Thursday, July 21, 2011
He was my Mother’s Best-friend’s son. His name was Benjamin and I lived in constant fear of him. He was only about five or six years older than myself. I know it started around the age of five. I know this because age five is the earliest age I can remember being afraid of him. This is where people start calculating and say, “Oh, but he was only 10! That’s just childhood curiosity, not abuse!” They were wrong then and anyone who feels that way now, would also be wrong.
I had started kindergarten. It was half-day kindergarten and we lived in Dyer, IN. Benjamin and his family lived in Hammond, IN. Not far from each other…for me, not far enough. Kindergarten was a time when the signs of abuse were present but no one recognized them. I threw up EVERY night in my sleep when I was in kindergarten. I would wake in the morning to the smell of vomit in my hair and my Mother worrying about who was going to watch me while she went to work. (She was a single Mother with a live-in boyfriend who wasn’t reliable to hang out in moments of need.)
After WEEKS of the constant vomiting in my sleep and missing a lot of school, my Mother took me to the doctor. He determined I had the flu and sent her home with nothing more than a cough drop and a pat on the back. It would “pass” he said. Only it didn’t.
You see, the vomiting was actually a case of bad nerves. I was afraid but was unable to express it so it came out in the form of vomit. Benjamin would see me several times during the week when either his Mother came over to our house or my Mother dragged me over to his. Weekends meant inevitably seeing him as our Mothers were inseparable. Again, I don’t remember how he began the first abuse episode. What I do remember is playing Legos in his basement playroom. One minute I was building a really great tower and the next I was being towered over by a boy with his pants pulled down.
He would put his penis my face and tell me to touch it. I would ALWAYS refuse. Then he would lie on top of me (I was still clothed) and proceed to dry hump me. I would always cry and he would tell me “shut up and stop being such a baby!” My mom or his mom would hear the commotion but usually they just yelled down the stairs to “knock it off!” It was a rare day that they actually trekked down the stairs to see why I was in hysterics. In all fairness, I was a child prone to being sensitive. So crying was nothing new to my daily activities…but those cries were different. As a Mother now, I cannot understand how they were never able to distinguish the difference in my cries.
There was a moment when my Mother suspected someone might be doing something to me. I remember her taking me into the bathroom and asking if anyone had tried to touch me “down there?” Inside my head I was screaming, “YES!” but what came out of my mouth was a very solemn “No.” I can’t explain why I didn’t tell her the truth other than I don’t think I trusted that she would believe me.
I missed half of kindergarten. HALF. I still managed to pass. The only saving grace was that I was able to read since the age of four thanks to my Aunt who helped me. She had a child older than me that she was teaching to read at the same time. I was lucky to tag along through his reading lessons.
My Mother, as I stated earlier, was a single Mom with a live-in boyfriend. He was in and out of our lives quite often through those years so when they were off again, we would move. After kindergarten was over we ended up moving to Hammond, IN. Unfortunately, right around the corner (literally) from Benjamin and his family.
I started again with a new school, new friends, and neighbors that included my tormentor. At first it was ok. He didn’t try to do things to me every day. We were settling in and I began to relax. Finally I was no longer throwing up in my sleep. Life seemed to be going back to normal.
Benjamin’s father started working. He was a truck driver. When he would have long periods on the road, Benjamin’s Mother would ask if I could come and stay the night at her place. She didn’t like to be alone. The more people she had around her, the better she felt. So, my Mother agreed and my sexual abuse started all over.
Every time I would sleep over, Benjamin would wait for his Mother to be occupied and would find reasons or ways to touch me. A grab on my breast, a squeeze on my butt and sometimes he would try to forcefully put his hand down my pants. I would scream and tell him no but he would either pretend it was 'accidental' that he touched me in wrong places or used coercion to shut me up.
I was very conflicted about what was happening. I loved Benjamin’s Mom. I liked playing at her house because they had all the really cool toys that my Mother could never afford. I even liked playing with Benjamin when we were not alone. Alone is when he would always do things to me that made me feel very dirty and horrible inside. It was then that I realized that I could still be around him as long as I didn’t allow myself to be alone with him. I thought I had it all figured out.
Alone was harder to avoid than I could have ever imagined. In the 80’s children would go off and play unsupervised. It’s just what children did. So we were often tossed outdoors and told to just 'play.' Of course, outdoors was actually a safe haven for me because it usually meant other children were around and therefore not alone with him. It was when we played indoors that I would have to be afraid. He got comfortable with never getting caught. So his advances became more and more exploratory and more and more aggressive.
One time, his dad caught him on top of me. Benjamin’s pants were down and he was attempting another dry humping episode. His dad told him to pull up his pants and stop that. Then he laughed and shared the story with Benjamin’s mom. They thought we were playing 'doctor' and somehow they found it cute and funny. I guess having tears streaming down my face made it that much more cute?! All I know is after that moment, his mom would make jokes about playing 'doctor' or 'house' together as if she felt I was the one who started these 'games.' She actually made me feel that I had somehow encouraged this type of play.
