I don’t remember where or when, or even the words I used. But somehow, in her 5th-grade wisdom, she knew it didn’t sound right.
And I am forever grateful to her. But mostly to her mother. She put a name to what had happened to me. Sexual abuse.
You see, I was abused by a man who really doesn’t deserve the title step-father. I’m not sure when the first time was…or the last. It’s just a bunch of fragmented and paralyzing moments in my memory.
Like the time I could see through the curtains just enough to see my friends swimming in the pool. They were laughing. They were playing. And I ached to be with them; instead of in this bedroom, being exploited.
When you’re eight years old and one of the people you are supposed to trust tells you that something is okay, you believe them.
Why wouldn’t you?
He’s saying it’s okay. He’s lives with and takes care of you. He’s married to your mother. And he’s saying he’s doing this because he loves me. And this is what fathers and daughters do when they love each other.
I must believe him. I’ve seen what he can do when he gets angry, and I dare not cross him.
So even though he’s telling me it’s ok, he’s also telling me that it’s a secret. And in a tender, soft voice he also makes it very clear that he will have to hurt me…and my Mom…and my grandparents–if I say anything.
An eight-year-old child cannot possibly comprehend the paradox he is presenting. “I’m doing this because I love you, but if you tell anyone I will hurt you…and the ones you love.”
I’ve seen him hit my mother numerous times …he’s even held a gun to her head in front of me. I know he’s serious. He could and would hurt them. I never doubted this.
He has ways of finding people. Since he’s a private investigator by trade, he knows how. I had even been on a few “stake outs” with him. He knew how to hunt people down. I didn’t know why he was following people, but I didn’t need to know. I just knew enough to be afraid.
He would find me, wherever I went. I couldn’t hide from him…ever.
That fear proved to be true when my mom left him for the final time. I got off the bus, as usual, and walked to our new apartment and saw an envelope taped to our door. There wasn’t anything written on the front, so I innocently opened it.
What I saw inside was horrifying. It was a Polaroid picture. Not just any picture, though. It was a picture of my mom. But it was not a good picture. And I knew, I knew it was him. I knew this was his “calling card”, his way of telling us he knew where we were.
I remember that moment of terror. Spinning around to see if he was there. Was he watching me? Like, at this moment? Was he now stalking us, watching our every move?
I now carried a brand new layer of fear, paranoia even, of seeing him.
Again it happened, at my daycare.
My molester owned a horse. This is probably the only good thing to have come from this season of my childhood and where my love of horses came from. Later in my teens, this fondness carried me through a few awkward teen years as I attended a summer camp focused on horses.
But this one day, seeing a horse raised a new level of fear in me. Going outside to play at my daycare had always been freedom and fun. But now, he was there at the fence on his horse. And all my friends ran over, oblivious to the fact that he was a dangerous, vile person. They were ignorant to the damage he had inflicted on me and my mother.
All they saw was the pretty horse. All I could do was stare and hide, praying he wouldn’t see me. I ran back inside. When my teacher asked me what was wrong, I’m sure I made up some excuse about not feeling well, or needing to go to the bathroom.
I’m sure I lied. I was getting good at that. Because telling the truth about who he was and what he had done would hurt the people I held most dear. My subconscious knew I had to lie. It was my self-protection.
Again, this was his message to me. “Remember, I know where you are.”
It still puzzles me to this day what I said to my friend. What in our conversation, or play time, made her know she had to tell her mother? How did she even explain it to her?
All I know is my best friend’s mother called me one evening. I remember the exact room I was in. I remember her talking, but I don’t recall her exact words. I just know she put a name to it. She told me that what he had done to me–what he called the love of a father and daughter–was not that at all.
It was called sexual abuse.
She lovingly, not in a threatening way, yet firmly told me that I needed to tell my Mom. And that if I didn’t tell her, she would have to.
My fear was still there, the fear of him hurting my family. But something in that conversation–something she said–made me think it would be ok.
Somehow I had courage.
I don’t remember how I started the conversation with my Mom. I remember sitting on the couch and crying. I don’t remember what I said, but she hugged and comforted me. She believed me.
She believed me! She never doubted what I said for a minute. She had endured her own share of abuse by this man, so there was no doubt. She cried with me. She apologized over and over again. She still apologizes to this day.
I don’t blame my Mom at all. The terror that this man brought to our lives was unyielding. What he did to me is but a small percentage of the horror he slathered on my Mother. Some I witnessed myself, and some–thank God–I didn’t.
All I know is we were done with him. Our new life had begun. We were moving on. We were in a different part of town, and so far he had not found us. That fear was still constantly there, but after that night, I had a newfound bravery. I can’t explain it, but getting that “secret” out, exposing it, naming it, and being believed had huge power. I didn’t know it at the time, but it did.
My friend knew something wasn’t right. By telling her mother, she literally changed the course of my life. And thankfully, that bold Mom stood up and called me.
She gave me courage.
She gave me strength.
She gave me a name for the evil.
That evil had nothing to do with love. Unfortunately, it would take me years to truly comprehend and realize the impact of what he took away from me.