I haven’t posted in a few months because I’ve been dealing with the loss of my beloved dog Callie in November. When she died a part of me died with her. She was the one constant in my life. Those of you who don’t have a companion animal or aren’t animal lovers probably wouldn’t understand how I could be so utterly devastated by her loss; I guess the answer is you have to be in my shoes to “get it”. I’ve touched briefly on the fact that I have PTSD simply because I’m somewhat of an introvert plus I feel that other people don’t want to hear about my problems. I have it as the result of a horrific and abusive childhood that left me emotionally and physically scarred, of being removed from that house of pain and being put in a cold and unloving “institution” ~ a place for unwanted children. In the 60’s children didn’t have rights; they were merely chattel. There were no advocates to defend them so they remained voiceless. I was one of those voiceless children. I spent the years before kindergarten sitting on a bar stool at night while my father played pool. My childhood was filled with memories of whirling cigarette smoke, cracking pool balls, large jars of pickled items atop the bar counter and endless hours of boredom while my father and his pool playing friends plied me with orange soda and cheese curls, things to this day I cannot abide. My father was an alcoholic but my mother believed women were throwing themselves at him in bars so I was forced to accompany him. She probably felt that having a child would be a deterrent when in reality, I rarely saw a woman let alone one talking to my father. I’ve tried to remember just how much of my early years I spent on bar stools and I believe it was at least three nights a week plus one full day on Saturday. I couldn’t wait to start kindergarten where I dreamed of having friends but lacking social skills or even basic playground skills I never made any. I tried to spend time with the family dog, a beautiful black spaniel named Beauty but was forbidden. Why? Because my mother said she saw me stick sewing needles in Beauty’s ears. In hindsight, I never saw her sew as much as a loose button so doubt there were sewing needles in our house.
My mother took immense pride in buying my school clothes at the most expensive children’s shop in town and upon returning from school each day I was peppered with questions “What did your teacher say about your dress today? I soon learned that it wasn’t in my best interest to tell her that the teacher hadn’t oohed and awed over my outfit so I learned to tell her what she seemed so desperate to hear. In hindsight I realize she had a burning need to be thought of as wealthy and sophisticated. She fancied herself among the elite when in reality we were middle class. By the time I was nearly 8 the expensive clothes could no longer cover the glaring evidence of trauma on my body and one evening just before dinner some people came to take me away. As bad as it was at home I remember crying and pleading with them not to take me because that house and the dysfunctional people who lived there were all I knew. They took me however and I went to live in a big building with many other children of all ages. We were schooled in the building, had our hair cut there and rarely left. A doctor even came when someone was sick and for routine exams. Some of the children had visits from their parents or other family members but I didn’t. My father came once or twice but his visits left me feeling guilty. The first time he came I asked where my mother was and I’ll never forget his answer. “Well you know Bunny you really upset her because you told lies to the teacher about your scrapes. She’s just too upset to come.” Scrapes?? Try having a parent hit you in the forehead with a wooden baseball bat then make you sit on the sofa with a bunch of towels to stem the blood flow while they cooked and drank in the kitchen. Over 40 years later I can taste the blood, smell the hamburgers my father was frying and remember what was playing on the living room television ~ Godzilla. Scrapes my ass.
The years passed and I remained an introvert. I had a few friends there but not many. While we weren’t prisoners, the best they had to offer was strolls on the building grounds. Books became my salvation. At first I read the Golden Books for children but soon moved on to more mature ones. I remember the woman who ran the book room being surprised at some of the books I borrowed but they offered me insight into the world beyond that place, a world where people communicated with one another, of foreign countries and different cultures. I was a voracious reader and explored the work of a broad variety of writers and an even broader subject field. My other saving grace was the house dog (actually there were a few over the years). They were so gentle and when I talked to them in my private corner I felt they understood my words. Just petting them brought me such comfort and joy in an otherwise dismal existence. The institution did not acknowledge individual birthdays so the last time anyone said Happy Birthday was the year I turned 7. To this day I despise my birthday. One of my daughters thinks it’s my way of avoiding the aging process but she couldn’t be more wrong. My birthday invokes sad memories of loneliness and pain. When you’re a child a birthday is a huge event. Children look forward to gifts, cake & ice cream and being smothered with birthday kisses by their family. For me however it was just another day and even now I don’t tell anyone when it is. My children were the only ones that knew and loved to surprise me with wonderful handmade gifts and cards which I still treasure. Sometimes I would pretend to have a party with the house dog. I’d save something from lunch or dinner and the dog and I would sit together and have a party. No doubt about it, my love of animals was firmly planted.
Months turned into years and eventually I reached an age where I could legally be released from the institution. What a shock the real world was, a far cry from the books I’d read. But that’s another story for a different time. Suffice it to say that I spent years putting each horrible memory into a compartment within my head and then sealed it shut for what I believed was forever. Occasionally I’d catch a whiff of perfume or another scent that zoomed my psyche back to my early childhood but within a few hours I purged it from my thoughts. As I became older I realized how incredibly lucky I was for statistics show that the abused often become abusers. They often fall into the world of drugs, alcohol or promiscuity. I did not and thank my belief in God, the books I read and the animals I befriended. After I became a mother my children gave me the unconditional love I’d always craved and I wanted to be the best I coud, to give them every opportunity I’d never been given but more important, to let them know how very loved they were.
I left my first husband when I was pregnant with my youngest daughter and because I was busy working and providing for my three children, dating wasn’t in my vocabulary. Every Friday we would go to the bank, cash my paycheck and I’d make a small deposit into my “life” fund. Some weeks it was only a dollar. It’s funny when I think about it because sometimes the teller would look at me quizzically and say “Is that all you’re depositing?” We rented for a few years but eventually had a small house built in NJ with the help of a government program for first time home owners. I eventually began dating and 14 years after my divorce, remarried again. I also made a career change by returning to college and earning a nursing degree. While friendly at work in my private life I still remained introverted. I also never shared my childhood with anyone, not even my family. My husband and youngest daughter recently learned I had an abusive childhood but they don’t know the full extent of it. The one thing however that has been a constant in my life is my passion for advocating; to speak for those without a voice. At work I accomplished this through my position with the Union and in my private life by volunteering with animals and animal rescue. We always had a dog or two and after my second marriage I added a cat to the mix. Sometimes the children would bring home puppies they found and of course I allowed them to stay. The years passed and the kids left home for college but the dogs remained with me. By the time my husband and I decided to relocate to Maine, we were accompanied by several dogs whom eventually became my “Golden Girls”. My husband was an over the road truck driver so it was basically the dogs and me in a house in the woods. I eventually lost them to old age and all within an 18 month period. I was devastated and for the first time since becoming an adult did not have a dog. About a year after the last one passed I was decorating the Christmas tree when it struck me ~ I missed having a dog! So the search began and I found a gorgeous lab mix at a shelter in Maine. I adopted her and named her Callie after the town where the shelter was ~ Calais. She had an uncanny ability to hone in on my emotions. I was truly amazed at how in synch we were. As time passed I added a few more dogs whom I love dearly but Callie will always be what they refer to as my “♥ dog”.
In 2012, after years of working as a nurse at a jail, I grew tired of the commute and took a more local position. I wasn’t there quite 6 months when something happened that not only drastically altered the course of my life but caused my PTSD memories to come flying out of their sealed compartments.