Tag Archives: abuse

At the First Meeting of The Liars’ Club

Trigger Warning
Though not graphic,
this post discusses childhood sexual abuse.

I stood, mortified into silence, in front of my second-grade class. My teacher, a tall thin woman with size 17 feet, held me so hard by the shoulders that later that day, when I got home from school and changed out of my uniform, I would find bruises from where her fingers had gouged me. The rest of the class was sitting at their desks, hands folded on top, listening to Miss Slewinski, but staring at me.

“This little girl here,” said Miss Slewinski, “is a liar. She makes up stories about her Mommy and Daddy…”

“He’s not my dad,” I said. “My real dad isn’t allowed…”

Miss Slewinski cuffed me on the side of the head.

“I called Sascha’s mother yesterday and asked her to come in and talk to me,” she said. “Her mother is a very nice woman. Do you know what she did when I told her all the terrible things Sascha has been saying?”

The entire class obediently shook their heads.

“What did your mother do when she heard about your lies, Sascha?” said Miss Slewinski, digging her fingers even deeper as she shook me. “What? Say it louder. So the whole class can hear you.”

“Cried,” I said.

“Yes. She cried. Sascha’s mother, one of the nicest women I’ve ever met, sat right here in this room and cried like her heart was broken. All because of this girl. This liar. She’s such a liar that I’m naming her the president of The Liars’ Club.”

She let go of my shoulders and stood there, glaring down at me, her arms crossed over her flat chest.

“Sascha’s going to stand here for an hour. Because she’s such a liar. Because she tells such awful stories about her parents. The rest of you aren’t going to do any work: you’re just going to sit there and stare at this terrible liar. But anybody else who wants to join The Liars’ Club can come right on up here and stand beside her.”

Miss Slewinski sat at her desk. I stood perfectly motionless in front of the class while they stared at me. Some of the girls in the class made faces at me whenever the teacher turned around to write something on the board. My hands were in such tight fists that my bones ached. My teeth were clenched so hard that my jaw throbbed. I wanted to die. I wanted them to die. I was so filled with rage that I wanted to get hold of a knife and stab every single one of them to death. Especially Miss Slewinski.

What were the terrible stories and lies I’d told which got me inducted into The Liars’ Club?

That my father did bad things to me. (I was too young to know the word “rape,” so I called it “bad things.”) That he wasn’t allowed to see me anymore because he’d done bad things to me so many times. That the judge had believed me when we were alone in his office and had asked me to show him, by pointing to my body, exactly where my father did bad things to me. That my father wasn’t allowed to even be in the same room with me when I visited his parents — my grandparents — though he’d gone back to live with them after the divorce.

What else had I told my second-grade teacher after she saw my inner thighs and asked me how I got all those terrible bruises?

That my mother’s boyfriend — who wouldn’t become her husband for at least three more years — did the same bad things to me every single night. That my mother knew all about the bad things my father and her boyfriend did to me. That my mother said it was all my fault, that she said I acted like a “cockette,” but I didn’t know what that word meant. That every time my mother caught one of them hurting me, she hurt me even worse than they did.

Miss Slewinski had promised me that she’d never tell anyone what I told her, she’d said she would help me find a new home, she said she’d do whatever it took to protect me.

Then Miss Slewinski called my mother into school and told her all the things I’d said.

“She’s such a storyteller,” said my mother, as she burst into tears. “She’s been a terrible liar since the day she was born.”

So, next day, there I was, in front of my second-grade class, during the inaugural meeting of The Liars’ Club, where I was the only member.

That first meeting lasted just an hour, yet it haunted me the rest of my life. Liar, said the girls in my ear when we were in line for religion class. Liar, said the boys when I passed them on my way to the locker in the hallway to get my coat after school. Liar, they all said when were out on the playground every day after lunch. Liar.

In that first meeting of The Liars’ Club, I learned everything there is to know about Einstein’s Theory of Relativity.

Probably more than Einstein himself ever knew.

And that’s the truth.

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© 2014, 2018, 2019 by Alexandria Constantinova Szeman. All rights reserved.
No content may be copied, excerpted, or distributed without express written consent
of the author and publisher, with copyright credit to the author.
Please don’t support the piracy of Intellectual Property.
Though this chapter was in the early drafts of my true crime memoir,
M is for Munchers: The Serial Killers Next Door, it is not in the final version of the book.

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Filed under #CSA, Childhood Sexual Abuse, Memoir, Rape, Sexual Abuse, Sexual Violence

Head-Banger’s Ball: Escaping Abuse the Hard Way

Trigger Warning
This post, though not graphic,
discusses childhood sexual abuse.

