Terror and the terrier

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Gatsby, Flickr image by Alicia Nijdam, cropped 300 by 300She was only small, but the fox terrier bared its teeth and growled menacingly at us. Its milk-swollen underbelly and protruding teats let us know it had a litter nearby. We kept a wary distance and spoke soothingly to the little mother. She lunged at our ankles, snapping and snarling. As we approached she backed away slowly, keeping up a barrage of barking and growling, her dark eyes blazing.

We were at the old farmhouse, revisiting the place where it had all happened.

I had been a teenager then and it had been spring. Now, as then, the wind gusted and howled, rattling the loose iron panels on the walls of the farm sheds. The iron flapped and creaked, metal scraping harshly against metal. Tall spring grasses whipped back and forth, the wind drying the moist stalks and leaves, the fragrance of the grass saturating the morning air.

I remembered hiding in the tall grass to escape my father. I remembered the same blasts of wind, the same smell of new growth. And my heart began to pound.

What had happened at this place, so long ago, had caused a lifetime of deep-seated fear and anger. They were years lived with an inability to understand or express turbulent emotions. Frozen years. And the last few years had been a journey through mental illness, ridicule and despair.

When I had sought help and understanding from my mother during these last years she did not want to hear me, did not want to know about it. But why should I have expected more from her?

During that spring so long ago my sister had heard my terrified screams coming from the woolshed, and she had pleaded with my mother to intervene. My sister knew what my father was doing to me. She could hear it was terrible and she knew it was wrong. She wanted my mother to help me.

My mother must have known what was taking place. She must have known it was wrong, but she pretended ignorance. She told my sister that I had to be punished for whatever it was that I had done wrong. That I deserved this punishment.

Recalling this fuelled my anger and made me determined not to let my mother and father defeat me. I was visiting this place to strip these old events of their power, to strip my father of his hold over me, and to come to terms with a mother who always put her own welfare first.

But observing the ferocity of the fox terrier's attack this morning was a bitter experience. She fought bravely to protect her young — the maternal instinct strong. She had risked being hurt to keep her pups safe. Even a lowly creature like this farm dog instinctively and fearlessly protected her young.

What of the mother, my mother, who did not protect her young, the mother who protected herself? She had been found out and found wanting. She was no mother.

Despite this, I continued to call her my mother. However I remained angry with her — and always will. Anger can be destructive, but it has helped me. It has allowed others to know my pain and my hurt. The people I love have acknowledged my anger as righteous. They have shared my anger. They have shared my pain. This has changed my life profoundly. It has brought release — and with release has come peace.

As I watched my mother in her old age I realised she had lost more than I had. She had been exposed for who she truly was. And, as a result she had lost the love and affection of her children and grandchildren. She had lost their respect while I retained my integrity and my dignity. I had renewed health. And I had a loving family.

So when my mother lay dying I stroked her head. I reassured her and comforted her. I told her not to be afraid, that she would be safe on this last stage of her journey. She was beyond speech, but her eyes were those of a starving animal who had been fed a sustaining morsel.

I wept for the sadness of it all.

Colleen SchirmerColleen Schirmer is a teacher/library technician and writer. She lives in Geelong.

Topic tags: colleen schirmer, incest survivor, fox terrier



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COLLEEN L. SCHIRMER | 28 April 2009  

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