“Perfect love drives out fear.”
1 John 4:18
“Why can’t he see her outside of his own pain?”
My Thoughts, Tess’s Journal
God had tied a rope to each end of Rebecca and my soul’s, and the strength of it would one day teach us to let loose and be strong without it. For now, it pulled us closer. And while Rebecca lay, barely breathing, more times than not, I had learned to write about her. My journal became our restitution, the only way I could take back what felt like other’s power – and make it mean something, somehow. I could put every hurt down with a pencil, and suddenly it couldn’t hurt us. It was our telling, our taking back what was rightfully ours – the experience of feeling un-loved.
Halfway through the school year, during the winter, it got too cold to stay outside in the ditch. Rebecca was still afraid her dad would beat me if I came over, and still afraid that my parents would try to make him stop if she came to my house. So, I began crawling through her window, quietly. I climbed up on the old firewood box and hoisted my skinny twelve year body through the pane of glass held up by a piece of molded wood.
We’d hid from things our whole lives, and hiding now was no different. We lived the secrets of those around us, and breathed them into our friendship, locked and kept between the pain of our loneliness.
We spent hours talking about where we would fly if our wings ever healed. We laughed about things our parents had said, times when they’d hit us just because. Laughing seemed like the only thing left to do. Laughing and hiding.
She waited for me every day after school, to crawl through her window. Today, when I made my way past the jagged edge of the window pane; I knew we’d only been biding time, holding our breath until it happened. And it had happened.
Curled up down on the bottom edge of her bed, like a dying infant, wearing nothing but her underwear and a tank top; she clung to life. Bruises moaned out loud, puss seeped from wounds that had been inflicted times before and re opened again. Deep cuts and gashes ran down the length of her back, and I shuddered as I thought of how they got there. Blood seethed from below her hair line, black and crimson red, the top of her tank top, where the shoulders met her skin, was soaked in the thick, relentless fluid of defeat.
She lay shivering, shaking not from cold but from fear. She heard me come in, as I slipped off the dresser under the window, and as I took several steps towards her she flinched.
Her right eye was too swollen to open, and her left eye drooped from a cut to the lid. She tried to look over at me as she whimpered, “Shhh … please Tessie, don’t.”
I went to her. She tried to shift her body, but the pain of movement made her cry out.
“Don’t move, it’s okay.” I spoke softly, my voice quivering in the wake of ruin I now sat carefully and helplessly beside.
I had never cried for my own assault like I cried deep inside for her then. The tears fell, heavy and burdened down my bruise- less face. Rebecca glanced up at me with her one working eye, trying not to move. She had no tears left to cry.
“Don’t cry, I’m okay. This isn’t the first time, ” she whispered.
I pulled the blanket up from the top of the bed, and lifted it gently over her body. I smoothed out the creases lightly. Ever so lightly. Blood had begun to dry on her pillow, a puddle of blackness around her face, “Do you want me to turn your pillow over?” I asked her, needing to help, my own fears well beyond my control.
She shook her head and winced with her words, “Just let me lay here.”
I laid down next to her, half of me off the bed, using all my strength to be as still as possible while not falling off. I reached out to touch her cheek, the one small space where skin felt like skin, and scars had healed.
Matted with blood in the back, her hair felt hard and wet at the same time. her bangs fell across her forehead, and I moved them away, out of her eyes. Her eyes. I hurt for her. My vision smeared, my heart beating fast within me, I wished that I could take her up in my arms and carry her away. But I had no safe place to go either. I lived in a hell I could not escape myself.
“Sing to me Tessie,” she whimpered.
“I can’t sing, you know that,” I replied.
She smiled through the crack in her lip where blood still oozed, “Don’t you think I know that?”
I laughed. At least we still had that. “Becca, what happened?”
She sighed deeply, her body lifting and drowning again. A single tear seeped from her eye, and pooled there, without noise or hope of being seen, “Me. That’s what happened. Me.”
“I hate him,” I growled.
She closed her eyes, “Don’t. It won’t fix anything.”
I understood. So, I sang. I sang until she fell deep asleep, and then I prayed for mercy from a God I didn’t like; that He might let me at least take her nightmare’s tonight.
The raw truth of Rebecca’s life painted her face and body. My truth was somewhere deep inside. Neither of us understood it, so we didn’t question it. While Rebecca starved herself and slept out in the cold to punish who she was, I invented myself over. I had faces for all the little girls, and the grown up one, inside of me. Becca still needed to prove to her daddy that she could be a good girl. She needed his approval.
As I moved, to leave her sleeping, she groaned in her sleep, “I love him, still.”
Her own words woke her slightly, and she looked towards me, standing now at the edge of her bed, needing me to understand what she’d said. Moving towards her, I lifted the blanket slightly, traced the old scar that ran seven inches down her side, zig zagging across her ribs, “You can love him, Becca, but don’t forget what his love does to you.”
It was her eyes, more than the words her lips spoke, that revealed the soul of a child still stunted inside Rebecca. “Why doesn’t he love me?” She’d asked out loud, to no one, it seemed but herself, “What’s wrong with me?” She then asked directly to me, needing to find answers.
These questions cut deeper and bled harder than any wound her father raged upon her. As I whispered back, “I don’t know Becca, I don’t know,” I meant it. I’d always wondered the same thing.