That video. The one I mentioned yesterday. It’s about daring to have the conversation about child sexual abuse, because we can ignore it if we want but that doesn’t mean it isn’t there. And it won’t go away on its own. It’s difficult to watch, but necessary, I think.
On the other hand, I’m not going to force you to have a conversation you don’t feel ready to have, either as an observer or as a survivor, nor do I wish the video or this post to bring up anything in your life you’re not up to dealing with at the moment. Having enough spoons, is the phrase folks use on Making Light’s Dysfunctional Families threads, based on a novel example used by a woman suffering from lupus to describe her life to a friend.
Anyway, if you prefer to spend your spoons elsewhere, do so with my full support. I promise I’ll still love you if you give this post a pass. However, if you’re willing to take a step in this direction at this time, here’s the link. I’ll wait…
The only reason I’m willing to go into this now in a forum this public is that, other than yours truly, the other players in the events are dead. So.
I never told my mother.
It took me years to tell anyone, and I’m not sure now who I’ve told and who I haven’t. It isn’t a matter of trust, if that’s what you’re thinking, the people I call my friends are my friends precisely because I would — I do — trust them with my life. It’s just…sometimes the time and the surrounding circumstances were right, and sometimes they weren’t. Not the kind of thing I personally felt comfortable throwing into a random conversation.
Come to think of it, I know I’ve told people about the earliest incident, but I don’t know if I’ve told anyone about the other two. And looking at each incident now, there is a part of me that wants me to do the blog equivalent of stuffing a sock in it because I went through so very very little compared with what others, including some of my friends, have gone through. “So what if it hurt you?” that part is saying. “None of the hurt was physical, none of these events took place over an extended time frame, so what the fuck are you complaining about?”
But I’m not complaining. I’m witnessing. I’m witnessing to my own life, and I’m acknowledging that even if other people have it worse, that doesn’t mean what happened to me was trivial. To borrow another concept from ML, there is no Pain Olympics; there is no minimum level of harm you must experience in order to be taken seriously.
That said, that voice trying to silence me is still hard to shake, precisely because I know people who have had so much worse happen to them. It’s not a competition. I’m not trying to “win”, I mean, who the fuck would want to win something like that?
But I will speak.
When I was six and a half years old, my 12-year-old male cousin used me as a masturbatory device. I don’t know anymore when it started or how long it went on; I distinctly remember two separate events, although my impression is that it went on over a few weeks, at least, during the summer. I remember the inside of his closet was painted pale blue. I remember, in the closet, saying no. He said yes. No details necessary, I think, either for this incident or the one that ended it, but on the latter occasion I said no again…and enforced it my locking myself in the bathroom until our grandmother got home.
I don’t remember crying in the bathroom. I don’t remember feeling much of anything except tired of it, maybe even bored with it, and not wanting it to continue. At six and a half, I didn’t have the vocabulary anyway, not even internally, except “no”. I’ll spare you the locution my grandmother used attempting to find out what happened; suffice it to say her question about what “we were doing” was in the right anatomical area but not accurate in the details.
Again, I didn’t have the vocabulary, and I was already extremely body-shy then, so I’m not sure I could have explained it even with the correct anatomical terms.
That was the end of it, though. No outward damage, nothing that required a doctor. Emotionally…I don’t really know. I think I was more shy around boys afterward, not that it mattered because even then I wasn’t acceptable. Okay, fine, I had six “boyfriends” for a little while in first grade, and then not a one until my senior year of high school. I think the first-grade bonanza was mostly due to falling off the monkey bars and breaking my elbow, anyway.
As I said, I never told my mom. Or my aunt. Or had a more detailed conversation with my grandmother. I don’t know if my grandmother told my mother and my aunt that she’d come home and found I’d locked myself in the bathroom, and why. I don’t remember that anyone got punished for anything. I think it simply disappeared.
Fast-forward something between eight and ten years, and Mom and I are doing our best to be good little Lutherans. Hell, it might not even have been eight years; I suddenly don’t remember if the kitchen was yellow (meaning the rental house we lived in when Mom bought the house I lost) or blue (the house Mom bought). No…blue kitchen, unbleached muslin curtains — the owned home, not the rental. Mom and I had let the youth group (to which I belonged, of course) have a party at the house, and also in attendance were some of the other adults who helped oversee the youth group.
