Trigger Warning: Talk of Rape, Incest, Abuse, and description of physical assault.
I dreamed this week about the Piscataway Nation, a Native American Tribe whose traditional homelands are in the areas of Charles County, Prince George’s County, and St. Mary’s County; all in Maryland and where its people now mostly live in these three southern Maryland counties and in the two nearby major metropolitan areas, Baltimore and Washington, D.C[ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Piscataway_Indian_Nation_and_Tayac_Territory%5D.
I am familiar with this tribe because of Circle Sanctuary (circlesanctuary.org). It is not common knowledge that I have been in the Circle Sanctuary Minister in Training Program (MTP) for three years now.[ Since the Fall of 2020, I believe, see my article on Time.] When we have classes or events via Zoom it is customary to introduce yourself like this:
“I am Dia. I prefer she/her pronouns. I am coming to you from Georgia the traditional homes of the Apalachee, Catawaba, Creek, Sioux, and Tsalaguwetiyi (Cherokee East) tribes.”
It is a way to acknowledge that we are sitting on tribal lands that were stolen by European colonists. One of the main directors of the MTP Program lives in the Maryland, Baltimore, and Washington DC area. I can literally hear his intro as he indicates that he is coming to us from the traditional lands of the Piscataway Nation.
Back to my dream, I dreamed the Piscataway Nation sent a warrior from the past to the future. I met him at a Metallica concert (I have no idea!). He had with him a book of illustrations about the way of life of the Piscataway and some rough explanation of the language. He was telling me that the language was failing in modern times and he had been sent to honor Metallica for keeping it alive (again, I have no clue why Metallica).
However, this dream isn’t about Metallica it is about the book the warrior brought with him from the past. He was showing me this book, talking about the tribe and I began to feel an overwhelming sense of loss that I began to cry. I was cradling the book and thinking of the knowledge, wisdom, and herbal lore that has been lost because of colonization. In my dream, I was devastated. I woke and sat on the side of my bed contemplating the dream.
Quickly I understood that lingering sadness that persisted in my soul. The dream feelings, echoed real feelings I have, deep feelings of being misplaced, deserted, and rejected.
It is a well-known fact that I do not speak to my biological family. In the ritual ceremony, I divorced my biological family. Long before I took spiritual action, I had confronted my biological family about my biological father’s crimes of rape and assault, I was uniformly told by both siblings I was lying, exaggerating, being overly dramatic, or simply crazy. I confronted my siblings because of my fear that my nieces or nephews would fall victim to my biological father’s sexual attentions.
What my siblings don’t know is that I confronted my biological mother and she told me she knew my father had done “bad things” but that he was on Prozac now and a completely different person so I should just get over it. My biological mother died in 2015. I am not aware if my biological father is dead or alive.
However, it is not just my immediate biological family that has rejected my truth and experiences. My bio father’s sister saw me in a BBQ restaurant and told me that my mother was dying and I should go and see her. I told her no, I would not. She implored me to reconsider and then asked me directly why I wouldn’t go see her.
“Because,” I snarled, “She refuses to acknowledge that my biological father was a rapist and abuser.”
I stood stiff waiting for retaliation. She simply drifted away back into line to order her dinner to go.
Years later, my best friend from elementary school would locate me and befriend me through social media. I was thrilled as I had cared for her very much. She invited me and my then-husband to dinner. After dinner, she asked to speak to me privately.
“Your father raped me and I hold you responsible because you didn’t tell me he was a rapist,” she launches our discussion.
“I was a child, like you were,” I defend, “I was an adult before I was able to speak the things he had done to me.”
“It doesn’t matter. My therapist agrees with me and I just wanted to confront you and hold you responsible,” she parts and never speaks to me again.
Even in high school, after a particularly bad episode with my father, I turned to my best friend who was upset about her boyfriend’s drama.
“My father beats and rapes me,” I say to her. She continues to rant about her boyfriend’s drama.
“Did you hear what I said?” I ask.
“Yes, but you are Lydia and you can’t have any problems bigger than mine. [This friend would find me nearly twenty years later to apologize. The only person from my past to do so.]”
After distancing myself from my immediate biological family, I sought acceptance from my bio mom’s brother, my uncle. How I ended up at their home and how the topic of my abuse came up, I am not clear. But I do remember my uncle getting angry and saying, “I don’t believe you.”
