The Remembered Self: A Journey Into The Heart Of The Beast, by M.J. Payne (Dog Ear Publishing, Indianapolis, Indiana, 2014, 180 pages).
Book Review by Dennis Moore
October 11, 2014 (San Diego’s East County) - M.J. Payne, a graduate of the University of Kentucky Honors Program and a member of Phi Beta Kappa, has written a sordid story of human sexuality and trauma based on a true story; The Remembered Self: A Journey Into The Heart Of The Beast. If not for my numerous communications with her I would think it a work of fiction, for some of it is too graphic and traumatic beyond belief, but it did actually happen according to the author. Payne does not attempt to sugar-coat this story, and what happened to her starting as a child, and perhaps that is therapeutic for her.
The author sets the tone and theme for this book and story within the first few pages, as she states: “Remembrance flooded me. I saw a scene that happened many years before. It was a turning point. As I remembered, my mind went into the soul of the child I had been and I began to think as she did and feel her feelings. She was my remembered self, as much a stranger as an unknown person walking down the street.”
What Payne remembered was her father taking her to a mansion riddled with hidden rooms, staircases, secret places in the attic, basement, and areas far out in the woods where horrible activities took place. It was there where the author’s indoctrination into a world of sordid and deviant behavior began, aided and abetted by her father. She describes how her father would allow her to be drugged and indecent liberties taken with her, and the father would be paid by the owner of this mansion.
Payne further described how she was lulled into submission by an offer of pretty dresses and chocolate candies. There were other men at this mansion, and it was made obvious by the author that this was a pedophile ring. There was this particular exchange between Payne’s father and the German accented owner of this mansion that makes evident what was going on there: “Take this blond child to him and maybe you can have your Cherry Blossom. She has not been touched yet, only groomed by the women. I doubt if she is fifteen. But you have to pay your tab first.” Mind you, in the telling of this story, it is the author going back to her earliest remembrances.
There is a role that the author’s mother had to play in this as described by her, which seems to be that of denial. Upon coming back from one of these visits at the mansion with her father and complaining of hurt and pain around her genital area, the mother takes her to the doctor to be examined but never seemed to question her husband about what possibly could have happened, especially in the face of what the doctor revealed had actually occurred.
One can choose to ignore facts and circumstances right before our eyes for the sake of expediency, but when it comes to the psyche and future wellbeing of our children that is a different matter altogether. Clearly, from reading this book, the author was a defenseless and innocent child, put in a position by her parents that she seems to still be suffering from.
Almost in defense of her mother and father, Payne indicates that her mother had worked all the time, and that her father had been abused too, and that statistics show that men who have suffered abuse are more likely to be out of work and ill than the general population. Payne would later communicate this poignant statement that perhaps puts this book in perspective: "He was a terribly troubled man and a very dangerous man. My mother was afraid to leave him because he was violent." Of course, now of this excuses what transpired in this book and what the author was subjected to.
This book is about the news that’s not fit to print. It deals frankly with issues that are unacceptable in polite society and some persons would deem do not even exist, according to Payne. Count me as one of those. It is about how one human being deals with torture, trauma, sexual abuse and desire and the shame and self-hatred buried memories evoke when they begin to spill out.
Payne indicated to me that she knows that her nervous system has been damaged from what she suffered and that a huge chunk of her life simply ripped out to take time to deal with it, which can be better reflected and understood by the embed "ACE" and "Chadwick" studies.
The Remembered Self indicates that suppressed trauma creates a debt that is always paid in some way. There is an individual price a person pays in trying to censor and muzzle unacceptable memories. It is like the old Chinese foot binding process that produced deformed feet that were historically considered beautiful but forced the bones into a painful and unnatural form with the breaking of their structure so the victim was no longer capable of walking independently. The process reduced their abilities. Abuse creates deformity of the spirit because agony and ordeal will out themselves in one way or another and take the greater part of a human being’s energy to repress.
This book reads like something out of The Twilight Zone or Dark Shadows, but it actually happened, according to Payne. She relies on dreams and a journal that she kept to tell this story. Included in her book are illustrations that are part and parcel to this nightmare of occurrences that she endured.
Payne would share these dreams and what she had written in her journal with a Canadian therapist that she was seeing, as well as the illustrations that she had drawn.
The author explained in an email to me two of these illustrations on pages 86 and 87 of her book thusly: “The significance is, I suppose the terror in creating them. The page 86 sacrifice was produced with no thought, it simply emerged. I think the drugs and brainwashing tactics used on me to prevent me from telling fragmented my memory so recovery was that much more difficult. The same figures emerged again and again in art work. I used the first person, present tense voice of a dissociating child of about four years of age because it came to me as if that child has an independent sort of existence within me and her ‘voice’ is readily accessible. There is really nothing unusual in the splitting off of intolerable experiences through dissociation and I am sure you are familiar with it.” I am really not so sure that I am! Payne further goes on to state in regard to her illustrations in the book and what she shared with her therapist: “The shrieking image on page 87 was created in the same way. Without thought, it exemplifies the horror I felt. The feelings of exhaustion, misery and shame and the wish to have evaded creation are all in that scream. The division of memory from feeling and the healing that came at great price from fusing memory with the feelings that had been split off from each other are the source of the healing. I was lucky in having a therapist who understood all about these sorts of experiences and in having God’s presence. Without Him I would not have recovered.”
Clearly, the author has been damaged by her father’s actions when she was a child, and her mother’s acquiescence, in my opinion through the reading of this book.
Without being too analytical and judgmental, and having written several other related book reviews with a sordid and/or sexual theme such as Lost Girls by Caitlin Rother, Murdering the Mom by Duff Brenna, Hurt Used to Live Here by Joyce Reed, The Straight-Up Truth About the Down Low by Joy Marie and The Franklin Scandal by Nick Bryant, it seems that our pre-occupation and/or mis-application of sex and sexuality has destroyed our moral fiber. Clearly, it is demonstrated in The Remembered Self. As indicated by the author in Hurt Used to Live Here, having been sexually molested by her father at the age of 11-years old, and the ensuing lifetime of trauma and dysfunction brought about by it, Payne indicates similar discomfort in her life and adulthood brought about by what her father subjected her to. She indicates years of therapy, which is ongoing, due to what she was subjected to as a little girl being in the most vulnerable and defenseless position.
Significant in this well-written book, although disturbing at times due to the graphic depiction of deviant behavior involving children, is the author stating: “In remembering my buried past I realized how little I knew about myself. My soul was stretched and I found healing at the end of the episodes of terror and rage that went with combining my feelings with my recovered memories. I understand people better. I learned that boundaries are flexible in an emotionally resilient person and I got better at deciding where to place them on my personal continuum.” Payne actually bares here soul in this book in an unflinching manner, which seems to me therapeutic in and of itself.
Dennis Moore is an Associate Editor with the East County Magazine and the book review editor for SDWriteway, an online newsletter for writers in San Diego that has partnered with the East County Magazine, as well as a freelance contributor to EURweb based out of Los Angeles. He is also the author of a book about Chicago politics; “The City That Works: Power, Politics and Corruption in Chicago.” Mr. Moore can be contacted at email@example.com or you can follow him on Twitter at: @DennisMoore8.