Life is unbearable,
but death is not so pleasant either.
Russian Proverb

I was dancing when it happened. After almost four years, I’d just had the braces removed from my legs and, in my joy at being free, I was dancing all around the kitchen and the empty dining room, wearing nothing but my panties and a camisole. My father was there, drinking beer, watching me, following me all around the house. I thought he was impressed with my improvised ballet skills. I don’t remember where my mother was, though I do know that it was late at night.

When my father grabbed me and began kissing me, I squirmed and twisted away. I wanted to dance, not kiss. Besides, I didn’t like the way he was kissing me, putting his nasty tongue all over my face and mouth. I fought hard enough to make him lose hold of me. When he tried to grab me again, I ran to the kitchen and got under the table, trying to hide.

Unfortunately, he found me.

My biological father first raped me when I was 3. My mother walked in when it was happening, and had to beat my father over the head to make him stop. Instead of taking me for medical attention, my mother told me I was a “bad girl” and locked me in the closet until I stopped crying. I don’t know how many days I was in that closet, but it seemed longer than any lifetime. I couldn’t understand what I’d done, but I vowed never to forget.

As soon as I earned my freedom from that closet, I  began telling people that my father had done something bad to me. I told family members, neighbors, doctors, nurses — anyone I thought could punish him. Anyone I thought could make him stop hurting me, which he continued to do. No one listened until I was 4 or 5 years old, when a Judge, in his chambers, asked me to show him — by pointing to my body — where my father was hurting me.

I don’t remember what events led up to that encounter in the Judge’s chambers, only that he was kind and patient, that he actually listened to me, and that after I talked to the Judge, my biological father lost all visitation rights. Furthermore, though I visited my father’s parents each weekend and though he now lived with them, he was not even permitted to be in the same room with me. I never saw my father again.

After my mother divorced my father, I thought I would be safe from men’s violence. Unfortunately, by the time I was 5, my mother was already dating a man who was sexually abusing me in every way imaginable, doing more atrocious things than my biological father had done. At the ripe old age of seven, after an entire lifetime of abuse from my mother, my father, and my mother’s boyfriend (who later became my stepfather), I decided that life was unbearable, so I decided to kill myself.

My only problem was that I wasn’t exactly sure how someone did that. During the last violent fight with my father, my mother had slammed him in the head with a cast-iron skillet. I’d seen him lying motionless on the floor, surrounded by a pool of blood. When the police arrived, my mother told them she’d killed her husband because he’d killed me. Though my father actually survived the assault, he was seriously injured. Because I never saw him again, I thought he was, in fact, dead. Since my mother had “killed” my father by bashing him in the head with the cast-iron frying pan, I decided, at the world-weary age of seven, to become a head-banger.

Swing-sets, telephone poles, brick houses. Fence posts, church pews, marble statues. Bang, bang, bang. Walls, bedposts, porch supports. Basement floors, steel pipes, tree trunks. Bang, bang, bang.

I hit my head so hard so many times in a row that mostly I walked around in a daze. Sometimes I hit my head so hard that I fell asleep. Each time that head-banging numbness rushed over me, I was convinced I’d successfully killed myself, and I was so relieved and so grateful that I could never be hurt again that I slipped into that deadened sleep with something like joy.

Each time, however, I woke up.
Disappointed.
With an unbearable headache.
And with dreadful pressure in my skull.

Although many people know that a baby’s skull plates move — to allow it to pass through the birth canal — they don’t realize that the plates of the skull remain mobile throughout life. The brain and the spinal cord, furthermore, are surrounded by their own pulsing, hydraulic system that does not match the rhythm of the heart, breathing, or any other system of the body. Dr. John Upledger discovered this brain-spinal-cord hydraulic system and named it the “craniosacral system.” Upledger went on to develop a medical massage therapy designed to put the craniosacral system back in proper alignment.

When the plates of the skull are not in their proper position, as from any common injury such as bumping the head hard, then headaches and pressure inside the skull (from the non-circulation of craniosacral fluid) may occur. A severe head trauma, or even a minor fall from a slide or swing, can shift or jam the skull plates, preventing the craniosacral fluid from moving as it is designed to do, creating a tremendous build-up of pressure — and pain — inside the skull. The pain and the pressure will only stop when the skull plates are restored to their normal positions, something that may take many sessions with trained craniosacral therapists, especially if the skull plates have been jammed for years after some serious accident.

Of course, in my case, it was many accidents, some of them caused by my repeated head-banging at age 7, some of those accidents caused by my mother from the time I was born, but one of the most serious head injuries caused by my father during an argument with my mother.

My parents were both drunk the day it happened. They were standing in the living room, quite close to each other, screaming and shoving and hitting each other. My father suddenly shouted something that made my mother jump at him, clawing at his face. Then he began choking her. Since what he’d shouted had been about me, I must have felt, even at three years old, morally obligated to separate them. So there I was, shoving myself between their knees, trying to push them apart so they wouldn’t kill each other and leave me all alone to be sent to an orphanage.

