Whole Church Was In Tears When She Read The Letter She Had Written To Her Toxic Dad.
Story by Josie Willis (Author)
Growing up, I was among the forgotten. I was battered, beaten, emotionally and sexually abused. For over ten years my father invaded my life, attaching himself like a barnacle, unwanted and feared. The names he hurled at me eroded my self-esteem. I was called the girl with no mouth. I rarely spoke to or answered anyone. Between my father and me was my mother, silent and unmovable. The Sphinx factor who cast a long, dark shadow over me. With fists and switches, she made the bruises and welts that hid beneath my skirts. I was the Cinderella of the family, stripped of emotional ties.
For years I went through life bandaging deep bleeding wounds that wouldn’t heal. I read books and articles about the abuse, but kept the secret sealed within. I joined (at forty-three) a church support group: Incest Survivors Anonymous. The hurt I listened to strained like toxic puree through me. It was then I learned the value of my writing. We were asked to write a paragraph about the abuse. Instead, I brought a letter in I had written to my father. In clear tones, struggling to keep my composure, I read what I had written. When I looked up, a sea of crying faces looked back at me–with compassion, with understanding. It had taken me an hour to write that letter. It had taken me my whole life to form the words.
After the meeting, the women stopped to talk to me. “Your letter was wonderful,” one said. “I wish I had the courage to write it.” I had forgotten the power of words: how they speak to the heart, vindicate the spirit. I thanked her and hurried on.
Months later, I made my first appointment to see a psychologist. In the reception room, on the walls, hung tropical plant pictures in muted shades of turquoise and peach. On the small desk was a calendar, set on yesterday’s date. It didn’t matter what the time or date. It had taken me 43 years to get here from nowhere. Destination blurred, I was a ship meandering the channels of a haphazard life.
In her office the psychologist read the patient history I’d filled out. She said to me: “You’ve answered all the questions like a psychologist would. What brings you here so late in life? You seem to have managed well enough by yourself.”
The truth was, I hadn’t. I was a circuit board riddled with fears and anxieties, and was an anomaly even to myself. I am an incest survivor whose baggage had become too heavy to carry by myself. She drew me out, offering at times tissues from a box. I shredded and rolled the bits and pieces of them as I talked.
“It’s OK to cry,” she murmured, seeing the shame on my face.
We picked our way through sessions guardedly. Then, one day, she asked: “If you could do anything you wanted, what would it be?”
Without hesitation, I answered: “Write.”
“Then let’s do it,” she said. “Let’s make you a writer.” She sent me home with an assignment: write a two page letter to my father about the abuse. No excuses, just do it.
I returned with six pages, more than she’d asked.
“You wrote all this?” she held it up.
Then quietly she leaned back in her chair and read it–not in a hurry—but thoughtfully. When finished, she took off her glasses and looked at me: “Your writing is powerful,” she said, tears in her eyes. “What would you like to write?”
“Something to help others like me,” I said. “A book”–I wasn’t sure.
“I want to read it when you’re done,” she said. When, not if. “The only impediment I see is you.” “Believe in you!”
I remember her words. I remember the song of my childhood. The inner drive to put words to paper. No–not just words–but heart and soul. When the kids in school complained about book reports and essays, I was halfway through them. My imagination blazed an ink-blurred trail across the paper. When I graduated valedictorian from high school, I wrote my own speech. I remember still the hush of the audience, the sudden roar of applause.
Discouraged by my parents, whose abuse strangled me, I gave up writing, except for classes. Writers never amount to anything, they told me. You will be a teacher. Inside, the embers still glowed.
I am a writer and a poet now. My poetry has been published in three anthologies. It isn’t standard poetry. It whistles a different tune. Its words are coated with the echoes of abuse. I write from the heart–to the heart of incest survivors everywhere. Mine is a universal voice. I’ve listened to my heart, and let it sing.
Sometimes, I write silly things. For two years I wrote a column for the Frog Pond newsletter. It’s dedicated to frog collectors like me. I also write articles for Florida Gardening magazine. In the past I’ve been a copywriter for three radio stations.
But always, I return to the book. It’s what defines me. It is my symphony. I write it for the child in me who never knew love. I write it for the children of our yesterdays. For the children of our tomorrow’s. I hear them calling me. I know so well the patterns of their lives. The trail of tears they follow. In them–in me–I’ve found the answer to my psychologist’s question: “What will you write?”
I must write the words that tell. I must break the silent code that binds us. That others, like me, will know they’re not alone. That, despite the darkness, they (like me) may sing again.
About the Writer :- Josie Willis has always been a writer at heart, reveling in the power of words. A voracious reader, words define her inner spirit. Branded by parents who called her a failure, she nearly abandoned her dream. Encouraged by her husband later in life, she reignited the burning embers of her creative impulse. To date, she has published poetry in the Blue Mountain Arts line of books and cards, essays in the Chicken Soup inspirational books and in a Martin Luther King anniversary book. She has also written gardening articles, mystery and children’s stories. However, her proudest achievement is writing for abuse victims, who, like her, have borne the sorrows of an opaque childhood cloaked in silence, Her words for these victims have been published nationally and internationally. She has received hundreds of emails and letters…and she has listened in the only way an abuse survivor can.
Email her at: [email protected]