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Sometimes We Cry

By: Linda Clark

Sumo, cumo, duo ta. Sanctus deu sada.
Reap the harvest we now bring
And grant us pleasures of which we sing.
Accept this ritual as your reward
From your followers in one accord.

The long, black skirts swirled around the orange flames casting shadows against the moon. The chanting was monotone and continuous except for an occasional scream of anguish interrupting the flow. Evil laughter filled the chilled air in the background of the night as she felt the silence of her tears against her cheeks. Her nakedness was frightening and their hands poked at her, pressing against her small frame. She was forbidden to speak or cry out, so she dismissed her emotions and hid inside herself.

Late Summer- 1995

This time when she woke up, Debra was huddled against the wall of her room, shivering from terror. Her covers were mostly on the floor, dismantled from the thrashing in the night. What would possess her to have such horrible nightmares? She didn't allow any of her children to watch horror movies or stories showing violent, satanic rituals and she had a close walk with God. Still she was plagued with depression and fatigue, and couldn't escape the sadness of the moment. She began to cry again. Her soft, gentle features became puffy and red from the sobbing. When will she be free?

Late Spring- 1968

Tina looked in the bathroom mirror. The face staring back was streaked with black mascara, her bloodshot eyes red and swollen. Weakening, she began to search the surroundings and through her tears noticed a familiar object. Leaning over the tub, she picked up the razor from the back ledge and examined the blade. With eyes shut, she drew a deep breath, and as the tears streamed down her cheeks, put the edge of the blade against her silky white wrist. As it pressed against her skin, she shrank to the floor and rested her head against the wall. After a few moments, the realization hit that it wasn't cutting the skin, so she stood up, threw the razor in the bathtub and sobbed uncontrollably.

Moments later, she was rummaging through the drawers looking for a sharper blade. When none could be found, she began throwing things on the linoleum. She yanked out the drawer and flung the contents across the room screaming, eventually crumbling to the floor. Once down, she grabbed her waist and began rocking methodically. On a forward movement, she opened her eyes and glimpsed a prescription bottle with pills scattered around on the floor. Frantically she shoveled them up, stuffed them in her mouth until she couldn't find any more and stood at the faucet scooping water into her mouth to help her swallow. Now she would be free- finally. She was 15.

Spring- 1989

Leisle watched the minister enter his office, casually sit at his desk and dial the phone. She had managed a weak smile as he entered, but it didn't really matter, because he held no interest in her emotional status anyway. As long as she finished her volunteer work and prepared the certificates for him, he was happy. Day after day, she had listened to the rumors and innuendoes. She had suffered the embarrassment of being part of those rumors, and she had struggled with the images it left in her mind. In the previous months, she had been mortified at the assault on her body by her own neurosurgeon and now believed that no man could be trusted.

So as she sat typing, she envisioned her future. She had her pain medication in her purse, enough to stop the pain forever- be it physical or emotional- a full tank of gas for a trip far enough away to separate herself from anyone who could identify her, and the guts to finally go through with it. At 11:30, she would be finished with the certificates, explain what the minister should say to the children during the awards ceremony on Sunday, and quietly say good-bye. Forever free

Winter- 1967

Blood smattered the counter top and splotches of red dotted the kitchen tile. Shattered pieces of glass lay unattended on the floor beneath the cupboards leaving behind a clue to what had happened, but not who was hurt. Leisle opened the back door and stepped into the kitchen. It was obvious that someone had been injured, and the only one home all day would have been her mother, so she began to panic at the sight of the blood. As she laid her books down on the desk, she noticed the note "Janet took me to the hospital for stitches. Just cut my wrist by accident. See you soon. Mom." There was reason to suspect the injury was self-inflicted, but Leisle accepted the explanation and waited for her mother to return. Tina had gone to work, Debra was at a middle school cheerleading practice and Ellen was away at college. That left Leisle alone and afraid.

