A voice from your past. I’m nearing completion of my latest book, “When light overcame darkness.” I’ve been hiding in my writer’s cave for the past year searching for the perfect words to tell my story. I’ve signed a contract with E. L. Marker for the publication of my manuscript, and with the help from my editor, Jay Christopher, we’re determined to make this my best writing. The work is to be completed in November. I’m sharing a sample of what is about finished.
This is a work of nonfiction that has taken me twenty-five years to write. To the reader, that might sound a bit far fetched. Normally, it takes me one to two years to complete a manuscript worthy of publication. But this was different. The time required to complete this manuscript was due to public doubts and my struggle with the truthfulness of memories that visited me in the middle of the night. Some memories generated depression and anxiety. The worst ones left me hugging my bathroom stool while expelling vomit throughout the night. Who would believe such a tale, and more importantly, how could I separate fact from fiction? As the author, it is not my job to convince you that I am a victim of childhood physical and sexual abuse. But I can share my journey, leaving you to draw your own conclusions.
Because of the severity of my struggle, I went from short-term to long-term therapy with a psychologist and a host of individuals who became my support group. Together, they served as a non-judgmental team that helped me through the most challenging time of my life. My educational background initiated my investigation into the alleged perpetrators, family history, repressed memories, cognitive and emotional studies of the brain, and the combination of psychological and spiritual growth.
Do I still have the residue carried by victims of physical and sexual abuse? Of course I do. But the occasional skirmish with depression and anxiety is now controlled by coping skills, medication, therapy, meditation, writing, and the availability of a support system.
While the struggle was exhausting, I am thankful for who I have become. To experience the depth of feelings, whether they be happy or sad, is remarkable. And to feel love is a gift from God. I have changed names in the story for liability purposes. While every word in my story is based on what I believe to be true, I recognize the possibility of a minor discrepancy in human recall. It is my hope that fellow survivors of physical and sexual abuse will benefit from my sharing and become stronger and wiser in the process.
Trauma is a vampire, but light, as any student of folklore or Freud knows, will kill it. The problem is, when the shell-shocked try to exhume their memories –to bring them into the light — the result can be a death struggle so fierce they may fear it’s them, not the suckling pain that’s about to die.
Katherine Russell Rich
I should have known on that sultry summer day in 1950, when my eight-year-old naked body was laid out over a bale of hay, that this was not normal. I should have known… But when four country boys hunger for adventure or accept the latest dare, the unspeakable becomes quite normal. Being the youngest and smallest of the lot, I was the focus of their curious ways.
Decades later, when my mind crumbled–a piece here, a piece there–I learned that survival depended on my brain’s ability to compartmentalize daily interactions whether they be good, bad, or indifferent. My mind was like a spec-house, a collection of rooms painted in a lifeless, stark-white color, and forbidden rooms with concrete walls, floors and ceilings that held secrets never meant to be revealed. That’s when I learned that the trips to the barn were far from ordinary.
“When light overcame darkness: A journey from sexual abuse to a better life” is a work of creative nonfiction; a memoir beginning with the emergence of repressed memories that led to years of therapy where past and present behaviors were examined. It has taken me twenty-years to tell my story. To the reader, that might sound a bit far fetched. Normally, it takes me one to two years to complete a manuscript worthy of publication. But this was different. The time required to complete this manuscript was due to public doubts and my struggle with the truthfulness of memories that visited me in the middle of the night. Some memories generated depression and anxiety. The worst ones left me hugging my bathroom stool while expelling vomit throughout the night. Who would believe such a tale, and more importantly, how could I separate fact from fiction?
It could be argued that memory is our most precious gift. Whether from God, or an evolutionary product developed through the generational pressures of natural selection, memories record our history. But they lack perfection and can become as invisible as a gnat in the forest. Perhaps it’s the temporary loss of a name, a forgotten appointment, or possibly something more serious: amnesia, Alzheimer’s, dementia, brain injuries, tumors, disease, and yes, repressed memories. Memories serve as a witness to our struggles and desires for a satisfying life. Too often, though, they record the unimaginable that can break a man’s soul.