In his drunken rage, my father must have perceived me as quite a pest, something you just fling away from you. So that’s what he did. He grabbed me under the arms, lifted me as high as he could, and flung me away. I remember the sudden rush of air as he swept me upward, the terrible, mind-numbing fear, the choking sensation I felt as he released me and I flew, without a net, across the room.

I remember the horrific jolt of pain as I smashed the upper right side of my head against the marble mantel of the fireplace.

I remember, too, the cold blackness that descended on me in an instant.

By the time my migraines got so debilitating that my family doctor recommended I go to craniosacral therapists, I was over forty years old. As soon as they touched my head, the medical therapists informed me that the right frontal skull-plate was “significantly jammed” under the left one. It was wedged under the other one so tightly, they couldn’t fix it in one treatment. Also, since it was a long-standing injury, they informed me, the muscles of my face and head had gotten used to holding the plate in the incorrect position. They agreed with the doctor that, though my tendency toward migraines was probably hereditary * as well, the jammed frontal skull plate wasn’t making the migraines any better.

The therapists warned me that, as they attempted, over several sessions (which turned into several months), to free the wedged cranial plate from under the other one, my migraines might get much worse before they improved. They were absolutely right. I’d been having about seventeen migraines a month when I went to see them. The first month of treatment, I had twenty-seven migraines. It took them five months of three-times-a-week sessions to get the jammed skull plates back into place.

When the skull plates moved back into their proper positions, the intense and unremitting pressure in my head disappeared. The pressure that I’d grown up with and assumed was normal had been caused by the craniosacral fluid’s inability to circulate freely around the skull plates and the spinal column. As soon as the right frontal plate slid free of the left one, the crushing pressure inside my head disappeared. I lay on the massage table and wept in gratitude and relief.

When I told my psychologist about all the times I’d banged my head when I was a little girl, trying to kill myself, she said she doubted that I’d really been attempting to commit suicide. She said that since I was so determined and so successful in other areas of my life, if I’d really been trying to kill myself, I probably would have succeeded. She said that I’d been in so much emotional and psychological pain that I was merely trying to medicate myself. Since I didn’t have any healthy coping skills, I’d banged my head against the hardest things I could find, to “numb” my pain.

I still maintain that I was trying to kill myself in order to escape the incessant torture from my mother and my rapist stepfather, and to atone for my father’s murder, which I believed I’d caused since my parents had been fighting about me when my mother “killed” my father with the cast-iron skillet.

You see, that day, when my mother killed my father by slamming him in the face with the skillet, they were fighting about me. That day, when my father said the words that sent my other into her uncontrollable rage — making her scratch his face, which then made him choke her — he was talking about me. The words he said were what I myself had been saying to my mother, family members, neighbors, and doctors for some time, though I said it like this: He does bad things to me.

That day, my father said it to my mother himself, despite her already knowing what he was doing to me, but he said it in a way that she couldn’t ignore. I didn’t understand what he meant, but I always remembered his exact words.

“Sascha’s a better fuck than you are.”

Bang, bang, bang.

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I Survived a Serial Killer: My Own Mother
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* Familial Hemiplegic Migraines (FHM) are caused by a genetic neurological disorder. I have FHM as well as from Complex Migraines.
(back to post)

Note: a different version of this post was published in March 2017. This version has been updated.

a small portion of this post is adapted from my true crime memoir M is for Munchers: The Serial Killers Next Door © 2002, 2007, 2014, 2017 by Alexandria Constantinova Szeman. All rights reserved. No content may be copied, excerpted, or distributed without express written consent of the author and publisher, with copyright credit to the author. Please don’t support the piracy of Intellectual Property.

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Filed under #CSA, Childhood Sexual Abuse, Memoir, Rape, Sexual Abuse, Sexual Violence

The Thief, the Liar, and the Lovers: Korea’s Complex Crime Film, The Handmaiden

#NoSpoilers

At first glance, Korea’s 2016 The Handmaiden (Ah-ga-ssi) seems to be a straight-forward imperialist drama. Based on the novel Fingersmith by Welsh writer Sarah Waters, and sumptuously directed by Park Chan-wook, The Handmaiden transfers the story from Victorian England to 1930s Japanese-occupied Korea, where the Japanese imperialists have become the ideal for the subjugated Koreans. Learn Japanese, dress in kimonos, and mimic the behavior of your oppressors, and you can escape the poverty and ostracism of Korean occupation.