I can't tell you the day or the hour I first realized that my childhood was different than other children raised in the fifties and sixties. For a long time I thought everyone faced the same torment and ridicule I had growing up. I thought beatings and severe punishment were part of the disciplinary process used to control unruliness in bad kids.

I reached my lowest point-contemplating suicide-in 1989. I was thirty-seven and had convinced myself that if I died, I would no longer inflict pain on those around me- as I obviously had all my life. If I were dead, they wouldn't have to listen to me crying. They wouldn't have to deal with my faults and they would all be happier not to have to put up with my mistakes. By leaving the area to overdose, my family wouldn't have to clean up any mess. The out-of-town police would take care of that.

But as I sat at the typewriter, tears streaming down my face, I had an unexplainable desire to live. It swept over me without warning, and I listened to that small voice inside saying not now, Leisle, it's not time. To survive, I knew would have to find out why I felt my life was so worthless.

Analyzing my past has been a difficult and extremely painful task. Though I am now in my fifties, I still tremble at the thought of being alone with my father- and he's been dead for over a year. I wasn't prepared to tell this story, I was compelled. Compelled by the thought that there are others, like me, who suffer the ravages of inconceivable guilt over being born. I want them to know they are not alone. They may be suffering from the same problem of worthlessness, drowning in a sea of ugly, sadistic, cutting remarks made by family members who should have loved them, but instead fed them lies and inflicted pain. Through my journey I have uncovered reality and speculation, truth and supposition and, most of all, the ability to rise above circumstances that life throws at us all.

When my father, Frank, died, I wasn't sure if I should call my mother and sisters to let them know. Most of them hadn't had any contact with him for over 25 years, just discussion about how terrible our childhood had been and how disgusting he was. I questioned whether telling them would stir up disturbing memories that were better left buried.

I had no doubt that I would attend his memorial service in Indiana and put closure to a tumultuous relationship. At best, the moments with him were filled with a considerable amount of guilt… put there by those who thought I was being irrational maintaining any kind of communication with him. At worst, I was creating a divide between those whom I cherished in my extended family and those in my immediate family -as well as being torn inside with my own pain. Sworn to secrecy to protect both sides, I was never at peace with my choices. Second-guessing was second nature to me. And so I went back to my hometown, hoping to say goodbye to a father whom I had forgiven years ago for treatment received as a child.

In post WWII, 1945, healing for the United States began in the home. Soldiers returned and picked up the pieces of their lives, struggling to recover and move on. Our farm community was no different- except that everyone knew everybody by name and there were no secrets- or so I thought.

We were the biggest secret in the state of Indiana. My father, Franklin Buhler Jr., had made his name through his parents, Frank & Jennie Buhler, the local minister and his wife. He dutifully took care of the farm, feeding the animals, tending the crops and caring for his invalid father. His religiously zealous mother and father persistently admonished him regarding his behavior when they could no longer control his inappropriate conduct and sexual cravings, and in desperation they sent him to a Christian school hoping to rehabilitate him. My father resented their unyielding control over him but enjoyed the freedom from their watchful eyes.

He was forced to return home because of his father's failing health. Once he was home again though he was no longer controlled by his parents. They were at his mercy to run the farm. Jennie bent to her son's demands and rarely imposed her views on her only child after his return.

My father chased any available- or unavailable but accessible woman. He kept his escapades a secret by finding prostitutes in neighboring counties instead of his own. His prowling was random, but his drinking continual. When he felt he needed credibility as a good, honest, hardworking man, he chose a wife- my mother, Joyce.

To understand my emotional instability, I spent many hours pouring over the story of our family life. Though my mother was reluctant to tell what she lived through, she gave in to my persistence and told me about the early years.

After the vows, my mother moved from her parents' home, to the Buhler farm thirty minutes away. My grandmother, Jennie, received Joyce into her home and thanked God that her son would finally be respectable. (She had no idea he was still running around.) But for my mother, her marriage brought little joy and offered a future of silent heartache and despair. No one would have believed the blackness she was falling into.

