Friday, September 25, 2009

A baby on motor oil

Cucumber flower

My childhood had its fair share of trauma, although I usually feel guilty talking about it because so many people had it so much worse. My early years were idyllic. I still can’t conceive of anything better than drinking mango lassis under palm trees for breakfast; treading beneath a sun so hot it makes my breath quiver; spending all day swimming and walking and snorkeling in the sun and then eating crab fried rice and plah sahm roht at an open-air restaurant while an old James Bond movie plays on the VCR; stepping from thick humid air into air-conditioning as cold as the arctic; the blissful final pain of sunburned skin scraping against the sand that always crept beneath my guest-house sheets.

That’s what I remember when I think about my early childhood. Then I went to boarding school, at eleven. I loved that, too, and made friends there that are still my closest, but it was an immense disruption that forced me abruptly into adulthood. It was hard, and it’s where reality began to slowly seep into my consciousness, the reality that life is not an endless string of books and beach vacations.

When I was a thirteen-year-old freshman, three girls in my class were raped in an armed robbery at a neighboring teacher’s house. They were my age, close friends. How our community experienced that violation colored all four years of my experience of high school .

I don’t like to talk about it. I don’t know if I ever have talked about it. I don’t really know why I felt a sudden need to write about it now. Things changed at school afterwards. Barbed wire went up around the campus. The administration hired armed guards to patrol the perimeter. Not that any of that helped, or would have changed anything. My problems with my faith started then, specifically my doubts when it came to the problem of evil.

I didn’t know if I could trust that there was a plan, somewhere, that someday I’d understand why that happened to my friends. I still don’t know if I can trust that.

Can I? There has to be meaning in everything, doesn’t there? Can God have a meaning for even something like that? I don’t know.

Maybe some of my continuing fear comes from that moment in time. I’m more afraid of rape than I am of almost anything else, and that fear always colors my consciousness. I can’t decide if I’m more afraid because of my experience, or if it’s something that every woman fears. Or if men are afraid in the same way, too. It comes back to the same question--do I trust someone in the universe to take care of me? Do I trust this promise: “all things work together for good for those that love Him”? All of the parents of those children stayed on the mission field. Last I heard, some were still in the Philippines. God demanded a sacrifice of them, and they made it.

Not that they even made a sacrifice, other than the one of belief--they were able to believe that god had a purpose behind it, that there was a greater good. They were able to convince themselves that God had a plan. Sometimes, that seems sacrifice enough for me.

I know that I’m not alone, that many women are similarly afraid, and with better reason. That fear infuriates me. So many choices have been taken away from me, and not because of anything I have done. Merely because of how I was born, because of my chromosomes. My anatomy makes me vulnerable, and that vulnerability means that I have to protect myself. “Guard your heart,” my parents and teachers used to say. I hated it, more when I learned it actually came from the Bible, not a self-help book: Proverbs 4:23. “Above all else, guard your heart.”
At the end of the day, it simply comes down to what losses I am willing to accept. I have to be smart, to make good choices, but I can’t live in fear. I have to be able to accept anything that can happen. I always say that, but I still allow fear to control so many of my choices. It reminds me of the great St. Augustine disaster, when so much was lost. Sometimes I wonder if Secret would even be stranded where she is if it wasn’t for that one awful night. She might be worth twice what she’s worth now.

If I believe, then I can’t make decisions based on fear. But I do have to make decisions that are in my own best interest. I have to protect myself. I have to guard my heart.

It’s a balance, as almost everything is. Not living in fear, but living in just enough fear to keep myself safe.


A postscript: I’ve been meaning to post this entry for two months now. I’ve dated it July 9. For some reason, I was able to write about this moment in my past now, even though I’ve been trying for two full years. It’s still been overwhelming and difficult to think about posting, but maybe there’s some reason for this now, too.


Ellen D. said...

Melissa, I think you are incredibly, uncommonly brave. Take comfort in the truth that you haven't let the small fears stop you.

Larry said...

Nice photo-You've got a lot on your mind.Writing is a good way to unload your burdens.You'll find your way and when you arrive-you'll find your way to the next destination.

Amway by an OFW in Thailand said...

I like that part "You can't live in fear".

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