We were still living in Hammond, IN but had moved across town because the ‘boyfriend’ was back. However, it didn’t mean seeing Benjamin any less. Our Mothers were still just as inseparable. I was in his basement one day and there was a bed there. Benjamin had forced me onto the bed and pulled my pants down with my underwear still up. He pulled his pants AND underwear down and lay on top of me with a humping motion. I was screaming the ENTIRE time. Tears were running down my face and I was frantic. I knew that whatever he was doing was beginning to escalate. He had never pulled my pants down before. What was worse is friends from down the street had come over to invite me to play outside. They passed by the window and saw him on me. They made eye contact with me, laughed and ran away.
When I was at school the next day, they began chanting, “Benjamin and Trina sitting in a tree...” I was very upset. The teacher came over to stop all the teasing and they told her that Benjamin had my pants down and was lying on top of me with his down. I was mortified. I was convinced I was the one who was doing something wrong and didn’t want anyone to know. She looked at me sharply and I remember crying and saying they were lying. It was another moment of my life that what was happening to me had been brought to light but nothing had ever been done about it. She didn’t call my Mother or even send me to talk to the nurse. She walked away without another word.
Benjamin’s Mom had a dark side that in second grade I discovered. She was physically abusive to Benjamin. She believed whole-heartedly in corporal punishment to the extent that when she spanked him, he would remember it for weeks. It was rare he got spanked, but when he did, he had to wear long sleeve shirts and pants to cover the welts. Even if it was summer he was completely covered so that no one would see the marks her spankings left. She used a leather belt and didn’t aim for anywhere particular…she just swung until the anger inside her died out.
Once after Benjamin was being mean to me (just normal kid mean) I cried and told his mom. She spanked him horribly for it. His dad turned to me and said, “See?! See what your tattling and whining did?! Do you feel proud of yourself?” Of course I didn’t feel proud. I was 8. What I did feel was afraid to ever tell on Benjamin again. This becomes important because from this moment on…no matter what he did to me, I couldn’t bring myself to tell on him for fear of would happen to him if I did. Go figure, the abused protecting their abuser.
At the end of second grade a miracle happened. Benjamin’s dad got a job transfer. They were moving out of state to Birmingham, AL. I was very happy. My Mother was very saddened but I didn’t care. I knew this meant freedom from Benjamin!
They moved and my life actually improved. I wasn’t afraid anymore. Until one day my Mother and her live-in boyfriend broke-up (again). I had just started third grade. My Mother called her best friend and determined that we should move to Alabama too.
So we moved again and I had to re-adjust, again. By this time I was nine and he is about fourteen or fifteen. His sexual ‘curiosities’ included full-blown erections.
If I had shorts on, he would try and slide his hand up them to reach into my panties. He would beg me to let him stick his tongue on my vagina. I would refuse but he would just do what he wanted to me anyway. He would place his tongue on my vagina and I would kick and scream. His Mother would check on us and he would pretend nothing had happened and I would foolishly protect him from a beating.
Once his older cousin (a male) was over babysitting Benjamin and I. They didn’t feel that Benjamin was mature enough to watch me on his own so the cousin was called to monitor. He brought a male friend with him. Benjamin didn’t care that his cousin was in the room or his friend. He pulled down his pants pushing his erect penis in my face. I started crying and his cousin and friend began to laugh. Benjamin started to chase me through the house and every time he got close enough he began pulling my pants down. I knew that whatever was about to happen, it was not good. I was distraught. Tears were streaming, I was running and trying to pull my pants back up with a boy twice my size with an erect penis chasing me. His cousin and cousin’s friend were laughing as if this was a normal occurrence. A neighbor heard the screaming and knocked on the door. They saved me from what I am sure would have led to me being raped.
Within a week of the scariest moment of my life, my Mother and her best friend had a major fight, a fight that would find us moving to Atlanta, GA at the end of my third grade. My Mother’s youngest sister lived there. Again, I was VERY happy. This time we never moved back to Alabama or any place that had us near Benjamin again. But there would come another time when our paths would cross.
I had a lot of nightmares and anger over the abuse I endured at the hands of a 'child.' A doctor, a teacher, a parent and a cousin had an opportunity to intervene and either looked the other way or chose not to delve into what wasn’t their problem.
I moved several more times before I would find myself in a counselor’s office when I was in seventh grade confessing what I had told no one before. I was again living in Hammond, IN. By this point in time I had officially attended eleven different schools from moving. I was having a hard time focusing and I found myself spilling out ‘the secret’ I had kept inside me for so long. I think what had spurred this to a head was that Benjamin’s Father had just died. We were going to his funeral in Alabama in a few days time and I would once again be confronting him, my abuser. The counselor told me for the first time that it was NOT my fault. I did NOTHING wrong and if he made any advances towards me at the funeral for me to tell him in no uncertain terms that it was NOT ok. I felt empowered. It was NOT ok! I knew back then it wasn’t right but had convinced myself I was causing him to do these things and the fear of watching him be beaten kept me from every finding the courage to tell if I had ever wanted to.