The Handmaiden quickly shifts into a crime drama, however, as a group of Korean thieves, pickpockets, and con-men plan to infiltrate the home of a rich but secluded woman in order to steal her fortune. Just when you think you understand what is happening, however, The Handmaiden abruptly shifts its perspective, changing the focus of its storyline to become one of the most complex psychological thrillers ever made.

The story begins simply enough. A handsome Korean con-man who pretends to be a Japanese nobleman, Count Fujiwara (Ha Jung-woo),

Ha Jung-woo as Count Fujiwara, and Kim Tae-ri as Sook-hee, The Handmaiden ©

recruits a young, somewhat naïve pickpocket, Sook-hee (Kim Tae-ri),

Kim Tae-ri as Sook-hee, The Handmaiden ©

to insinuate herself as a handmaiden in the household of an isolated, reclusive Japanese heiress, Lady Hideko (Kim Min-heea).

Kim Min-heea as Lady Hideko, The Handmaiden ©

The heiress is betrothed to a strange, unimaginably wealthy Japanese-book collector, who is also her uncle by marriage, Kouzuki (Cho Jin-woong, below R), and who also plans to steal the girl’s fortune himself.

Sook-hee’s job as handmaiden is to persuade the heiress Hideko to accept the Count’s marriage proposal and to elope since it is well known that the Uncle intends to marry his virtually captive niece himself. After consummating the illicit marriage, the faux Japanese Count plans to empty his new  bride’s bank account and have the heiress-bride Hideko committed to a lunatic asylum. In return for her help, the pickpocket Sook-hee can take whatever clothes and jewels she desires.

Kim Tae-ri as Sook-hee, and Kim Min-heea as Lady Hideko, The Handmaiden ©

Given the wealth and personal obsessions of her Uncle, the heiress is continually isolated, but with her handmaiden as her chaperone, Hideko manages to have a bit more freedom with the Count, who is ostensibly giving her art lessons.

Ha Jung-woo as Count Fujiwara, and Kim Min-heea as Lady Hideko, The Handmaiden ©

During the Count’s surreptitious courtship, Lady Hideko and Handmaiden Sook-hee find themselves drawn to each other — first as companions and friends, and then, tentatively and somewhat innocently, as lovers.

Kim Tae-ri as Sook-hee, and Kim Min-heea as Hideko, The Handmaiden ©

Just when you think you know how the film is going to develop, it suddenly seems to end, and not very pleasantly. It’s only Sook-hee’s perspective of the story that ends, though, because the film is not even half-way over.

Kim Min-heea as Lady Hideko, and Cho Jin-woong as Uncle Kouzuki, The Handmaiden ©

Part Two continues the story, only now from Hideko’s perspective, where we learn that Lady Hideko is haunted by the suicide of her aunt, that her Uncle Kouzuki is a collector of rare Japanese books that are all pornography, and that he forces her to read said pornographic books to him as well as to his male guests, including the Korean-faux-Japanese Count. This isolation and abuse account greatly for Lady Hideko’s ennui and despair in the Part One, as well as for the Count’s interest in Lady Hideko: he wants the heiress’ fortune and the Uncle’s rare Japanese pornography collection.

Kim Tae-ri as Handmaiden Sook-hee, and Kim Min-heea as Lady Hideko, The Handmaiden ©

Lest you now think that you have all of the characters figured out and that you are absolutely positive about the film’s final act, The Handmaiden “ends” again, with about 45 minutes remaining. You are now at Part Three, which shifts its storyline to the perspective of the faux Japanese Count, the Korean con-man whose world is about to be thrown into chaos by none other than Lady Hideko and her Handmaiden Sook-hee.

Because the film is clearly divided into three parts, with viewers being alerted to Parts One, Two, and Three with those words on-screen, this psychological thriller and crime drama is easy to follow despite its “fiendishly dense and complex” narrative. Intellectually challenging and satisfying, with a Hitchcockian seductiveness, The Handmaiden is a dramatic exploration not only of forbidden sexual desire but, more importantly, of the tyranny and potential cruelty of absolute power. Whether in imperialism, in male-dominated marriage, or in rigid socio-economic class distinctions, power can warp itself into persecution, injustice, and brutality, causing its victims to rebel and take their revenge.

Part neo-noir and historical drama, part “love story, revenge thriller, and puzzle film,” The Handmaiden is luscious and fascinating, marred only by its explicit lesbian sex scene in Part Two, which was handled much more artistically and tastefully in the first part of the film when much of the interaction was left to the viewers’ imagination, and which caused at least one critic to label the film as nothing more than a “male wet dream.”

The Handmaiden is in Korean and Japanese, with English subtitles. Available for rent from Amazon ($2.99 SD, $3.99 HD, free for Prime Members), YouTube ($4.99), and iTunes ($14.99 purchase).

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