Sunday, August 08, 2010

Crawlspace

The first thought I had about it was that the floor of the crawlspace was dirt, like outside. How could something inside, between two parts of a building, just be dirt? Looking back I don't know if I should have had a more profound or empathetic impression. But it was the dirt that I seized on initially: clay-like and dry, turned up like the dirt of a field. In one dark corner sat an old television set almost touching the low ceiling, as though a dirt floor wasn't discordant enough. Strewn about were toys and various items one might need to live--their details escape me this many years later--so it looked like the sort of place a kid might play pretend, if she hadn't been trapped. I sat dumb and sober in deference to the truth of what had taken place here just days before.

About a week before the pastor casually asked my sister and I if we "wanted to see where she had been," a deaf handyman at my church was arrested for kidnapping and keeping a girl in the crawlspace between the basement and first floor of the church. As inhabitants of the church daycare, we'd known him distantly from across the yard. He'd wave at the kids playing on the playground and we'd give him no further thought other than to remark on his deafness. He was captured after trying to abduct another girl from my elementary school and the police found the first girl who'd been living between strata of our church for a short time. It shocked me to learn that there are things to fear in the world that could touch my daily routine and the people I knew.

It also turned my notion of how to treat people on its head. He was the only deaf person I knew at that age and I'd been instructed about how to handle that situation with delicate respect and understanding. It was a lesson in the reality that no one person fits in a category, and that no category defines a person as good or bad. In the years following, I'd sit in a pew and stare toward the altar, subtracting feet in my head to the food closet crawlspace. What did she think when she heard us singing, I'd ask myself. Did she scream for help? Did she cry for her mom? I appreciated the dichotomy even then; our place of praise and fellowship was her prison. She sat just feet below the altar and couldn't get out.

There are many details of the situation I don't remember now. I tried last night to search for a record of the story because the specific year escapes me; I remember that I was most likely younger than 4th grade. I remember playing out the details I couldn't understand as I stood on the playground with my friends--and after the pastor took us to see the crawlspace, that was something juicy I'd interject as gossip. I've seen it, I'd brag, not knowing what that meant at all, or what to make of it. The church moved forward, never hiding what transpired.  Eventually it faded out of conversation.

There are dark things within us all, things in our relationships that lie beneath layers and are easily ignored. Some bring them out into the open, show them to others as our pastor did in order to initiate conversation. Some keep them hidden in shame. The choice is deeply personal about what one shares, what one acknowledges and discusses.

Though I'd characterize my marriage now as healthy and stable, those dark spaces still exist between me and E from our separation and the time when our relationship was decidedly unhealthy. We had a horrible fight yesterday over money--for the first time, we actually have a little--and ultimately, control. Twice I tried to get in the truck to go somewhere and twice an argument spilled into the driveway, messy and embarrassing as a tub of soiled laundry. Built between the layers of our interaction are those past hurts; sometimes we go back to the dark spaces. I was so hurt by what was said that I left and went for a drive. Lack of trust wounds me to my core. I drove and drove until the pit in my stomach calmed, and then I parked by a country slough to rest my brain.

E texted me an apology and I made my way home. We made peace. The fight is over, but I know that dark corner of our marriage still exists, and it's filled with fear and dread and all manner of things unsavory. We have a complicated past. I want to bring it into the light again, to acknowledge it again so we move forward. We have so many tools available to us that we know work, but the choice is ours to use them. Rather than burying a painful past, we owe it to each other to deal with it. I think sometimes it's easy to pretend those spaces don't exist, or to forget them in pursuit of getting things done. Those dark spaces don't mean the impossibility of a peaceful future, but some of them need to be brought to light from time to time in order to keep things healthy. To paraphrase Julianne Moore's character in The Kids are All Right, marriage is f*cking hard.  I would add it's worth it.


3 comments:

  1. It was the summer between 3rd and 4th grade - 1988. They found her the week before we moved here and my mom was totally panicked. Here we were moving to a new town and she had a daughter just about the same age as those 2 girls. I remember being afraid too. I feel like I need to protect C's world from that fear but there's a balance too - how do you teach about strangers, etc. without destrying innocence? Parental musings I guess. Glad you guys are OK today.

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  2. We were taken down to see where "she" was as a part of confirmation class. Even at that time I remember thinking that is just wasn't right...I think Pastor Linda wanted us all to see so that maybe we would understand what she lived in? I had the same thoughts about her hearing us singing in church and all of the people laughing and talking. Maybe he took her somewhere on Sundays? Candy Tallarico was her name...I remember one of my friends exclaiming at school one day, "you go to the Candy Tallarico church!". I was never clear if that guy was only deaf or if he also had some kind of other disability as well...so sad.

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  3. What happened to the girl? She was found alive, right?

    This story is haunting. I need answers.

    I can't believe your pastor took you down there. I don't care what kind of life lessons you'd pull from it. You were ... what 10? I was a curious kid. I liked to explore crevices and cubbyholes and whatnot, but if someone took me into a crawlspace where a little girl had been held hostage, I'd probably still carry that image with me today. You obviously still do.

    It's one thing to go sniffing around for it with your friends when you're an adventurous teenage, it's quite another to have an adult take you on a field trip when you're in 4th grade.

    Yikes.

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