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I remember being about 12 years old when my 16 year old sister began desperately looking for an escape from our home. She had a very high SAT score so she saw entering college early as her way out. Ironically my mother did the same thing when she was 16, and I am not sure why.

My oldest sister had always been my ally. She saw it as her place to protect and defend me. She still feels guilt and remorse because she thinks that she failed or that she abandoned me by leaving. But she didn’t. I have never felt any resentments towards her for this.  She was a child too.

I did selfishly feel relieved when she did not get into college early because I knew that she would be staying, and I would have missed her terribly if she left. As I got older I had succumbed to sleeping with her every night. It felt safer with both of us in there. It seemed we were more difficult targets that way. She, being a teenager, sometimes expressed that she would like to sleep alone occasionally, but then I would just wait for her to fall asleep and slither into her room and onto her bed without making a peep or disturbing even a blanket. I could not sleep alone.

My relief that she was not leaving was short lived though. I walked into the dining room one day and saw her sobbing. She said that she had not been accepted early into school. Then she looked at me and said, “I have to get out of here Jess or I will kill him!” Those words cut right into my soul because even at 12 years old I had seen and experienced enough to know that this was no idle threat. She was serious. I then knew that I had to let her go. She had to get out. My selfishness flew out the window, and I felt the desperation for her to find a way out.

Thanks be to God some strings were pulled, and she was accepted into college early after all. She left, and as usual I tried to ignore the loss and keep moving. I had no trouble taking over where she left off….fighting my step father, protecting the little ones, and protecting my mom which was more of my own thing.

She had taught me well by example, and I could fight that man like no one else. I rarely coward from him. I always stood strong and fought after she left. I remember many times he would say, “You are just like your sister!” He did not mean it as a compliment, but I would bark back at him, “Thank you!”

There were times when he would be having one of his violent adult tantrums, and the entire family would have scattered and gotten the heck out of dodge, but I stayed. I would plant myself on the kitchen counter and watch him. I would somehow find a strength within my self that expanded my spirit way above my tiny frame, and I would not flinch or move in spite of the craziness going on before me. Then I would coolly look at him and say, “Are you finished having your tantrum now?”

That pissed him off beyond belief, but he would end up leaving the room, and I had won in some strange way. This is the strength that my sister gave me when she left. This is the strength that I found within.

I remember finally one day getting the courage to go and look in her room after she left. It was not a room left for a child to come home to. It was totally empty. Even all of her furniture was gone. It was very final, and I finally felt the loss as the tears welled up in my eyes.

I then decided to paint her room lavender and move in there myself. Then my little sister could move into my old room next door, and my little brother moved into her old room on the other side of me. I could be mother hen really well from that vantage point.

I was still very afraid to sleep alone though. This was a huge hurdle for me, and I was terrified. But I remember drawing on that inner strength again and giving myself a pep talk saying, “I am 13 years old now. I am too old to be doing this. I have to get over this fear.” I white knuckled it night after night. I would lay in bed and frantically pray all night until I fell asleep early in the morning. Sometimes I would even grab my sleeping little sister out of her bed and put her in bed with me, but it wasn’t quite the same. Slowly though it got easier until eventually I had conquered that too. I could sleep alone in my room in the dark, and I was the one who woke everyone up for school every morning. Later my little sister would be the one begging to sleep with me.

Although my older sister feels guilty for “abandoning” me she did a good thing by finally making a choice to protect herself. She had taken enough. She had reached her limit, and staying probably would have lead to a horrible end. When she found the strength inside of her to do what she had to do to care for herself  she also allowed me to find a God given strength within myself. She passed on the fighting spirit that I would need to make it for the next 6 or 7 years in that home and on into the future, and I became a woman during that time.

By making one choice for her own health and safety my sister actually helped me too. It was hard without her, but I learned to dig deep, to exercise my faith in God, and that when needed there is a spirit in my tiny self that is stronger than even an angry big man!