Sadly, as much as Dad hurt Mom by continuing his pre-marriage ways and abusive nature, Mom maintained the position of wife with dignity. In the forties and fifties a marriage was "'til death do you part", so she hid her bruises beneath conservative dresses and cried into her pillow at night. Daily, rigid chores - feeding livestock, gardening, canning, washing and meal preparation were managed in silence so she didn't provoke anger in him. Still, amid all the hostility and abuse, my mother rejoiced at the birth of her first-born, Ellen.

With tears in her eyes, my mother told me about the night supper was late because she was rocking Ellen to sleep.

Supper was not on the table when Dad expected it, so he stormed into the living room where Mom sat singing and rocking Ellen to sleep. Though he had not mentioned he was planning to leave for the evening, he demanded that she put Ellen down and get his supper immediately. When Mom asked if he could wait, he grabbed her by the hair and yanked her head back against the chair. My tiny, infant sister was jostled by the sudden movement and cried out as Mom put up a hand to defend herself. Dad snapped her head back even further and held on tight, leaning into her ear and whispering, "Do I have to whine and cry like a baby to get what I need?"

With that, my mother begged Dad to stop, but instead he grabbed Ellen out of her arms and took the steps by two towards the upstairs bedroom and crib.

"Not the baby, Frank, not the baby." My mother screamed. "Don't hurt her. Please don't hurt her."

Unsupported, my sister's head bobbed up and down until my father let Ellen fall to the mattress in the crib.

"There. She'll sleep now!" He bellowed.

Though she wanted to check on Ellen, she feared he would become more irate, so she waited until supper was over and he was gone before she raced to the crib to check on her precious little girl. She was okay, this time.

I didn't ask my mother how many times she was hit, or how often he left her to go see a prostitute. I don't think I wanted to know how bad it really was. What I knew was tragic enough. More than once I asked her why she stayed with someone who was so cruel. Her reply was always the same. "Where could I go? I didn't have any money, no job and I was embarrassed that I had chosen to marry such an ungodly man. My parents always told me marriage was for life, so I didn't think I could turn to them."

By 1954, my mother had four children, Ellen, Tina, Me and then Debra. My Grandfather Buhler had died from his extended illness and my grandmother, Jennie, had moved to California to be with other family members. Dad no longer had to worry about who might be in the house when he went on a tirade, so Mom was beaten and belittled more often. To shield us from my father's wrath, Mom would make sure we were well- behaved and out of the way to avoid his explosions.

All the while we attended church, sang special songs for services, offered prayers at mealtimes and worked the chores as best we could. Dad broke the Ten Commandments, but pretended he was the spiritual leader of the family. We feared for our lives when he was around.

But I loved going to my mother's family home on Sundays after church. What I didn't know was that while my mother cleaned up the dishes from homemade noodles, fried chicken, mashed potatoes and rolls, my father would take Ellen by the hand and lead her to the barn. No one knew what was going on in there- except Ellen. And she wasn't talking. Not then, anyway. But there was another story to tell.

As the oldest, Ellen worked with Dad on the farm, feeding the cows or pigs, lifting bales of hay onto the oversized wagon or picking up loose ears of corn and throwing them into a pile. One day, with the rain steadily drizzling, Ellen's clothes were completely drenched as she worked in a patch of the cornfield. It was nearly 5:00 PM as my father climbed on the tractor and yelled at Ellen, "Come on Ellen, it's time to quit. Hop on and I'll give you a ride back to the barn."

This was not a request, it was a command and Ellen had to obey it, even if she was afraid of the huge tractor tires and jerky ride. She raced to the wagon so that he wouldn't get mad at her for taking so long, but as she got near the tractor, she slipped in the mud, covering her rain-soaked clothes with dirt. Father yelled "What an idiot! Can't you do anything right? Look at you. You're a complete mess now. Get up out of the mud. What's the matter with you? Wipe your hands off so you don't get the tractor seat messy and get up here you stupid idiot."

