Ghosts

An old friend of mine found me on Facebook a couple of days ago. She sent a friend request, and based on the timeline of her account, she’s given herself a new start.

She’s an old friend from fourth and fifth grade. My son was surprised that I remembered her. I think she’s the only friend I remember from those grades in elementary school. I’ve forgotten the others, probably on purpose. The reason I remember this girl is because she spoke up. She saved us.

It’s fascinating what you remember and why. Some memories are vague, gray-scale ghosts that float through your mind in a two-dimensional manner. Some are smells and sounds more than sights. I only remember flashes of those two years of elementary school, but some of those flashes I try to stuff down as soon as they surface.

My friend comes from a largish Italian family. She had lots of brothers, one of whom was my older brother’s age. I only had one older brother and a younger sister who grew up with me although I have two older half-brothers I would have liked to see more. She was always outspoken. She had a lot of spirit–I suppose you would have to just to survive with all those brothers. I might have had spirit when I was younger. I remember being a kind of bully up through third grade. At the time I was simply aware of tension in my family. I understand why now, but that didn’t help me much when I was only ten years old.

We moved after third grade into an actual neighborhood. Our house had square walls and indoor plumbing and a furnace and a fence. We lived on a cul-de-sac with paved roads and sidewalks. We had neighbors who were literally next door instead of half a mile or more away through cactus and sagebrush. The sun beat down on the pavement so hard all day that we played outside at night after the temperature mellowed. I thought it was great.

Mr. Howard lived next door to me. Mr. Howard was the elementary school janitor. Mr. Howard went to jail after my friend finally told the teachers in fifth grade what he did to us in the hallways when he caught us alone with a bathroom pass or on our way to the office.

We were watching the fifth grade maturation video. It was the fifth grade version of health class when they divided the boys and the girls into separate rooms and sent someone from the district office or the health department to answer questions just in case our parents neglected to tell us what menstruation was or why we had to wear a bra.

My friend asked why Mr. Howard touched us in places he wasn’t supposed to. The lady in charge of our presentation went pale. I’m sure she felt sick to her stomach and wanted to walk away, pretend my friend never said anything, but she had been sent by the district and couldn’t. We all spoke up then, even me. I didn’t think I had a voice anymore, but I did that day. And I did again when the police came with their shiny badges and pulled us into a room one by one to ask us questions and see if our stories lined up.

Mr. Howard’s family moved away that summer. The house wasn’t empty for long because it was a nice neighborhood and the house sat on the corner of a cul-de-sac and a dead end. Kids moved in, but I never wanted to go over there and play. The next year I was in sixth grade and went to a different school. I have never gone back inside my elementary school building. Or the Howards’ house. But in a way I never left. I know he has served his time, by my memories will never be up for parole.

I’m glad my friend found me. It’s good to see that we have built lives despite what that experience led to in later years. I didn’t have a strong support system at home, and things got worse for me before they got better. For a long time I existed, but I was numb. An emotional zombie. I believed I was unlovable.

Now I’m happy. I thank God every day for my husband and kids and I’m not numb any more. In fact, sometimes I think I feel too much, but I savor it because it’s better than being one of the living dead. And I am lovable. My experiences all make me who I am, and I love myself. I even love the bad things, or at least who I’ve became because of the bad things. It took a lot of years, a lot of years of emotional and physical safety and being loved before I figured out how to do it myself. And therapy helped, too :).

I haven’t thought about this for a long time, at least not the actual memories. They’ll fade a little and go back to sleeping in those dark places that only wake when ghosts appear.


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