Thursday, February 9, 2012

Stockholm, California

I am nine years old.  We are on an airplane headed to California.  My step father has relocated us to the back of the cabin so he can smoke.  For the entire six-hour trip my face is buried in a barf bag.  My mother has been supportive and helpful until she decides that now I am just looking for attention and ticks at me every time I raise the bag to wretch.  Eventually she has to use her own barf bag and I feel vindicated. 

We are staying at an aunt's home.  I have two cousins to play with here and several more nearby who come for the first night's big dinner.  This is the first time I have risen from my usual haze and smiled in ages.  I do not remembered ever being in a house full of people who smile and laugh and talk to my brother and me. Even my mother is animated. I know we have been here before- I have some vague memories.  We stayed at my Grandma's house and now she is gone.  She died of breast cancer not too long ago. She used to tape boxes of raisins to the bushes in front of her home and tell my brother and me that that is how they grow. We would grab them up, delighted by such a discovery. I miss her now, though I don't miss my Grandpa too much- he was always a bit grumpy and usually asleep in his chair. 

My mother has three sisters, all with husbands and kids around my brother's and my ages and staying amongst them is a different experience from staying at Grandma's.  They are loudly sociable and openly loving and I like it very much, though I feel shy. 

My cousins all have nice clothes and shoes.  I am embarrassed about my clothes- I hardly have any and what I do have is cheap and ill-fitting.  More so, I am embarrassed to take my shoes off.  Every year before school starts, my mother buys my brother and me new shoes from Sears that are so blue that they dye our feet.  I have tried to scrub them in the bathroom sink, but there is no use.  Back home, I wear rock shoes at the communal dock in the beginning of summers until the lake water fades my ridiculous feet.  Here, I am relieved when my cousins are kind enough to pretend that they don't see them when the time comes to take them off and run in the grass. 

I notice that my step father is often alone here- out back smoking, not much part of the occasion.  He keeps a close eye on me.  I feel him watching.  He is like a vulture, hopping from place to place to keep his eye on his vulnerable prey.  My throat is always tight- I can feel the mental chain around my neck- my umbilical cord to a source of life that is all that I know.  I think that no one here likes him.  They don't talk much to him.  If they do, he is perfunctory in his responses and they turn away defeated by his apathy.  I wonder why he even came along.  I feel a tug at the chain and I remember.  It is because he tells me he will always be with me, and always watching.

I feel sad for him.  I know that sometimes I don't feel very good because of him, but he is the person I am closest to.  I understand his wants and needs.  He tells me I am the only one who really does and that makes me special.  When I was in the bathroom, I cried for him- my heart knowing what it feels like to be on the outside, to feel different somehow.

I am conflicted when my cousins want to play.  I look back at him many times before the instinct to be carefree and caught up in kid-hysterics kicks in.  I leave him behind and do as I please for now.  In the forefront of my mind, I wonder if there will be a punishment for this, but we are here for a whole week and I know that for now, I don't have to care too much.  But still I am owned- forever damned by hating him and loving him all at once.


"The Stockholm Syndrome comes into play when a captive cannot escape and is isolated and threatened with death, but is shown token acts of kindness by the captor. It typically takes about three or four days for the psychological shift to take hold.
A strategy of trying to keep your captor happy in order to stay alive becomes an obsessive identification with the likes and dislikes of the captor which has the result of warping your own psyche in such a way that you come to sympathize with your tormenter!" This from:

"What causes Stockholm Syndrome? Captives begin to identify with their captors initially as a defensive mechanism, out of fear of violence. Small acts of kindness by the captor are magnified, since finding perspective in a hostage situation is by definition impossible. Rescue attempts are also seen as a threat, since it's likely the captive would be injured during such attempts.
It's important to note that these symptoms occur under tremendous emotional and often physical duress. The behavior is considered a common survival strategy for victims of interpersonal abuse, and has been observed in battered spouses, abused children, prisoners of war, and concentration camp survivors." This from:


  1. Sometimes it feels like only another survivor can possibly understand how we feel and how twisted our thoughts can become because of the control of our abusers. I too struggled with the love/hate that I often felt for my dad.

  2. It is you!!! I love your blog!

    My partner mentioned that he liked todays post because he really didn't know much about SS. Now is is schooled! To me- that is what this is all about. I didn't know there was a name for how I felt in this story's situation. Now I know that even when I don't necessarily have a definition for something, that it is okay to trust that whatever it is I am feeling is defined- by me.

    This is all new to me- blogging. Any advice is greatly appreciated, should you have any.

    Keep on rockin' the blog world!

    :) CAirn

  3. Between "K" and my father, that is what I went through, as you know. I just "traded" one for the other. This post SO reminded me of how I felt around "K"...never very far from his "grasp" and very conflicted. I'm sorry we can relate so well to this but I am so thankful too. :/

  4. I have just discovered your blog. Thank you so much for sharing. I love the simple honesty of your feelings. Reading your story today is so timely for me. Over the last few months I have processing bits and pieces of my childhood for my blog and have reliving so many emotions thoughts and feelings. With the knowledge that I have as an Adult it is sometimes hard to come to terms with WHY I let things happen to me as a child. But I remember every thought that I had back then. Every feeling. Sometimes , internally it is like I am still there emotionally. Like my emotional growth was stunted. That is not how I am on the outside, of course, but what I sometimes feel like inside. And back then I had no power. I hated the things that happened to me, but I had no choice. And in some way these things did make me feel special. They made me feel bad, they made me feel sick, they made me feel like there was something wrong with me - yes to all of these - but the ugly truth - they did make me feel special, i did feel pleasure , it was attention - such a vicious circle. So thank you so much for sharing this story today. As I process all of these feelings, it is a timely reminder for me that I was a child, and what I experienced was MY normality. And it was normal for me to experience this myriad of emotions.

  5. I have just taken a look at your blog and it feels so familiar. One of the things i am loving about this process is seeing that there are more people out there who are braving the telling of their stories and trying to educate by sharing other peoples' as well as resources, etc. I am proud of you!
    My biggest hope for my blog is to see it spread to all people. I want to bring words to this taboo subject- meaning to how catastrophic it has been to so many. Thank you for sharing me in your newspaper ( cool widget! I want one!) Please, please share my blog. Is it okay to share your in mine?
    PS- I am an avid reader and lover of Hyperbole and a half!

  6. Is that the trip I remembered recently? I do remember my parents expressing their dislike of him. Though I know they had no clue that you were trapped in he'll with him, they Were definitely not fans of his. My mom said recently had she known this back then she'd have flown there shot him herself and brought you back to live with her- only if she beat your other aunt there.
    It creeps me out that he was in our house and grandmas. I feel sad that you were hurt for him and worried about his feelings. I understand the Stockholm syndrom though.