Ellen knew better than to reply. She obediently wiped her hands. As she did, she noticed blood coming through her jeans and drops of red entwining with the mud on her palms. Looking back to the hole where she fell, she saw a rusted metal pipe with a jagged edge sticking up. If she went back for it to keep the tractor tires from running over it, Father would be angry for disobeying him. If she said nothing and got on the tractor and he ran over the pipe later, he would blame her for not telling him. She started to speak. "Dad…"

"Shut up and get on. I'm not waiting anymore for a pansy."

Ellen wiped the tears from her eyes with the back of her hand, which left mud stains across her cheeks, then she boarded the tractor. As usual, he started the tractor abruptly almost before she could grab hold of the seat. The ride to the barn wasn't long, but her blood and rain soaked jeans were sticking to the gash in her knee as it throbbed. Just as they got to the edge of the driveway, Father stopped the tractor, then restarted it with a jerk. His evil laugh was already blaring when Ellen fell off the back of the tractor. Without hearing her screaming, he moved the wagon forward and trapped her under its wheels. Father's laughter turned to panic as he shut off the tractor, jumped from the seat and frantically worked to free her legs. Ellen lay silent from the shock.

Mom was busy inside preparing supper when she noticed the tractor stopped awkwardly in the drive and then saw the expression on my father's face. She dropped her spatula and raced out the door towards the full load of corn on the wagon. When she reached it, she started the tractor, backed it up slightly to push the wagon away from Ellen's legs and then jumped back off and pulled her from beneath the tire. Ellen's breathing was shallow and she was pale, but nothing appeared to be broken. Dad picked her up carried her to the house, and furiously reprimanded Mom as she began to cry. "Shut up. Can't you see you're scaring her?"

Mom wept silently at the sight of her first born lying limply in my father's arms. Dad refused to take Ellen to the hospital even though Mom begged him to. He decided it would best to watch her closely for the day and see if she responded. A day turned into a week, and Ellen wasn't able to do much. Her recovery was very slow. Ellen struggled to put one foot in front of the other until eventually she returned to her pre-accident state. Everyone had been worried. Everyone except her own father.

As I learned more about our beginning years through my mother and sisters, I tried to recall events that would explain why I felt so unloved. I remembered watching a chicken run in circles after its head was cut off, the blood gushing from its neck and my father laughing at the gruesome sight. I could see myself running from the house to a wooded area and hiding in a half- made log cabin, but hiding from what? I couldn't remember. All I knew was that I was damaged goods. I had bad dreams, even as an adult, that my father was strangling my mother. Were they just bad dreams, or had I heard her cries for help as she was beaten?

I knew we had happy times. I know I played dress up with my sister while my father practiced with a gospel quartet and my sisters played Old Maid with the adults. I know we appeared to be a normal family- no skeletons in our closets-to the outside world at least. With faithful church attendance every Sunday, people ignored any rumors of disdain associated with the Buhler family. We sang "So let the sunshine in, face it with a grin, open up your heart and let the sunshine in", or "We are Climbing Jacob's Ladder" and people would comment about how lucky we were to have Frank Buhler for a father.

Tina told me later that she just about threw up whenever they would say that because she knew he was evil and she didn't know why he fooled so many people. She was the second born of the family, and for some reason, wasn't as vulnerable as the rest of us. She would at Father and try to protect Debra and me from his brutality whenever possible.

After one of our family sessions rehashing our childhood, I remembered why we went to the woods and hid in the log cabin. We were hiding because we were afraid of Dad. What I didn't know was that it didn't matter who Dad was mad at as long as he could hit someone, so if we weren't available, someone else was- usually my mother. I also was reminded about an incident with my youngest sister, Debra.

We were born out of an abusive relationship, not because he loved us or wanted us. Each of us coped with his fury differently. Ellen dutifully performed every task as ordered. Tina sneered and balked, receiving blows before she bowed to his command. I buried my head beneath a pillow and cried desperately after receiving punishments, and Debra appeared to be the most compliant and easily manipulated.

