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An Invisible Woman

Father helps me understand what I should feel, why I should feel it, and why my actual feelings are crazy. When I burst into tears because I can't bear the #gaslighting anymore, he's there with a warm embrace. A chuckle. A plan to rebuild me in his image.

He gives me the chisel and sets me to work.

Criticism and humiliation provide hazy directions. I chip off a piece, but it's not correct. It's never correct. The vision changes often, without warning. But I keep trying. This time. THIS TIME. T-H-I-S-T-I-M-E, he'll approve. I turn myself upside down, flip myself inside out. I stretch, bend, twist, contort, warp. Until I realise, the problem isn't my technique. It's the inferior materials.

I am the problem. Far too flawed and defective.

Brother agrees with me. I am a failure and a troublemaker. In our teenage years, he hits me to prove it's true. I tell mom, but she tells me 'you must have misunderstood what happened.' He chases me with a knife, promising to kill me, but I say nothing. No one will believe me, anyway. Brother is a good person. It's really only me he hates. He nearly kills me in a moment of anger, right next to mom, but her eyes go glassy like they always do.

'He didn't mean it.'

The truth is seared into every cell in my body: brother's needs are more important than my safety. I truly am nothing.

After chipping away for so long, there isn't much to see anymore. I'm 21 and invisible. And yet I contort what's left, wringing and stretching, watch it disintegrate while brother and father demand I sacrifice more. I never see them but their voices echo in my head. Brother phones to call me a bitch and explain that I'm irresponsible and selfish. Another part of me breaks off. I weep in the bathroom, the receiver pressed to my ear, and blubber an apology. I agree. I beg him to love me. Telling him all I've ever wanted is for us to be closer.

Because he's so kind to everyone else. Generous with his time and support. Easy to like. Easy to trust. A pillar of the community. Hardworking. Never angry or malicious. Just like father.

My limbs go numb writing this down. It still has an impact. Twenty years later.

The goal is to reclaim all those pieces of myself. Every last one. Soul-retrieval*. An invisible woman no longer, I take responsibility for my healing. No more self-sacrifice. Firm boundaries. I am worthy of self-love and deserve happiness.

*Soul-retrieval: a shamanic practitioner enters the spirit world to retrieve soul pieces for others. Every piece is well cared for in the spirit world and only awaits to be called home.

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