The first time I was believed was after a three-day fugue. This was during a time when I was between eighteen and twenty-one and left alone in my bio family’s house with my father, I showed up at the battered women’s intake facility in our local county where my bio father was either deputy sheriff or worked in the county jail as a jailer. I knew this facility because my father had pointed it out to me one day as we had driven through the small town together.
I remember distinctly looking up and realizing where I had come. I walked into the building and sat in the middle of the floor. I had bruises on my body: my arms, legs, and thighs. I don’t know how long it took for the woman who ran the facility to get me to acknowledge their presence but once I did I was whisked into a back room.
It is odd I can remember that there was some eighties wallpaper in that waiting area and everything was a cream color. I can clearly remember sitting in front of a large desk that seemed to have been rescued to be put into this woman’s office and behind her were large shelves with pictures of people on them. Adults with children, and her and man with adults and children of various ages. I can clearly remember the feel of the plush chair I sat on.
I told her my story. I can’t remember when the abuse started but I had been beaten with belts, backhanded, slapped, and raped. I can remember it was the first time I had told anyone I knew I had been raped and had watched my sister and others get raped. She asked me what had happened. I asked her what day it was.
“It’s Monday,” she said, “Did you spend your weekend with your abuser?”
“I am not sure. I can remember wanting to leave and my dad telling me to wash the windows before I could go. I had already made breakfast or dinner for him and served him in his lounge chair where he always sits. He had taken his tea and told me I was going to make a great wife to someone. I was disgusted and I just wanted to leave. I slammed the doors of the cabinet, got the Windex and paper towels, and started washing the large picture window at the back of the house. Suddenly, I was ripped off my knees by my hair and thrown across the room. The last thing I clearly remember was laying on the blue carpet looking up as he stormed in my direction. That was Friday night or Saturday morning. I don’t remember anything else from the weekend. Are you sure it is Monday?”
She nodded absently. “Well, you obviously can’t live there anymore.”
“NO! And you don’t have to!”
“I don’t have to? I don’t have to live with him anymore?”
“Absolutely not! I will help you find a place to go if you have nowhere else.”
I can remember the relief and grief I felt at that moment. A euphoria that I can’t describe came over me as I realized someone believed me and was going to help me. While simultaneously grief caused by a tsunami of loss hit me.
I was doing the unforgivable. I was talking to the state about my family and I would never be forgiven. If I left and let this woman help me I would no longer have a family in the way everyone else has. My mother would never forgive me.
“Now, I know this is hard,” she said, “but I have to know who your father is.”
“Donald Hughes,” I quickly reply still giddy with the realization someone believed me. “He works for the sheriff.”
I can remember cold fear washing over me as she stopped writing on the intake form. “Donald Hughes who is in the Freemason’s here in town?” she asked.
I swallowed the sudden lump in my throat and nodded.
She turned with my papers in her hand and started the shredder behind her and unceremoniously dumped my paperwork in it. The grinding and shredding took my euphoria and turned it into cold dread. When she turned back around, she said, “I know him and your situation is harder than I thought it might be.”
I started to cry. My bio father’s charisma and charm he has always had in spades and discounted the truth to even my first ally.
“No, no, no,” she says quietly, “I believe you and if I keep you on the books, he has access to resources, friends on the force, guns, and could find out where you go. Victims are most vulnerable when the abuser’s sins first come to light. Don’t worry, though, I have resources too. Here is what we are going to do…..”
The next stages of my first disconnection from my family is a tale for another day. Needless to say, money was found, a small efficiency apartment in an out of the way small privately owned bed and breakfast was purchased for three months for my use, and I was soon living in another county, in an apartment rented under someone else’s name, with the things I had risked my life to go and get back from my family home while my parents were at work after a three-day fugue.
I was encouraged to reach out to people I could trust who would have the resources to help me. I remembered my best friend when I lived in Tucker before my parents fled to the mountains. Her parents were wealthy and friends with the Bushs and Regans (yes, those Bushs and Regans). Their house had plenty of room for someone else and I had always felt loved and accepted there. More importantly, they had money and could really help me find a way into college and give me a home life free of violence and rape.
