Meringue Pie & PTSD

*Trigger Warning: Domestic Abuse & Child Abuse*

Yesterday, for the first time in I don’t know how long, I felt triggered. I was trembling and on the verge of tears most of the day.

Social media. Quarantine. The news. Images of hate, of anger, of people dying, and hurting. Racism. Ignorance. Of people muzzled. Arguments about face masks. Seeing the worst of humanity, all on a plate.

And meringue pie.*

The last one probably makes no sense. It was a silly ad. For pie. And yet, that was the final straw. Meringue pie.

Because suddenly I was 5. My dad had left on a grocery trip, with the only car, and my very pregnant mother caring for me, my older sister (almost 7!) and my 3-year-old brother in a small studio apartment. He didn’t come back for days. I remember being so hungry. We had run out of food, but weren’t allowed to leave the house without permission, not even my mom. 

When he finally came in the door to our little studio apartment that the five of us shared, he brought two meringue pies, fresh from his sister’s house where he had apparently stayed for a few days. No other groceries. Just two meringue pies. 5-year-old me was transfixed. Excited even. I remember being so devastatingly hungry, I barely registered that my mom was yelling. Suddenly, the pies flew, landing against the worn, avocado paint of the wall, before they started a slow descent, leaving a slug trail of sweet, sticky goo. I remember screaming at my mom that she had just wasted the food, and I grabbed one pie tin from the floor to see what I could salvage, before I felt my sister’s hands dragging me back into the little kitchen. To hide behind the cupboards. My fingers in the lemon goo as I shoved what I could from the rescued tin into my mouth, when I heard it. I heard my mother’s screams, her cries, as each blow from my army trained boxing champ of a father landed. I couldn’t see her. All I saw was the meringue pie slowly sliding down the wall in front of me. Just globs of white goo and yellow curd that inched slowly down the wall. And I felt the sweetness in my mouth turn sick with betrayal.

We weren’t allowed to go outside. The rage on my father’s face, the rage on the quarantine protesters’ faces. The muzzle. The sick feeling of someone comparing wearing a mask to save lives, to muzzling a human being as if they were an animal.

The grip of my father’s hand on my hair as he dragged sick 5-year-old me into the bathroom and threw me inside, in the dark, proclaiming, “If you’re going to act like a dog, you’ll get treated like one.” I had asked permission to go the bathroom because I didn’t feel well. He told me I was just trying to get attention, to go back to bed. Obediently, I laid back down and promptly threw up. He rubbed my face in my own sick. I remember crying in the dark, but mostly I remember feeling terrible as I listened to my mom quietly sobbing from her bed. I knew that if he hadn’t been there, she would have been rocking me and stroking my hair. Instead, I was alone in the dark, unable to leave the bathroom, or touch the handle of the door, trying so hard hide my own sobs. 5 year old me knew that if I was too loud, then I would really hurt.

An older me, staying the night with my father, whom my mother had divorced but who was guaranteed visitation rights. We were watching Predator. I was 9, maybe 10. My nearly 5-year-old sister couldn’t keep still and kept standing up in front of the TV. My father shouting at her, “You make a better door than a window!” me, trying to whisper at her to sit down. She, being four, doesn’t listen and doesn’t sit down. When I pull her down to sit with me, she just pops right back up in front of the TV. He yells again and I watch as he leaps up and drags her by the hair into the kitchen and tosses her into the dark bathroom. I’m paralyzed. I should be doing something, I’m her big sister. But I don’t. I just stare. He tells her she can stay there until she knows how to stay still. I hear her screaming and sobbing, then it’s quiet. I want to go do something, to help her, but my father tells me to sit still and stop making a fuss like a wuss. So I sit, turn back to the TV and pull my legs to my chest and bury my face in my knees. If I hold my legs tight enough, he won’t see my shoulders shaking from the sobs. I won’t get in trouble if he doesn’t know I’m crying like a wuss. After enough time passes, I ask for permission to go to the bathroom, all the soda, you see. He lets me go. I flip on the light and my little, little, sweet sister, is asleep on the floor. There’s water everywhere. And blood. The toilet bowl is cracked, a piece is missing. He had thrown her so hard, she’d broken the toilet bowl with her little head. She wasn’t asleep. So much blood. I screamed. Dad came. He said he was sorry. He didn’t mean to. She’d be alright. Sorry. 

He didn’t mean to. He didn’t mean to knock my four-year-old sister out by throwing her with such strength, she broke the bowl with her small head. And I couldn’t leave the house or call my mom. I was trapped. I was helpless.

Here, all grown up, I’m stuck inside and that feeling of helplessness is on the rise. Helpless in the face of a sea of people hurting, people dying alone.  People being profiled and killed for running while black. People being killed sitting in their own home because police raided the wrong house for a suspect that was already in police custody. People angry and so wrapped up in themselves, they don’t realize that face masks are a sign of love, a sign of caring for your elderly neighbor, for the neighbor you didn’t know was undergoing chemotherapy, for the friend who hasn’t told you they’re immuno-compromised.

I wanted to feel powerful. I wanted to have the words that would heal wounds, make the hateful not feel hate. I wanted to use my privilege to do something. More than anything, I wanted to not be that 5 year old staring at that meringue pie oozing down the wall. I wanted to not be the little girl in the bathroom, crying herself to sleep. I wanted to not be the 8 year-old, holding tight to her knees, frozen in place while her sister lay bleeding in the water.

Yesterday, I was that girl again. Today, as I write, I am healing my wounds. Tomorrow, I hope to find a way to unfreeze.

*Apologies to all my friends who never realized why I always turned down offers of meringue or meringue pie. This somehow doesn’t seem like something one discusses over dessert.

4 thoughts on “Meringue Pie & PTSD

  1. “Comment” doesn’t fit because I’m speechless but feel the need to tell you how you moved me. You have turned out to be such a beautiful person, wife, mother, and writer. Seems a hug would begin order during normal times.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I was triggered the other day watching a favorite tv show. Triggers pop up when you least expect them, and can catch you unaware. A character was in therapy over addiction and attempting to face the trauma she was avoiding. It turned out to be abandonment. Her mother gave her away when she was a baby, and somehow even though she was too young to remember it affected her profoundly. The session focused on that abandonment and the characters subsequent inability to trust or feel worthy of love. It occurred to me in that moment that my mother abandoned me daily. Every day she said unkind things, refused to let me touch her, or touch me, tell me to leave a room because I wasn’t allowed to occupy it with her. Every day she pushed me away, refused to love me, and I had no one else. In that moment I realized that that specific trauma happened over and over to me and I just never identified it as such. Of course this doesn’t compare to the trauma you suffered. I literally cried as I read your words. I’m angry at a system that requires children to see abusive parents. I’m angry that people who don’t want children are sometimes forced to have them cause that’s a recipe for disaster. I’m angry that you cannot enjoy lemon meringue pie. I’m angry that you have to live with past trauma that never should have been. I also feel helpless lately with all that is going on. Heart broken, I am heart broken at all the hatred and it does remind me. Sending you virtual hugs. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you for your words, Dani, and I’m so sorry that you endured the trauma of a mother who should have given you the love you deserved. Hurt is hurt, pain is pain, and I know that my own mother’s love, even as she became increasingly unstable, was so essential. I am so sorry you had to endure that as a child. I, too, am sending you all my love and virtual hugs.

      Liked by 2 people

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