I was almost 13. He was officially an adult. We went to the funeral with my grandparents and they towed along a camper so we had somewhere to sleep without the cost of a hotel. I remember that at the gathering after the ceremony I went to my camper to grab something I had forgotten. Benjamin followed me. I didn’t know he had followed me until I felt his had sliding in a very sleezy way across my butt. He was caressing it and squeezing it. I turned around startled by him and his brazen advances. I had a very hard look in my eye. I remember him looking startled at my expression. I finally had the voice to say “NO!” and I meant it. I didn’t cry. I simply said it as sternly as I could “Do not EVER touch me again or I will scream and this time I will not lie about what it is you have been trying to do to me!” He backed up both hands in the air and said, “Please please, please, don’t tell. I won’t ever do it again, promise.” He never did. Of course I have never seen him again since that day.
He tarnished a large piece of my childhood. I am still angry at times. I have looked him up trying to find out if he still has issues. My guess is he does. I think his issues ran very deep and everything inside my gut says he is probably out there still abusing. My only regret is that I feel I am somehow responsible if he is still abusing out there. I didn’t tell. I have been unsuccessful in locating him. My Mother and his Mother never really rekindled the friendship they had all those years ago and have lost touch.
All I know now is that I NEVER want any of my daughters to suffer the shame, humiliation and fear at the hands of someone else. My Mother wasn’t very open with me and I think that also played a part in me never quite feeling comfortable enough to ever tell her. So, with my girls, I am completely open. I teach them about ‘good touch and bad touch.’ I teach them that their bodies are THEIRS and no one has the right to do anything to them without their permission.
I am sure you are wondering if my Mother knows now. Yes. She’s cried because she’d suspected something at the beginning of it all and didn’t trust her gut. She didn’t want to believe it so she took the first chance to ignore it. She never thought that it was Benjamin. She had suspected it was the on again off again boyfriend. I don’t hate my Mother. She really never did anything wrong. She wasn’t the parent who saw, the doctor who did the exam, the teacher who heard from other students or the cousin who witnessed a near rape...the rage ignites inside me when I think of the people who could have stepped in but didn’t. So instead of allowing this rage to fester and explode, I choose instead to share this story with you. It is a healing process and telling people what was always kept a dirty secret helps me to liberate myself from the rage that has a strong grip inside me.
“He made me lick his stinker,” my 4-year-old baby boy whined, frustrated after a coughing fit. “Stinker” was the word he used for penis. He was sitting in between us on our front porch swing, enjoying an unusually warm Saturday morning in March.
My husband and I looked at each other, then I asked him to repeat what he had just said. “Bobby* made me kiss and lick his stinker!” My husband and I looked at each other again as the realization of what our little boy had just told us hit us like a ton of bricks.
“We need to tell Jane*,” I whispered to my husband, but our little boy heard me and exclaimed “No!”
This was how we learned of the abuse that was being perpetrated on our little boy. In his 4-year-old words, but in no uncertain terms, our little boy had just told us that our babysitter Jane’s husband had made him kiss and lick his penis.
I can’t begin to explain the range of thoughts and emotions that ran through my head as this revelation sank in. My heart was racing and I started to shake. My husband and I just went to our room, shut the door, and wondered what on earth to do with what we had just learned. Our heads were spinning. I was lightheaded. Should we call the babysitter? Will she believe us?
I can only describe the sequence of events that immediately followed on that day as completely orchestrated by God. It was as if God swept us up and took over the moment our little boy made his abuse known. Not five minutes after we came back inside to try to make sense of what we had just learned, my sister-in-law called the house. She never really had any reason to call on a Saturday morning, but when she called, my husband told her what our little boy had just said. “You have to call Gavin*!” she said. Gavin was the sheriff, and also a personal friend.
Suddenly, the magnitude of what we now knew started sinking in. This was a huge deal, and we needed to call law enforcement. Right then, as we still had my sister-in-law in the phone, another law enforcement friend of ours happened to have been coming down the road. Again, there had been no reason for him to have come over that day, but there he appeared. We ran out and waved him down, and told him what our little boy had just said. “What do we do?” we asked. Our friend immediately got on the phone and mobilized others in law enforcement who dealt with this type of situation.
Within an hour, the sheriff and a child abuse detective were at our house. Our heads were still spinning. All of this was happening so fast, yet I remember feeling numb. The detective asked so many questions about what our little boy had said, he wanted exact statements. He also asked about our other kids. Had they ever mentioned anything about our babysitter’s husband? We pulled our older son and daughter aside and asked point blank if Bobby had ever touched them or made them do anything they had felt uncomfortable with. At first they said no, but as the day went on, my daughter did admit that she remembered one time when he had unzipped his pants and rubbed his penis on her back when she was 5, while they were watching Barney. She even described the dress she was wearing that day. “Oh my God,” I thought. I couldn’t take it.
