I did a lot of hiding during my childhood years, hiding mostly from my family. The pretense of our make believe family drove me to seek out creative ways to avoid (as much as possible) its insanity.
Books were an excellent place to hide. While anger, avoidance, passivity and sexual perversion contaminated the atmosphere of our home, I took flight into worlds unknown, via the printed word. Floating on a raft with Huck Finn, enduring the long winter with the brave Ingalls from Little House on the Prairie, or throwing spit wads with Otis Spofford, I lollygagged with open book every chance I got. The fact that fiction was also pretense didn’t worry me in the least; it was not pretense for the sake of deception, but for the illustrating of truths not found in my family home.
There was never any question about the Ingalls sticking together through thick and thin; it was a given. Their interactions were based on bedrock loyalty and the good old persevering pioneer spirit.
My family was never going to come close to that kind of a loving family, not in a million years. Reading about others who managed to love their offspring, to protect and nurture them, didn’t turn me bitter. After all, it was good to know that somewhere in this sad old world people still cared about the treasured values that money can’t buy.
And so, I was a hider. I hid in books. My room was an eclectic mix of Barbie and Ken dolls, a cow skull hung on one wall wearing a pair of yellow granny glasses, marbles, books books and more books; of play-do ashtrays drying on my window sill and the endless stories I was forever writing cluttering the surface of my bed and dresser. Here I hid as well, hid deeply and often. So often that my mother would periodically knock on my door, and demand that I join the rest of the family for an evening of TV. Her pinched brows, expressing as much disapproval as her cold tone of voice, grated on my sensitive spirit. Reluctantly, moving as slowly as if I were being led to the gallows to be hung by the neck, I followed her out into the living room, steadfastly avoiding eye contact with my molester, sprawled on the couch in his Fruit-of-the-Looms.
My backyard fort, in collusion with my wish to be disconnected from my family, harbored my fugitive self. There within its solitude I imagined I was a famous writer, or the beloved wife of a handsome, gentle man whose laugh would boom with joy. Sometimes it was God I thought of, but that always ended in sadness. What had he to do with such as I, now that I had been defiled? I probably didn’t use that word to myself to describe what had happened to me, but it’s sure how I felt. Defiled, contaminated, scarred for life.
Oh I was a hider, alright. I hid in Girl Scouts and religion, I hid in daydreams of a whole different life with an entirely different family. Most of all, I hid in different personalities, hid so deeply that I was not aware they existed until five years ago.
There are many hiding places to which I resorted time and again, and I became quite expert at finding them.
I’ve been a hider extraordinaire and now I’m working in reverse, trying to learn how to not hide.
Come out come out, wherever you are! is the singsong of some game played in childhood. The echo of it haunts me, reminds me that I have perhaps been in hiding way too long. But what it means to come out of my self-imposed exile, I really have no idea.