It was 1992 and I was training to run in a half-marathon race. Having turned fifty placed me in the beginning of a new age group, providing a better chance of winning a trophy. I was part of a running group that hit the local running circuit and the annual St. Louis marathon and the half-marathon in Chicago. In addition to our daily runs, we ran 10 miles or more on Saturdays followed by our weekly trip to Mary Lou’s restaurant known for her famous biscuits and gravy. At five-feet eight-inches, weighing in at one-hundred-fifty pounds, I was built to run. The “runner’s high” and the camaraderie with my friends encouraged me to log in several miles per week. While I was an average to good runner, I pretended to be an elite runner. I was at the top of my game.
I was a self-employed, certified financial planner in southern Illinois, held a bachelor and master’s degree in music, an MFA in creative writing from Goucher College, and had taught music at Southern Illinois University for five-years. Sandwiched in the middle was a four-year stint in the U.S. Navy Band located in Washington D.C. Although I was not rich, I was comfortable. My wife and I had two wonderful daughters who were the loves of our life, and yes, we had a dog named PJ.
My running days were preceded by racquetball, an earlier obsession of mine. I was engaged in league play, tournaments, pickup games and had recently purchased an expensive racquet, thinking that it would add a few points to my game. I was determined to be a great racquetball player. Hours focused on technique, reading books on the sport, and increasing my physical stamina were all part of my plan. I seemed to be programmed to accomplish my goals. Whether it was work related or just something I wanted to do, I attacked it with an aggression few experienced. When I was in the 4th grade, I became obsessed with playing the trumpet. But when I pressed my lips against the mouthpiece during a long practice session, a sharp tooth cut into my lips. That’s when it began to bleed. It took a few days until I could resume playing the trumpet. Upon my music teacher’s advice, I went to a dentist who filed down the sharp-edged tooth until it was smooth like a fish belly. Now I could practice without the insides of my lip looking like a chunk of ground beef. My obsessive behavior could be seen in the endless hours spent practicing my trumpet, running, racquetball, changing jobs, etc… It has never ended.
Of course there were the funny times and painful moments like the time when I slid across the wooden racquetball floor and felt a two-inch splinter slide into my ass. It was the right cheek as I recall. After pulling my shorts down to take a look, it became obvious that I had a problem. Mike, my opponent and friend, retreated to the locker room with me to take a closer look. The location of the splinter prevented me from extracting it. I looked at Mike while the two of us began to laugh and estimate the length of the splinter.
“I’ll remove it,” Mike said. “What are friends for?”
After securing a pair of pliers, Mike slowly and carefully tried to remove the splinter while I grabbed hold of the locker door. Each attempt to pull the splinter caused it to become more embedded into the flesh of my ass. The choice was to take an embarrassing trip to the ER or use the pliers to remove the splinter. By now, some racquetball players joined us in the locker room. In addition to the humor, they moaned and groaned each time they watched the pliers latch onto the splinter. We paused while my breathing increased and I broke into a light sweat.
“Okay, let’s do it. Make it quick,” I said. Finally, after one strong pull the splinter was jerked from my ass.
I then asked Mike if he would like to finish the match. This was my chance to move into first place in league play. We stepped onto the court and began the match. I thought I could win but questioned whether that would be disrespectful to my friend who removed the splinter from my ass. Despite my concerns about doing the right thing, I won the match. My obsession to win trumped doing the right thing.
It was on that Fall evening in the late 1980s when I became a legend in the racquetball community. The owner of the court took ownership of the splinter and showed it to anyone willing to hear the story about Larry Franklin, the man with a two-inch splinter in his ass.
A few months later I began running when I wasn’t playing racquetball. But as soon as I experienced my first “runner’s high,” I decided to stop playing racquetball and spend all of my time running. Training led to longer runs, allowing me to experience more intense highs. My body was light as a feather as I floated down a country road where my feet barely touched the ground. The high was better than smoking some weed on a cloudy day. The peak of the runner’s high came while running alone on a seven-mile course with a light breeze at my back. While I was “in the moment,” there was no concern for maintaining relationships with my racquetball friends.
