I’m overwhelmed today. You see, as I was reading a blog post this morning, past memories were triggered, and like serpents, raising up their ugly heads, with their forked tongues hissing at me, they’re trying to sink their poisonous fangs into me. My heart is heavy, but I know better than to try to push the memories away. I need to face them and remember… Behold, You desire truth in the innermost being, And in the hidden part You will make me know wisdom. (Psalm 51:6 NASB) You see, if I try to bury those memories, the pain of them will one day rise up and cause even more damage than what has already been done.
So I choose to look back at a lost little girl who dreamed of one day overcoming the pain, yet couldn’t really believe that it was possible… I was 10 years old, and it was report card day, the day I hated more than any other. I was really scared too. My heart pounded rapidly inside my chest when I got up that morning, and I started praying. “Please God,” I prayed fervently, “please, don’t let them notice. Please protect me, God.”
I knew it was foolish and stupid last marking period when I erased the large red “I” (for incomplete) on my report card and placed an “A” there instead, but at the time, I was frantic and fearful. Mommy noticed the change right away, but I had quickly explained it away, telling her that Mrs. Murray, my teacher, had been looking at the wrong line, and had accidentally written someone else’s grade on my report card. I hadn’t stopped to think about what would happen when Mrs. Murray saw that a change had been made. I could only think about the beating that I would have gotten if I hadn’t changed my grade.
But now, judgment day was here, and I was desperately praying that God would miraculously intervene and make things right for me. I regretted what I had done now, as the devastating consequences of my impetuous actions loomed in front of me. “Oh, please, please, please protect me, Lord,” I prayed as I boarded the school bus that morning.
In the 1970’s, Report Cards were not like they are now. Remember, this was before everything was computerized, so teachers had to write each grade by hand. When I was in the fifth grade, we would be handed our report cards in the morning, and we would carry them to each class, handing them to the teachers, who would place our grades in the appropriate column. Afterward, they would hand our report cards back to us before the class ended.
Mrs. Murray did things differently. She would give the class a reading assignment, and while we were reading, she would call each child to the front, alphabetically and individually. I can’t even begin to describe the intensity of my fear as I sat there, pretending to read, while praying and dreading to hear my name called. Because my last name began with a P, it took a while for her to get to my name, and when she did finally call my name, I thought I would throw up as I was overwrought with panic. My mouth went completely dry, and my little body started shaking as I fearfully stood up and began to walk to the front of the classroom.
I couldn’t stop the tremors in my hand as I handed my report card to Mrs. Murray, carefully avoiding her eyes, so she wouldn’t see my terror. You see, she fed off students’ fear, and if she smelled it on you, she would be quick to go for the jugular, delighting in her power. She truly had no love for her students, especially those she deemed stupid or lazy, and she ecstatically lived to humiliate us. She especially enjoyed humiliating me, because I made it so easy for her. And now, as she pulled my report card out of the envelope, her eyes immediately flew to the eraser marks on it, and then she looked at me, triumphantly.
Now maybe you think I’m exaggerating, that perhaps due to my circumstances, I saw something in her that wasn’t there, but I assure you, she enjoyed tormenting me. She looked from the report card to me, then back to the report card again, saying in a loud voice ensuring that the whole classroom could hear her, “You erased your report card.”
I was mortified, as every eye in the classroom was fixed on me. “No, Mrs. Murray,” I whispered, “You changed the grade because you accidentally put someone else’s grade there, remember?” I know lying is wrong, and I knew it then, and I offer no excuses, except to say that I was one terrified little girl and if I couldn’t convince her that it was her mistake, there would be hell to pay.
Mrs. Murray slammed down the report card and stood up, speaking even louder than before, “No. You erased this report card, and I’m going to call the principal and your parents.”
I can’t even begin to describe the depths of my horror when she said that, and now, my humiliation in front of the classroom was no longer important, as I desperately, tried to stop her, saying, “No, please! Please don’t call my parents. Please!” I was hysterical.
But it was to no avail, as she marched across the room and pressed the intercom, asking to speak to the principal, and then informing him over the P.A. system that “You need to call Cheryl Payne’s parents and come to my classroom, because she’s erased her report card.”
Even now, more than forty years later, my stomach is in knots, and I have a huge lump in my throat as I think about the scared little girl that I was, utterly shamed in front of the whole class, as well as the principal. Yes, I lied, but no one even tried to understand why I changed my grades, and why I was so hysterical, until I was ordered out of the classroom and sent to the nurse’s office.
I was a 10-year-old basket case. I couldn’t stop crying and trembling. I couldn’t breathe, as I kept gasping for air, and the butterflies in my stomach were enormous, while my heart continued to beat rapidly out of control. Mrs. Wainwright, the nurse, sat down in front of me, with a cold rag, wiping my tears away and asking me some very dangerous questions. “Why did you change your report card, Cheryl?” she asked gently.
“I don’t know,” I sobbed, as she continued to pry.
“Are you afraid to go home, Cheryl?” she asked.
I shook my head. I couldn’t look at her.
“Cheryl, do your parents beat you?”
In that instant, I felt a bitter rage rise in me, as I looked her in the eye, suddenly hating this nosy old woman who was trying to get me into even more trouble than I was already in, just so she could have something to gossip to Mrs. Murray and the principal about. Well, I wasn’t playing her games. Didn’t she know what kind of danger she was putting me in by asking these questions? Looking into her eyes, with hatred in my own, I replied in my coldest, hardest 10-year-old voice, “No, of course not.”
I hated that woman for almost 25 years of my life, because of the questions she asked me that day, until I was undergoing therapy, and the Lord revealed to me that Mrs. Wainwright wasn’t trying to destroy me, and she wasn’t just being nosy. She suspected that I was an abused child, and she was trying to help me, but in my fear, I had misunderstood her motives.
