Jake's Childhood [Overcomers]

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Jake's Childhood

For the next page, Ray of Sunshine, click here. For the previous page, The Fourth Way, click here. To jump to the start and the index, click here.

Jake's Childhood:

There was a campfire on Saturday 2021-09-25. It wasn't a special occas­ion. Just a neigh­bor­hood get-together, one that was a lit­tle larger than usual. My wife and her best friend were there, my mother and mother-in-law, the neigh­bors who had invited us, and a few oth­ers.

At the campfire, my mother said some­thing simi­lar to this: “I spank­ed my kids for scream­ing and cry­ing. If you're scream­ing, you better be *dying*… or you're gonna get beat.”

As she said this, she was smiling and laugh­ing.

The laughter had an effect on me. I didn't say anything; I sat there quietly. However, I felt shock and physical tension. In a single moment, it had all came back.

My brother Ray used to come close to murder­ing me. Not in a comical way such as TV scenes where Bugs Bunny or the Three Stooges might say “I'll murderize ya”. Literal­ly killing me.

It went on for 5 years.

People might say that Ray was “just a kid” and “didn't know what he was doing”. The 2nd part isn't true. Ray used to tell me that it made him happy. But the import­ant part is what was said at the camp­fire and what it tells us about how we per­ceive our­selves.

The situation was horrible. It shouldn’t be per­mit­ted to hap­pen to other children. But it does hap­pen every day. It hap­pens because people don't look in the mirror. Instead, they say that nothing hap­pen­ed. Sometimes they laugh at the thought.

Ray Gustafson used to hurt a little boy. Not bully, but close to murder. Again and again for­ever. Striking with objects, suf­foca­tion, and other things. The little boy scream­ed. For 5 years.

Ages 13 to 17 for Ray. Ages 9 to 13 for the younger boy.

Our mother Marie was a day sleeper. For much of this period, she work­ed from about 11:30pm to 7:30am. She'd be home and awake for a few hours. Then she'd sleep from 2:30pm to 10:30pm.

When I screamed, Marie would wake up and come. She was irri­tated at being dis­turb­ed. Ray would say, “Jake's just being a baby. He's just a cry-baby. I didn't do any­thing.” Then Marie would beat me.

It wasn't “spanking” for discipline. It was being struck full-force for call­ing out in pain and fear while Ray was hurt­ing me.

She'd use a thick rubber slipper. It had a sort of whip­ping action. Usually 25 blows. For call­ing out while I was being struck or suffo­ca­ted by my brother.

I had difficulty breathing while Marie was doing this. This part hap­pen­ed with my father as well. It was much worse when my father beat me. However, when Ray struck me, there was no com­par­ison. Ray stopped my breathing again and again. I often felt that I'd die.

Ray Gustafson liked to punch me in the solar plexus area. He was 4 years older. His fist was more or less the size of the entire area. I'd stop breath­ing or breathe pain­ful­ly.

He struck me repeatedly on the back once. That stop­ped my breath­ing as well. And he used to smother me. Not play­fully. He tried to lit­eral­ly kill me again and again. He'd smother me with pil­lows and blankets.

A few times, Ray trapped me in a sleep­ing bag. I'd panic. The lack of oxygen and panic would feed on each other.

And if I screamed out of panic, I'd get this type of reaction from my mother: “[pound] Stop [pound] crying! [pound] Shut up! [pound]”.

To be fair to Marie, that par­ticu­lar occas­ion was worse than usual. How­ever, look­ing back, it's safe to say that the atmos­phere wasn’t entire­ly posi­tive.

Sometimes I'd try to phone our father John while Ray was trying to get at me.

John would often be working in an auto shop that he'd made out of our garage. So, he'd be close by and able to respond. But there usually wasn't time to dial before Ray was hold­ing me down and striking me.

John Gustafson wasn't especially help­ful. He'd stopped drink­ing, but he wasn't sane for years after­wards. He'd yell and break things. Marie, Ray, and I were all frighten­ed on those occas­ions.

So, John was a fallback option at best. In fact, if I phoned him, he'd come in rant­ing at the top of his lungs and start snap­ping a thick wide leather belt. Ray and I would run, scream­ing, but he'd catch us and whale away on both our asses with­out asking any ques­tions.

I'd scream about what had happened. But John never listen­ed or stop­ped raging.

Eventually, I worked out a process. I'd phone John and then I'd climb out of a window. The idea was to disappear before John showed up and then he and Ray could talk and leave me out of it.

It was complicated because the window that I used was 6 feet above the ground. I'd grab the ledge and try to let myself down without break­ing an arm or a leg. Event­ual­ly I figured out that I should keep a lad­der out­side the win­dow. That worked bet­ter.

My mother, though abusive, was more rational than my father was. So, some­times after she'd beat­en me and had woken up more com­plete­ly, I'd try to talk to her about what had hap­pen­ed. She'd just say, “Waa-aaa, waa-aaa, waa-aaa”. Or “Poor baby”. Sar­cas­tical­ly.

The reason for this type of reaction is that people shape not just nar­ra­tives but recol­lec­tions to cast them­selves in the role of hero. This is how abuse is pos­si­ble. This is how it works.

Did I reshape my own recollections? It seems unlikely that the bruises were imagin­ed.

The sarcasm stopped when I was 12 years old. One day, I took off my clothes except for under­shorts. Then I went to my mother. I show­ed her that I had bruises from neck to ankles.

It wasn't the first time that I'd had that many bruises. Not by a long shot. The num­ber of bruises varied over the months and years, but it was some­times that bad.

