Failure will never overtake me if my determination to succeed is strong enough.
~ Og Mandino 

I was showing signs of trouble in my new school – Carmel Elementary.

Making new peer relationships was difficult.

My teachers reached out to Dotti and Al, with little response. I was not able to work with other students to complete projects or in-class assignments and I struggled with writing coherent, logical sentences and paragraphs. I was not able to give oral reports or informally speak about what I had learned. I not only had academic struggles, I had emotional problems at home. A legacy of sadness was born.

I was making careless mistakes in school, was easily distracted in class, ands forgot about completing everyday assignments. Some mornings I even failed to show up to school on time. I would walk to school with George, always making sure he was there on time, and then go out and sit in the field across from the school by myself. There was where I had conversations with my angels.

I struggled to recall basic multiplication facts and had difficulty learning multi-number multiplication. I would have to use my fingers to figure out basic and simple math problems. The one area I was always good at was handwriting. Still to this day I have beautiful handwriting. It just came naturally.

My OCD would not let it be any other way!

I struggled with map drawing and when it came to coloring the United States map, I would start over and over again as I would not allow myself to have messy lines.

I basically avoided other students other than two twin girls who were from China.

They and I played games together at recess and never seemed to talk with each other, just enjoyed each others company. Sadly they were not there the next school year.

I had little or no gratification from school.

The beginning of homework time often marked an increase in the household temperature, as screaming and arguing became part of the landscape.

Strained communication around homework was overwhelming. The daily ritual of yelling, pecking, and nagging did not help me at all. By the end of the school year it was apparent I had failed the fifth grade. On the last day of school as everyone was celebrating their move in to 6th grade, my teacher walked me outside the classroom to tell me. The teacher bent her head down to almost whisper in my ear.

“You have failed fifth grade and will need to repeat again next year. I will let you parents know. I know this has been a hard year for you. I’m so sorry Doretta.”

I failed. No one was going to bail me out. What were going to be my consequences?

I was distraught. My lisp was getting worse. “Lisping” is a lay term that describes the way a child mispronounces words. Typically it refers to the “s” sound being produced like a “th” sound.

Dotti did step in and get me some professional help that summer. She had me see a speech therapist and then she would practice with me the home exercises I was given. I thank her for that.

Thumb-sucking can contribute to a lisp and I had been doing that off and on since my mother’s death. To this day I still have to concentrate when I use words with the letter “s” and the letter “z”.

I had what is called an Interdental lisp—which occurs when the tongue protrudes between the front teeth and the s or z is pronounced like th.

It is known that children will begin to lisp after they have experienced unusual stress or trauma. The outcome of my speech therapy was quite good.

Treatment was relatively short-term, lasting just that summer. To keep me from lisping, Dottie started slapping my mouth when I would lisp. Dottie also thought that in disciplining me for anything, slapping me across the face was okay. For those of you that think that this is not child abuse, think again. Just because it happens behind closed doors, does not make it acceptable. She hated me.

She told me so.

Dotti was violent; grabbing me by the hair and slapping my face and her main weapon was emotional abuse.

Every single day, no respite.

Her energy was remarkable; she had an inexhaustible supply of hatred, expended daily, yet burning fiercely for years and years. As with most domestic abuse, physical torture was only a part.

Hers was a war of attrition: relentless, humiliating, terrorizing, degrading, twisted, petty. I couldn’t ever protest or express an emotion.

When we crossed a road, or she had to hold my hand for some reason, she’d dig her nails into my wrist. I was forced to finish every disgusting meal and she purposely made me eat things she knew that would make me gag.

Liver and onions. Sauerkraut. Hot peppers. Pigs feet.

The iceberg tip of her loathing was visible to all.

My father chose to ignore it, and friends and family were powerless.

Aunt Connie, Aunt Dorothy, Grandpa Bell, Grandma Helen occasionally showed disapproval – expressed sadness – ands yet they knew if they were too bold, she might exclude them from ever seeing me, leaving me isolated. People find it hard to imagine the mindset of a child systematically terrorized by an authority figure.

I was lucky, though. I had bursts of freedom. When others were present – a neighbor, the au pair – friends of Rick and Ron – then I was safe.

When we were alone, she did her worst. She washed my hair by forcing my head under the bath tap so I couldn’t breathe, releasing me only when I choked and spluttered for air. She cut my nails so short that they bled.

Every interaction was rough, angry, impatient, verging on violent. Dotti wielded absolute power and control.

We still had family outings; we would go to the beach, out to dinner at restaurants, and we would go camping.

To the outside world, not looking carefully, I was privileged.

Her insatiable fury was mentally exhausting. I became a robot. I didn’t respond to taunts.

I desensitized myself to being hit. How sad is that? Inside, though, I was defiant: that, and my talks with angels, was what saved me.

And I was blessed in my little brother George – who was just so sweet and brave.

Only he, outraged, defended me to her face.

George would burst into tears and shout, “Stop being mean to Doretta!”

You acclimate to the heat of the situation, and I did start feeling depressed. I began cutting. Self injury was a way of coping. It served as a way of dealing with stress.

Yet I wasn’t emotionally destroyed because I had my secret supporters. I had angels and I had guides. I always knew it wasn’t me that was crazy and mean.

I was traumatized though; I disassociated from my younger self to the extent that I quit feeling pain. It was harder for me to accept that my father chose to ignore it.

Dotti wasn’t rough in front of him and once ordered me to put makeup on a facial bruise (“It’s healing cream”) before he returned from work.

His refusal to acknowledge her treatment of me, or that our family unity was a charade, gave me no option but to play my part.

On the surface we were a functional family. We visited the zoo and went to Lake Tahoe on vacation. I attended church. My dad would take me each Sunday and drop me off and then I would walk home. I had some questions for God. Each day was a mental assault course, trying to minimize the threat, attempting not to nudge her simmering, scowling disapproval into explosive rage.

Once school started again I could I relax.

Aunt Connie confessed to me when I was an adult that she’d considered approaching the authorities, “But what would they have done? Put you in a foster home? That would have made us all so very sad.”

There was no solution. No good-hearted attempt to flush out the evil would have ended well for me – my only hope was that she’d be struck by lightning. In the absence of a fairy godmother granting that wish, I adapted and survived. Emotionally abused children learn self-reliance – sadly, we realize that adults are clueless and useless.

“One believes things because one has been conditioned to believe them.”
― Aldous Huxley, Brave New World


Are you doing the things you want to be doing and becoming the person you want to become or are you heading in another direction?