©Tracy J. Thomas, 2010.

[an excerpt from my memoir in progress…]

I’m not concerned about going to Hell. I’ve already been there. When I was held captive within its gates, it was an empty, desolate, desperate state of being. It was the dark side of life; hidden in the shadows, completely unexposed to light. To live it, one wishes death.

Within its depths some smother, some flee, some fight.  I fought.  I do not know the source of the deep internal strength that pulled me through, but somehow I found it.  If there truly are Higher Powers as some will claim, I think they have a debt to pay to me.  Just an answer would suffice…Why was I left kneeling cold and scared, an innocent child, to face the monster of the night?  Why were the pleas from the bottom of my soul for rescue from this horror, left unanswered?  The silence that followed my pleas only served to reinforce the message that I deserved to experience such atrocity.  A loving God would not abandon an innocent child in the hands of evil, would he?

I survived Hell and now have made for myself a safe place upon this earth.  But complete freedom is impossible.  I will always look over my shoulder when I feel the shadows passing.  The chains are broken, but the scars are thick from years of bondage.  Every time I look into the mirror I catch a faint glimpse of the Devil himself, my own father.  His eyes stare back at me; hazel, with craters of brown, much like a cat’s.  I will never be completely pure inside as his blood runs thick within my veins; an unavoidable genetic pollutant.  It was not my choice to be brought into this world by his loins.  He was blessed with a child; it was his free will to wound and destroy.

My Hell was not fire and brimstone; it was 24 hours a day of looming terror.  Surprise was his weapon.  I lived inside an edge of your seat horror film and never knew when the next demon would jump out of the shadows to inflict more pain.

That pain; it was beyond words.  It started at the top of my head then made its way through every nerve and muscle in my body. Adrenaline…my heart felt close to collapse from its accelerated pace.  My head filled with a relentless pressure; on the verge of bursting.  Veins protruded from both temples and pulsed with every breath; my mouth frozen wide in a stifled scream.  Parched throat and burning eyes from continuous tears; until the tears became no more.  I would hold myself, wrapped tightly beneath blanket and pillow, but felt no relief.  I pressed trembling hands against my ears in order to drown out the sound; a sickening, dirty, frenzied sound. My body shook uncontrollably with the fear, while my stomach twisted into a thousand knots.  I would plead with that absent Higher Power to take away the monster who lurked outside my bedroom door, terrified he would come after me again.  I felt no immediate rush of warmth or light, but would be left kneeling cold and scared; empty and alone, forced to face the ugliness by myself once more.

©Tracy J. Thomas, 2010.

Fear was what kept me captive.  Silence was his strongest ally; his inimitable power.  He inflicted silence through cunning genius.  He knew how to place fear into the mind and heart of a child through well-disguised acts which served to desecrate my very soul.

I had no doubt within my mind that he could take a life and end it without a single bit of remorse. I had seen him do it on numerous occasions.  He took the furry calico-colored kittens and placed them roughly inside a dark burlap bag.  They screeched and clawed and tried to find their way out.  Void of expression, with the exception of a slight grin at the edge of his lips, he pushed the kittens back in and tied the top into a knot.  He placed them into the back of his truck and drove us down to the river.  With a thoughtless toss, the bag rolled down the steep embankment and hit the water with a heavy splash.  I watched through tears as the bag rolled over and began to sink. I felt so helpless and sad.  I was terrified that someday that too might be my own fate.

He knew all of my fears.  I was terrified of water but he made me swim.  I begged for him to help me out of the pool; he smiled, reached out his hand, pulled me half way out then pushed me back in again.  I could hear his laughter even in the pools depths.  I gasped for air at the surface and begged for him to stop.  He smiled and pushed my head back under.  He held me there until most air escaped my lungs, as if waiting for the last bubble to reach the surface, then strategically pulled me to the top long enough for me to expel the water and replace it with one more breath.  I knew I couldn’t fight him.  He would always win.

©Tracy J. Thomas, 2010.

There were times when his sickness was rampant.  The horrendous former Green Beret nightmares, when he would rise from his bed, grab a shotgun, and stalk up and down the hall while shouting at the enemy that didn’t exist.  He would wake up the next morning void of all memory regarding his maniacal tirade and the rest of us would pretend it never happened.  Our silence served to strengthen his power once again.

