Wordless, this photograph has sat framed, in my home, my entire life. No matter where I have lived, I’ve kept it close, hearing its horrifying screams daily, silently grasping for me, bellowing out all the words that you see from the well of my deepest despair. Words boldly wrestling within my soul, clawing out those tiny eyes, like rusted barbed wire, embracing me, bludgeoning me, shredding all that was left of my vanquished tortured being.
I remember when it was taken; I was in kindergarten, just five years old. It was my very first school picture.
The day before, my mother picked out the Winnie the Pooh outfit and the little black barrettes for my hair. She said, “Pictures tell a story, Kerri, they’re worth a thousand words so you have to look nice”.
The next morning I got on the school bus, and arriving at the school, found myself being ushered to stand in line with all the other kids waiting to have their picture taken.
I remember when it was my turn and I remember the sound of the camera mans kind voice when he said, “What a lovely little lady you are” as he sat me down and gently adjusted my position.
I remember how the excitement faded and the darkness set in as vile memories of being raped the night before pierced through my being, dismembering the element of beauty resting in the bowels of my soul.
Frightened, the camera’s flash met my face, seizing the desolation behind my eyes; the vacancy of where my innocence was never allowed to live.
My very first picture was going to tell everyone what my mother already knew, what she’d already blamed and abashed me for. What she wasn’t protecting me from.
My very first picture would tell the world why she didn’t love me and why I didn’t deserve to be loved.
Stepping down from in front of that camera, I did for the first time what I would do every day for years to come, I took a deep breath, shoved my fears behind my tonsils and soundlessly choked on my secret tears of shame.
If only I was strong enough to fight them off, if only I wasn’t so bad, so dirty, so ugly, like they said, if only I was a good girl, my mother would want me and I would be loved.
A few weeks later my school picture arrived screaming, loudly, boldly, relentlessly in my face, a tragic ballad of abuse and degradation that penetrated my being, leaving not even one of my senses unscathed.
Captured for the entire world to see was the essence of a little girl’s loneliness and pain, my childhood, my loneliness, my pain, a catastrophic hurricane, in its perfect power, an innocence driven straight to hell; my mother > the delivering devil.
Looking at the picture, the words were deafening, the pain in that little face, intricately woven into my soul, omitting loud, frightful; screaming words – wailing words that no one else saw or heard but me. I didn’t understand their blindness. Why didn’t they see my pain? Why didn’t they help?
That night I climbed into bed vowing to love that lonely, terrified little girl; that caged image of myself. No matter how complicated or excruciating it was, I was going to love her. I would be the voice that she needed. I would help. I would fight for her, I would find her happiness and I would set her free.
I believe that in some way, that my five-year old spirit felt that by facing the worst dangers voluntarily, and triumphing, I’d forever have power over them. I didn’t know how I was going to do it, I didn’t even understand the wretchedness of what I was living through but what I knew was that I didn’t want that little girl in the picture to live her days grief-stricken, dwelling amongst her scars.
I made it a point to look at that image of myself every day. I’d run my fingers over the photograph, tracing along the patterns of her face. I’d see the brokenness in her eyes and the cold lingering sadness of her smile and I’d embrace her.
I’d shower her with praises, I’d tell her how much she was loved and how precious and important she was to me, to life itself, to God’s plan, and to those that she was yet to meet.
I’d carry her, like a delicate rose, with ailing, torn off petals, and I’d speak life into her. I’d pick up the mangled pieces of her tiny shattered soul and I’d care for her, gently telling her the story of the little girl she genuinely was with her whole heart, a tiny treasured butterfly not yet able to see her wings, not yet able to see how authentically beautiful, she truly was and is, and I’d promise to one day teach her how to fly.
I pledged to use her smile to paint unprecedented colors around the world, illuminating colors, colors bursting with joyous sounds and grand undertones of happiness. Colors that would claim her; that she’d share with others; that she’d use to paint the skies and further help her light her way. I’d promise that she’d bloom in spite of where she was planted.
I’d lay with her, stroking her hair when she cried, mulling over her fate. I’d tell her to stand tall and to be courageous because courage was the greatest of all virtues, much more powerful than fear. I’d tell her that she had it hidden deep inside herself; it was the truth that she knew, that fragile, peaceful, quiet voice that reassured her, comforted her, the one that whispered wisdom in the midst of all of her despair.
I’d press her to acknowledge it, so her soul would no longer fear dying, I’d urge her to embrace it so she could one day learn to live.
I’d tuck her into bed at night encouraging her to speak it, no matter what she was feeling or being tormented by: shame, guilt, grief or fear because speaking the truth, embracing it, having courage, would fall away all those feeling. Speaking it would empower her, award her with freedom; grant her a God-given deliverance, it would be the perpetual unfolding of her soul.
I’d tell her that when all she could see was darkness, to look openly with her heart, that’s where she’d find herself, that’s where God was breathing in her wisdom, that’s where life itself could be found.
I’d tell her that courage is being imperfect and loving her imperfections, for all that they are and all that they will become. It’s having compassion, being kind to herself first, and then to others. I’d gently tell her that she was worthy and that she was wanted. I’d reassure her that now and forever – I would keep her safe because truly I could not live if she were ever torn away from me.
I’d tell her that she was heroically beautiful in her own magical way and that darkness was simply the hardest lesson she’d ever have to learn and in the midst of that darkness she’d find her greatest strength.
I’d tell her to grab the hand of courage and to walk forward, away from everything, away from everyone that’s hurting her because where she chose to dwell would define her struggle and sometimes love is quite simply, letting go. Letting go of people and letting go of things, where memories could finally rest and the sadness would slowly fade. It’s letting go of what once was and embracing all that is new, letting her sense of discernment guide her; her spirit when it’s touched.
I’d tell her that courage is allowing herself to connect to her personal authenticity, being willing to let go of all that she believed she was and embracing the person she truly is and genuinely wanted to be.
I’d tell her not to be afraid of what the inside of her own heart and mind looked like because that’s is where she’d find the most comfort, peeling the lies off the truth, in the wisdom she’d be given and in the blessings she’d bestow.
Daily, I’d catch her screams, as they bellowed out, all of those frightening words that clawed. I killed them softly by loving her, by caring for her, by validating the feelings she had a right to feel. I gently replaced each one of those words, painting her soul with all that she truly is and forever has been.
This Kerri, this is who you are. Keep going, keep looking up, keep loving, keep living. Just simply be you.