It then came time for the sheriff and detective to talk to our little boy all by himself, to see if he could tell them in his own words what Bobby had made him do. They sat in our office. I stood right on the other side of the wall, looking at my husband, who was hidden around another wall but peeking at our boy. Without hesitation, our little boy said the same thing he had said to us. “Bobby made me kiss and lick his stinker. It made me choke!” He was mad! I’ll never forget the look on our friend Gavin’s face, the sheriff, when he heard that come out of our baby’s mouth, so plainly like that. I could see him out of the corner of my eye. Then I looked at my husband, tears just running down his face. That’s a scene I will never forget.
When the detective finished talking to our little boy, he made some phone calls and arranged for us to visit a child advocacy center the following morning, for the purpose of interviewing our kids again and getting on tape exactly what happened, in their own words. Then he and the sheriff left.
That night was torture. After the kids were in bed and the house was finally quiet, my husband and I held each other and sobbed as the gravity of the situation continued to sink in. What were the signs we didn’t see or chose to ignore? It’s our kid’s word against this man and his family, who were part of our very small, tight-knit community. They sat at the front of church every Sunday and participated in many community events. What if this didn’t really happen the way we think it did? THERE’S A TRAIN COMING THAT’S ABOUT TO DESTROY THAT FAMILY AND THEY DON’T EVEN KNOW IT!
But we knew the truth. A 4-year-old doesn’t just come up with something like that without having seen or experienced it. No child would. So we prayed. We lifted up the entire situation to God and asked that His will be done. We prayed for our little boy and our family. We prayed for our babysitter and her family. We had no idea of the events that still lay before us. We just held each other and prayed.
For the record, our babysitter, who had run a home daycare for many years, never had a clue this was going on. Her husband took advantage when he was left in charge of the kids during the seldom occasions she had to run errands during the day. She never left without asking us parents if it was okay that she left our kids with her husband while she quickly ran out. There at the end, he had been left in charge more often as she had to take care of an ailing family member. More opportunities to be alone with my little boy.
Our story did have a good ending, if you can call anything about it good. Our babysitter’s husband was found guilty of 13 counts of first-degree child molestation and four counts of statutory sodomy. He had actually admitted to molesting over 40 kids over a 30-year period, including his own son, who is now grown. As details about the molestation came to light, we realized that this man used our children, our precious innocent babies, as sex toys for his pleasure. There were eight hours of taped confession where he described in detail how he used our kids. The youngest one molested was 9 months old! What was more astounding to me was the fact that he didn’t seem to understand what he did was wrong. He said he had just “messed” with our little boy, no big deal. He honestly thought he would be able to come home after he confessed and it would all be back to normal.
Many of the other victims are now grown and didn’t want to be in on our case against him, I suppose because they didn’t want to open old wounds. His own son to this day won’t admit that his father did anything to him. Maybe it’s embarrassment, maybe shame, or maybe fear.
My husband and I learned many lessons from this experience. First, don’t dismiss your instinct. If something about a person bothers you, don’t ignore it. In hindsight, I can honestly say I had reservations about this man from day one. But you know what? So did my mom! The first time she met my babysitter and her husband when my daughter was a year old, she told me to keep an eye out. At the time I brushed it off because my own in-laws were the ones who had referred them to us, and I respected their opinion. The abuse came to light a full 10 years later.
Then there was an incident a few weeks before this all came out that seemed very odd. My husband had come in to pick up our little boy as usual, and Bobby was just sitting there, stone-faced and quiet. My husband tried to make small talk, but he didn’t want to talk. So he got our little boy and left. We’ve since figured out that that must have been the final time the abuse happened. It must have been when Bobby took it too far and ejaculated into our little boy’s mouth, choking him and making him think he puked on his Thomas Train shirt. I’m sure he thought he might be found out. We do think that must have been the main experience that jarred our little boy, causing him to get frustrated and tell us what happened when he had the coughing fit on our swing.
Second, pay close attention when your children do or act in ways that don’t seem normal for their age. Around the holidays the year before, our little boy started with the habit of putting my husband’s index finger in his mouth, and making it go in and out. Of course, the first thing that came to mind when I saw him do that was that it looked like he was giving a blow job. I remember even asking him why he was doing that, but he would only smile and giggle. I kick myself now for not having probed further.
I also want to bring up my middle son. While he’s never mentioned anything unusual happening to him at the hands of our babysitter’s husband, we went through a really hard spell with him when he was about 5. He was never the easiest kid, but he began talking about death and dying all the time. No matter how much we tried to reassure him that he was a great kid, he would just say he deserved to die. That just didn’t seem normal for a 5-year-old. We did take him to counseling over it. And once he started school, he came out of it. But I can’t help but wonder in there’s something there, deep down, that’s repressed.
