My truth, my voice.
Recently in a conversation with my therapist, she expressed moving the "V" of victim on my forehead that predators (and no one else) can see, down to my throat, and letting it become my voice.
My biggest hold up on sharing my story is because it is not what my mind calls the typical story of sexual assault. I have shamed my emotions on the situation because of this. I must be too sensitive, nothing really happened; she was just a kid too. Only four years older than me. I had just turned eight, the age of accountability in my religion. No more free passes—you own the sins now. Or at least that’s how I interpreted it.
She had me come over to play. I remember my parents were out of town. Things just fell into place. I had a feeling to not stay but I didn’t want to miss out. I remember not telling my oldest brother where I was, and waiting until later to call him and just say I was sleeping over. She wanted me to. She showed me pornographic IM-messages that evening. I was intrigued but felt it wasn’t a good idea. That night she had me act out and do things that were uncomfortable. Physically it felt good but spiritually it felt icky. I remember Boyz II Men was playing in the background. I hated it but didn’t want to be rejected, to make her feel bad. So I shut off my voice.
I felt awful afterwards. I remember after weeks of anxiety, on a summer night, sitting on my trundle bed with the cool summer air creeping through the window, asking my mom to talk. Choking the words out, not sure what to do. Bawling but never feeling safe in letting the conversation leave my insides into that peaceful summer night. Tainting the beautiful safe perfect evening and our favorite sounds of crickets. I asked her if I should go see the Bishop. “If that’s what you feel you should do then I support it,” she said hugging me. I could tell she was uncomfortable and not sure what to do in the situation. But she was trying. And I could tell she loved me. I get it now, her response, putting myself in her shoes. I don’t blame her—who ever knows what to do with a situation like this.
My Bishop was my next door neighbor, and her neighbor as well. Her mom had killed herself years ago. Her home was so different than mine. She didn’t belong to the same faith as my family. Behind his big desk he told me I was fine, it was ok, I was forgiven.
I left shaking. The same way I had showed up.
I felt relieved that I had practiced the ritualistic behavior, but I did not feel peace.
I put food in my mouth to fill in the missing holes for years. Then I tried starving myself later down the road.
But let's not get ahead of myself. Shortly after the sleepover, my other neighbor was sitting next to me, and with my brothers just around the corner, he started scratching my back. He slipped his hand up my shirt, touching my white JC Penny sports bra. His fingers crawling underneath the band. He was 6 years older than me. All my brain could tell me was, “Don’t move. Don’t say anything. Just wait and it’ll all be over.”
Then again, a few years later, waking up to my brother’s friend spooning me saying, “Let me see your face.”
Frozen, I waited for the misery to be over. Except this time I found a piece of my voice. Sitting up, no longer pretending to not hear, or be asleep, I said, “I’m going to bed.”
I kept my mouth shut until it all went away.
I put food in my mouth constantly so nothing would spill out. And then I starved myself so people couldn’t see the emptiness I was trying to hold in.
And she was just a kid.
How do you blame that?
How do you validate your trauma in something like that?
She had a hard life, came from an ugly family where everyone told me mine was so “perfect.”
“You’re perfect, Caitie. You’re perfect.”
That’s what I heard for years as I tried to hold very still so no one would see what they did not want to see—that my life wasn’t perfect. And the hardest thing to accept is this idea. This truth that my therapist told me—in the circumstances of this situation, multiple times: I was a victim.
But how can you accept being a victim if that makes a perpetrator a monster? It debases and takes away any empowerment from acknowledging my truth. She was just a kid, whose mom had killed herself, who probably learned what she knew by someone touching her in no way she wanted to be touched once upon a time. The only way I can embrace the reality that I was a victim is if I can do it while understanding that the perpetrator was just a kid.
I can still suffer victimhood, the pains, the anguish, and acknowledge that as a result I have had an eating disorder for years while still seeing that my perpetrator was a twelve year old girl. Because if it is required, if the perpetrator has to be a monster, a villain, to make me a victim, then my experience never happened. I was never a victim. My trauma was never valid.
And I’m back to putting food in my mouth to shove it all down, or starving myself to make sure no one gets in.
Compassion. Compassion. Compassion. My heart steadily beats. After writing this it’s all I can listen to. Compassion for myself. And then compassion for others.
Because I still don’t know what the answer is.