Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Lessons from a militarized childhood:
There are only two ways out

(In this entry, I assume you are aware of my goal of raising a lot of money to help child soldiers by donating all of my earnings from sales of the hardback of Children No More to Falling Whistles. If you're not, you can go to the Children No More site and learn more there. I'll be here when you return.)

What I experienced in my three years in a militaristic youth group is nothing compared to what true child soldiers undergo. I believe, however, that they and I, as well as many abused children, emerge from our experiences having learned many of the same lessons. To help folks without these backgrounds understand some of the challenges facing these kids--and those who seek to help rehabilitate and reintegrate them--I'm going to talk about some of the lessons I learned--and that I believe they did, too.

Before I do, though, I want to make clear that I know how unhealthy these lessons are, I don't live my life by them, and so on.

They are, though, what such kids learn, and they are what I learned at that age.

Also, beware that there's going to be rough language and generally harsh stuff in all of these lessons. That's the nature of them.

Enough disclaimers. Let's get on with today's lesson:

There are only two ways out

At first, you think crying will work. If you show your pain, they'll notice, ask what's wrong, and then in horror take you away to safety.

A few beatings later, you know better. They don't want to hear, and if you make them, they'll punish you for lying.

Next, you wonder if fighting back will get you out. After all, in schools, it gets you a spanking and some isolation time in detention. Being alone looks good, and a spanking is nothing, so you yell, refuse to obey orders, throw a punch--whatever it takes.

A few more beatings later, you know better. The sergeant may show you how quickly he can hurt you, or he may leave it to your squad mates, but one way or another, they'll deliver a clear message: Fight back, and we'll beat you down.

Maybe you try to run away, but they catch you. You're a kid, and they have all the resources.

Sooner or later, you realize the truth: the only ways out are to get so big that they can't legally keep you, or to die.

The first path takes time, a lot of time, and time translates to pain. You're not sure you can do it, but you do know it will eventually work.

The second path can be much quicker. They might screw up and kill you, but you know that's unlikely; they're way too skilled for that. No, you'll have to do it yourself. So, you consider that option. You think about it from every angle. You figure out half a dozen ways to do it, and you analyze all the pros and cons of each: How quick? How painful? How messy? Do you want it clean and tidy for the ones who find you, or do you want to leave a final "fuck you" for them?

In the end, you decide that killing yourself would be letting them win, and you will not do that. You will not. When you hear of those who did, you shake your head and tear up in knowing sympathy, but then anger replaces everything else: they gave up. They let their torturers win.

You won't be that weak.

You wait, you grow, you measure your strength, and you know one day it will be enough.

Years later, a friend, a wise man, a man you respect, asks why you didn't leave. You answer the question nicely, but inside you remind yourself yet again of another lesson, that their world is not your world, that they will never understand, that they are lucky never to have had their options reduced to these two.


Michelle said...

Anyone who has been abused has asked him/herself this question, "If I died, would they feel sorry?" The answer is no, they wouldn't. So, all you can do is wait and pray someday it will end. You have nailed it so succinctly that perhaps you should consider writing a book just on how to survive an abused childhood. Your blogs lately have been ugly, painful and healing. Thank you.

Mark said...

Thanks for the kind words. I like to think they would feel sorry, though probably not for long. They'd mostly just wonder why you snapped.

Ruth said...

I've just discovered your blog recently, in the last hour or so. I can't tell you how both relieving and shocking it has been to read this series. You say so simply and clearly what I have struggled to put to words, to make someone understand, for years. Thank you for finding the words and being willing to share them.

Mark said...

Thanks, Ruth. I hate that abused people have to keep secret what happened to them. I hope one day to change that.


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