As I sit down to write this, what is weighing on my heart is that there are twenty-eight stories on this page. That’s twenty-eight too many and yet I know there are countless more stories that would be here if only everyone knew this space existed and if those countless story keepers could all find their voices.
I was lucky in some ways growing up as I found writing and the arts early on. During times when I didn’t have a voice, or when speaking up would have unleashed a fury of anger, I buried myself in words. This served me well…Until it didn’t. It served me well until there was such dissonance between the story I was well versed at telling and the one I needed to be released from that I made choices to numb the pain with self-loathing and alcohol. I was cordoned off and guarded against nearly everyone. Looking back, I’m not sure if this was to protect me or to protect them but the hypervigilance and isolation were exhausting and I got really lost.
I was young when my dad left. My sisters were sixteen and eighteen and had already run away from home by the time he moved out. Soon after he left my mom started dating and her new boyfriend moved in with us pretty quickly. They went out and they drank a lot. I don’t know what they drank to escape from but their drinking felt desperate like they were gasping for air. I was so little and home alone so often that my middle sister started picking me up and I’d spend days and nights with her. I remember feeling so relieved to not be in a big farmhouse in the middle of nowhere by myself. I also remember feeling important because my big sister was including me and letting me hang out with her.
She was living with her boyfriend at the time who happened to live with his mom and dad. I used to be an early riser so I’d get up from my makeshift bed on the floor and go into the living room to watch cartoons until my sister would get up. One morning her boyfriend’s dad was sitting on the couch as I struggled to slide the bedroom door open and then close it quietly behind me. He signaled for me to come sit next to him. Being little and respectful of grownups, I obliged. I was six years old. He put his arm around my shoulders and pulled me against his body. Then he pulled a bit more until I was sitting on his lap. I remember everything from that morning. I remember that Scooby-Doo was on tv. I remember that the town we were in had a water advisory that urged everyone to boil the water before drinking it. I remember that he undid my pants and touched me with one hand while covering my mouth with the other. I remember the vintage dining room set with stainless steel legs and sides with the red table top and red chairs in the kitchen where he held me up to make sure I was okay between my legs when he was done. I remember him telling me that no one would believe me if I told them what “we did” and that he’d have to kill me to keep our secret safe if I tried to tell anyone.
“What WE did”.
I got really quiet after that. I was carrying around this dark secret and I couldn’t share it with anyone. I couldn’t even tell my sister because it was where she had run away to. Instead, I turned inward thinking that I deserved this somehow.
My stepdad’s brother started visiting us three or four times a year with his two boys for a week or two at a time. I was six and they were fourteen and sixteen. They got into trouble often by sneaking cigarettes and stealing money from the adults. For close to six years when they would visit we’d be sent out to play, or do yard work, or we’d be left home while the adults went to the bar. I’d try to stay close to the grownups but I’d always get pressured into going with the boys and after a while, it was just easier and safer to give in. We’d go into the woods, the woodshed, the barn, under the rowboat leaning against the stonewall, in the back of the pickup truck, under the back deck, or into my bedroom upstairs. When it first started, we’d play games like “doctor” but soon it escalated. It’s difficult to wrap my head around how two family members, my cousins, could compete to have sex with a small child. It’s even more difficult when it hits that I was that small child.
We’re adaptive creatures designed to survive. I remember a lot of what actually happened but I also remember times when I’d be fully disconnected from my body. I knew what was happening but I couldn’t feel it. I would hold my breath until I’d pass out…Anything to escape. It was during this time that I cut my hair and started dressing like a boy…Anything to not be noticed.
I tried to tell people about what had been going on. I told my middle sister and nothing happened. I told an elementary school counselor after my fourth-grade teacher grew concerned about my lackluster grades and withdrawn demeanor. Nothing happened. The rape stopped when my stepdad was diagnosed with cancer and his brother stopped coming with his sons. I was twelve.
High school was not easy for me. It wasn’t the other kids, social pressures, or the schooling that was threatening me…It was myself. By this time, I had started cutting. I wanted everything to stop hurting. I was fortunate to have one person, a coach, who recognized my athletic gifts and my pain. I developed a deep trust for this coach and would skip class to visit her office to talk. I told her everything and I knew that she chose not to call social services. I’ve reflected on this choice as an adult and the gratitude I feel for this decision is endless. It made all the difference. I think deep down she knew that things would have gotten significantly worse for me had social services gotten involved. Instead, she continued to show up and was a steadfast positive support in a life that had been riddled by failing adults.
She wanted to know my story.
When I was younger I was determined to become someone whom I would have benefited from knowing as a kid. I’m not free of sadness nor am I immune to waves of insecurity but I have become someone that would have fought like hell for a kid like me.
** Say It, Survivor does not condone or support mandated reporters opting not to report child abuse, however good their intentions. We do, however, fully support our survivor’s in their right to speak their truth and have their own perspective on that.