I showed Marie the bruises. I said, “Look!” I kept point­ing to all of the bruises and yell­ing and crying. Ray was there. Ray said, “He's just clumsy. I didn't do anything.” I shout­ed, “That's not true!”

It was an odd day. But my mother finally believed me. After 3 years of beat­ings and suf­fo­ca­tion inci­dents that could easily have killed me.

Marie said that she'd talk to my father John. Ray scoffed at the notion that any­thing was going to hap­pen.

My parents, John and Marie, told Ray that they were going to delay his access to a driver's license for a year because he'd beat­en me up. Marie added that this was intend­ed to cover the 3 years of beat­ings.

Ray Gustafson wasn't pleased that I'd shown Marie my bruises. The loss of the oppor­tun­ity to drive aggra­vated him as well. So he con­tinued to beat me up. Actually, the beat­ings got worse.

This went on for another 2 years.

From ages 12 to 13, I tried not to involve my parents either inten­tion­al­ly or uninten­tional­ly during the beat­ings. After the beat­ings, I rarely report­ed the inci­dents to them.

John continued to recover from his alcoholic stage but it remain­ed risky to call him. And neither parent want­ed to know that the beat­ings were con­tinu­ing.

So, I was on my own. It was pretty bad at times.

Ray Gustafson and I shared a bedroom for most of our youth. I knew that he'd cheer­ful­ly kill me at night if he could figure out a way to do it that was both con­ven­ient and safe for him. It wasn't the most relaxing place to sleep.

One time, Ray smiled and looked me in my eyes and said, “I'm going to wake you up some­time by punch­ing you in the stomach. It's coming. Be sure to imagine it.”

I started crying. After that I had chronic anxiety. Sleep prob­lems. I lit­eral­ly tried to stay tense in my sleep to protect my solar plexus. It never really ended.

From the earliest memories that I have until Ray left for college, I rarely felt safe. Children and youths should be able to feel safe.

I didn't feel more safe with my parents around. In fact, Marie – my mother – used to beat me and mock me sub­se­quent to the beatings that I received from Ray.

But I don't hate Marie. To the contrary.

When I was age 12, at the same that I disrobed to show my bruises, I shouted at her, “I hate you!” She respond­ed, “I don't care”. I didn't mean what I said. The thing is, she did mean what she said. This is the way that things often are.

Even so, in adulthood, I've remain­ed in com­mun­i­ca­tion with my parents. I’ve even tried to build under­stand­ings. I don't walk around each day focused on what was done to me.

But whether or not I focus on it, it comes to visit me. It knocks me down to the ground in my head and in my heart as surely as this used to hap­pen physi­cal­ly.

The physical and emotional sides of you are part of a whole. If you dis­miss things at the emo­tion­al level, you may feel physi­cal dis­tress. It hap­pen­ed to me.

It's important that some things be talked about. That it be made clear that no, it isn't true that “nothing hap­pen­ed” or that an abuse victim was “just clumsy”.

It's important because these things will con­tinue other­wise. And because denial brutal­izes victims again. There is no escape for any­body in denial.

At the campfire, my mother dismissed 5 years of brutality with a laugh. The floor drop­ped out from under me.

I've dealt with each of my family members over the years as reasonab­ly as pos­si­ble.

Even Ray Gustafson, a caricature of a man who has fail­ed him­self both as a Christian and as a free spirit.

There is nothing of substance left of Ray, if there ever was a soul behind the fists. Ray is a con­fused and poten­tial­ly violent pre­dator who leaves little in his wake be­sides a trail of drug and alcohol fumes and arrests. However, I've tried to talk to him.

If the wording seems direct, under­stand that Ray Gustafson tried to phy­sical­ly kill me for 5 years and treat­ed me several times as a sexual play­thing. I offer no apologies for per­ceived con­de­scen­sion.

Nor for talking about what happened. I'm going to say more about the sexual part of it. I don’t wish to hear “See No Evil” about that part. It isn’t appro­pri­ate.

To be honest, I don't care, nor should I be expect­ed to care, that others wish to forget the past. That isn't their deci­sion to make.

Not if the past is my own life. And not if quiet accept­ance of abuse puts other children at risk even in a watch­ful society.

If I’d thought to walk into a police station at age 12 and disrobe there instead of showing my bruises to my mother, things would have gone dif­fer­ent­ly.

Ray and I would have been removed from the house­hold. All four of us might have been happier in the end. However, one does what is pos­si­ble. One works with what one has. And I’ve tried to do that for decades.

Over the years, I expected primarily one thing from Ray: That he'd take respon­si­bil­ity. It would have made all the differ­ence. But he isn't able to do so. Nor, I'm afraid, is our mother.

I've tried to create relationships with my parents where none existed in child­hood. I recommend this to others. Not denial, not blind for­give­ness if none is sought, but com­mun­i­ca­tion, closure, and relation­ships where they're possible.

I’ve expected the same thing from my parents that I expected of Ray: Take respons­i­bility. My father John has made an effort to do so. It's more diffi­cult for my mother Marie.

It's a common issue and not a conscious decision on Marie's part. People don't look in the mirror. Or, if they do look in the mirror, they need to see a hero standing there. So, that is what they see.

I needed what had happened not to be dis­missed with a laugh. I've written this chapter to stop the racing of my heart, to be able to sleep, and to ask other people out there to talk about things that have hap­pen­ed. Don't dis­miss them casually.

For the next page, Ray of Sunshine, click here. For the previous page, The Fourth Way, click here. To jump to the start and the index, click here.

childhood.txt · Last modified: 2021/10/03 03:35 (external edit)