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JULY 22, 2010 8:06PM

Night Terrors

Rate: 78 Flag

The year I was nine was the year before I wore a blue dress every day to school. I called that year my Year of Blue.  I didn't give my ninth year a name. This was a year of too many names.  The year my father drank too much. The year my father threatened invisible people with a gun in the middle of the night. The year my mother moved into my little pink bedroom. The year I couldn't picture normal.

The year I was nine I would dream that someone was putting socks and shoes on my feet. Still half asleep, I realized that someone was dressing me.  I opened my eyes  to see my mother standing over my bed with her coat on. Shh, she would whisper. Don't make a sound. She held up my coat for me to put my arms through. The first time it happened I asked her where we were going. She put her finger up to her lips. The universal sign for quiet. 

I learned that it was important to be quiet. If he caught us leaving in the night he might get angrier than he already was. 

Their bedroom was his bedroom now. At night he drank and pointed his gun at invisible enemies.  We heard him kick the chair over as we tiptoed past the closed door. He told them that they had robbed him. That they owed him money. That he would kill them. Every goddam one of them.  We heard a bottle smash as we closed the front door behind us.

We hurried out into the snowy night hoping the car would start. My mother had a name for her car. Snookie.  C'mon Snookie, she would say as she turned the key in the ignition. Her hands trembled as she willed her car to start in the frigid winter night. We weren't going far. Only to her brother's house a few blocks away. My aunt and uncle left the key under the mat for my mother.  Welcome, it said.  On those frozen nights we let ourselves in quietly so as not to wake them. The blankets and pillows were waiting for us on the couch. We made our beds on the floor, my mother and me. I fell asleep immediately, still in the warm tights and socks my mother had dressed me in at home. My mother never slept.

Miraculously Snookie started each time we needed her that winter and on the occasional nights that spring and for however long it took before my mother left him not just for the night but for good. 
It was many years before I could sleep in a night gown.  For many years after my ninth year I slept in my clothes. Just in case I had to run to safety in the middle of the night. Just in case the night terrors came back.

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A bump for happy families...
This is a journey of somber powerful raw and horrific truth. Beyond strong writing here...reality drawn clearly, enormity felt in the pit of ones stomach. Glad you and your mom made it through all this joan. R.
your comment? what're those? oh, wait, like the one you have now.

i don't know how you write these things. i'm afraid if i start, i'll never stop. but you can do it somehow in your inimitable style that never approaches asking for pity or sounding whiny, just the plain, unadorned and sometimes horrific facts. and as sad and scary as they are, i still love to read them. maybe that's not actually weird, after all. xo
I'm always amazed at how your stories get so much power from so few words. I'm also amazed, when I read about your family background, at how you turned out so nice, calm and sane.
Persistent Muse, thank you so much for such kind words.
femme, I'm just giving a shout out to all those fortunate people who grew up with that happy family thingy... Thank you for your comment. I appreciate it.
Cranky, no one said anything about sane. :)
Joan, Great depiction. Such depth from so few words. For the first time in all your readings, I felt empathy for your Mom. She was protecting you, little Joanie. Now I know despite her faults, your Mum loved you. I'm so sorry she wasn't able to show you this later into your life. I'm glad her family kept a "safe house" with beds waiting for you. xo
Scarlett, the amazing thing about writing this is the sadness I genuinely feel for my mother. Thank you so much for coming by.
Great writing, Joan. I like the phrases you use that help immediately place us in a little kid's mindset in the first paragraph, which makes this story even more chilling.
How much the past defines us, haunts us. The most important, you survived to give security to yours. r
Joan, I am so glad you are safe now and I would buy you a lovely nightgown if I could. I understand. I have slept in my clothes many times.
Rated with hugs
" C'mon Snookie", Hang on, Joanie....but you were, and are, to tell the stories...(r)
How sad, how strong your mother must have been to survive and escape. I am sorry this was your life.
I had a similar experience, joan, except my mom would take us to the convent. The nun who answered the door would act like it was perfectly normal for us to be visiting at midnight.