That being said, we’re still traveling down the journey of abuse, even though the actual events are finished. In the first few years after it ended, there were several times when our little boy would make a reference to what Bobby had done. It was always during the most random times. One time we were all taking a walk together and, just like that, he said, “Bobby peed in my mouth.” There was another time about a year after that when he was sitting with me outside while I worked in our garden, and he said, “Did you know Bobby is in jail?” It made us realize that these memories seemed to lie just under the surface.
The counselor who helped us during that first year said that our goal was to get our little boy to the point where these memories didn’t evoke major emotion anymore. So in the instances when he’s brought it up, we simply talk through it on his level as normally as if we were talking about what we should have for dinner.
“Yes, Bobby “peed” in your mouth. What he did was wrong and he got in very big trouble for it.”
“Yes, Bobby’s in jail. Do you know why? Because people who break the law go to jail.” Then on to the next subject.
I’m sure the day will come when our little boy will actually realize what happened to him. Maybe our middle son will also have something to say. That’s why I say our journey of abuse didn’t end when Bobby went to jail.
Third, don’t blame each other. If the abuse was perpetrated by someone other than your partner, don’t point the finger. I can’t imagine how I could have gotten through this without the love and support of my husband. When one of us was down in the darkest pit of despair, the other would always be there to help the other through. Another set of parents whose two young kids were also victims wasn’t so lucky. They divorced over this experience, sadly, because they blamed.
Finally, don’t accept what your lawyer tells you unless you’re comfortable with it. Our lawyer initially wanted to plea bargain our case, which would have resulted in a much lesser sentence for Bobby. But we parents, along with Jane our babysitter (and Nancy Grace in our back pocket!), refused the plea bargain and opted for a trial. That may have been a risky move on our part, but we needed to do all we could to gain justice for what happened to our kids.
It’s been four years since our little boy’s abuse ended. He’s now 8. While he still does ask why we don’t get to visit Jane anymore, I have to say I believe the memories of abuse may have faded considerably. Maybe it’s my own wishful thinking, but he hasn’t made random comments for a couple years now. In fact, just a few months ago when he mentioned again about visiting Jane, I asked if he remembered Bobby. He looked at me with a perplexed look on his face and said, “Who’s Bobby?”
If his memories do remain, my hope as a victim of child sexual abuse myself is that he’ll realize his experience of abuse doesn’t define who he is. As traumatizing as it might have been, that he’ll know what an adoring, funny, amazing boy he’s growing up to be, who just happens to be a victim of abuse. My hope is also that he’ll realize his parents listened and acted immediately to stop the abuse, and, that they never wished evil on Bobby, simply justice for what he did. His real judgment is in God’s hands.
In the particular region where we live, child sexual abuse is appallingly rampant. The notion that “messing with children” is no big deal seems to have been quietly accepted until very recently. My babysitter’s husband was himself abused as a boy, by his uncle. But our abuse story rocked our community to the core and brought this very real issue to light. Thankfully, it’s now talked about very openly among teens, parents and groups in the community. I think we were all forced to stare right into the face of this sad reality, but the fruits of our experience are that parents and kids are fighting this issue by talking about it. Talking is so key.
Many have told us what a little hero we have in our son, for his bravery in telling it like it was. I personally think the way it all came out had to be part of God’s plan. For whatever reason, all those kids before him never said a thing. That breaks my heart. I hate that it had to be my little boy, but finally, the cycle of abuse at the hand of this man is over.
The shed held the acrid smell of old motor oil and sweat, fresh cut grass and purged chewing tobacco. Inside the shed; garden tools, a lawn mower, a straight backed bar stool where he asked me to sit. The bar stool faced a workbench. On the workbench were scattered bolts, tools, a tiny black and white TV playing cartoons.
It happened exactly the way they warn kids about today. Had I been warned, would I have seen the signs? Would I have resisted the long slender bottle of green tinted glass filled with syrupy sweet liquid? The sticky sweets? The alluring invitation to watch Bugs Bunny in the cool shade of the tin roofed shed on a hot summer afternoon?
Elmer was an older man, ancient in my nine-year-old mind, though I realize now he was probably somewhere in his sixties. He was a widower with two teenage boys. I often wonder if he preyed on his own sons the way he did me. How many children paid for my silence and that of those before me? How many came after?
The first time I sat in Elmer’s chair, he stood behind me, rubbing my shoulders and neck and I watched the cartoon characters fly across the TV. He played with my hair, the way my mother used to do when I lived with her. It was soothing. Comforting. Warmth when I so often felt rejected in my own home with my father, step-mother and her two children.
When I took my fill of sweets and fantasy, I hopped down from the stool. I was embarrassed to see something pink and fleshy had escaped down one leg of his plaid golf shorts. I walked home slowly, red faced and embarrassed as much for him as for myself.
The second time I visited him, no invitation was required. It was a hot and quiet afternoon and none of my playmates were around. As I went kicking rocks down the street near his trailer, I heard the TV and peeked my head inside shyly, hoping for a boost onto the bar stool and another cold soda.
