How old were you in your earliest childhood memory? Have you considered how that memory has shaped your life? I was around 4 years old in mine. My little brother, Dan and I were playing outside in the yard. It was a warm and sunny summer’s day and we were playing tag. This was one of our favorite games because the tag included tackling each other to the ground. We were having fun playing, laughing and rolling around in the green grass even though we were trying to hide from the frightful scene that we could hear emanating from inside the house. Our mom and dad had been screaming at each other all day and we were just trying to stay out of the way. This was a normal day in our house and Dan and I knew we were better off making ourselves scarce. We were giggling and chasing each other around the yard when all of a sudden our mother burst from from the front door yelling to us to start running! My dad came bursting out right after her with his hunting rifle in hand. He was crazed with anger. We all instantly went into panic mode. He yelled at me and Dan to get back in the house. Mom scooped us up and started running down the street. The plan was to go to my aunt’s house a few blocks away. Dad was yelling at us to get back inside. His rage increased when we did not turn around. Our panic intensified when he began to fire shots over our heads. I never believed that he would actually shoot any of us. But still, we ran for our lives. It was difficult to keep up with my mom. She was nearly dragging me by the hand. I lost my footing and nearly fell several times. She would lift me up by the hand and I would be airborne for a few strides before my feet would touch down again.
I remember that day so vividly because that was the first day I made rule about my life. I decided that I would never allow a man or anyone else to ever treat me that way. I was terrified but also humiliated. I remember thinking we were only making things worse by running and it would be better if we just stayed. We would have to go back there eventually anyway. I know that it may be hard to believe after a story like that, but I was a daddy’s girl. I knew he loved me and didn’t want to hurt me or my brother. But in that moment, I didn’t see my daddy. The man who was shooting at us was a monster. I knew that when I was old enough to choose for myself I would only choose men who would treat me with dignity and respect. I decided I would learn to take care of myself so that I was never put in a position to feel so vulnerable again. To this day, I am hypersensitive to any hint of domestic violence. I cannot even bear to watch it in a movie. I instantly go back to that day and relive the terror and shame that my loved ones and I went through. That day I developed an extreme need to feel in control of my environment. It also caused me to develop a deep sense of self reliance. I needed to feel safe and there was no one but me to provide that. I would spend the next twenty-five years trying to prove how tough and independent I was. This choice helped me to become an over achiever, but it prevented me from understanding and appreciating the intimacy and even power that can come from being vulnerable. I started to build a wall and would continue to do so for many years to come.
That day my dad was shouting at me specifically, not my brother, to get back to him while my mother pulled on my hand to keep me running with her. I know it sounds strange, but ultimately, I felt a deep sense of loyalty to him and I felt a great deal of betrayal for running away and disobeying his order to get back in the house.