I have been able to use these lessons through out my life, and I have even been able to use them to fight for my sister’s life in our adulthood when it seemed that no one else could do it.

My sister gave me many gifts. She gave me comfort when I was a child, and then as I began the transition into womanhood she gave me the gift of inner strength, and it has served us both well. I thank her and God for that.

As a very small child I had horrible nightmares. I remember a few vivid nightmares even as far back as my babyhood. As long as I can remember I was flooded with intense fear that escalated as night fell. I never slept. I would stay up all night and keep watch because I always had this feeling that someone was coming at any moment to brutally murder me in some gruesome way.

I am not talking about being afraid of the dark. I was afraid of something heinous happening, and I would not let myself sleep because I wanted to be ready to run or fight when this horrible event occurred. I always had an instinct inside me that said, “I will not be an easy target!” I was a little girl when this began….as young as four or five or younger.

I did not know why I had such horrible fear and such gory obsessive thoughts. When asked what I was afraid of  I would always say, “I don’t know.” But I was terrified, and my sleeplessness began in early childhood. I remember telling my mom when I was around nine years old that I just could not take it anymore….that the fear and the sleeplessness was too much for me to handle….that it was ruining my life. It seemed as if no one could or would help me though.

I still have a sleep disorder. My body is well-trained to be awake at night. I no longer have the graphic thoughts that scare me, but I just do not sleep well or sometimes at all.

I have no idea where a tiny girl would get such graphic thoughts of being  violently brutalized. I never watched horror movies. I still do not watch them. They are not good for my soul, and I do not get any joy from being frightened in that way. I do not need a horror movie to add excitement or suspense to my life. I have had enough of that.

Somehow in my subconscious I just had a horrible feeling that there was a predator in my midst and that my life was going to end in some gruesome way.

And I have a waking memory that haunts me sometimes.

I was probably about 5 years old and my sister was about 9. We were sitting at the breakfast table in the kitchen, and my step-father was cooking omelets before school. I don’t think that my mother was home because we had just moved to another town when she married my step father, and she was still working an hour and a half away in our previous town. She was not there in the mornings, and she came home at night.

My older sister was sitting at the table across from me sobbing hysterically. She was yelling, “I want my dad!” through her sobs and her attempts to catch her breath. She was inconsolable, but actually no one was trying to console her at all.

I was very little, and I just remember staring helplessly at her across the table. My step father was banging around at the stove.

I just remember being frozen, staring, feeling helpless and hopeless. And I remember my sister not having a child’s tantrum but sobbing desperately, uncontrollably, helplessly…..hopelessly. And no one was there to comfort either of us.

My step father was getting more and more annoyed as the banging around the stove became more intense.

He walked up and dropped an omelet on my plate. I looked at it. I picked around at it with one hand while my head rested on my other hand. I listened to my sister’s cries and screams. My stomach turned. I got up and threw my food in the trash.

Suddenly to my dismay my step father stomped up to my sister and yelled, “Now look what you have done! You have ruined your sister’s breakfast!.”

I remember being shocked. I remember thinking, “No!”

I remember thinking, “How did I just get roped into being on his side. She did not ruin my breakfast. That is not what I was saying. Something ruined my breakfast, but it was not her!”

As a tiny five-year old girl I never said a word. I remained silent. I guess I went to kindergarten shortly after that.

I still do not know exactly what happened with my sister. I do not know what  happened to trigger her desperate cries although I have some good ideas. I cannot remember if this was an isolated incident or a regular occurrence. I know that this is a piece of a puzzle for me though because in spite of all that I blocked out for some reason this dark memory has remained with me and comes to my mind sometimes. It is like a dark shadow coming up behind me and tapping me on the shoulder and whispering in my ear, “remember.”

I believe that deep inside a part of me knew that something heinous was going on and that there was a predator in my midst. I never felt totally safe. I just cannot remember details often, and in my baby mind there was a horror movie constantly playing. I could not understand or make sense of or accept what was happening. All I knew was that there was something nightmarish going on, and I was terrified for my life.