It started with words. Yelling, angry words he slung at her for being lazy, or slow, or a bad cook. She’d just apologize and go on with life. Then he yelled at me, and she wouldn’t stand for it; she’d step in, and up, like she never did for herself. That’s when he started hitting her. I didn’t even know it was odd until I was older, and observed the parents of friends who never hit.  By that time, it was ingrained; my stepfather hit, and that was just… life. I don’t know if my mother knew he started hitting me. I played sports, had bruises, a few fractures. Even my pediatrician never suspected abuse.

If it had stopped at hitting, I probably wouldn’t be so messed up. But when I was 8, everything changed. I was beginning to develop; their marriage was cooling off – they rarely even spoke. And he started looking at me differently. High on pain pills for some imaginary back spasm he used to get sympathy from his family – and drugs from his doctor – he came to my room one night, held a hand over my mouth, and touched me. I was lucky; he was flying so high that when he went to take his clothes off, I ran for the bathroom and locked myself in.

He couldn’t exactly break the door down without waking my mother, so he stood by the door and told me all the terrible things he’d do to me, to my mother, if I ever breathed a word. I believe he meant it, even to this day. So I never said anything, and by grace of some higher power, he never tried again. From that day on, I slept with a knife under my mattress, and told my mother I wanted to make my own bed. I learned to climb out my window in 30 seconds, found a neighbor who would take me in at any hour, for any reason, and kept a bag of clothes and a pair of old shoes stashed in a hidey-hole by the side of the house.

I learned what no child should have to. I lived for two years past that awful night in the same house with him, terrified that I would have to use my escape route and leave my mother behind to face him alone. My only solace was that neighbor, whose daughters loved me like a sister, and who slept next to a 12 gauge shotgun. I’m thankful every day that I never had to ask him to go rescue my mother from a maniac.

That’s the beginning of my story, but it isn’t the end. I’ve posted other pieces of my life elsewhere on this site, and on others… in comments, in my own posts. But what I’ve always failed to include, even when I’ve posted my “epilogue” is the Darkness. And yes, it deserves that capital D. It’s frighteningly close to the surface at times. That beginning shaped my life; the good, I’m a survivor and always will be, the bad, I am quick to draw blood, to use violence instead of words or distance.

I have three children. I love them with everything that I am, and more if it’s possible. I am so, so careful to keep them away from that part of me, but I’m still scared. The part of me that’s cautious of people, of situations, quick to react and deadly when I do, has literally kept me alive. But that same part of me could destroy the people I love. I’ve often heard new mothers being told, “If you can’t handle it, if it just gets too overwhelming, put the baby in a safe place and walk away to cool down.” I’ve had to do this more times than I want to admit, and not just during the infant stage.

My older two are only a year apart — god the stress of that! — and at nearly 5 and nearly 4, they are a handful. Any children of those ages would be, of course. But my oldest is intelligent; so intelligent that at times I’m frightened by how quickly she picks things up. I wonder if she’ll out-pace her ability to comprehend what she’s taking in. My middle child is different. Exactly how we don’t yet know, but I’ve seen these neon signs before. I know what they mean. Autism Spectrum Disorder. High-functioning, certainly, and thank god for that, but still… a challenge. I double-stack baby gates in their doorway to keep them in their room when I feel the Darkness crawling to the surface and I just can’t handle any more. I know this isn’t a terrible thing. They are fed, hydrated, clean, overflowing with toys and even a TV with a DVD player because they, like their Nana, love Disney movies. They are never ignored, but sometimes… sometimes Mommy needs a break from the go-go-go of two toddlers-turned-preschoolers. And I feel horrible. But I would feel worse if I let my Darkness get the better of me, I know that. Better to be safe in their room, cared for and dealt with at a distance than to become easy targets for my frustration. But still I feel like the worst mother in the world.

And now there’s the baby. Not so little anymore — 9 months now, goodness — but still so dependent on Mommy. I wanted her so, so very badly, and I don’t regret having her, not even the timing of it, so close to the others. I just get overwhelmed. So she goes in her nice, safe crib with a brightly-colored baby book to distract her while Mommy has a breather. It’s certainly not the worst thing in the world, and yet? Bad Mommy. I know it isn’t true, but that’s how I feel, because my own little babies should never make me so angry they bring out the Darkness. But after the thirty-millionth time of hearing, “Mommy, I’m hungry.” and “I wanna watch a movie!” and “Sissy’s hitting meeeeee…” and “Wahhhh! Wahhh! WAHHHHHH!” in the last hour, I just want to put my hand through a wall. I never, ever want them to see me lose it that way. It would scare them, scar them perhaps, and I love them too much to do that.

I rarely take people at their word. I always look for hidden meanings, reasons to get up in arms. Why? Because if I spot the attack before it happens, I have an edge. It’s like the abused wife who looks and listens and knows the instant before her husband is going to throw that first punch that she better duck. It’s a life-saving reflex that has no place in common conversation. But it’s there. I can’t make it go away. Ironically, I feel safer around men. Women scheme and connive; they are masters at smiling to your face and stabbing you in the back, and that scares me. If I can see the attack coming, I can prepare. I don’t like being blindsided. I can read men, I’m used to doing so, so they’re safer. But even with men, I’m careful.

I still sleep with a knife beside the bed. I take my cell phone with me to bed, too, just in case. I listen for noises in the night. I hate sleeping when it’s bright out because the sunlight makes it hard to fall asleep or stay that way, but I prefer it because the Monsters generally prefer the dark for their sport. Sleeping, I’m easy prey, but awake, I’m much harder to fell. I have nightmares about people invading my home, waking nightmares sometimes, when I try to fall asleep at night. I am still afraid to let my children sleep in their own room for fear of not being able to protect them should I need to. It’s that scared little 8-year-old coming out, waiting for “Daddy” to creep into her room. Every sound in the night that I don’t immediately recognize is a shiver of terror down my spine.

I’ve spoken to counselors, taken meds, but it never helps. Precisely because people can’t be trusted, and the drugs make me not me anymore. I can’t even recognize the person in the mirror and that might just scare me worse than the nightmares. This is a Darkness bred into me from childhood, reinforced through a lifetime of hardness, that cannot simply be erased. I must learn to live with it, to cope. And I hope (god I hope) that acknowledging it here helps.