The Diary Incident
When I was in third grade, I stole my sister's diary. I didn't even want to read all the secrets she had written in the diary. However, we had just started learning to write cursive in school. I really enjoyed writing, and I was jealous of her having a book she could write in every day. So I stole her diary so I could write in it. I practiced my cursive c's in it, because they were in my name and therefore very important. Eventually I came to the realization that having a book to write in is not enough to write every day. You also have to have something to write, and I had nothing to write. So I hid the diary in the attic and forgot about it.
Later on my mom and dad were going on vacation. It might have been one of my dad's business trips to some place exotic, and he was taking my mom along so she could enjoy it. I don't know. But if they are going on vacation they need to pack, and if they need to pack they need their luggage, and their luggage is in the attic. So they opened up the attic, and everyone trooped up there to see if the junk they had put up their before had transformed back into treasure.
My sister went up there and found her diary. It was obvious from the third grade cursive c's in it that I was the one who had stolen it. And she told my parents about it, or at least she told my dad. I want to be clear at this point that I don't blame my sister for telling my dad. I have never blamed my sister for telling my dad. I don't think it ever even occurred to me to blame my sister for telling my dad.
So my dad took me into the front hall, where the coat closet was. I remember the rest of the family being at the top of the stairs; including my grandmother, who was going to take care of me and my sister while my parents were gone. My dad got a wooden coat hanger out of the closet.
My dad took that coat hanger and beat me on the butt with it. And he beat me, and he beat me, and he beat me. Finally he stopped, and I thought he was finished. I tried to run away and get to my room. But he wasn't finished, he had just beaten me so long his arm had gotten tired, and he'd stopped to take a break. So he grabbed me back by my arm and started beating me again.
I have a very clear memory of him grabbing my arm and dragging me back. At that point in my memory everything goes white, like a really slow blinding flash. Looking back, I am often more disturbed by the memory going white that by what happened to me that day.
I don't really remember the rest of the day. I have one memory of getting a drink at a water fountain, but it is just a brief flash. But even if I remembered it, the rest of the day is not really my story to tell. But I've heard that story, I don't think it's any more fun than the story I have just told.
I couldn't sit down, but I had to go to school, and at school you have to sit down all day. What I would do to manage the pain was to wrap my lower legs around the chair legs. Then I used that as leverage to hold my butt of the seat, and leaned forward with my elbows on my desk.
I think my third grade teacher (Mrs. Leak?) knew what had happened. She asked me if I had hurt myself, and if that was why I was holding my butt off the seat. I don't know how I knew this, but I knew I had to lie. At the back of the school parking lot was where the bike rack was. It was at the top of a wide gravel pathway through the woods and down to a the street that ran behind the school. I told my teacher I fell off my bicycle and slid on my butt through the gravel. I don't think she believed me, but she didn't press me on it. This would have been the 79-80 school year, and back then they didn't cause as much of a stink about child abuse. Although it's not clear they cause enough of a stink about it these days.
One time while practicing Zen, I was mindfully eating my dinner. I sat down at the table and crossed my legs. Then, as I often do, I recross my leg by wrapping the foot back around the lower leg. There in my mindfulness I had a flash of memory, a memory of me sitting at my desk that week at school. I think that double crossing of my legs is a manerism left over from that time. It's something I do when I am in pain or trying to control myself. I also roll over on my stomach when I'm really depressed, and I cannot fall asleep on my back in a bed. I think these are both because I couldn't sleep on my back after the beating. I could even really sleep on my side. If I slept on my side, I would roll over in my sleep, leading to the apocryphal painful awakening.
When my parents came back a week later I still couldn't sit down. My mom later told me that it was seeing me unable to sit when she got back that finally made her divorce my father. That lead to The Whiskey Incident and The Day I Didn't Come Home.
My mom also felt really guilty about this. I think she expressed that guilt by letting me get away with things that little boys want to get away with. One of those was not getting my hair cut. So I grew my hair long when I was ten. In Virginia in 1980, ten year old boys did not grown their hair long. I was pretty much ostracised. Some of my closer friends, especially the geeks who respected my intelligence, stuck by my side. But I think it's always hard when little kids learn that lesson about who your real friends are.
I also became an atheist, if only an atheist of convenience. I have a memory of my dad sitting in the living room one Sunday morning. As I recall, I was hiding behind the blue couch. Mom and my sister were heading out to church, and my mom asks my dad if he's coming. He refuses, I think because of the growing conflict between them. Then she tells me to come along, and I refuse to go as well. I mean, if dad doesn't go to church, why do I? Then she leaves in a huff of frustration.
This incident is one of what I call The Big Three: the three major events that have shaped my life.