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Whitney, take Kyle outside and play, but you stay in the yard.
You hear me?" My father yelled the directions to my younger
I was lying on the floor with a puzzle, engrossed in the
delight of the picture falling into place. Just a few more
pieces and I'd be done. I had turned five years old in April
and my mom and dad had given me the puzzle for my
birthday. It was a great puzzle, so I dawdled for a few more
minutes. I didn't want to go outside with Kyle and Whitney; I
wanted to finish my puzzle, but as Whitney passed me,
holding Kyle's hand, I stood up and followed them to the
"Not you, Tina. You stay here," Dad said.
Whitney, younger than me by a year, gave me a smirk.
She thought I was in trouble. But I hadn't done anything; at
least, not that I could remember.
"Tina! Get downstairs. Now!"
There was something in my dad's voice that made
everything in me go very, very still. It was more than a tone
that brooked no argument-he always had that-but this was
something deeper and far more intimidating. Slowly I walked
over to the basementsteps. I hated going down into that
basement. There were spiders down there.
He grabbed my arm and jerked me forward. "Don't ask me
stupid questions. Just do what I tell you."
Mom was at work, so there would be no help from her,
although it was rare that she would challenge Dad about
anything he chose to do. My mind raced with questions.
What had I done to make him mad? Why did I have to go to
the basement? Maybe someone had spilled laundry detergent
on the floor and I was going to get punished for it.
The basement was cool and damp, the concrete blocks
marked in some places by water stains and mold. Old boxes
were stacked in a corner, holding belongings that the family
no longer used. My sled hung from nails in the exposed
beams overhead, along with ice skates, wire, fishing poles,
and rope. The washing machine stood silent under the single
bulb that hung from the ceiling and gave a little light to the
dreary basement. The two well windows let in precious little
"Daddy?" We reached the bottom of the steps and he took
my arm again, leading me back around under the stairs to
the desk he had set up. My mother had wondered why he
wanted to set up a small office down in the basement-it was
so dank and dark-but he insisted he needed a quiet place to
Dad sat down in his chair and lifted me up onto his lap.
"It's okay, honey. I'm not mad at you."
He stroked my hair, my arm, and my back, but rather than
bringing me comfort, his attention confused me. There was
tension in him that I could associate only with his anger, and
yet he was smiling and softening his voice in a way that
confirmed his words. So why didn't I feel better?
"No, honey. I love you. You know that. I just want to show
you how much I love you. How much you mean to me. You
love me, don't you, Tina?"
"Of course you do, and I want to show you how to prove
to me that you love me."
I began to shake, but I wasn't cold. It didn't make sense to
me. It felt like the walls were slowly closing in on me. Then
the spiders would be closer. The dank, moldy smell made the
space seem even smaller, tighter, more frightening.
"I'm going to teach you how to love me. I'm going to show
you how to please me. But this is going to be our little secret,
okay? We're not going to tell anyone, understand?"
I shook my head. I didn't understand at all.
He blew out this big heavy sigh as his hands roamed,
making me squirm, but he didn't seem to mind the squirming
at all. "It'll be good, Tina. You'll see. You'll love it."
But I didn't love it at all. I hated it. I hated the way he
breathed. I hated the way he held me down. I hated the
smells. I hated feeling helpless. And most of all, I hated the
I didn't want to think about my dad or what he was doing
to me or the helplessness I felt or the screams that were
lodged in my throat. I turned my thoughts outward, trying to
concentrate on happy thoughts. Whitney on the swing in the
backyard. Kyle pushing her higher and higher. My mom
working over at Kmart, and the candy she might bring home
after work. My grandparents up in Michigan, and the
delightful smells that always greeted me when I went there
to visit. The new baby that was coming.
I thought about the firehouse across the street, and all my
happy thoughts fled. All this time it had represented safety to
me. If anything happened, help was just across the street.
But no help was coming. How foolish I had been. Safety was
I had no idea how to deal with the helplessness I felt or
the pain. My dad had sworn me to secrecy. No one could
ever know. Dad hadn't actually threatened me, but the
threat was there, verbalized or not. If I told anyone, the
family would be ripped apart, and I didn't know what would
happen to me.
For weeks my helplessness haunted every waking thought.
It was like being trapped in a maze with no way out. But
there was one shining light in my week-Sunday morning. My
parents were both raised Catholic, but my mom was the only
one who faithfully went to mass on Sunday morning. She
would usually take me with her, leaving my siblings home
with Dad. In the past it was just something we did together,
my mom and I, but now those Sunday mornings became one
of those precious times when I felt free from my dad, when I
knew he couldn't get to me.
Nativity Church was the largest Catholic church in the
Green Bay area. Mom always sat on the right-hand side, in
the same pew, where each time you looked up from your
prayers you were staring into the face of Mary. This was a
source of conflict for me. My great-grandmother was a
Lutheran, and she kept telling me that praying to Mary was
wrong-that I was supposed to pray to Jesus.
But I had bigger conflicts now than whether or not to pray
to Mary, so I prayed my little heart out that God would do
something, anything, to change the circumstances of my life.
"Are you still interested in joining the Brownies?" Mom
asked me as she lowered the kneeling bench.
I glanced at her as we both knelt. "Yes!" I told her with a
big smile. "I can?"
"I talked it over with your dad and he said you can join."
At the mention of my dad, my smile faded as fast as my
happiness. The darkness dropped down over me as I stared
down at my hands, clasped tightly in front of me. She didn't
know. Couldn't know. I was trapped in a nightmare that had
no end. Sometimes I would go to school with terrific
stomachaches, and my mother would have to come and take
me home, but she had no idea what was causing the
Each time my dad headed for the basement door and
looked at me, everything in me would freeze in dread and
fear. Every time my mom left for work, the helplessness
would begin to overwhelm me. He'd touch me and I would
want to scream but couldn't. He'd take my hand and I'd want
to run away but couldn't. He would tell me what he wanted
and I could only comply.
Mom put her hand on my shoulder. "Pray."
"Yes, Mommy." I looked around at the congregation as
everyone stared forward, praying silently.
Did anyone suspect what was going on inside my house? I
don't think so. My dad went to great lengths to make sure
the community thought we were the perfect family. But
behind closed doors, the house was submerged in tension,
anger, violence, and pain-secrets that had to be kept no
Excerpted from Why I Jumped
by Tina Zahn Wanda Dyson
Copyright © 2006 by Pilgrim Feet LLC.
Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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