Again, he stroked my hair and massaged my neck and shoulders. I soon became engrossed in the cartoon images and the sweetness that filled my mouth. When his hand trailed down my chest and stomach, I did not protest. When he slid his hand into my shorts and began to manipulate the soft space between my legs, my body stiffened, but I remained utterly calm. I sat quiet, unmoving, eyes fixed on the TV and waited for it to be over. It never occurred to me to say no or try to stop him.
How delighted he must have been to have such a willing subject, a silent withdrawn girl, incapable of uttering a two letter monosyllabic word. He didn’t threaten or warn or ask me to keep it to myself. He knew it wasn’t necessary. He’d chosen well.
When he finished, I slid off the bar stool to land feet first on the floor of the shed. This time the zipper of his plaid golf shorts was down, his penis exposed through its teeth. I averted my eyes to the ground and walked softly but quickly back the way I came. I hid beneath the cool canopy of living green at the top of the levy behind the trailer park trying to sort out what had happened. Even though I never protested, I knew what he had done was not right. I vowed that day never to go back.
I became, if possible, even more withdrawn. Food became my solace and I hungered constantly, one more reason for Connie to belittle and berate me. I began neglecting my body, refusing to shower or bathe, even though I often smelled of urine and I developed a fear of the shower. I was a bed wetter until the age of ten, and then only thanks to a convoluted machine my father bought that woke me whenever I started to go. It was the family curse, passed on to me and my oldest sister by my father.
Later that school year, as my plumpness and puberty worked in collusion to grow and change my body, so grew my shame. I tried to hide my growing breasts and the hair that slowly spread beneath my arms and over the space where he touched me. Not an easy task living with a woman who resented my very presence and abhorred spending a single penny to clothe me. I was forced to wear things until their seams gave at a bend or twist. And gave they did, usually at school for the entire fourth grade to see.
The incident and my own changing body awoke in me a curiosity. One night lying in the bottom bunk of bed below my step-sister, my fingers began to explore the private space Elmer had invaded. I wasn’t sure what it was that I was feeling, but I stopped when some of the odd sensations reminded me of what he’d done.
“What are you doing?” came sharply from above me. “Stop that.”
“I’m not doing anything, Jenny.”
“Yes you are. I can hear it, and I know what you’re doing. That’s disgusting! I’m going to tell mom!”
I again insisted that I wasn’t doing anything and was glad she couldn’t see the flame of my cheeks. I begged her not to tell, insisted there was nothing to tell. I wanted to point out that if she knew what the noise was, then she must herself have done it, but that would have been admitting my guilt and would have only instigated the family watchdog further.
The next summer, Elmer was caught in the act with another little girl. The only reason I knew at all was because my step-mother came storming at me one afternoon with anger blazing eyes beneath a deep scowl and proclaimed that I was never to go around that man or even that end of the street ever again. She demanded to know if that filthy man had ever touched me. I answered with a curt shake of the head, eyes on tennis shoes. I feared her anger and the accusation in her eyes. I knew more strongly than ever it was my fault.
My step-sister saw the changes in my body even though I did my best to hide myself when changing into my night gown in the small bedroom we shared. For once she took pity on me as I did my best to conceal the growing mounds on my chest, the hair that pointed all willy-nilly from beneath my underarms.
Jenny tried to assure me the changes I was experiencing were normal, though I was much younger than she when it happened to her. She told me I needed a bra and a razor and I needed to talk to her mother. Her mother would understand. There was no reason to be afraid. I shook my head adamantly. She pushed me toward the bedroom door, insisting that I talk to her mom, but that she would come with me.
Jenny asked her mother if we could go to her bedroom to talk. She closed the door behind us and Jenny looked to me. I made a couple of lame attempts to begin, but the words would not come and my face grew hot. Finally Jenny explained to her mother that I was growing boobs and hair.
“Well, what am I supposed to do about that?” Connie asked her daughter, her eyes hot on my down-tilted face.
Jenny began to stutter as she and her brother often did when nervous. She asked in a small voice if maybe it was time I got a training bra and a razor. As if she was trying to put her own puzzle together about how to feel, she added, “You know, like you did for me.”
“She’s too young for that stuff, for Christ’s sake, Jenny. She’s only nine.” She shook her head. “It’s just not natural.”
My eyes stung with tears that felt cool on my flaming cheeks. Her pronouncement was simple; I was a freak. There was something wrong with me, just as I had suspected. As I sat on the back steps of the trailer, their hot metal burning on my legs, I covered my sobs. Was I changing like this because that disgusting man touched me like that? Because I touched myself? Why was I always making my life so difficult?
At school, they started calling me names like slut and whore in addition to the names they were already so fond of calling me. Shelly belly. Smelly Shelly. I couldn’t refute their claims. I felt like a slut. I didn’t even try to stop him.
