I'm 3 and playing with my doll. He is yelling and it scares her –– she cries all the time. My doll's name is Leah. Leah is 1.
I'm 4. I'm in the bathroom talking to the creatures who live in the walls. He shouts who are you talking to. I tell him the rabbits. He tells me to hurry up and get the fuck out.
I'm 5 and I have a birthday party at the bagel place next to my preschool. I've gotten so many presents they cover an entire table. He puts them all in the trunk of his car to return to Toys R. Us. I ask if I can keep the Barbies. He tells me not to be selfish.
I’m 6. My kindergarten friend exclaims ‘I can’t wait for the weekend so I can stay home!’ I look at him quizzically. I don’t like being at home. I much prefer school days.
I’m 7. I can’t read. I’m the only one in my class who can’t read. He screams at me to read the fucking book. I stare hard at the letters and make my eyes move. It looks like I’m reading.
I’m 8 and I go to the playground with him and Leah. Mommy isn’t allowed to come. When she leaves the house she gets in trouble. She doesn’t leave the house.
I’m 9 and I jump in the puddles on the way home from school. My sneakers are all wet. He whips me. I bleed.
I'm 10. The rabbits I used to talk to are woodland fairies. I'm their queen.
I’m 12 and my friend asks to come over to my house. I tell her my house is weird. I can come over to her house instead. He asks me where I’m going. Am I going over to my whore friend’s house?
I'm 11. Leah, Daniel, Caleb and I are good pirates. I'm the Captain and I'm in charge. The bad pirates are coming. My sister and brothers must hide under the blankets. Only I can peek my head out to protect them.
I’m 13. We don’t have internet or TV at home. We listen to the Christian radio station. I read. I spend 7 to 8 hours of the day reading. I average a book a day.
I’m 14 and he pushes me to the ground onto Caleb’s throw-up. He tells me to fucking clean it up.
I’m 15 and I need to use the internet to do my homework. I walk to the library. My classmate jokes that I probably don’t even have electricity at my house. I laugh and agree.
I’m 16 and I need to write a paper about current events. We only learn about past events in school. I have no idea what to write about. I don’t know what’s going on. I ask mom, but she doesn’t know either.
I’m 17 and my classmates are talking about the Spice Girls. Which one is your favorite, Michele? I’ve never heard of them. I say nothing.
I’m 18 and he pushes me down the stairs, jumps down after me and kicks me as I lay on the floor. He had been hurting Daniel. I got in the way.
I’m 20 and I don’t come home for Christmas. I hear from Leah that he cut the Christmas tree in half with a chainsaw and threw it out the front door onto the front lawn. He broke many ornaments including a painted glass given to Caleb the year before. Caleb screamed. I don't give a fuck, Daddy yelled. You’re lucky, Leah says.
I’m 21 and I’m home for three days. I’m standing at the sink shaking as he screams at Daniel. You’re so stupid, why are you so stupid? I glare at him. He tells me to stay out of the way or get the fuck out. I call my friend to pick me up and I leave.
I’m 22. I tell my mom I’m calling the police. She tells me not to interfere. I tell her I don't care about her, but Daniel and Caleb need protection. I tell her she has until I graduate in May. It’s November.
I’m 22 and I tell him I booked a Christian Women’s Retreat for mom and me for the 3 days following Christmas. He believes me. Mom and I stay at my apartment and go to museums and go for walks and go out to dinner. Mom tells me her head has never been so clear.
I’m 22. It’s March, 2015. I receive an email from mom. She tells me things are bad. She tells me she made a friend who will help. She tells me she’s going to leave him by May.
May 1, 2015 –– We call it Freedom Day. May 2020 marks 5 years free.
We Live(d) in Our Heads is an ongoing, introspective look at having undergone child abuse by a parent –– and the sibling relationships –– both real and imaginary, that exist despite it. All images, photography and illustrations were created by me, over the last 12 years, from 2008 - 2020.
From left to right: Leah, Daniel, Michele and Caleb. Winter 2001