I spent the rest of the day in the nurse’s office, until it was time to get on the bus. Though I’m sure I wasn’t alone on the bus ride home, I felt as though I was. I don’t remember if anyone spoke to me or not. I only remember the sheer terror I felt, as each bus stop led me closer to home. I can’t even begin to describe the level of fear I felt, as I got off the bus and entered my home.
The only good thing about arriving home was that Mommy and Daddy were at work, but they would return soon enough. I wanted to run away from home, but I was too scared. My sister got home from school at some point, and Dad got off work too, but he didn’t say anything about my report card, and I knew it was because he didn’t know what I had done yet. Oh how I dreaded my mother’s return from work. I sat in my room and waited. I knew what was about to come, and I dreaded it.
At 6:00, I heard my mother’s car door slam, and then the front door opened, and I heard her heels stomp-tapping across the carpet, then across the kitchen floor. “Oh God,” I prayed, “Please help me.” Stomp-tap-tap, I heard her walking towards my bedroom.
Indescribable fear and trembling engulfed me as my bedroom door flew open and she stood there glaring at me with rage in her eyes. “Did you show your father your report card?” she asked, as I shook my head no. Dad was standing right behind her. “Did you tell him what you did?”
Again, I shook my head, as she demanded, “Well, go ahead. Tell your Daddy what you did.” I tried to make the words come out. I really did, but no sound could move past the huge lump in my throat. “Tell him how you erased your report card and made us look like fools!”
I tried again to speak, as tears rolled down my cheeks, but I just couldn’t. She smacked my face, demanding that I say something, and each time I failed to say something, she would hit me again.
And then Dad began to speak, quietly. I had to strain to hear him, and alarm gripped me. You see, the angrier Mom got, the louder she got, but with Dad, the fiercer his rage was, the quieter he became… “You stupid, no-good b*%$&,” he cursed me quietly, with utter contempt and hatred. “You embarrassed me in front of Mac.” Mac was my principal’s nickname. Dad did electrical work for him, at the school, and also in his home. “I’m ashamed he knows you’re my daughter,” he said, yanking me up by my left arm and beating me, as both he and Mom continued to curse me.
Finally, they stopped and left the room, and Mom went to prepare dinner. When dinner was ready, I went to the dining room and sat in my usual spot, even though I wasn’t hungry. As the meal progressed, they continued to curse me for changing my report card, while demanding that I eat. Do you have any idea how hard it is to swallow food, when there is a lump inside your throat that feels as large as a softball?
I tried to eat, but I just couldn’t, and this infuriated them. “What’s the matter?” Mom demanded. “Isn’t it good enough for you?” Mom’s food was always good, but I was so scared and upset that I felt sick, and besides, nothing would go past the lump in my throat.
“It’s good,” I tried to choke out, but I just couldn’t force myself to eat. Ultimately, Dad jumped up, grabbed me again, and beat me for not eating my dinner. Finally, thankfully, I was ordered to leave the table and return to my room.
My little sister looked at me with sympathy, but I couldn’t acknowledge it, because I would have lost all control, so I turned my head away, ignoring her look, and went back to my room.
I could hear Mom and Dad talking through the walls of the bedroom, and I could hear the rage building up in them again. Soon, I heard Mom’s feet stomp tapping toward my room. I sat up on the edge of the bed nervously, as the door slammed open and she began to cuss me again, telling me how stupid I was, how I would never amount to anything and that I was too lazy to believe. Then, as her rage continued to mount, she began beating me yet again.
This continued throughout the night, as Mom would sit in the den, smoking and talking about me, while I remained in my bedroom. The more she and Dad talked about the horrible crime I committed, the angrier they would become, and soon, one or the other, or both would return to my bedroom, to cuss me, curse me, tell me how worthless I was and beat me again and again. I was a fearful, nervous wreck.
Soon it was bedtime, and my younger sister came to our bedroom to get ready for bed. Again, she looked at me sadly, and I know she wanted to comfort me, but she was afraid to say anything, for fear of what would happen. And again, I couldn’t even acknowledge her, no matter how much I loved her and appreciated her, because it took every ounce of my strength to hold myself together.
Soon after we were both in bed, the door flew open again, and Mom entered the room cursing me and beating me again. Then she left. I was so tired and overwrought. I wanted to sleep, my body needed sleep, but every time I began to drift off, the door would bang open as one or the other parent, or sometimes both, would come in cursing me and beating me again.
I was so sorry for what I had done, and I hated myself for all of the turmoil I had caused. I believed every lie they told me. I thought I was stupid and lazy, worthless. I wished I had never been born. Those feelings followed me for years, right into my adulthood, until the Lord spoke to me one day as I was preparing a Sunday School lesson…
For You formed my inward parts; You wove me in my mother’s womb. I will give thanks to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Wonderful are Your works, And my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from You, When I was made in secret, And skillfully wrought in the depths of the earth; Your eyes have seen my unformed substance, And in Your book were all written the days that were ordained for me, When as yet there was not one of them. (Psalm 139:13-16 NASB)
“Beloved,” He said to me, “I created you in My image, and you are fearfully and wonderfully made. I carefully knit you together in your mother’s womb, because you are important to Me. You are worthy, because I have made you worthy. You are not stupid or worthless. You are intelligent and beautiful. You are the apple of My eye, and I have plans for your life. Child, you are not lazy. I love you. Beloved, I chose you, because I believe in you. Don’t listen to the lies of others, hear My voice and know the truth. You are loved. You are My beloved.”
Cheryl A. Showers