One evening Dad commanded her to go get the paper from the mailbox at the end of our long lane. It was 8:00 PM, dark, and the cold, November air was whipping the fallen leaves around the ground without mercy. We all watched our 4 year-old sister tremble as she turned the knob on the front door. She was crying, but she didn't dare look back for fear dad would see her blubbering. He would have been very angry. Instead, she did as he demanded and trudged through the darkness to retrieve the paper. We watched through the window as she walked all the way down and back. But on her return trip there was no paper in her hands.

Afraid of how dad would react when he realized she didn't do as she was told, Ellen, Tina and I stood motionless. When she got in the door, Debra was pale from fright and her eyes were glazed with tears. Father stood at the door and roared with laughter while everyone became confused. Then we realized why he was laughing. He just wanted to scare her by sending her outside. Under his right arm was the well-read paper he had asked her to get.

Silence filled the room, as a puddle appeared beneath Debra's feet. Fear of her father and the cold, darkness of the night had made her lose control and she had wet herself. My eyes met Debra's, but nothing was said- no one dared speak. Frank laughed all the way to his chair and proudly opened the paper to begin reading again as Debra ran to the bathroom humiliated.

As quickly and quietly as she could, Mom attended to the mess on the floor. I waited for Debra in our bedroom, but she never came. Instead, she had retreated to a dark closet, sobbing silently, shrinking into the floor wishing she were dead- at only 4 years old.

Father went looking for her, "Debra, where are you? Come on out sweetie, Daddy was just kidding. Come on pumpkin. Come give Daddy a hug."

Trembling, Debra folded herself into a ball in the closet hoping he wouldn't find her. But he did. He opened the closet door and his evil smile turned to anger. "Get out of there you stupid little baby. Only a coward would sit in a pitch black hole bellyaching. What's the matter with you anyway? It was only a joke. " With that he picked her up by the neck of her dress, choking her as he lifted her up off the floor. She was desperately trying to hold back the tears, but she couldn't and her nose began to run.

"Daddy, don't please. Leave me alone."

"Young lady, I'm going to teach you to stop your whining if it's the last thing I do. Look at you. Your nose is running, your dress is a mess and your hair is in tangles. You're disgusting. Now get to your room and quit crying!"

Why did he hate us so much? Why did he treat us that way? We moved to Ohio in 1961. I found out why twenty years later.

Dad had been a caught at a pornographic film party, (He brought the films.) It was rumored that he was involved with drugs and prostitution. So, according to my mother, he stayed one step ahead of the law, pulled up stakes suddenly in 1961 and fled to Ohio to become an unknown. Anonymity was refreshing for him.

Ellen was thirteen, Tina eleven, I was nine, and Debra seven. For Ellen the move left her cold and lonely. In Indiana, she had found true friendships, and won ribbons in roller skating events she attended year round. By moving, those relationships were severed and her sport finished.

The rest of us looked forward to a new beginning- new friends, new life. Being so far out in the country had isolated us from other children and ultimately protection from interfering "well meaning" people who might have intervened when they heard the beatings, crying and sadness coming from home.

For a time, Dad's lifestyle became more subdued on the surface. He protected his new image by burying his deeds beneath layers of lies. Before long though, his deviant desires sparked flames which eventually returned to the surface and forced his controlled image to melt into a ball of ugly tar dripping toxic waste on his family and destroying our lives.

Our new home in Ohio was on a suburban side street with trees lining the road. The paved driveway and sidewalks made it easier to ride bikes, make friends and share thoughts, so we began to feel safer- though it was a false sense of security. The neighbors' lawns bordered ours on both sides and in the back, so any noise made in the home would be detected. No more beatings and shouting matches now. Someone would hear it and if they found out about his abusive nature, he would no longer have a reputation as being the perfect father.

Little did his new friends know that he was leading a double life. He entertained women of all backgrounds in seedy hotels less than ten miles from home, and abused his children physically, sexually and emotionally at his whim. But he was more careful. There were no telltale marks on his girls.