It wasn’t his collection of guns I feared.  I already knew what his bare hands were capable of doing.  The guns actually provided me with a glimpse of freedom.  Someday, when I gathered the courage, those guns would serve to annihilate the demon, or they would take his victim home to a better place.

He truly was a demon who walked upon this earth and he served to create my Hell.  A certifiable Sociopath who robbed me of my innocence before I had the opportunity to make my own choice.  I was never a child; his fault.  He forced me to face ugliness when I should have experienced beauty.  My wounds were inflicted with depth by his hands, his words, his sickness.  Even in my little piece of present heaven, the scars still hemorrhage on occasion.  There’s not a surgeon in this world that can heal the damage he caused.  Irreversible, the memories will forever remain.  It is what I choose to do with those memories that makes all the difference in my life.

Though not by choice, my father remains an integral part of my existence to this day.  He finally met his inevitable fate but took the one thing I wanted from him to his grave.  An answer.  It was his last act of pure selfish, evil, non-remorse.  And I will forever be obsessed with the question “why?”

About tracyth76

I am a professional photographer, obsessed iPhoneographer, freelance writer and website designer located in Northern, California. View all posts by tracyth76

28 responses to “Hell

  • Penelope

    I’m so sorry that you had this experience. As you may know, my life was also touched (or should I say crushed) by mental illness. You are brave to share this with others, and I’m honored to read about your life. I so identify with this sentence, “Even in my little piece of present heaven, the scars still hemorrhage on occasion.” Keep writing!

    • tracyth76


      I have read bits and pieces of your work and comments about your mom’s illness. For me, it is of extreme importance to share because so many have gone through the same type of ordeal, however they don’t have the words to express their pain. I have been able to work through mine, so in essence it is my way of “giving back”.

  • Sunny

    Tracy – It’s not easy to read this, and it’s simply unimaginable to think about living it. I hope that it helps you in some way to write this memoir; you’re certainly brave to re-visit it. There’s such beauty in your photographs though, such incredible detail, that I feel sure that your soul is shining through. Kudos to your spirit and for your willingness to share.

    • tracyth76


      “Silence was his strongest ally; his inimitable power”. As is true with all perpetrators, keeping a lid on the raw reality of their devastating actions, allows them to continue to do what they have always done. I am lead to write about my personal ordeal primarily because I feel it is important to keep this issue out in the open and in dialogue since so many people have been affected by abuse. I want to lend my voice to help others feel not so alone and help those who have not been personally affected to see just how devastating it can be to a child’s spirit.

  • David

    I’m first going to echo Sunny’s sentiments: This is not easy to read. That being said, I feel that it’s important to do so. Real evil — not evil as it is described as wrapped up in mythology and talking snakes — needs to be placed up against a prism of light, needs to be exposed for the clinical pathology of illness and disease that it is.

    And evil as described in the hands of such a talented and adept writer as yourself, is evil securely contained in an impotent and powerless cell of cybertext.

    • tracyth76


      Whenever a survivor tells their story, it is definitely a moment where evil is held against a prism of light. As children, all victims are pushed into a space of silence and darkness so that the perpetrator is empowered to continue their deeds. It is true, these perpetrator’s are not long-fanged, evil mythological monsters, but may be father’s, uncles, doctors, lawyers, neighbors, teachers, etc. Their power is stripped when their victims are in a safe place and are finally strong enough to shout about it.

  • spring warren

    Tracy, I am glad I know you through your photographs now, know that you’ve come through the cruelty of your childhood and into a creative and loved place. I’m sorry that happened to you.

  • Tess Riegel

    I applaud your courage Tracy. I shed a tear for your innocence lost, as a fellow survivor — although it is very brave of you to share with the world your ordeal with such raw candidness. I hope that putting it into words was at least a cathartic experience for you. I will never understand why it happened (to me, to you, to my loved ones, to anyone), I don’t believe there is an answer. Even when perpertrators are asked why, it really isn’t an answer, i’ts an excuse. Soldier on, Tracy ! Your talent is awesome !

  • Madge

    This memoir (only having read this chapter) is beyond my wildest imagination and to know and see how you express makes me shiver and shed tears for you for the loss of innocence. There will never be answers that could have ever justified this and to say mental illness was the evil or PTSS will never be enough to solve this horrible scenario. I am so glad that you have writing and photography to surround you in your heart and soul. You truly are a survivor. I have grown to love you through your writing and spirit.

