I’ve been taking a class online from OM Magazine named “Healing through Writing” and this was my assignment this week. **Trigger Warning** if you have been sexually abused as a child because there is mention of the abuse, nothing graphic.
Assignment: Think about a photo of someone like your parents, grandparents, or a lover. Sit quietly in front of the photograph, and start writing, seeing where it takes you.
This is the result…
(image is not my father. Etsy)
A Letter to the Soldier
As I sit here, I wait for my feelings to take me from my usual numbness. I see your picture in my mind’s eye. I stare at your picture. All I feel today is sadness and some anger. The picture is in sepia tones and is your formal Army photograph, the one taken before I was born, probably in the mid to late 1940’s. It was the one with you in the big cap and with the gold buttons and medals. As a small, young girl of five, I fell in love with that soldier, you. Oh, how I loved that picture. You looked like at General with your beautiful blue eyes, wavy brown hair, and your firm jaw. Without a smile…just a straight line for your mouth. Probably you were in your thirties. As a young child, I would imagine the soldier was my boyfriend or that we were in a war and separated by an ocean. The older I became, the more the details of my imagination ran wild. I was a lonely distant child who played alone most times. Of course I had no memories of these moments as a child because the innocent, good memories were blocked along with the abuse memories together to protect me. I recovered many of the memories when I was 35 and in counseling. No more fantasy life to cover the loss of memories. Did you know that I still occasionally have a flashback, some good, some not good?
I felt proud to have a daddy who was strong and honorable and so handsome. Did you know that when you were abusing me, I would close my eyes and imagine that picture or look at your picture if the light from the living room shone in. I fell in love with that soldier in the photograph, you. On more than one occasion during the abuse I would block out what you were doing during the abuse, I told myself that it was someone else abusing me because the strong, kind soldier would not hurt me. In my heart, I knew it wasn’t true, but oh, how I wanted it to be true because my handsome, strong Army soldier couldn’t do that, not that.
The picture was a photograph, painted over as they did in the late 1940s to make it look like a painting. It was about 11×14, (I remember big) in a brown oval, ornate, wooden frame. Although it was sepia, parts were painted in color, like your beautiful blue eyes. It hung on the wall nearest the living room, across from your bed. I always waited for momma to come through the large doorway (there was no door), so she would rescue me if she would only wake up and hear and see what daddy was doing. But then I hoped that she didn’t wake up because she would be angry with me that I wasn’t in my room where she told me to sleep after catching me a few times in your bed when she woke up mornings. Of course, you were drunk and didn’t remember those moments that I had with momma.
Back to your picture. I imagined you to be kind and loving and honest and brave. The man in that picture went to war to keep the whole world safe. Never, never, never could the soldier hurt me. I was the most important person to him(you), his baby girl. I just knew there was something wrong with me. Other kids were not afraid to be alone with their daddies. That’s why I never told about the abuse because I thought it was my fault that I made it happen.
I still have that photograph in the same frame. I packed it away and don’t like looking at it, but can’t bring myself to throw it away. I only have it because everyone else has died. At the time it was taken, you had not started abusing me yet. Maybe, I wasn’t born yet. That’s why I kept it because we both were innocent then with you in the Army and me not yet born. The abuse started around four or five years as I remembered, you were not in the Army anymore because you were home each day from work. Except in that picture that hung in your bedroom, you were still in the army so no abuse was happening at the time the photograph was taken.
One final thought…maybe I’m waiting for that young soldier to rescue me, but that‘s only true in fairy tales or movies. Here, I’m 66 years old sitting in my room typing this on my iPhone with no soldiers in site—reality check.
Well, daddy, I’d wish you dead but you already are. Also, no matter what you put me through, a part of me still loves you and that young, handsome soldier in the photograph.