As an adult, I still struggled with my feelings of worthlessness. But through the talks I had with family, I finally opened my eyes to times when my pain was ignored and I could see why I felt so little love. I recalled that I broke my little finger as a four-year-old while staring out a bedroom window. The force of the pane slamming against it caused the bone to crack and bend. A sick feeling came over me as I recalled exactly what took place.

My father stood beside me at the window, both of us staring at the barn behind the house. Suddenly and without warning (did he do something to cause it?) the window pane struck my hand. I remember screaming in pain and then hearing him yell, "Quit being a baby. It barely touched you!" And then, he laughed- out loud- and I clearly heard him repeat over and over again, "Grow up, you idiot." I was four and he wanted me to ignore the pain and quit crying. My finger was never set.

My finger remains damaged, just as I am by a father who was supposed to protect me, but instead inflicted pain. I began remembering other incidents: a bike ride that ended with me catapulting over the bars and landing in a ditch, my chin bleeding profusely. Instead of caring for me, my father was arguing with my mother about the stranger who had dropped me off, demanding to know who he was and what he was doing in his house. Though I needed medical attention, he insisted that I would be fine and for the next three days, my wound lay gaping and I sipped my soup from a straw. It would cost too much for me to be checked out by a doctor.

It must have been at that point that I realized how truly worthless I was. After that, I never told my parents when I was hurt. I even refused to let the secretary call them when I had a concussion from an injury on the school grounds. By that time Mom was working and I didn't think I was important enough for her to leave her job to come and get me. If Ellen hadn't told my mother that I had been throwing up and that she couldn't keep me awake, I don't think I would have been taken to the hospital.

Little by little, with revealing conversations between all of my sisters and me, I was reminded of incidents time and again that were unconscionable to me. They would say… Don't you remember…?

"Don't you remember when Grandma Buhler suffered a massive stroke while staying with us following her return from California? We had to call the ambulance and get her to the hospital. When Dad came home he yelled at us and told us we were the reason she was ill because we made her sick with worry. He screamed that he had raised a bunch of idiots."

It was coming back to me. So were all the memories of caring for a paralyzed grandmother in our home. At fourteen, I was involved with her daily needs: the bedpan, her meals and any other things required. I felt so much guilt for hating to clean her up. It wasn't hard work, but it was, well, difficult for me at least. Even now I am ashamed of how little effort I put in to making her final years more comfortable. She lived for seven years after her stroke.

Talking through your past can be full of wonderful discoveries or horrifying realities. I shared times with my sisters when I felt so alone, stupid and frightened by things my father said or did. By sharing with them, I saw the pattern and how growing up with so little positive feedback made me think it was all my fault for the mistakes and things going wrong in our house. What I didn't know, was that my sisters had fallen into the same hole. Tina told me about her suicide attempt and my father's reaction to it.

Tina said Dad heard her whimpering in the bathroom and demanded that she open the door. When she refused, he pounded on it and kicked it in. The contents of the drawer had spilled all over the floor and he screamed at her for the mess she made. Then he realized what was happening. Tina was slumped over with her head between her legs. Her limp body was reacting to the medicine she had taken and Dad was furious. "What are you trying to do, kill yourself?"

Immediately he turned on the water in the tub and Tina began screaming, "Stop it, stop it." Dad shoved Tina into the tub and under a cold shower. Her face was flushed and her body was limp. She flung her arms aimlessly around in hopes of hitting him, but his hold on her was overwhelming and she could not touch him. Then, Dad lifted Tina out of the tub, jerked her up the back staircase and into his car. Her clothes were soaked and she was shivering from the cold, but at least he was taking her to the hospital. Or so she thought.

About an hour later they returned home and Dad walked in as if nothing had happened. Tina followed behind dragging her body to her bedroom and fell into a ball across the unmade bed. He hadn't taken her to get her stomach pumped. He was sure she would be fine with time and he wasn't going to embarrass the family with a suicide attempt.