    • tracyth76

      Thank you Madge…You are right, there will never be an answer but the question will always linger in the minds of the survivors. I believe strongly that a light needs to continually shine on this subject matter no matter how uncomfortable it makes people feel since it is a crime that is empowered by the shadows. The more it is illuminated, the less powerful the perpetrator becomes…

  • Debra

    Wow wow wow wow.
    The hair on my arms is standing up.
    Just wow….

    What else there to say or do other than hug people who will never hurt you. And be thankful for distance from your hell. It’s all over now.

  • Brenda

    I am so touched that you shared your story infact i have a story of my own that include’s the betrayl of my own Dad, which keep’s me very saddened that he was given a gift (me) and abused the gift and violated my being..again your story i am touched by ty for sharing!

  • Hollye Dexter

    Telling the truth has set you free. It has diminished his power. Your words have reached out and taken the hand of other wounded girls who thought they were alone.
    Kudos to you for doing your hard work, swimming across that ocean of pain and making it to the shore. Keep in mind the women who have made that journey before you – Maya Angelou, Oprah Winfrey….so many. Enduring such horror and reclaiming your power makes you a very blessed woman, capable of blessing others.

    Thank you for sharing your truth with us.
    Sending you love and strength.

  • Donald K Sanders

    Unfornatuly, war takes it’s toll on all who witness it’s horrors. Sounds like you father has some serious mental problems as did my father and his father before him. Both my grandfather and father were diagnosed as schizophrenic paranoid. I too was dealt some harsh treatment by my mentally ill father. I have one thing to say, and you can take it or leave it. I beleive that in spite of his actions (he tried to kill me) he loved me. My father was not there mentally, he was somewhere else. I cannot blame him and I do not think him evil. If there is any evil to blame, it is warfare. It is pure evil and as mine, your father could not escape it’s grasp. In my long life, I can honestly say that of all the people that I have met, only one or two would I consider to be evil. Your father was a sick man, do not deprive yourself of a parent that, had he not gone to war, would more than likely have been a different person and so, my father also.

    • tracyth76

      I agree with you Donald, war does take its toll and is a horrible thing, however there is absolutely no excuse for the actions of my father. I have known many mentally ill people in my life and none of them have abused me and most of them have sought help. My father died 13 years ago a raging alcoholic without a single ounce of remorse in his soul. Believe me, I in no way feel deprived of a parent. I have a wonderful stepfather who has played a supportive role in my life since the age of 18. And yes, I still think of my father as “evil” and I always will. My father was a sociopath which is different than a schizophrenic paranoid (I had one of those in my family as well).

  • Madge

    Tracy, I think your Dad was evil long before he went to war. I think war only exasperates what is already in his DNA. Sociopaths are from birth, I believe. Liars believe their lies to be truth. Glad you had a loving step-father to help along the way. No remorse to me is the worst as they never acknowledge that they hurt anyone.

  • Donald K Sanders

    Lack of remorse is psychotic behavior, if I remember correctly. I’m sorry but I cannot see him as evil when he, as you describe, had classic symptoms of combat stress. It is truly a nightmare for a young man to serve his country in the time of war. The real horror enters the life of a soldier when he is back in his home, suffering from PTSD or whatever, needs treatment, doesn’t get it, and to top it off he is labeled with the word “evil”. The man you describe to me obviously needed to be institutionalized with intense therapy. He is just a statistic to those that sent him to their insane killing fields, so much garbage. You can see them everywhere on the street, begging for food, living in dumpsters, and sometimes killing. After all, that what they were taught to do. You can call him whatever you want, he fought to give you that right. I pray that your children and grandchildren never have to go to war in defense of this country, for should they return home to those that they love only to be greeted with disrespect and shunned as “evil” for their efforts in our behalf
    It is truly heartbreaking for me, and I know it is for you also. My brother has closed his mind to our father as you have and he cannot see past his own mistreatment to consider what our father did for our country. You can do no greater harm to your father or mine, or any soldier, for that matter than too call him evil, I will end with the words of another tortured soul, “Forgive them father, for they know not what they do.”
    I am truly sorry and I mean you no disrespect, forgive my remarks. I see that both your father and I would have been better off if we had fallen in the field as the war was the easy part, it’s the coming home that was hard. So unbelievably hard.

