The first time he visited our room it was dark. I could see the moon through the corner of the window blinking at me like a giant eye. Clouds scudded across its face leaving the room one moment lost in shadow, the next immersed in light.

The shadows came together and took bodily form, my father’s silhouette against the window. He was leaning over my sister.

Her bed ran parallel to mine with a narrow passage between, now occupied by him.

I heaved across to face the wall. I tried to make it look as though I was turning in my sleep. I tried to make it look as though I was asleep. If he thought I was asleep, he might leave me alone.

I could hear the sound of blankets peeling back, the rustle of sheets, moans and murmurs. I could not bring myself to look, afraid of what I might see, afraid of what might be happening.

Then as suddenly as he had come, I heard the soft thud of my father’s bare feet across the room, the rattly turning of the door handle and he was gone.

The moon had gone by now, too, lost behind the clouds.

In the stillness I could hear my sister sobbing and I wondered what it would be like when my turn came around.

54 thoughts on “Clouds”

  1. elisabeth, the prevailing imagery of clouds scudding is so powerful, rendering the event in turns opaque, translucent, transparent…as I imagine it has played across the screen of your memory ever since.
    even tho, from reading your earlier post, i knew what was going to "happen"–i had such a visceral reaction, almost screaming aloud "no, no" as i read this post through to its conclusion. how i wish i could travel backwards and forwards through time and space and save all the young girls. my heart breaks for you and your sister.

  2. Oh, Elizabeth. How awful. What is the matter with men, with fathers who do that to their own children, to any children. for all the verbal and emotional abuse we fielded from our father at least we did not have to suffer that.

  3. It's hard for me to respond to this as it is so triggering. I never spoke about it until I was in my 40s and it wasn't me who brought it up – it was one of my sisters and it made me feel sick to my stomach, because as well as "Don't tell", one of the lies he told me was that if I cooperated, then my younger sisters would be spared. And I believed that. Perhaps he told your older sister that as well 🙁

    When I was growing up I thought I was the only one. It was isolating and I grew up scared, confused and had no one I'd dare to talk to about it. And now that I can talk about it, I find that I just don't want to think about it. It's packed away in that hidden box in my psyche's attic and I've thrown the key away. It's the only way I can deal with it. Put on the blinkers and never look back.

    How sad to see that there are so many of us. How did no adult around us know this was happening? I'm so very sorry that you were betrayed by the person who you'd think would be the one to protect you.

  4. This I take it is flash autobiography. Just over 200 words, a very bare and distanced recounting of events. I’m not sure how I feel about it. My first thought is that, if it’s going to be this short you ought to go the whole hog and hack away until all you have is a poem. There is poetic language here or Freudian slips (you tell me you’re the psychotherapist) but the extra words don’t really add to the piece. This is like a first telling – just the facts, Ma’am – and reads like a witness statement. Far more is left unsaid than said. It might read better in the present tense. Written in the past tense the narrator has had time to consider her words but that doesn’t come out.

    The fact that this is an account of the first time also raises questions. Why does the narrator pretend to be asleep? Exactly what is she expecting? A beating? That it is cut off right afterwards makes us wonder if she said anything, asked any questions, did anything. I think the one thing that needs to come across is the time involved. Did this take two minutes or half-an-hour or what? I also think as the title is ‘Clouds’ the metaphor could also be milked more than it has been. Is the memory accurate or clouded in some way? You get the idea.

  5. That is so horrible. My wife worked as a child protective services worker before she retired. She dealt with so much horror like that; even in treatment, the scars remain for a lifetime.

  6. This hits far too close to home. Cannot comment much more than that, please forgive my silence on this one, know that your writing was beautiful and my heart is wrenched from your experiences as well as my own in this matter.

    much love to you.


  7. No words but those of comfort, of a mother, of me wanting to sweep you and your sister up and away —

    The writing is deeply foreboding — each word so difficult to read, the next —

  8. How is it possible for men to give their sexual urges primacy over the welfare of their wives and children? The horror is appalling, even to read, let alone to have experienced it. How can anyone justify such dreadful and painful blighting of lives just because they feel randy? And can the victims ever recover?

  9. Elisabeth; it confuses me too because I´ve never been away from Sweden for any long periods of time and I do live in Sweden – still I think and dream in english. Very strange but kind of fun! 🙂

  10. Appearing after the reflections on your aging mother, this dark portrait of the father illuminates the unresolved hurt.

    My own mother in old age was haunted by memories of a sexually abusive father. One of my last conversations with her had me telling her how sorry I was to learn he haunted her so and had for so long. (He died before I was born.)

  11. It's not so easy to talk about this one, Susan, as if I have broken rules in posting it, like a silent scream that I've long stifled. Thanks for your sensitive thoughts.

  12. Thanks, Erin, for your good wishes. We can't change the past but we can think about it and come to different conclusions and perspectives. We can treat the experience of the past in different ways from when it was first experienced. We can be there to acknowledge the horror, when in the past it went unacknowledged. Empathic responses from thoughtful readers help a great deal. Thanks again, Erin.

  13. When parents abuse their children sexually, Ellen, I think they are not in their 'right' minds. I think there is something very wrong with them. And in this case, history repeated itself. My father came from a similarly abusive family.

    Thanks, Ellen.

  14. That's the tragedy of it, Marie. You grow up thinking you're the only one and then you find to your horror, others of your siblings are similarly disturbed the experience.

