Behind Closed Doors

Writing and Rhetoric: Anonymous

I am 4 years old and I spend my time with my grandma while my dad is working. She is my first memory of feeling loved – truly loved – as a child should be.

She lets me play and imagine.

She redirects me in a calming way when I can’t help in being but mischief and brown hair. I eagerly burst through her front door and the sound of it closing brings comfort.

The day stretches out but as early morning turns into early afternoon, I start to feel sick, act out, get a tummy ache, and need more attention. It’s almost time to get picked up and go home.

I don’t want to go home.

Can’t I just stay here forever? I can’t say these thoughts out loud and I don’t understand what I am feeling.

Back at home the front door closes and the yelling starts.

I don’t know what I did wrong, but it must have been a crime worse than murder because I’m being yelled at so fiercely that I wet myself on the doormat. Now I’m being yelled at harder because I made a mess. I could clean it up myself but I am frozen in place because I am so scared.

I am trapped and I am small.

I am nearly thrown down the dark basement stairs and there I sit at the bottom as the door closes. It’s dark and cold but it’s quiet and I feel safe at the bottom of the stairs. I had a puppy that got into some antifreeze down here and I wonder if her ghost lingers in this damp space. I pretend she keeps me company.

I sit in the dark for what feels like hours but also feels like not long enough – he hasn’t forgotten that I exist, and that is what I silently hope for.

I am a fast learner, I quickly realize what to never do and what to never say. I learn to be seen and not heard. I learn to smile in public and if I do a good enough job acting the part, then behind closed doors it won’t be so bad.

He uses the love that children inherently have for their parents and my fresh fear of abandonment to manipulate me.

I guess I don’t really know how to do anything right. I never know what will happen behind closed doors.

I am in first grade and I am having trouble with math. I need help counting pennies and I am not understanding what is expected of me so the pennies get whipped at my face. As I start to cry I am ordered to clean them up. I finish the homework and I never ask for help behind closed doors again.

I never ask for help in public either. I learn to figure it out on my own.

It’s very hard to be perfect but I sure try, because behind closed doors I am the reason for my fathers pain and anguish; maybe if I’m perfect he will be happier.

I look like her, you see.

As my brown hair grows more unruly and my big brown eyes shine brighter, I am sure he sees her face instead of my own. I am told from well-meaning grown ups that I look just like her. Inside I get that tummy ache feeling. He hates her. I look like her. He hates me too, but I don’t understand that feeling either.

As I get older I have the freedom to close my bedroom door and it stays closed.

Behind closed doors I now have my own space and there I sit. Alone. But it’s quiet and I eventually learn to hate the sound of someone knocking on the other side. I am being summoned to be yelled at or being summoned to be his pseudo-wife.

There are tasks to preform and it’s up to me to keep the whole show running. I never really get any peace behind closed doors.

I live in a nice house and I am clothed and fed. I get good grades. I don’t make mistakes. I don’t rock the boat. I don’t know how to relax. I have headaches all the time. I am shy and reserved. I am polite and I respect my elders. I am an all-American girl and from the outside looking in he is worthy of praise for doing such an outstanding job.

If only you could have seen what it was like behind closed doors.

Maybe you would have helped.

Now I am grown and he can’t hurt me anymore. I still have anxiety and while I want to shout from the rooftops about what happened behind all those closed doors, I am held in place by fear.

I deserved it, don’t you see? That’s what he made me think.

But that doesn’t make sense.

I look at my own children and I can’t fathom treating them that way.

I catch myself raising my voice and losing my cool because this is the example I was shown growing up. This is how children must be handled, clearly. Except…that’s not right.

So, I shut that door.

I start to turn up the volume on the voices in my head that quietly whisper away the doubts.

I feel the pennies hit my face.

I listen to the girl at the bottom of the basement stairs.

I feel the tummy aches.

I won’t treat my children that way because they do not deserve that.

I shut that door. Because children don’t deserve that.

And when it finally closed, the voices behind it whispered to me – “neither did you.

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