It was supposed to be my time to recharge, not to revisit places that seared my soul like a branding iron.
“Go back.” Over and over the thought pressed, set on repeat, echoing in a gentle whisper.
I drove out of town, willing myself forward as the sweat made my palms slippery on the steering wheel. I drove the once familiar path that led out to my childhood. To a town so small it feels hidden away and untouchable.
Unconsciously I began slowing down as I crept closer. The sights, the smells, the atmosphere of the place bringing back a host of memories that were unwelcome. I slowly drove down the street where I grew up and was struck by the realization that I was still tethered to this place, to the past. Flashbacks tore through my mind like an old-school flip book, flipping to the rhythm of my increasing pulse. It felt like a noose tightening. It was then that I grabbed for my cell phone, my tie to the present, my unconscious lifeline, only to realize I had forgotten it at home. Without hesitation, I found my foot gunning the gas before the invisible noose finished closing around my neck. Picking what seemed like a random road out of town, I drove and frantically prayed for deliverance. It was instinctual and so familiar. The further away I got, the easier it was to breathe, and the angrier I grew.
That night I sat and cried ugly, angry tears for hours. It has been over 30 years since the searing; that place doesn’t get to have a hold any more.
Again, the gentle pressing: “Go back, you are not there anymore.”
And so, the next day I returned, this time with my husband driving so I would have no excuse to leave. He drove faster then I desired, doing the speed limit. He had no apprehensions toward the place.
The town was still with the white noise of chickens clucking, and we were clearly outsiders. My childhood home now changed, blue paint replacing the once pale yellow. Attempts to modernize the simple home were evident. And yet, the random yard furniture continued to be a theme– trailers, cars, random sheds, grassy overgrowth, the accumulation of stuff in wide open spaces.
“Get out and walk this road.”
I didn’t want to. This was not a town where you walk the streets unnoticed, nor was it welcoming. Plus, 2 of my children were now with me. Wait, why did I allow them to come along? A panic swept over me.
“I have you, Crystal.”
We parked in quite literally the only place possible, the town park. The town park, with it’s single swing set and rusting baseball diamond. As my daughters rushed toward the swing set to play I walked into the past. Slowly, I walked to the back of the park, to the ditch where I was once held down by the teenage girl as she instructed her younger brother on how to violate me. Hidden. Her voice echoing in my head, my pulse started to race. But now, a new thought. What had happened to her to lead her to do that? Why? A new and unfamiliar sadness swept over me. What was their story?
“You aren’t here anymore. I want you to see.”
Loudly, I spoke truth in that space; loudly I declared my freedom. The weight began to lift off my shoulders, and laughter began to pour out of my chest. I turned around to walk back and watched as my children laughed on the swing set as my husband pushed them. A new memory in this space.
I walked on down the road, remembering. I looked over at the little market where I would take all my parents’ change and buy every piece of candy I could. Then I would hide and eat every last piece until my belly ached–the birth of my eating disorder. I stood at the bus stop where I would wait every morning to take the long bus ride into another town where I attended school. I rode with two of my abusers. Me, the elementary school kid, being beckoned to the back of the bus after a certain stop along the way, to hang with the “cool high schoolers” and do their bidding under the hiddenness of a jacket.
I walked on and stood before the home of my littlest years. I remembered the trailers, the “friends.” I remembered the abuse, the theft of my innocence. I remembered the pictures, the child pornography. And again I wondered why they did it, what had happened in their stories. Again, I spoke the truth in this space, loudly, looking like a crazy person. I am not here anymore.
And then, with incredible clarity and indescribable power I realized–
“Where do you think your passion was born?
Where did the seed get planted for who you would become?
Where did you find your voice?”
When the enemy said, “I will destroy her,” God said, “Wait until you see what I do.”
God has used all of it.
I looked down at my girls who were trying to take in this strange place and realized they were the ages I had been during that season. Age 3 when we moved there, about 10 when we left. God had me. Intimately, always, he was with me in that fire.
As we left, I realized we had even retraced that old bus journey I once took daily. He had covered and redeemed every single inch of the journey. I was free, finally untethered from this place and space.
“Mommy, what was that place?” asked 3 year old Victoria.
“That was the birthplace of Mommy.”