That's why no matter what anyone says, I have a fondness for nuns.
Every parent that created this kind of trauma and grief should be required by law to read his or her children's words publicly to an audience of people who are considering having children of their own. NO child left behind, my ass. The more I read, the more I see that most children in one way or another, were left behind by parents who didn't deserve to have them. I'm so, so sorry....
A bump for YOUR happy family! Which is miraculous. How'd you create one, from scratch? I know you've had your trials and troubles, but you did that -- created a loving family from scratch, with no history to guide you.
This scares me reading it. Even now, knowing that you survived.
So frightening, especially for a child. I am glad that is behind you--you are truly amazing.
You made a temple out of that timber of your life, Joan. Very sad and powerful. Your daughter is very lucky to have the opposite of what you had as a young child and a young girl. As usual, a beautifully crafted piece. ~R~
Too bad he didn't get that he had met the enemy and it was him.
Go Snookie! That car knew its purpose and was an angel with motor. I have seen that kind of drunk, and your mom was so smart to just leave when she could. I wish it hadn't happened to you...
Joan, your voice is so strong, I never would have guessed this happend to you. You obviously have strength from the experience.
One of your best and saddest. This has truly been a day of sad family stories told. Amazing you lived to tell the tale.
I seem to recall a post about your Blue year. You have managed to weave straw into gold though Joan. It wasn't all for nothing. And you took all that you knew, turned around 180 degrees and walked in the opposite direction to create something beautiful. Survival is a beautiful thing.
I have come to believe that those who have suffered intense, undefinable and terrifying anxieties in their childhoods are either consumed by, and therefore a victim of, those pains as adults; or they become exquisitely beautiful within their souls and in their countenance. It is consistently obvious you defined yourself by the latter option. A sad beginning yielded a remarkable woman.
Cranky Cuss has managed to say it perfectly.

I wish I could hold that eight-year-old and tell her it will all turn out alright.
Nine year old. Sorry. My own is turning eight now.
I learned that it was important to be quiet.
I'm glad you also found your voice.

cartouche's idea is an excellent one. R
Cranky said all my things to say. I will add that this gives me some interesting insight into your mother, though, and makes me feel a tidal wave of compassion for her.
Oh, Joan, I hope your adult life has been terror free. Made me cry. R for poignant and clarity of writing.
Hi Joan. Gripping, and terrifying, and like all the others here, I just want to do something for the 8-year-old.

Your story keeps getting more interesting, and difficult, as unexpected pieces keep dropping into the puzzle. I always cross my fingers, before I click on your posts.
Joan, I am so glad that you have found/created peace and happiness now.
So intense, yet told in such a matter-of-fact way. The contrast makes your story all the more powerful. It would have been a blue year for any child, but for you it was the color of survival. Much love.
big ole hugs to you and your mom. so glad she was brave enough to save you both. so glad that the year of blue was the year you started that new life.
So heartwrenching Joan. You have such a gift for telling these stories.
I'm so relieved that Snookie always started.

I'm also so sorry that you too had a drunk for a parent.

Thanks for sharing this story.
Ah, looking for more stories after she was able to leave for good.

Love the tone of this piece, voice is just right.
Very interesting, powerful, and well written, Joan.

9 is when it all .... began ... in my house too.
Memories that just won't go away. Beautiful job of telling a decidely unbeautiful story, Joan.

You capture the nine-year old's stoic acceptance of a bad situation. What a story and you seem to have made your own happy family.
Reality in an alcoholic family situation...
"The blankets and pillows were waiting for us on the couch." Safe places. Would that all places were safe always for all children. I am moved beyond words.
(thinking of the snippets/previews of "Jersey Shore" I was exposed to when flipping channels) Who would have thought that there was anything good connected to a "Snookie"?