I decided that spring, when I was about to turn ten, I wanted to go back home to my mother. It had been months since I’d heard from her and I missed her terribly. I dialed her number from the slip of paper my father gave me. What I heard on the other end were three high-pitched tones and a message telling me that the number was no longer connected. I called it 3 more times and again every day for a week. My father told me it was useless to keep trying. She was just busy and lost track of things. She would contact me soon. My step-mother snorted at these assurances.
My birthday came and went with no contact from my mother. I worried all the time, making up fantasies about some fatalistic accident that took the whole family. I dreamed that she left my step-father Steve and that she was simply making things perfect before she came to get me. In my fantasies, all of the reasons I’d left were gone. In fact, the nearly three years I’d spent with her and my step-dad were gone and it wasn’t wishful thinking. There was simply nothing there, as if my life had been suspended for those years, or I’d slept through it.
For my birthday, someone gave me a couple of Mad-Lib books. I took them over to my friend’s house. Missy was the only friend I had. She was much like me, quiet, withdrawn, more often dirty than not. She lived a couple of streets over. Her trailer was often filthy, with days of dishes sitting around the kitchen and her rotund mother at her usual place on the couch. But that didn’t matter to me. Her mother was always nice and didn’t bother us when we played.
Missy and I filled my Mad-Lib books with dirty words and dirtier scenarios, mostly at my direction. We filled the books with bondage and forced sex and other things we only guessed about. I filled in the blanks with words for which we had no meaning. We just knew they were wrong. We tittered at the nasty things we could make the Mad-Lib’s say and promised not to tell anyone. I assured her I would hide the books well.
As summer’s end came near, I got a call from my mom. I was too grateful to hear her voice to be angry with her. I asked her if she could pick me up. We made arrangements for the weekend.
When she picked me up, I immediately asked her where my step-father was. She told me they split up and that’s why she hadn’t been in touch. She and Sherry were living in a small apartment in Fairfield. It didn’t take me long to ask her if I could come back to live with her. She readily agreed through a torrent of tears.
When I went back to my dad and Connie’s house, I was confronted with the Mad-Lib book on the kitchen table. They’d used the opportunity the weekend presented to go through my things and found it tucked between my mattress and box springs.
“Why would you write such horrible things?” Connie demanded.
I met the question with silence. I didn’t know what to say, how to defend what I’d written or why I’d even done it.
“Shelly, this isn’t normal. This isn’t right,” My dad added. “What would make you write something like this?”
I shrugged. “We were just messing around. It was funny.”
“Who is we?” Asked Connie, but I remained silent. “This isn’t funny. This is sick. What kind of a girl are you?”
I shook my head, not knowing how to answer that question to myself let alone to her. “It doesn’t matter. You don’t need to worry about it anymore. I’ve asked my mom if I can move back in with her.”
I watched the blood drain away from my father’s face in stages. “You aren’t happy here?”
I wasn’t, but I didn’t have the heart to answer him honestly. “It’s not that. I just, well, I just miss my mom so much and she left Steve. I want to go home and be with her again.”
“I see. When?”
“Well, Mom told me to talk to you, but she thought it would be best to do it soon, before school starts again.”
“You’re sure you want to do this?” Asked my father, his eyes welling with tears.
“Yes. I love you Daddy, but I miss Mom and I want to be with her. You don’t want me here anyway.”
“But I do,” he said, voice breaking. “I do want you here.”
“We both do,” Connie added in a syrupy sweet tone that I knew wasn’t genuine.
Tears began streaming down my cheeks at my father’s insistence. Why did I have to be so bad? Why did I have to hurt the ones I loved? He truly did want me to be there. In spite of the way I was treated by his wife and her children, in spite of his weakness and inability to do anything about it, he still wanted me there by his side. It was the first time I ever saw my father cry.
I never told anyone about that day in Elmer’s shed or admitted some of the odd behaviors that resulted, though I have long known they are normal for victims of child sexual abuse. I have long suspected that Elmer was not the first man to molest me, nor was he the last. I carried all of this into my adulthood unspoken despite the trail of psychologists that started in my early teens. Like many victims, I took a lot of the blame onto my own shoulders and that load was so heavy and shameful that I couldn’t even confess it to a professional, for fear that they’d only confirm my worst fears. I suffered from chronic low self esteem, depression, eating disorders, and a pseudo suicide attempt after I was raped by a family member when I was fourteen. That time I did say no, but in the end, he took it by force. After that, any boy who pressured me, got what they wanted. What I relearned at fourteen was what I’d already known at eight; it was easier, safer, less traumatic, to go along than try to resist. These problems have followed me long into adulthood. Even today, I have to remind myself that I was a victim, programmed early and often to obey, no matter the consequence.
The last thing that any parent ever wants to think or worry about is their child being sexually abused by anyone. Some of you may or may not know but I was a victim of sexual molestation that started at the age of six. My abuser was a man my Mother had partnered up with and subsequently had a child with. Now most people are often confused about what is considered child sexual abuse because some think that if you were not raped then your case is not serious. Here is the answer: ANY form of a violation to one's body, including genital fondling, is considered 'Child Sexual Abuse.' It is NOT limited to penetration.