    • tracyth76


      My father, unlike you, never served directly in a war. He was a Special Forces Green Beret who performed covert ops during the downtime at the very end of the Korean War. He NEVER saw combat directly and he enlisted in the Army (was not drafted unwillingly). He was a classic Sociopath (one of the MANY symptoms of a Sociopath is they feel no remorse). It wouldn’t matter to me even if he was a highly decorated Veteran of combat who as you say “fought for my freedom”, there is NO excuse for his abusive actions. He was an evil man, plain and simple. I lived with him and know this for a fact. No war caused his evil disposition, so I am not pointing any negative fingers at any soldiers here, it was his inherent disordered personality that he had even as a young man, before he ever enlisted in the service. It was part of him long before the Army got a hold of him.

      I feel for you and your issues with PTSD, I do. I understand probably more than you realize since most abuse victims suffer at some point in their lives from PTSD as well. I appreciate the fact that you served for our country and in no way feel those Veterans we see out on the streets who suffer from PTSD due to war are “evil”. On the contrary, I see those individuals as in need of psychiatric treatment and support.

  • Madge

    A sexual abuser needs no excuses. He sets up a target, manages that target, wins their respect and love and then crushes them. It is not about the sex as much as the power. There is rarely remorse and I don’t think anything justifies it. War suffering is a whole other disorder and I, too, having worked at a VA Hospital and living close to a VA hospital how it has ruined young lives and that cycle will continue until there are no more wars.

  • Donald K Sanders

    Yes Ma’am, understood.

  • Donald K Sanders

    Why Tracy, you sure can stir it up. Some years ago my onlyest friend told me that sexual abuse and living at home was better than living in the orphanage, his bunk next to mine. The state of Ark. had removed him from his home but his father was such a powerful person in Little Rock that he eventually got his son back. Today, I imagine he is as screwed up as his father was.
    I’m sorry if my remarks brought you dismay, your story was so disturbing. As I read it my defenses went up and my mind went in so many directions, some of them wrong. This is typical of me and I cannot attach your comments about your father to other soldiers as I have undoubtedly done.
    In my mixed up mind, an attack on one soldier is an attack on them all. I know that this is way out of kilter but it is the way that I think. For instance, it is hard for me to understand why I think that the day I left the war zone was the worst day of my life. It was so hard for me to leave when everyone else had to stay. In Aug 1971 I had been in country for 2 years one month and seven days. In that length of time, somewhere in between, I lost everything that was mine except what one soldier can give to another. I can only associate it with the abandonment of a child to a large institution where you learn your first and most important lesson. It’s a hard lesson, but oh so true. “If you don’t help your friends, they won’t help you.” In that instance you are lost and you will be lost as I am, forever.
    As I said earlier, I meant no offense but with my blinders on I saw only that your father, a soldier, needed a little help. I can see clearly now that it is his little girl that truly needed the help. Were I to witness your abuse at the hands of your father, I would surely place a bullet in the center of his forehead.

    • tracyth76

      What I like about you Donald is you don’t mix words. You have a way of working through your “stuff” in your writing and I think that is both wonderful and brilliant. I can only imagine how hard it was for you to first be abandoned in an orphanage and then later spending the time you did in Vietnam. I truly do thank you for your service and for you placing your life on the line in that despicable war but I am saddened that you had to go there in the first place. I am even more saddened by the fact that Americans did not embrace the soldiers upon their return. I spend a lot of time out on the streets interviewing and photographing the homeless and I have met quite a few Veteran’s who are out there struggling with mental illness. I am glad you have a support system in life and are able to use your writing to share your thoughts and stories with the rest of us.

      And, thank you for recognizing the terrified little girl in my story.

  • Trish

    Tracy, I had a friend post your photos on-line…and I followed the link. As a fellow survivor, it never fails to astonish me how the ugliness can creep back in….with me having to center myself again and again. I know it will always be this way….and I’m thankful for the therapists along the way that have helped me learn how to recenter myself….we got dealt an ugly hand….the small miracles and blessings mean so much more I think. I’m grateful for that part of me that gets it….and wish everyone had the ability to see into themselves….to take away the power of the perpetrators. Best wishes to you and you seem to be doing a great job of balancing.
    PS…..some beautiful pix and writing….

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