    My sister's mantra was one of 'If he touches you, scream'. These words have stayed with me.

    These experiences stay with you, and as you say, there are many others similarly caught up in the thrall of incest, with its injunction: do not speak about it. For years, for some their entire lives are marred by this experience made worse by the silencing.

    Thanks, Marie.

  15. Jim, it's part of a larger piece and I'm afraid I haven't applied many of the literary principles you suggest.

    I intended the piece to be spare. Memory and imagination in this instance don't allow me much more. And as you know I'm not much of a poet. Nor do I look for too much of a literal interpretation though of course readers will read as they see fit.

    Thanks, Jim.

  16. Thanks, Kirk. There isn't a lot to say I suspect because it's just one of those things. It shuts us up for awhile and may be that's the point of it.

    Thanks, Kirk.

  17. Thanks for the endorsement, Steven. some might say it's brave to write about these things, others might say it's foolish. Certainly writing about childhood sexual abuse stirs up anxiety.

  18. Tracy, I know these things are hard to read for folks like us. As you would know there are many like you, like me, who struggle with such memories and their reverberations. Thanks for your words here anyhow. I value your input.

  19. Whenever children are forced to take on adult roles before they are ready, the are drowned in shame, Elephant's Child.

    Thanks for your support.

  20. Parents seek comfort in their children often when they are desperate, Persigflage.

    I say this not to condone such behaviour, but to try to make some sense of such desperate actions.

    Thanks, Persiflage.

  21. The haunting dreams go on all our lives, Glenn. I'm sorry to hear that your mother suffered so much too and glad that you can see the link now between the past and my own mother's ill health. How complicated past events make the grieving.
    Thanks Glenn.

  22. Tragic experience. Thanks for the courage to share it.
    It explains a lot about the dynamics of your sibling relationships since each has to deal in their own way with the facts of that past.
    My hubby was abused and still screams in his dreams at the age of 71. His uncle hurt him. I did not learn about his secret until 10 years ago. It has changed how we get along. He's less verbally aggressive towards all of us. He's calmer now and gets more pleasure from the little things he used to think were frivolous. His insecurity has decreased a bit.

  23. My therapist said to write something down is to free yourself. What you do with it afterward is up to you, mail it, burn it or just put it away.
    I hope this helps you by sending it out into the world.


  24. As I've said earlier, Kleinstemotte, it's extraordinary – or perhaps it's not so extraordinary – that these things go on for entire lives, even as for a time they might hide underground.

    The knowledge often surfaces at times of stress, including at the end of our lives.

    I'm sorry that your husband has suffered so. It's also true that once these things come to light people who have been abused can feel relieved and thereafter become less aggressive, as if they no longer have to defend themselves from such awful knowledge.

    Thanks, Kleinstemotte.

  25. I'm not sure how to understand your comment, Parsnip.

    From things you've written to me here and elsewhere, I gather that my blog posts sometimes confuse you.

    I don't write to confuse, but more I hope to communicate and to open the possibility for a deeper consideration of different and sometimes difficult aspects of life, particularly at an emotional level.

    Thanks, Parsnip.

  26. This is very spare but very powerful writing. It effectively communicates, to me at least, a feeling of fear being realised, the darkness that brings (the lost moon). That you pretended to be asleep indicates you already felt your father was dangerous, you just didn't know why yet. But now you did, and you knew it was only just starting: "I wondered what it would be like when my turn came around." The brevity and sketchiness, regarding time especially, mimic the mind-state of the narrator. The overwhelming memory would be the feeling of fear, details become blurred and time ceases to exist entirely. I once drove my car off the top of a hill in pitch dark and rain (not intentionally). I seemed at once to be bumping down, down, down for eternity, and back on the road at a standstill instantly.

    Anyway, enough, I must get to bed. But I must just say in reply to your comment on my latest post: you have learnt, Elizabeth. And you have passed on that knowledge. Some of what I've learnt, I've learnt from you.

  27. Dear Elisabeth:

    Your spare, graceful writing conveys turmoil and fear and at the same time an isolating distance–something frozen, a kind of playing dead. I'm glad you are speaking about the unspeakable. I wouldn't edit this piece in any way. The space between the beds, the separation between you and your sister, her sobbing, your silence and fear . . .


  28. Fear is quite a catalyst, Eryl, as you suggest, to a type of tautness of word and sentence. Life stands still for a few moments at least.

    The experience you describe here is pretty terrifying too, your life before your eyes sort of territory.

    Thanks for all the kind words, Eryl. I
    m pleased to be able to help.

  29. Thanks, Mim. Playing dead is a good way to describe it. It's something I've often thought about – this notion of going numb, dissociating – as you say, a type of pretense at being dead.

    Thanks again, Mim.

  30. While the details of my experience are totally different from yours, and far more recent, the inherent betrayal is strongly related.

    I am so very, deeply sad about what happened to you. That you have survived well enough to write about it as you do, is a testament to you indomitable spirit — the grittiness that has kept you from giving up, the soulfulness that lets you speak the unspeakable.

  31. Elisabeth, the powerful impact of the description of this utter sinisterness is made even more compelling by your low-keyed, understated account. I am sure many emotional fires have raged and had to be doused again and again to be able to lay this story bare so openly and calmly here. I am awash between grief for the harm done to those two young girls and admiration for the courageous emotional work that produces writing like this.

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