I think that is when Tina decided she didn't need anyone else running her life. She made that episode work in her favor and never even thought of suicide again. She proved her independence, managing her schoolwork and a job. She also didn't have to be at home much after that. Ellen had already married so she no longer faced Dad's wrath.

There were things I didn't forget, but buried to avoid the pain. I never forgot that when I came home and found blood all over the floor, I assumed the worst- that my mother had really attempted to kill herself by slitting her wrists. She still insists that it was accidental. I wouldn't have blamed her for trying- at least not at that time in her life. She'd face so much humiliation from my Dad's prostitution fetish, his affairs, his beatings and his ridicule that it's a wonder she had any self-worth at all. During their final years together the fights escalated and he didn't care who heard or saw them. Our family had been torn apart by rage and violence.

I wasn't the only one Dad picked on. Mom cried a lot and Debra must have been suffering, but she pretended life was fine. Just like me. I struggled to get a grade my father would tolerate without putting me against the wall in a chokehold or berating me for being stupid. I suffered from endometriosis, blood loss, anemia and pain, but did not mention my symptoms while my father lived in the house with us. I had one area I could control- my eating. My weight plummeted to 81 pounds, but no one noticed. It didn't really matter anyway. I was the reason everything was such a mess.

My father told me I was the reason my mother didn't return home one night. He convinced me that I had driven her away because I refused to keep the house clean, or make supper, or help with the care of my invalid grandmother. I watched for her out the dining room window every night, silently crying. She came back home three days later. I didn't know what had happened to her until much later. She explained she left because my father told her we'd be better off without her. The truth was, when he announced that they were getting a divorce, we were shocked, but relieved. Maybe we wouldn't have the respect of the community, but we would no longer be beaten, downgraded or threatened by his violence.

The 60's and 70's didn't look favorably on the break up of the traditional marriage and no one spoke of abuse. Most people couldn't pin point what abuse really was anyway. When did a father/husband go too far with his family? Was it when he whipped them with a belt till they bled, or punished them for crying by slapping them? Was it when he cynically called them names and ridiculed them for their stupidity? Was it when physical pain and injury were ignored and medical treatment refused for his own flesh and blood because he feared his reputation would be tainted or he would become financially drained? Or was recognized abuse when someone was choked nearly to death or touched in private places, or shoved into walls and slapped across the room? It didn't matter. The pain we felt was private and no one knew the severity of it. No one would have believed it anyway. And we were free at last.

But freedom came at a much higher price than we had paid as children. It came with the realization that long-time abuse could lead to a stunted adult life- damaged and broken. We had to relive our past and weed out the lies we were told and nurture the truth. We were not idiots. We had not been treated the way a child should be treated and we were not bad little girls. We had been forced to live with abuse and pain because there seemed to be no way out for a mother with four children and no job to support them.

I know I was choked and hit and abused, but one final "repressed memory" was too blurry to identify, yet haunting- a bon fire with singing and people dressed in Mennonite attire (long black dresses). One day, not too many years ago, my youngest sister, Debra, told her version of it after she had a revelation from a vivid dream a few months earlier.

When Debra was around seven years old, she remembered Dad taking her from her bed in the middle of the night (without my mother's knowledge). I was around eight. He drove her to a nearby church. After taking her to the basement, she remembered being stripped of clothing by women she did not know and then taken out back to the cemetery where she was tied upside down to a post. Already frightened, she began to cry as they chanted and danced around in their long, flowing black gowns. Although she begged to be untied, she said Dad refused to let her go and instead let out an evil laugh.

That's it. That's what she said happened. When we asked my mother about it, she said we were never at a bon fire in Indiana. But I know I was there. And I know there were people who were wearing long, black gowns. Mom didn't understand how we could have any recollections like that, because we were never in that church. But I was. I know it.

With so much pain in our lives, we all felt the need to find the truth. With that in mind, I drove my oldest sister, Ellen and my youngest, Debra, to Indiana to explore our past. Tina couldn't go, but I don't remember why.

