I often wonder what a normal childhood would have been like, one without fear, without confusion, without incest. And I wonder what a normal life would be like, one without flashbacks of heart-wrenching images that replay in my head, one without a warped way of thinking.
(TRIGGER WARNING: While I hold back on many details, I do give some that could be hard for some viewers).
“No, daddy! I don’t want to!” I said to my father as I sat on his lap. I was 10 years old.
It started innocently enough. One day while playing and swimming at our apartment’s community pool, my father told me that it was time I started learning about a couple things. Not thinking much of it at the time, I just shrugged my shoulders and said, “Ok, daddy.” A couple days later, we were home alone together, and my father sat me on his lap and began teaching me about sex. He was wearing a robe, naked underneath, and he took my hand and placed it underneath his robe.
“No, daddy! I don’t want to!” I whimpered.
“It’s ok – go ahead. Here,” he said. And with that, he took his own hand and pressed mine down onto him. It was terrible and the fear and anxiety I felt was unbearable. It must have been too much for this little girl to handle because my memory stops there. I have never recovered what happened next or how that incident ended. What my father didn’t know, what he couldn’t have known, was that someone else had already been “teaching” me. It had only stopped when that person moved away, at which point I thought I was free, but I would not be so lucky.
My first memory of sexual abuse came at the tender age of five or six at the hands of my brother, but I have no idea when it actually began. Although there was never sexual intercourse, I endured many other forms of sexual abuse: manual and oral stimulation, mild S&M, re-enactment of poses in pornographic magazines, and then some things that I just can’t bring myself to mention. I have never spoken of it in detail, not to anyone. I just can’t bring myself to say certain things out loud. It is too shameful, too embarrassing. It is simply too painful.
I was constantly afraid to be left home alone with my brother. The incidents of abuse didn’t happen frequently, but over the years it happened often enough. I was freed the day he got married and moved away, although he did abuse me once more when I was sent to visit him a few years later. I didn’t want to go, but my parents were unaware and forced me to go. I thought it would be safe since he was married but not even that deterred his disgusting perversion. His wife went out one night and he had all the time he needed to do his dirty deed. It was the last time he ever played with me. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the last set of hands to find me, for not long after, I would find myself subject to the sexual advances of my father.
A few days after the incident on my father’s lap, I found myself at home alone with him again. I was in the kitchen, starring into the fridge, looking for something to drink, when I became aware of my father looking at me. I could feel him looking at me in an uncomfortable way. I was wearing a dress that day and felt a sudden need to change clothes. I quickly went to my bedroom and changed into pants. When I returned to the kitchen, my father noticed and said, “Why did you change clothes?”
“I wanted to do my chores and it’s easier in pants,” I replied. I was sure he could see right through my lie but I didn’t care. Even at that age, I somehow knew to get out of the dress in hopes of removing temptation. I soon found myself in a quandary. I didn’t know if I was realizing it was wrong or if I just couldn’t go through it again after my brother, but I had to do something to stop my father’s actions. Not long after, I decided it was time to tell. I remember it like it was yesterday. I was riding in our station wagon with my mom. She was driving and I was in the back seat. I remember we pulled up to a stoplight in front of a McDonald’s restaurant and I suddenly blurted out, “Daddy’s teaching me about sex!”
“What?” she yelled in surprise as her head flipped around to face me. The look on her face was one of pure shock. She tried to get more information out of me but I clammed up and wouldn’t say anything else. When we got home, she called my older sister, Sharon, and asked her to come over to try to talk to me. My sister took me for a walk and I told her what our father had done to me. It was just after that that my sister admitted that she also had been molested by our father. Our family as we knew it was no more.
What happened next is a blur in my memory. I remember reporting the abuse and talking to the police so vividly but the events that came after are a bit foggy. The police were called in. They asked Sharon and me all kinds of questions, of which I do not remember the questions or my answers. I remember feeling like I was in trouble. My father didn’t go to jail (it was a different time back in the 1970’s), but he was required to get counseling and at the time, I was thankful for that. I know this sounds unbelievable, but you have to understand that my family was a Christian family (such irony), and we went to church every Sunday and I went to youth group every Wednesday. From an early age, it was ingrained in my mind that family stays together no matter what, that’s what God wanted. I wasn’t aware of what divorce was, or that families even split up. None of my friends where part of a split family. This was back before divorce became so prominent.
To me as a child, no matter what happened, family stayed together, at least that’s what my mom believed and she ended up staying with my father. As far as the incest, it felt wrong to me, but I didn’t realize it wasn’t normal. Does that make any sense? I did know that I never wanted to be left alone with my brother or father, but other than that, it was normal to me. I think that’s why I tattled when my father started molesting me; I started realizing it wasn’t right. But even then, we stayed together as a family. I wouldn’t report my brother until I was 17 years old. I don’t know why I didn’t tell on him at the same time as my father. I think it’s because he had moved away. Out of sight, out of mind? I can only imagine how freaked out my brother must have been just waiting to find out I had spilled the beans on him to. That gives me some satisfaction I guess.
My father moved out of our house and into a hotel room for a while and we tried to get through the wreckage as a family. Eventually my father moved back in. While most wives would have left their husband under such circumstances, my mother felt that it was important to keep a family together. I’ll never know if she made the right decision or not, but it was the best one she knew how to make at the time. Later in life, as I came to understand things from an adult perspective, I would develop deep anger and resentment with my mother for that decision.
I know I should have hated my father for he had done to me, but I didn’t; I was young, he was my dad and I loved him. I didn’t want my family torn apart. I certainly didn’t want to be the cause of it. I was thankful we had all kept the family together. A few years later, I found out my dad had been in his hotel room one night with a pistol in his mouth. That almost killed me. It makes me choke up even now. He couldn’t pull the trigger, and for that I am thankful. Most people would say that he should have killed himself for what he did, but I don’t see it that way at all.
My father said he couldn’t do it because he was a coward; I say he saved me that day. I never would have survived his suicide. It would have been the death of me as well. I have to say that my father over time became a completely different person. Some may not accept that after the terrible things he did, but I forgave him a long time ago, and I love the man and father he became. He was molested as a child, far worse than I ever was. I do not offer that as any type of justification; it just helps me make sense of it all. Believe me, I am fully aware that it is very rare that an abuse victim forgives and continues to interact with her abuser. However, I am living proof that it can happen, with my father anyway. My brother is a different story.
We, as a family, eventually made it through that storm, although I don’t quite remember how. I guess that’s the blessing in being young; memory fades over time. The eyes of a child, even those of a young adult, can be so easily blinded to the realities of life. My parents stayed together and we moved on, one step at a time. As I went into my early teens, I thought I had made it out unscathed and unscarred. I thought the abuse and family destruction hadn’t affected me. It was no big deal, right? Although I didn’t know it then, I was suffering from PTSD and one symptom of that is to act like it was no big deal, to disassociate from it. I thought it made me special – I was wrong.