I don’t know how old I was when I started thinking about myself in the third person. I don’t even know for sure how old I was when I noticed I was doing it and started actively trying to correct myself. I was young, maybe 6 or 7. I know it was sometime after I started to school because I remember Mrs. Tennyson, my first grade teacher wouldn’t call on me when I held up my hand. I remember thinking why won’t she call on her? She has her hand up. She never calls on her.
There are other times, sitting in the bathroom, or walking to school, when I remember telling myself don’t think she it’s me, it’s I. . . It took me a long time and a force of will to break the habit. Even in Junior High, sometimes I would realize I was doing it again. It was years later that I saw my first paper on psychology that mentioned the habit as one of the first symptoms of mental illness. So, I guess I got pretty close to losing it back then, when I was 4 or 5 or maybe younger.
But nobody knew it at the time. Nobody was paying attention.
It may have started back in St. Louis with Mama. Or maybe I was okay then, and it started down by the river with the man I came to know as Carl.
That first day I was only afraid because I thought he might tell on me. My father had told me to stay in the house and I had disobeyed. I didn’t want to get in trouble. When Carl told me “Don’t worry, I won’t tell your Dad. It’ll be our secret.” I believed him. I was relieved. He winked, smiled with those crinkly light blue eyes and patted the step beside him. I sat down and watched the river with him.
He talked a little. He told me about the river and the barge he and my Father were expecting that night. He laughed, and said “Shh. . .I’m not supposed to talk about that.”
I laughed, too, it made me feel warm inside to know we shared another secret. He was talking to me like I was a real person. He looked into my eyes, listened to what I had to say. He made me feel important, cared for.
When a turtle came wandering by, he picked it up and we played with getting it to poke it’s head out . He said we should find a safe place to turn it loose. We walked down to the side of the river and found a little creek that flowed into the big water. He said there was a good place for the turtle a little ways up the creek.
I went with him eagerly. I remember how magical it seemed when the muddy water and dull rumble of the river was behind us and we were walking along the sandy edge of a clear little stream that rippled and bubbled and sang. I loved everything about that little creek.
It was hot. I knelt and splashed cool water on my face. Carl told me “Take your clothes off and take a little swim. You’ll be cool all over.” At first I left my panties on. But they got wet and saggy so I had to keep hitching at them. Carl pulled them down, laughing about how I didn’t need them, nobody could see.
He said it looked so good he was going take a little swim, too. He turned his back and took off his clothes. He stepped into the water and sat down. The water was chest high on me. When he sat down in front of me we were on the same level. Face to face.
He looked to my eyes while his hands touched me. Moved all over my body. He told me I was beautiful and special. He pulled me on to his lap.
I let him. I didn’t run. I didn’t hide.