Have you ever gone somewhere and been amazed at the changes in the surroundings over the years? Well, that wasn't the case going home again. It was like being back in the fifties. There were still only two stoplights; the library was still a small, but stately old building without wheelchair accessibility and the drive-in theatre remained open for business down the street from the center of town. I wasn't sure what we'd find- if anything- but it felt right to investigate the allegations against my father if it was possible. After all, it'd been over forty years since that night at the bon fire. Many people who had lived in the area back then were either dead or had moved away.

We began at the farm, which was approximately five miles from town. Our house had changed somewhat, but the lane hadn't. (Though I was sure it was longer than that when I was a child.) The barn behind the house was still standing and I got an eerie feeling looking at it. What had happened there? I couldn't put my finger on it, although I do remember hiding near it for long periods of time, crying quietly. The cornfields were full of crops and the area mowed, but poorly landscaped. We knew who lived there, but they wouldn't have had any knowledge of what might have happened to us as children, so we didn't even go to the door.

As we sat in my van, we reminisced about the good and bad of our childhood. We smiled when we thought of the home made teeter-totter which circled and went up and down and then remembered how a friend broke her arm while playing on it. Ellen talked about how she tried to keep us out of her tree house so she could be alone. Who made those things for us? Dad? I suppose so. We laughed at how we played grocery store in the summer kitchen after Mom cleaned it out for us. There were good times. We have pictures of us all lined up in swimsuits getting ready to go to the city pool. (Yes, amazingly they had one, even in the fifties!) We remembered the picture of us all grouped together in our short, colorful, roller skating skirts.

And then we talked about the barn and the shed and the log cabin way out in the woods. We talked about the fear and pain and the humiliation we suffered at the hands of a father we ran from. Could he have had two different personalities? It was easier for me to forgive him when I thought he was sick rather than just sadistic.

After we had spent a little while sitting in front of the house, we went to the church that my sister had such horrible memories of. It took less than five minutes to get there. The sign on the front listed the name of the Pastor, so we found a phone book at a little store two miles away and called him. He met us at the church and took us through the tiny church and out to the cemetery. The lay out was exactly as Debra and I remembered it- although it had been updated. Why would we remember a church we were never in?

We then drove to the sheriff's office to see if there were records of my father's past. The deputy took the three of us into his office, listened to my sister's memories and then got up from his desk, walked to the door and quietly shut it. When he returned to his seat, he leaned forward and practically whispered his next statement. He told us that he had been demoted for talking against cult and devil worship activity to the children in the schools and that there had been unexplained deaths in the area that looked suspiciously like sacrificial killings. He said that over the last several decades, the type of activities that she recalled had indeed been reported, but no arrests were ever made. In the end, it was his final piece of advice that made the biggest impact on me. The saying was new to me, but I knew he didn't make up the phrases. I don't know who made it famous, but he told me to write it down.

Yesterday is history. Tomorrow is a mystery. Today is a gift. That's why they call it the present.

I wrote it down, and then I memorized it. I carry that thought with me anytime my thoughts take me back to my past. I live each day with higher expectations now. I forgive and express my appreciation more often. No one is guaranteed another hour. It is up to me to make the best of every day. So I do.

My father is gone now. He died last year. My mother has been happily married to a wonderful man for over thirty years. Ellen, Tina and I have been in our first marriages for over thirty years. Debra's divorce was final two years ago and last year she married her high school sweetheart. Most of the time we do well, but each one of us has had to deal with our past in our own way. But we have survived and thrived.

Life isn't always black and white. It might be easier to understand if you could say do this or do that and poof, everything magically would be fine. But people are complex. Their pain is often hidden, as ours was, and lives are often a mix of truth and lies. I will never know everything that happened to me. What I do know is all I need to know. For me, the best thing I can do is move on, holding on to the good and letting go of the bad.

Hopefully my life experiences have made me a more compassionate human being, willing to embrace life and those around me so that together we can live in peace.

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