“NOOOOOOOO!!!” My oldest daughter screamed as loud as she could. She was the third one to yell at the dinner table.
First was my 4-year-old daughter. Then me. Then my oldest daughter. Then my 9-year-old son. And finally, my husband.
After each scream we cheered. Big, real cheers. Around the table. Half-eaten plates in front of us, darkness outside, the baby in his high chair. He wasn’t used to all that noise. I wonder what he thought.
“Let’s do it again!” We all took turns, louder and louder, wilder and wilder. If you walked by our house that evening you might have pounded on the door, worried, asking, “Is everything okay in there?”
“Not really.” I would have answered, if answering honestly.
When my husband screamed, I felt uncomfortable, even a little scared. His was a roar that echoed from the depths of him, from a part we know exists but see rarely, the frightening, intimidating rage of a father whose child had been harmed.
Mine, perhaps, cracked as it passed my lips.
Not because my rage was less than his. Rather mine had come already.
It had come in waves, pushing to destroy, annihilate, torture. It wanted to burn, break, kill. My screams had already moved into the air, into nothing.
I did it when nobody was around, a couple times while driving alone—the few moments I had alone—screaming out loud, envisioning what I’d do to the trash who had hurt my daughter, if I could, and if he weren’t a child himself, one who’d spent his first years in foster homes, unattached, broken, disturbed, dangerous, old enough to know better, manipulative, terrifying, with parents who preferred the depths of sand over actual air.
The one I’m in now. The one I didn’t ask for. The one created by two hours at a house with a sick child, and a powerless one, mine. Mine was the powerless one. By trust in parents who didn’t deserve it. By “friends” who came in the back door, quickly, casually, quietly, with a smile that overwhelmed my mother’s instinct.
“You must empower her. Her agency was removed. She needs to have her power rebuilt.”
So we yell, loud. We scream. We wail. We throw our hands out and kick. She beat the shit out of a giant stuffed puppy in her therapist’s office. Then she stood up triumphantly and declared, “He’s dead.”
We sat silently as she walked over to the dollhouse, to play again.
Later, she pulled the puppy up and said, “He’s not dead anymore.”
I felt sad. I wanted him to bleed forever there on the soft carpet.
I don’t want to teach her to protect herself. I don’t want that to be her reality. I don’t want her to know that people who are stronger can do things to her if they please.
I want the puppy dead. And her, I want her to not even notice.
I want to go back to a month ago when she didn’t even notice. When there wasn’t even a puppy to decimate.
When I told the other kids, they banded together in support of you, their little sister. When I told the older kids, they too were launched unwillingly here. We don’t keep secrets in this family and we can’t be separated because the assault was on one body. It was on us all.
A friend said we are a soft place to land, this home. Our house. The people in it.
Come in, child, we have you.
Your older sister reads you stories on the floor more than she used to. Your brother plays games with you and lets you win sometimes, or overlooks your cheating, even though he’s young enough that it’s still hard for him. And at dinner, oh, at dinner, the thousand times we’ve sat together, meaninglessly, and talked, fought, chatted, flailed, we fight over who gets to sit by you.
You smile. Laugh. Throw your head back.
Your dad and I probably have tears in our eyes. We glance at each other, at each child, but mostly at you these days. You were stolen from us, for mere moments. You were taken and changed against our knowing. Our greatest fear and agony was that your spirit would break, that you would change somehow (your light, your power, your joy), move beyond the reach of the arms we thought were long enough, just inches beyond our fingers. You were torn from the fabric of our bodies and minds and left alone in a room for mere moments with evil. But that was all it needed.
It is not the evil you suspect. It is the evil you refuse to suspect.
We can only bring you home.
We can only sit here and scream in unison on your behalf and watch your eyes light up at the power of our sound. We can only scream the wails of a hundred thousand hurt children today, yesterday. One of our own. You. The scream crushed and crawling half-dead across the floor, bleeding and pathetic and hopeless, wracked with the knowledge of powerlessness, of children just out of reach, of our own baby’s body violated.
But the scream of the power of moving on, up, forward, tiny fists held in the air, triumphant and shaking, unruly blonde locks held in the hands of a brother, sister, mother, father and the ever-widening circle of people beneath you, around you, holding, cradling and rocking you, as you fall softly, kick, scream, wail and rise again.
Note: The author of this piece prefers to stay anonymous.