My case of molestation included the abuser coming into my bedroom in the late hours of the night, usually after he had engaged in a significant amount of snorting cocaine (he was a drug dealer). He would then sneak into my bed and I was always awoken by him fondling my genital area and telling me that if I told ANYONE, the Devil would come get me and do very bad things to me. I suffered from bedwetting until I was eleven years of age. I was always afraid to get up and go to the bathroom at night in order to avoid stirring his attention.
The very first incident of my sexual abuse occurred after my mother had given birth to my younger sister. He would always strike when my mother was asleep and probably exhausted from caring for a newborn. That day he called me to the back room (the only bedroom) in the small dark apartment we resided in. My Mother had fallen asleep with my sister on the couch. The bedroom door was ajar and he was standing behind the door peeking his head out to one side asking me to walk in. He was standing behind the door with his jeans and underwear down to his knees. When I came around the door and saw what he was doing I was stunned and paralyzed with fear, not being able to utter a single word. Being six years old, my height was directly in front of his genital area and I remember the sour stench of his private area. He wanted me to touch his penis and all I remember doing was nodding my head answering 'no' and wanting to squint my little eyes from seeing the terrible sight of his nakedness. I was afraid, confused and wanting my Mother to wake up and save me. That incident passed and I never told her because I was afraid of her not believing me. For the next five years, just about every single night, my bedroom was invaded by a sexual predator that I was forced to call 'Papi' (spanish for Daddy), I was forced to obey his orders and never talk back because otherwise, he'd threaten to flush me down the toilet or burn my fingers on the stove. He once turned the stove burners on high, they were bright orange, and placed my hand so close to the heat I was afraid that I would never be able to use my hands again. This was his way of 'keeping me in line', something I never understood. His mode of discipline included a cruel and often tormenting style that would leave any child completely dumbstruck. The worst part for me was that I knew that he was NOT my biological Father.
How terrible, huh?! Why would a six year old be afraid of telling the truth? This happens all the time and it's a terrible tactic that the abuser will use to control the child and their sick addiction of abusing an innocent child. My Mother never realized what was occurring right in her home. I've gone through my moments of anger toward her and how she was not completely attuned to my needs and issues. It has taken me many years to process and know that my Mother would have NEVER have allowed for me to be hurt in such a way had she'd been privy to the reality of my nightmare. As as child, I was often recluse in school, I'd shy away from adults and I'd never talk about how I felt, never mind sharing my fear of the bad man that terrorized me when the moon was out and the the house was silent.
Many years later I would find out that Mother too had her own set of traumas and issues that did not and has not allowed her to escape the confines of her own turmoil. It would not be until my Mother was in her early fifties that she would finally confess to me that she too was sexually abused by her very own Brother when she was ten years of age. He would threaten her with sayings like "If you tell Daddy, I'll kill you, Bitch". She would cry and fear for her life as he tried to make her give him oral sex. It's a vicious cycle that continues until one person takes a stand and says 'enough is enough', this cannot continue.
It took me four years after the abuse had stopped for me to come forward and confess to my Mother what had been done to me. It was the Summer of 1992. My abuser had been incarcerated for dealing drugs in the Spring of 1988. Although his jail time was due to drug dealing, I thank his incarceration to feeing me from his prowess as a sexual predator. I mustered up the courage to share my fear and shame with my Mother because I knew he was locked up. The day I told her, I stumbled upon every single word that was uttered from my mouth until it all spilled out of me like a toxic fume under pressure. I was about to implode from the angst and the years of fear that were seared in my mind, body and soul. Upon learning of my story, my Mother exhibited rage and sadness and hatred and a brief moment of denial because she could not swallow the idea of her daughter being harmed in such a way. It was a terrible and liberating day for me.
Today I choose to be open and candid about my experience with childhood sexual abuse. I've suffered the pains of depression, shame and anger for what happened to me. It is NEVER the child's fault and the predator will do everything in their sick power to make that child believe that they have done something wrong because they are the full of sick shame. The very act of talking and sharing my story with all of you helps me to cope with that negative episode in my early life. I am and will continue to be a VOICE and a SAFE HARBOR for anyone who needs support, a compassionate ear, an open heart and a mission to keep the shame and guilt OUT of this horrid experience. My journey to healing my wounds begins with my story and my desire to let this outrage be known to ALL. It is real, it happens and NO CHILD should ever be second guessed when it relates to ANY form of abuse, especially 'sexual abuse.' VOICE your story and STOP the vicious cycle!
I will not stay quiet. I will not give up this fight. I will not allow for another loved one to be violated so long as I have a VOICE. I will not tolerate the SILENCE. I am a Woman, Wife, Mother, Daughter, Sister, Niece and Friend and I WILL NOT SHUT UP on this issue...
I will close with one of my favorite quotes by Carl G. Jung:
"I am not what happened to me, I am what I choose to become"~