The Little Girl in the Picture
Have you ever had that one picture of yourself that you say, “Who is this?” You just stare at it, and it calls your soul. It is like it is telling you to search deep within yourself and remember.
How far back can you remember your life? We all have an inner child or inner children. They often get lost as we grow into our adult, fast-paced lives, but they are still there tugging at us in hopes we will remember and visit them. They come out in us from time to time, usually when we have a silly moment, or a thought runs across our minds, or when we see a cartoon and get caught up in it. These moments can be as simple as sitting on a swing and letting our minds take us back to images of ourselves as children. We smile, knowing that inner child is still very much alive in us today.
Some of us have grown up in very loving homes where we have been encouraged, hugged, and heard the words “I love you.” We have been free to play, explore, create, laugh, cry, and just be ourselves. Others of us have come from single parents or lived through divorces. There are many different families and homes out there. These are our building grounds as we grow. True, we are all born as an individual person, but things get altered if wrong messages, too much negativity, lack of love, or abuse come down on a small child. These experiences shape all our tomorrows.
We could all bring pictures, or that one picture of ourselves, to a group to share. As we looked at each one, we might hear, “Oh, look at that pretty smile: you look so happy,” or “You were so cute.” However, only each person knows the story behind her picture.
Let’s take this picture of me about four years old holding a piece of fruit. We can see I am grinning, well dressed in shorts and black patent shoes, and adorable (okay, I had to throw that in there.) I look like a happy little girl. Typically, at the age of four, the world is really big-well, everything is big to us at four. The world is full of wonder and adventure, and we are exploring and learning from our world and the people around us. We laugh, act silly, cry, run, jump, roll, and pretend a lot. We play dress up, make mud pies, and let our imaginations run wild. We want to hug, to be held and to snuggle up close. We sing, dance, and spin around. We pretend to be super hero or a favorite animal, and bugs amaze us. Our parents are our heroes and always there for us.
I remember when this picture was taken of me. My mother said, “Run out there so I can take a picture.” Well, I ran almost to the road with my silly self. She kept telling me to come in a little closer until she finally told me to stop and took the picture. I never saw this picture until 2014, a year after my mother died. I was visiting a cousin who pulled out her mother’s pictures to show me, and this picture fell out. All I could do was sit and stare at it. I asked myself, “Who is this? Is this really me?” The picture and the yard brought up lots of other feelings with it. My soul hurt as I looked at the picture and remembered that little girl. After I came home, I looked at the picture again off and on, and it always pulled at my heart. The feelings that came when I saw myself standing in that yard just hurt.
See, the little girl in this picture seems well taken care of and happy. Behind that face, however, already lies a hidden secret. She knows of a monster who visited her at night, a monster who was doing bad things to her and saying things that confused her. The little girl had been born the third child to a very young couple whose marriage was falling apart. Before this little girl was two, her whole world flipped. Her parents divorced, and she went with her mother and her two siblings went with her daddy. They lived three states away. This little girl never really knew her real father or two siblings. It was the man her mother chose to bring in afterwards who changed her world.
I can remember as far back as two years old. I was sitting on a back step at the babysitter’s house playing in the dirt. We lived in a trailer just up above this house and, as I sat playing in the dirt, I could see the face of a man in the window looking down at me. I did not like this man at all. Fear had already come into my world. I remember my mother and this man taking me to a house and dropping me off with this old lady. There were others at this house. The man said this would now be my grandmother, and I would be here for a while until they came back for me. Then they left. I started crying and screaming for my momma until the old woman stood up with a hickory stick and said, “If you don’t stop that creaming and crying, I’LL give you something to cry about. Now, shut up!” This was when my mom married the monster, and they went on a honeymoon for a week.
I don’t remember the move from the trailer to the house with the front yard where I am standing in the picture, but once I was there, my world changed even more for the worse. Let’s just say that the walls of the house hold a lot of secrets. The monster went into full swing. This little girl felt unloved and unwanted. The words “I love you” never came from my mother, but those words came from my step-dad. It went something like this: “I do this because I love you. No one else will ever love you like me. This is our secret. If you tell, they will take you away from your momma.” When the monster was at work, I was free, but when he came home, and it was supper, fear set in again. Every night as I got up to the table to eat and the monster sat down, I would pee all over my chair. Every night until I stopped doing this, they spanked my feet with a hickory stick. Then going to bed at night was another big fight. I was afraid to enter a dark room, insisted the closet door be shut, slept in the middle of the bed, and would not allow any part of my body to hang off in fear something would get me. I knew sometime during the night the monster would visit me. I hated night times. Bad things happened at night. I know that this little girl at that age until now has a hard time eating hot dogs or bananas. Don’t tell me that the body does not hold memories, for it does.
This monster had come into my life at two and had started grooming me long before he married my mother. He had groomed my mother, too, with gifts and dinners even as I later learned he abused her. I was on my own in handling the monster both then and later. As the young child in the picture, I found refuge outside. I loved dancing and singing on the picnic table or playing with the dogs. I had to learn to survive the best way I could, for the two people whom I should have been able to trust were not there. One of them was my monster either physically or mentally for thirty-two years until he died. The other was surviving her own hell from him.
When I see this picture of myself as a little girl, I feel the pain, the loss, and the fears. But I also know that part of healing means going back to that inner child and remembering. In order to continue healing and moving on, I have gone back and rescued my inner child, and together we are rewriting our story. I have cut her out of the picture, out of that yard, and that place and time where everything happened. I have snatched her from the past and brought her to the future with me. Like a paper doll, I can place her in different fun, loving backgrounds now. I’m giving her back what was taken, and she is giving me what I had forgotten. We are growing and relearning together. People say grow up; you know what, some of us grew up long before it was our time. To those, I say get outside and play, go back to that one picture that sticks in your mind, and spend time remembering and feeling. Go rescue your little person. Bring that child to the now. Be their hero. Be their warrior. Learn to listen to each other and spend time together.
Laugh, Cry, Play,
Be Silly, Create,
Use your imagination.
— Ellen, age 56