THE ROOM AT THE TOP OF THE STAIRS.
I grew up controlled by a mother who, unlike my father, was not a nice person. She treated me as her most-hated enemy. I can’t recall a time when she didn’t scrutinize, criticize, judge, question, and punish my every action. Deathly afraid of my mother, I had no choice but live my life—her way. Every door had to stay open and my mother had to be briefed on everything I said, thought, or did so, basically, my life was an “open book.”
Growing up, my mother ignored my personal boundaries; I never enjoyed a private phone call, an unopened letter, a closed door, or an intimate conversation. My very public life was an on-going/on-stage performance—with one exception. There was a secret, a hush-hush part I hid from everyone; there was a secret that, before writing my book, I only shared with the little girl in me.
As long as I can remember, I experienced detailed flashbacks from my early childhood, disturbing visuals inside a familiar house. I see the outline of steep stairs, a landing, and—a room at the top the stairs. I see myself in that room, lying on a low table, with a woman sitting on a couch, facing me, removing my panties. She touches me, hurts me, her fingers roughly rubbing between my legs and inside my body. A window occupies the wall behind her. I hear loud bangs as doors open and close. The flashbacks visit me at odd times but mostly in the dark of night.
Early in my teens, seeking answers, I described a few flashbacks to my mother and asked about the baby sitter. My mother appeared aggravated, saying “You were less than two years old when we lived in that house. Nobody remembers that far back”.
Another time, sitting across the breakfast table from my mother, I referenced the troubling memories....again. This time my mother clenched her teeth in anger, pointed a threatening finger in my face and said “Shut up or I’ll shut you up!” I never mentioned memories or flashbacks again but I continued to search for the truth.
Summer after summer, my family visited my birthplace, Fornfelt, a small town in Southeast Missouri. The summer I was seventeen years old, I arranged to visit the house in my memories.
Once inside, the flashbacks became reality. To the left of the front door I saw tall, sliding doors that could be pulled together. Standing in front of them, I recalled the sound the doors made as they banged together, again and again, perhaps to muffle the cries of the child upstairs.
Opposite the doors, I recognized the stairs as they climbed to a landing with a hall-tree then stopped, turned, and continued upward. I began to climb, slowly, as if my legs were short and the stairs, almost too tall....and, it felt familiar. At the top of the staircase, on the left, the door to the upstairs room was closed. Hesitantly, I touched the door knob; I had to know.
Pushing the strangely heavy door open, I stared into the room. The furniture was different and the wallpaper, unfamiliar, but the window was positioned exactly where I’d left it. My flashbacks had--accurately--memorized every detail. Lying on a table in front of a sofa, somehow knowing everything was wrong and that window stared back at me. It knew the truth.
For some unexplained reason, I'd always believed the woman in my flashbacks was a babysitter. Standing in the room, facing the window, I closed my eyes. I felt the hurt of the little girl on the table; her pain caused me to cry out and open my eyes. I stared directly into the face of the woman sitting across from me. I recognized her face; she wasn’t a babysitter. The woman on the sofa, in the room at the top of the stairs, was my mother.