I Have Learned My Lessons Well

7:20 am shadow monsters

I wrote this story years ago, but it still has power. I still remember the refrain: “I have learned my lessons well: Good girls don’t remember. What they remember, they don’t tell.”

I am unlearning those lessons, and hopefully beginning to be the kind of person who is able to remember my past, and to speak about it. But it’s a long journey from here to there. People have told me the story is rather upsetting, so be careful as you read it. I don’t describe anything in detail, but apparently, quite a bit comes through anyways.

I have learned my lessons well:
Good girls don’t remember.
What they remember, they don’t tell.

It’s hard to forget things. Especially when you’re only supposed to forget some things.

“I thought I told you to fold the laundry.”

“I forgot.” My voice is small. I make myself as numb as possible, so I won’t try to protect myself. That only makes them angrier.

Chores sometimes get mixed with the things I’m supposed to forget. “Don’t tell your mother I was in here.” “Don’t let your teachers know.” “Don’t remember what I did when you were five… when you were three… when you were eight….”

Don’t remember. Don’t remember.

It’s a more important rule than don’t feel, don’t need, don’t tell.

How can I help it if the forgetting leaks out?

It’s easier this way. I cannot let them know at school what happens at home. Nothing here is bad enough for us to be taken away, and when social services did come, after… I don’t remember.

But I remember not to tell.

There are lots of ways of telling. Drawing pictures is telling, unless you’re careful to draw happy pictures, with smiling suns. Forgetting your homework is telling, fighting is telling, crying is telling… I practice being good very hard, because everything else is telling.

I become the perfect student. My teachers love me. They say how proud my parents must be. I don’t say that no matter how smart I am, nothing will make them proud of me. I’m too horrible, and I keep on remembering.

I learn that a lie can be just as good as forgetting what I can’t erase. My mother is drunk and remorseful. “I still feel guilty for when you were five and I beat you for half an hour because you lied to me.”

“I don’t remember that,” I lie.

But I do remember. I found a quarter. I remember the glint of metal between the seats of the car, fishing it out from between them. She insisted I had stolen it. I insisted I hadn’t.

I remember her rage. I see the wooden spoon. I remember her eyes, and the smoke floating up from the cigarette. “I’ll teach you to lie!” My heart pounds until… I can’t remember.

But I learned my lesson: No matter how innocent I am, it is better to accept the punishment.

I only lie when I must. “Yes, I did it.” “It’s my fault.” “I don’t remember.”

I make my mind large, to encompass the forgetting. I skirt carefully around the places I must not travel, relaxing only in the safe grounds of classrooms and story books.

I lock the memories behind thick walls. When I was ten and took too long coming home. When I was three and wouldn’t eat enough dinner. When I broke the dinner plates. The memories loom, threatening until… I don’t remember.

I have learned my lessons well.
Good girls don’t remember.
What they remember, they don’t tell.


One thing that surprises me as I read this is how much it reflects my experience this past year and more, dealing with DID. I didn’t know, when I wrote it, that I was multiple. And yet, I can hear different parts sharing pieces of their stories, and I can see how the younger parts helped to shape the words as they were written. And something about lines like “I make my mind large, to encompass the forgetting” seems to foreshadow my own experience. I am often bemused when my life seems to become a literary work.

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