Even during my four years of playing trumpet in the U.S. Navy Band in Washington, DC and five years teaching trumpet and playing in musical groups at Southern Illinois University, I was totally focused. You might say that each endeavor became an obsession.
My mother asked me to accompany her and spend the night while recovering from cataract surgery. Her request occurred when least expected. I was about to run a half-marathon in Cape Girardeau, Missouri. She could have contacted me before scheduling the procedure. Cataract surgery was not brain surgery and could have been scheduled at a more convenient time for the two of us. But that was my mother. She did whatever she wanted and if I hesitated, she invoked the mother’s shame — “I’d be ashamed if I was you. God would want you to do the right thing.” It was near impossible to say no to her. Decades ago, when I was a young boy, my mother used to discipline me by hitting me across my face with a flyswatter. But later, when I had grown in size, I wrestled the flyswatter from her hands and shouted at her to never hit me again. While she never hit me again, she did something worse. “The mother’s shame” became a common occurrence and the fear of the Lord was a close second.
When my mother told me about her decision to have cataract surgery, she asked if I would transport her to and from the hospital and spend the night at her house. It was decided that I would arrive at her place around 6:00 am, have her at the hospital by 8:00 am, spend the night, and head home on the following day.
I neglected to tell my mother that my friends and I had plans to run a half-marathon in Cape Girardeau, Missouri. The challenging course was known to be one of the favorite road races in our area. It was not a race for the feeble minded, and required the runner to carefully plan their running schedule in the weeks leading to the race. The preparation was a spiritual event for me.
I did not have any prior knowledge of her last minute decision to have the cataract surgery. While I would have appreciated being part of the decision making process, this was the way my mother operated. After all, a good son would accomadate her decisions. That’s what she believed.
I should probably take some of the blame. After all, she was not aware that I was so involved in the running scene. That was another piece of my life that I had not shared with her. She would have considered it a silly thing for a grown man to be doing. And there’s always the blame game where my mother has the skill-set to inflict shame. If I didn’t accomadate her request, she would have said, “Well, I’d be ashamed if I was you. It’s not what the Lord would want.” But it’s not like she was going blind and the surgery had to be on this date, or the fact that cataract surgery is not the same as a heart transplant.
Taking her to the hospital for cataract surgery was a commitment I didn’t embrace, and I didn’t know why. For some reason, I didn’t feel the closeness that is expected between a boy and his mother. I always performed my son-like duties with a degree of detachment similar to a janitor mopping the floor at the end of a long day.
We arrived at the hospital where I helped my mother check in. She was handed a hospital gown and told to place her clothes in the locker and wear the gown. I was asked to help my mother if needed. While I felt a bit awkward being in this situation, it quickly escalated. She removed her clothes and stood facing me while completely naked. I handed her the gown and quickly looked the other way. She acted as though she had done this many times before. Her lack of proper boundaries was troubling.
Decisions were like a book of unrelated essays where each story stood on it’s own. The need to accomplish one goal after another was intense and without consideration for my family and friends. I was president of my high school class and popular among my friends. But as soon as I graduated and went to college, previous relationships ended. Upon my discharge from the US Navy Band, my military friends were ignored. After five-years of teaching music at Southern Illinois University, I decided to leave music and become a certified financial planner. My career changes required a new location and the ending of my current friendships. Each action became another obsession intended to better my life. Ask me if my obsessive decisions made me happy and I would have said yes. But in reality, I didn’t have a clue. A logical person might have said, “there’s a Problem in River City.”
I had convinced my wife that each obsession was an opportunity to improve both our quality of life and to increase our income. Naturally, she supported my decisions. She had my back, some might say. Some decisions required relocating to another community while ignoring our life-long friendships. Obviously, some changes were mistakes and very self-centered on my part. While life seemed good, it was an illusion.
An unexpected trauma chiseled an opening into a horde of traumatic memories previously untapped. The memories, a psychologist would later say, were stored in my amygdala located in the temporal lobe. After processing, the memories moved into the hypothalamus where they resided untouched by any outside source. It was there where they could propagate unsettled emotions, create a trauma-induced disorder or steer me into the decisive escape — suicide.