One of whom was a man who was probably 60. And married, and with grown children and possibly grandchildren, and who, in the course of saying goodbye at the end of the party, hugged me. And tried to kiss me, and no, not on the cheek. Again, I’m not sure: did he in fact make lip-to-lip contact and I backed away and gave him the Death Glare? Or did I back away and Death Glare before he could make contact? Either way, I remember he seemed disappointed I wasn’t interested and said, “I just wanted to be sweet to you.”
OMFSM*, does that creep me out now. It did then, too, but looking back…fuck, I wonder how many other girls he pulled that shit with? And did they tell their parents, and if so, did their parents ever complain? Or did they tell the girls not to rock the boat, just make sure you’re not alone with him.
This pillar of rectitude, and elder in the church. Fucking asshole.
It sure as hell never happened again to me.
The last one. I was 20, and my mom was in the hospital after her heart attack; I’d been dating Steve for three years but the whole running-off-to-lose-our-virginity thing was nowhere on the horizon. Our next-door neighbors had lived there linger than we had: husband and wife, wife considerably younger, and their two kids, one around my age and the other a few years older. The wife was considerably younger because the husband’s culture said a widowed man didn’t marry again until all the children from the first marriage were grown up.
What this means, in relation to my tale, is that the husband was old enough to be my grandfather. Hell, he may have been older than my grandfather, I don’t know. What I know is that he came over to offer help with something, yard work, maybe, or to find out if I needed anything, or maybe to check up on how my mom was doing. In the course of which, he hugged me, which was fine.
What wasn’t fine was when he stuck his tongue in my mouth. And of course I pulled away and he immediately started in with how he couldn’t help himself, I was so beautiful and so dedicated to my mother and please don’t tell his wife. I told him if he ever touched me again, telling his wife was exactly what I was going to do, and he should be ashamed of himself.
Chastened? Possibly. Disappointed I obviously wasn’t going to let him comfort me in the sack? Highly probable.
Ashamed? Oh, I seriously doubt that.
And again, I made sure it never had a chance to happen again. And I never told my mom.
I do wonder, from time to time, how my personal relationships with men might have been different without these factors, or would they be pretty much the same. No way to know, of course. But it’s there, those bits of emotional scarring, and I have to work around them.
More power to the people learning to work around, and through, their scars, however they manifest. And I’m grateful there are options for help today that didn’t exist a few decades back.
What I’d be really really grateful for is if no one, girl or boy, man or woman or wherever on the continuum folks identify themselves, ever had to go through it ever again.
EDITED on 2/12/16 to add:
I meant to include this at the outset, but I got sidetracked. Anyway, I did finally confront my cousin.
A couple of years after my mom died, he was over helping me pull up the horrifying green high-low shag carpeting (please, spare us all and don’t ask). Also over to help were a couple of my friends, a gal I worked with and her bestie who had become my friend as well. At some point, I had told them about what had happened with him, so while they were willing to help me at the same time my cousin was there, they were decidedly…cool toward him.
This stuck in his craw for years. I mean, YEARS. A conversation would go merrily along on a completely different track, and suddenly he’d be on about how those two friends of mine weren’t very friendly to him. And one evening, a couple of years before things went to hell, same thing happened during a phone call and this time, I said it.
“Well, what do you expect? I told them how you used me as masturbatory device when I was six and a half.” Dead silence for maybe a minute. And then he tells me the only reason he never apologized was that I never brought it up, and if I had either forgotten it or come to terms with it on my own, he didn’t want to drag it to the fore again. And he did apologize.
Then, not to excuse it — because nothing does — but to put it into context for me, he said the reason he did what he did to me, the reason he was making me what in today’s stats is one of the 1 in 4, was because he was one of the 1 in 6: the 16-year-old girl up the street who did babysitting? She was abusing him and he just wanted to find out what he was supposed to be getting out of the deal.
This on top of…okay, I think this was the same conversation, but it might have been a later one. At any rate, that wasn’t the first time he’d been abused. The first time? Age 4. His mother. Who, thanks to a previous liaison with an unhygenic biker dude, gave her 4-yea-old son the clap.
And there you have it, a cautionary tale about how the abused can so easily become the abuser without even realizing it, and why it is so desperately important to have the courage to have the conversation about child sexual abuse.