I am little and hiding behind the green-brocade, swivel chair in our family’s living room. My mother is sitting on the chair, but she doesn’t see me. The room is full of adults talking, smoking, and laughing, but I am afraid. My father has pulled out a gun and is pointing it at another man. I want to scream out to him to stop, but I cannot. My voice is frozen. I am paralyzed and helpless.
I wake up.
My parents loved to party when I was a child, and I wanted to be part of it. In later years, I would perch on the staircase and listen to the exploits, but the dream takes place in the early years, when we lived in a bungalow, and I would wander out of my bedroom and hide behind the living room chair, wanting to be close to my mother and hoping I wouldn’t be found out.
My father never actually owned a gun that I know of, but he did have a violent temper, and on more than one occasion ended the evening by beating up on one of the male guests.
I learned fear in my father’s home. I learned that to step out of line was to invite violence.
What I didn’t learn is how to define that line, so I lived most of my childhood in irrational, and sometimes paralyzing fear. Survival, unharmed, became a goal and focus. I spent countless hours and years upon years trying to figure out how to avoid my father’s wrath.
And in the meantime, I failed to learn about a healthy fear response.
I didn’t flinch when my older sister took me to a biker bar when I was only twelve.
I didn’t think anything was amiss when I was allowed to stay out to all hours of the night, and no one asked where I’d been.
It never occurred to me to question a strange man giving me a ride home.
When home is a scary place, everything else seems tame.