamed at by an adult red in the face from anger.
In such a hostile environment, even when I wasn't being taught, there was so much that I was learning. I became illusive. I learned to be observant, to speak less and listen more. I learned to hide. I learned to keep secrets. I learned that it was better to tell a person what they wanted to hear, even if it was a lie. I learned that it was better to give a person what they wanted, even if you didn't want to give it away. I learned that you only fight the ones who cannot win against you, and you always give in to the ones whom you can never win against. I learned to manipulate.
These lessons always translated so powerfully in my life as a young girl. I learned that a man's attention is going to cost you, and that I, alone, was not of much value. I never questioned that I did not have to succumb to a boy's demands, no matter how young I was. It was as if I had a sign on my forehead: "Insecure and unwilling to defend herself"... and so it was, the boys would come, and I would freeze, not knowing that I had an option in the matter. It happened as early as kindergarten. And it's as though it never stopped. Sexual abuse is not something that you can hide from, especially when you're sitting next to them in class. Sexual abuse only reinforced what I already knew, that I was not my own. I remember one boy, specifically, who would never let it go. I avoided him for three years of elementary school, until one day he ended up in my third grade classroom. He looked at me and smiled, and I began to feel sick. He then walked back to my teacher, and at some point came up behind me and whispered into my ear, "You remember that time in kindergarten?" And then he laughed as he walked away, turning back to smile at me before walking out of the classroom. The details of what happened, when, where, and with who, are almost insignificant next to the fact that this was a child who was acting like a predator, treating me - another child - like prey... in a public classroom, under the noses of ill-supervising teachers. Parents, be aware, these things do happen, even in the best of schools. Pray for your children daily as you send them to school each day, as you never know who's company they are in.
If I could give myself any advice today, I would say, "Della, mind your temper, as it can wreak havoc on the hearts of your little ones. Be angry, and sin not. Do not yell. Do not threaten. Always discipline in love. How you treat them now will determine how they allow themselves to be treated in the future. Treat them as though God handmade them just for you, because He did. Delight in their laughter, rejoice with them about little things, and love them patiently through their trials. Hearing them tell you a pointless story in three-year-old jargon is far more priceless than catching the last five minutes of your favorite show. Don't become so busy that you can't help them when they need it, as soon they won't ask for your help at all. Most of all, do not teach them wretchedness through your own poor example. You teach them what is permissible, not by the rules that you set for them, but by the rules that you have set for yourself. If you allow poor behavior of yourself, expect to receive it, also, from them. These children, simply put, are reflections and refinements of your own self. Learn from them, that you may lead them through the guidance of the Holy Spirit... lead them diligently to Christ. Be immersed in Him, so that He is all that your children will see. Be their ambassador for Christ."
"Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God." - 2 Corinthians 5:17-20