Shhhh, Mama’s still asleep. At age five, I stood on my tip-toes and reached in the pantry for the big jar of peanut butter and bread. Being careful not to scratch the kitchen floor, I inched a chair to the counter to make a sandwich. I wanted to eat while I walked to kindergarten. I even remembered to wash the messy knife.

 

But I was too loud.

 

Her feet stomped behind me. She held a belt in her fist. “Why haven’t you left yet!” She whipped my skinny legs. “Stupid, don’t you know anything?”

 

Then Mama handed me a quarter to buy candy. Maybe she’s sorry this time.

 

I bought a Hershey bar and inhaled sweetness through the dark wrapper. After a nibble, I decided to save for the rest for later. Something to look forward to. A patrol guard at school spotted my chocolate. She demanded that I hand it over.

 

Giving away my Hershey bar, I stared at the sidewalk. Peeking back, I saw the girl eat it. Don’t cry. I clicked my pretend control button to kill my feelings.

 

Even before age five, evil lies had wormed holes into my soul, heart, and memory:

 

            You can’t trust anybody.

            Nobody loves you.

            You’re messy, stinky, and stupid.

 

I added Patrol Girl to the list of people who’d hurt me. Self-hatred and bitterness settled in my heart like cement.

 

My school picture from second grade shows my desperation. Rather than face Mama’s wrath at my knotted hair, I cut out chunks of tangles. Even today, I see terror in those seven-year-old eyes and whisper healing truth:  “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11).

 

Daddy tried. He took me to church and we read the Bible together, but like everybody else, he was afraid of Mama. Surely God loved good church ladies, but me? At age nine, I asked Jesus into my heart. I entered the warm baptismal water and watched my white gown float. You can’t ever be good as an angel, but this is what it feels like.  

 

The sparkling-clean feeling didn’t last long. Almost before my hair had dried, a relative sexually molested me. I told Mama. She called me a trouble-maker and beat me with a metal clothes hanger.

 

Later, my mother was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, manic depression, alcoholism, and drug addiction. She believed everything that went wrong was my fault. So did I.

 

Like other abuse victims, I learned to disconnect from pain. But manifestations of physical, sexual, and emotional abuse clung like leeches — hives, bedwetting, promiscuity, drugs, and alcohol. My goal? To hide from myself. Escape the ugly, smelly, pest named Jan.