The Different Shades of Memory

Part II

When someone you love commits suicide, it leaves you with a host of painful and wholly unanswerable questions: Could I have done more? What was my part in their misery? Why was the love we all had for them not enough to make them stay?

Having tried to commit suicide myself (on multiple occasions), I know these questions have no place in it; and yet, being on the other side of it now, I still ask them.

Suicidal ideations spring from a place of darkness within the individual having them. It is a black gloom so all-encompassing that you can no longer see anything beyond its veil — not the people that love you, not the consequences of your actions, and certainly not the pain it will cause others. You don’t necessarily want to die; you just want to escape from that blindingly dark, cold place… and the demons that reside therein.

A Terrible Secret

Nicky definitely had his demons. Even at a very young age, he had a tongue so quick and barbed that it could infuriate the most patient of people. (Something, I have to admit, I always admired about him.) He was full of rage, had violent outbursts, and recurring nightmares that left him screaming so loudly it would wake my entire household (and sadly, these nightmares may have been a result of my terrible secret, but I have trouble remembering the timeline since so many years have passed)… which brings me back to my own night terror from yesterday’s post, and one of the reasons that I feel responsible for his death.

As I mentioned before, there is always another victim in the cycle of abuse; and Nicky was one of Don’s — a horrible secret that I have held in confidence (until now), sharing it with only one other person: my husband, Mitchell. But when I woke yesterday, with the memory having plagued my dreams, I just knew I had to write about it to be set free.

My grandmother and Don lived in a ranch house on a large plot of land on the outskirts of Great Falls, Montana. There was a greenhouse (of sorts) and a barn, in addition to the residence; and these two places were where most of my sexual abuse was endured.

We loved to play in the barn. It was fun to climb and jump among the hay bails, and it was far enough away from the house that we could make all the noise we wanted without irritating the adults. But on one particular, fateful afternoon, Nicky made the mistake of entering the barn when he shouldn’t have.

In his defense, he was looking for me — his older sister, and partner in all things adventure; but he found me in a compromising position with Don and all hell broke loose.

Don flew at my younger brother in a rage, picked him up off the ground and shook him so hard, I thought for sure he’d scrambled Nicky’s brains. He growled at him for being “a nosy, trespassing, lil’ son-of-a-bitch” and threw him to the ground. Don then straddled the 60-or-so-pound frame of my seven-year-old brother, angry finger poking at Nicky’s chest, and threatened to kill me should he ever breathe a word of what he’d witnessed; and then promptly threw him from the barn, slamming the door behind him.

After that, Don seized every opportunity to torture and humiliate Nicky. Whenever my younger brother mouthed off (and he mouthed off a lot), Don would pick him up by his shirt collar and put him to work on the farm — mending fences, digging holes, etc.

As an adult, I have heard my mother express regret over never having intervened on those occasions — but my folks were so frustrated with Nicky’s obstinate behavior that I imagine they thought the work might be good for him. Regardless, Nicky and I never spoke about that day… not until almost thirty years later.

An Irrational Fear (And Yet Another Secret)

This part of my story I have only shared with my friend, April (again, until now).

Several months before Nicky took his own life, he called me (which was rare in the last years of his life, as he had isolated due to his crippling, chronic pain). His voice was low and raspy, and I could tell that he had been crying.

“What’s up, Nicky? You don’t sound too good. Is it the pain?”

“The pain, yes, it’s always there; but that’s not why I called.” There was silence on the other end of the line that seemed to extend into hours. When next he spoke, he was so quiet that I could barely hear him, “I should have protected you, you know? I should have tried to save you.”

“Protect me? You’ve always protected me, ya’ nut…” He cut me off. And this time, he sounded angry.

“No, no I haven’t. When you swallowed those pills in high school, each and every time you’ve swallowed those pills… it’s my fault. I understand why you tried to die, and I feel responsible.”

“What?! How on earth could you be responsible, Nicky? You’re not responsible for that. You could never be responsible for that. No one is. Just me.”

Again, a never-ending silence. “I should have protected you from Grandpa Don. I should have run to Mom and told her everything. I fucking let you down, Cass.” This last statement was a serious one for Nicky, who never swore after becoming a father.

My chest seized up, and my voice disappeared.

“No. No, Nicky. I didn’t run to Mom, either; and I know now, from all my years in therapy that we did all that we could. We didn’t want anyone to die. We kept our secrets to protect the family.”

Nicky began to sob uncontrollably. “Cass? Promise me that we’ll never let anyone hurt Bug or Johnny. Never.

(A side effect of having endured our own versions of abuse throughout our childhoods, was that Nicky and I are/were both fiercely protective parents — in my case, sometimes to the embarrassment of my son.)

“Never, Nicky. I promise.” At this, my younger brother heaved a deep sigh.

“Good.”

And that was it… that was the one and only time we ever talked about it. It was also the last conversation I would ever have with Nicky (aside from a few text messages here and there).

I wasn’t worried about it then. It seemed to me that we both just needed to close the book on that part of our lives; but now, I can’t help but wonder if I should have said something to maybe Rigel (my baby brother) or my folks. Should I have tried to explain what had happened, and emphasized that Nicky was breaching subjects I never thought we’d try to revisit?

I fear that this last telephone call may have been a warning of darker things to come — even though it didn’t feel that way at the time. It’s an irrational fear, I know. I know that, but I don’t feel it.

I feel like I should have tried to protect Nicky, that I should have tried harder to save him. And because I didn’t, I lost him. I lost my lion, and I mourn for him each and every day of my life. Even now, just typing his name sends rivulets of hot, angry tears down my cheeks.

All I can do now is to keep the vow I made when he died, the words that I whispered into his cold, lifeless ear the last time I beheld the beauty of him (because I knew that his spirit would hear me, even if his body couldn’t).

“I don’t know where you’re going, Nicky; but I’ll meet you there. I can’t blame you for leaving, but it’s still not fair. I will walk like the lion you always were, and I will protect your son. I love you, Kiddo. Now, forever, always.”

Fuck. I really, really miss him.

Soundtrack: “Lions” by Skillet

5 thoughts on “The Different Shades of Memory

    • Me too, M’Love. Me too… 💔

      Thank you for understanding, and for always having my back. I know you must have your own demons (and wish I could vanquish them for you). Did you ever write about your own history?

      Liked by 2 people

      • I am of the firm belief that no one’s history is “benign”. (Besides, you couldn’t be nearly as interesting or as beautiful as you are if that were true. 😉)

        When sponsoring other women in AA, I often hear them say, “Jesus, I haven’t been what you’ve been through. Clearly, I have little excuse to drink.”

        And I always reply with, “Your wounds are as deep as mine. Different though they may be, they still cause pain and their own kind of trauma. Differing shades are not better or worse, they’re just different.”

        You are an Amazon warrior princess, with your own trauma, Ms. Ashley!

        Liked by 2 people

      • Thank you, lovely. And yes, I’ve definitely had trauma related to my illness, but I’ve been very lucky in terms of external circumstances. I used to assume that the good childhood I had was just “normal”, but hearing other people’s stories has made it clear that sadly, that’s not the norm at all.

        Liked by 1 person

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