I called my teenage best friend, Sharon, and asked for her mother, Anne’s number. I then called and asked Anne to see me. She drove into the mountains of North Georgia and walked the three flights of rickety stairs to my hovel. I provided water and two chairs. I can remember being ashamed of my crappy free apartment, scared for my future when I had no education and nowhere else to turn to. I had worn my best clothes with a long-sleeved shirt to hide the bruising. I used to wear long-sleeved shirts all the time. Now in the middle of winter, you will find me short or no-sleeved tops.
I give Anne my story about incest, rape, fugue, and intake at the battered women’s shelter. I explain about my dad being in law enforcement now and how the system was keeping me off the books with the help of local Mason’s. Once I was talked out, silence descended into the room.
On an antiquated television with rabbit ears, an old wind-up clock sat ticking the moments it took for Anne to assess all I had said and come to a decision. With her first croaked out, “No.” I knew I would struggle to find my way on my own with no help from the Bush’s friends.
“No. I don’t believe it. I have met your parents. Your mother is so lovely and your dad… I just… You would have said something before now. You would have let us know. You KNEW we would have taken you in and protected you. No. None of that happened, it couldn’t have happened because you would have told us before now. If you are looking for our help, you aren’t going to get it.”
The euphoria of belief I had been surfing for the past week, crashed into the shore of reality and the air was knocked from my lungs. We sat in silence as the clock ticked its dirge and I struggled to breathe. Part of me wanted to lift my sleeves and show my bruises, and part of me was still a scared horribly abused girl who had been threatened with a wish for death if she told.
“You don’t have to die to wish you were dead,” I could hear in my hollow head still ringing from blows, “Don’t you ever tell anyone.” A breeze would blow across my heated and pained skin as he leaves swiftly. Flashes of my mother inspecting my sleeves and long dresses to hide the sins of my father go through my mind.
Back in my free apartment, I just sat there staring at Anne. I couldn’t find my voice. I was thinking, “Tell her before now! I had to go into a fugue state to get scared enough for my life that I sought shelter. Tell her before now?” I was literally incapable.
Yet, I said nothing.
Anne picked up her purse and started to leave. My manners kicked in and I walked her to the door.
Opening it for her and helping her with a coat.
“Goodbye,” Anne says. I shut the door without comment.
Today I am in my early fifty’s. Anne’s rejection, my uncle’s, my aunt’s, and my friend’s rejections did more than set up some temporary pain that I eventually moved past. Abusers win by isolating and painting their victims as crazy. They like to systematically destroy any stable support system they may have. When good people refused to believe the lone voice of a trauma survivor, they empower deeper harm than they can conceive.
I have spent my life trying to replace the unconditional love my mother and father should have given me. I have tried to find loyal people who would stand by me and be my “ride or die” people. Christmas, Thanksgiving, my birthday, Mother’s day, Father’s Day. These days would come and go as constant reminders that I am missing a tribe. There was no Thanksgiving celebration unless I coordinated it with strangers. Christmas was not about an extended family reconnecting because I did not have an extended family.
This feeling of loss, a dream about the loss of language and culture evokes in me, is a deep wound that runs through all my interactions.
That is not to say, I don’t have a tribe. The birth of my son was my first concrete and solid tribal connection. After that I was divorced, stumbling through life, and trying to find someplace to belong. I met Tony. We dated for six months and he asked me to handfast him, a pagan ritual of coupling that limits the contract to one year and a day and is often undertaken before a legal marriage in the pagan culture.
After our year a day, and days before our legal wedding, Tony would solidify his unspoken and spoken oaths to be my tribe when I asked him.
“Don’t you want to know about why I don’t talk or call or take you to meet my biological family?”
“If you don’t speak to them, then they must have done truly horrific things to you,” he responded. “Your a good person. They must not be.”
Tony’s powerful statement of ultimate trust and confidence in me changed me that day and really marked my search for people to add to my tribe. It has been very difficult. I have made some horrible placement of my trust usually in other people who have wounds that reflect mine. Not all who are deeply wounded can navigate life successfully. Many I have chosen have fallen away not yet ready for what healthy relationships require. Not sure how to make or accept boundaries. Unclear what loyalty looks like. Not clear how to act in a tribe now that the tribe they should have belonged to has rejected them.
And even though I have found a tribe of people to love me, accept me, and shelter me, the gaping wound the loss of my biological tribe, and other early tribal connections left can still fill with puss and pulse as only deep wounds can. Those deep wounds that wake me in the night to shed silent tears of grief for my lost tribes.