Painful read ... sorry it was like that ... glad it's in your past

Thank God Snookie started each and every time and thank God your mum finally left him.
Oh, my. This is concentrated terror.
Fetlock, thank you. Chilling is such a good word.
hugs, I think the past defines us but often to our benefit. At least I hope...
Linda, I am sorry you too have had to sleep in your clothes.
dirndl, I am glad you came by.
Ll2, it takes a strong woman to know one. :)
caroline, your comment touches me so deeply. "Visiting" the nuns in the middle of the night...
cartouche, very good idea.
Bell, thank you. I love that. "From scratch."
sixty candles, sorry for the scare and many thanks for reading.
John, thanks for coming by!
sophieh, thank you. Me too.
When things got weird and scary (and he didn't drink, ever), I would climb out my basement bedroom window and sleep behind the toolshed in the summer.
That you survived, and became the wonderful person you are.. devasting piece.
Amazing piece - I'm sorry it was born of so much pain. R
Beautiful. Oh, the details--Snookie the car, the Welcome mat. Your ability to conjure words may be what makes you a survivor. Thank you for this. Rated.
This was something else. You are a major survivor. I'm so glad you did.
Your economy of language, the way the details speak . . . you tell the story right to the point, and it feels complete, for now. Blessings, Joan, for becoming the person that you are.
this is such a powerful and sad story. i'm glad you were able to find safety when you needed it. night terrors indeed.
I can feel that sense of terror just reading this, Joan. Every time you write, you unveil another layer of what you've been through, which makes your gracious nature and inner strength so much more amazing.
FusunA, "a temple out of timber." What a way with words you have. Thank you for those words.
Matt, you said it. P.S. I love the avatar!
ask me, you know it!
Linnnn, that car *was* an angel with a motor. You are so right.
Poppi, thanks so much.
Jonathan, thank you for reading.
Densie, definitely one of my saddest. Thank you for thinking it is one of my best.
Gabby, you remembered! I wrote a post called "My Year of Blue."
flw, many thanks.
Susan, your words are so kind. Thank you for every one of them.
Vanessa, give your girl a big hug.
Robin, xox right back to you.
Kateasley, a good wish indeed.
Bonnie, a perfect description for my childhood: "Waiting for the other show to drop."
catch-22, so glad you came by.
Annie, As I wrote this, I felt the same thing as you.
Elisa, I'd love to write it!
Bernadine, yes, my adult life is terror free. Thank you for that hope.
Bard, your comment made me smile, imagining you crossing your fingers before reading...
Linda, thank you for coming by. I loved your post today, btw.
ladyslipper, "The Color of Survival." Hey, you just gave my 9th year a name!
dianaani, thanks so much!
trilogy, I appreciate you saying that.
Katy B. your family story blew me away. Thanks for reading mine.
o'stephanie, many thanks. I appreciate it.
fernsy, sad for kids to bear so much. Thanks for coming over!
Lezlie,once they come out, the memories lose some of their power to hurt.
Tichaona, thanks for coming by.
Dear reader, I did end up making my own happy family much to my delight.
Patrick, it's never pretty, is it?
anna1liese, the blankets and pillows stacked up and always ready for us. It's a startling image for me even now...
CrazeCzar, When I heard there was a real live Snookie I was more than a little surprised.
Little Kate, yes, indeed.
AHP," concentrated terror" is a wonderful description.
Aunt Missy, damn that sounds awful.
rita, thank you for those kind words.
mynameise, thank you so much.
Martha, thank you for reading and finding the details...
greenheron, I appreciate that.
Owl, you always make me happy when you come by.
LHE, Amen, indeed!
lemonpulp, thank you for that.
Grace, I always appreciate your very kind and generous comments.
Wow, Joan. This one really stings. It's amazing what human beings can endure, isn't it? Glad you're beyond those years now.
Frightening -- and beautifully written. Thank goodness Snookie was reliable. The fear is palpable. The line about sleeping in clothes is tragically evocative. (Oh, and ditto what Cartouche said.) Well done, Joan.
how awful for you. so sorry.
your stories stir the heart.
Rated for familiarity. I'm glad she finally left and I know the warm embrace of a cold car turning over. Thank God for well made cars.

Best to you...
Joan, I am slow getting around to this but it has no less power. It knocked me back. Your writing speaks profoundly for every child who's experienced this, for every spouse who's spirited their children out of a house. Thank God you're a survivor. Among the many things for which I should be grateful is that I never feared the night and could always sleep in a nightgown, taken for granted. Bless you for writing this.
There are so many of us...the walking wounded. Love the bareness of your telling. Bless you...
Joan, What a blessing to have an aunt/uncle ready with safety. I'm so sorry you had to go through this and I just want to hug that 9 year old girl and tell her she will make it through. What a privilege that you turned out to be the super person that you are.
I'm sorry that this happened to you but amazed at your ability to write about it. I wish I could hear more about your year of blue. As a child I had a year of red, especially one red shirt. And my friend Noelle had a year of all pink. Even her shoes. The anxieties of children are some of the hardest stories to read...but I'm glad you came all the way through this...
Sometimes your stories make me ache. Rated.
My night terror was being woken up at night and being beaten, often for no reason at all... I used to sleep almost literally with one eye open. The mother unit was more prone to violent outbursts and was more physical and used props. The male unit was a passive aggressive personality and would wait until it all blew up sky high and then he was more of a puncher and kicker, although I remember him destroying a dresser drawer on my back.

After years of therapy I have determined that we all (most of us) survive our childhood. I remember meeting someone who had the kind of family that I'd have killed for when I was growing up. We got to talking and after a while, I realized that his formative years sucked too...

We survive our childhoods and are left to lick the wounds and try to deal with that sludge as we are set off into the world.

I think that the reason my wife and I never had kids is because of our respective childhoods. Although, hers I'd still have killed to have instead of mine...

I feel like my parents died never having gotten to know me, and for that I feel sorry. They missed out...
This is very powerful. I understand more about the year of blue now.
WOW! What a way to spend childhood. This had to be gawdawful scary at that age and I love how you wrote it.
A horror story wonderfully told. Rated. And I made you a Fav.
Peace, still possible,
Joan H., I am so sorry for that little girl whose fear at times must still burn within the woman you've become. I hope writing about these experiences sets some of the fear free. What a lovely writer you are, and from what I've been reading, what a lovely person. Hugs and (R)ated.
I'm still trying to breathe normally after reading these perfectly wrought harsh and painful memories. I am in ever increasing awe of your writing talent... and of your courage.
Simply, elegantly heartbreaking.