HEATHER

 

Honesty means looking at all of this even though it scares me, and telling myself that it's true. I was sexually abused. I am a rape and incest survivor of multiple perpetrators. Honesty means telling my fiancé that when I don't talk to him or when I distance myself from him, it's not because I'm mad at him, and it's not because he did something wrong—it's because I'm scared of opening up. Honesty means addressing the fact that I had to come home early from my mission for my church because I started getting panic attacks so bad that I couldn't even shake men's hands or look them in the eye.

I have nightmares and memories play over and over again in my head. 

At age four or five, I was watching the neighbor boys—teenagers—play baseball in their yard. I wanted to play. But I stayed in our mulberry tree because I knew I was just a little girl and I couldn't see well. I was extremely neglected and my drug-addicted mother didn't know I needed glasses to see. One of the boys came over to me and told me that he had something to show me. He led me into my own garage, but towards the far back of the garage, the extended part of the garage that our mother told us wasn't safe yet to go into. In there was my great-grandfather's wooden table and our old spring-suspended rocking horse—the one with handlebars and red metal bars under it. He unzipped his pants and I saw him sticking straight out. I felt sudden fear and illness wash over me. At bath time, my brothers' were small and never did that. He waved himself around and asked me to open my mouth and to let him put himself in my mouth. He said, "It'll taste just like a lollipop." I knew what skin tasted like because I had bitten my twin brother's arm before, I had stuck my own hands in my mouth before—everyone learns that skin can taste like salt. I did not want to taste salt. I said no. So he masturbated and I saw white stuff, which he decided to scrape off onto my great-grandfather's wooden table. I kept saying, "I'm going to get into trouble for being in here, we aren't supposed to be in here, I think I hear my mom." And he pushed me down before he ran out of that garage.

 I'm maybe seven years old and I'm awakened suddenly because I'm cold in a very strange place. I see credits rolling on our flat screen TV and I am under thick, soft blankets—so thick, it's hard to breathe. The whole family, including my mother's boyfriend, is sharing the blankets. Don's hand is resting inside of my underwear and I feel him feeling me. Later, I'd have a lesson in sunday school about how the mentally challenged are somehow less accountable for sin. With most cases I understood, but my stuck point was that Don had been hit in the back of his head a few years prior and it left him mentally challenged. When I disclosed what happened to my faith leader, he told me that perhaps Don didn't know what he was doing. That night that he had touched me, I had moved a little, because I was startled and I woke up and he yanked his hand back because he thought that I had woken up and when I laid very still, he went back to touching me. I think he knew what he was doing, but regardless, if it wasn't his fault, whose fault was it? And most importantly, how could I find safety and peace and rest? How could I be okay?

I'm eight and the man who baptized me at my church (yes, the man who baptized me) played a game with me which I would for years later question the appropriateness of. He was playing the role of my "boyfriend" and he was rubbing my back, when his hand got too close to my shoulder or my side or my butt, I would have to say something. It confused me, but he said that he was just trying to teach me that I needed to be vocal and use my voice and set my boundaries because I may end up with a boyfriend who didn't respect me. But we were in his car and he was driving and he was an adult and I wondered—if he touches me inappropriately right now, is my voice really going to stop him? That night he wrapped his arms around me at a truck stop and he kissed me on my lips. When he kissed me, he opened his mouth a little. Even though he didn't touch me under my clothes, I felt confused and violated. He had kids, he had a wife who babysat me, and I just saw him as a father figure. I didn't want to be coached on how to avoid an assault at age eight or kissed like that. He bought our house so the bank wouldn't take it away so we could continue to live in it. My mother accused him of sexually abusing me and threw holes in the wall when she was drunk and we moved away from that house. He never touched me underneath my clothes, but I questioned if touching over the clothes and kissing me while caressing me counted as abuse, especially if I reacted in silence and in fear and confusion. If it wasn't abuse, it definitely wasn't completely appropriate and I was freaking out underneath all of the red warning signals in my head.

I'm nine years old. I'm in a basement family bathroom of our small town's public library and there is a boy, a teenager, who has me on my knees and is forcing me to give him oral. I am gagging and crying, but this wasn't the first time nor the last time. He stalks me while I do my paper route. So I bring my little brother with me until he threatens to hurt him, so I decide not to bring him with me anymore and deal with my stalker alone. He touches me when he wants to, and he violates my mouth when he wants to. He is the reason why later I'd struggle with eating meats, why I'd struggle with an eating disorder, why I'd struggle with eating string cheese, and why I'd struggle to learn how to swallow pills, and why I'd have intense panic whenever I needed to get tested for strep.

I'm a child and my mother walks around the house without a shirt or bra on. It's okay, right? I mean, she's my mother and we are women...but my siblings are exposed to it as well. It's okay right? She claims heat flashes and that she can't breathe, and what do I know, as a child, about menopause? She always falls asleep on the couch with her hand in her pants, she walks in on me while I'm in the bathroom—but she's my mother, she gets to, right?

I have a vague memory of being abused by another boy, but at this point, I've lost count and I try to convince myself it doesn't matter...but it does.

I'm 12 and by the time this attack is over, I would have spent 7 months under my relative's custody, I was forced to sleep with him on a nightly basis. He told me he was prepping me for my future husband, and that if I didn't learn how to perform, I would never be able to keep a man.

I'm 12 and my relative forces me to do a sexual favor for his friend. I will feel guilty and blame myself because I had a crush on this friend.

I'm 12 and I'm anally raped by my relative's friend. Later, after going through and testifying against my other relative, who was sentenced to 60 years in prison, I attempt to report this rape too but the sheriff makes it seem like it's my fault and tells me that he doubts it'll make it to court and that I shouldn't get my hopes up. He fails to tell me that he passed the report onto a special agent who I've never heard of, and neither of the two will think to contact me or grant me a victim's advocate. And I won't think anything can be done about it again until I'm 20 years old.

I'm 13 and a relative begins sexually abusing me, asking me to show him what our other relative taught me and claiming that that abuse against me really wasn't rape and that I wanted it. I will spend six years in silence without disclosing to anyone that he sexually abused me for a handful of months and then continued to be sexually inappropriate around me until I was 17. I will wonder if it really was abuse or if it was all just sexualized stuff that proved that I was a pervert and maybe that my relative's abuse wasn't even abuse.

I will spend hours on Google trying to wrap my head around what's happened. I will question if maybe I caused it, and I will question if maybe I let it happen, and I will question who really had the power, and the only helpful hint I will have is a memory of him taking the starter out of our mother's car 15 minutes before she will have to leave to go to work just because she refuses to pay his phone bill... until she does pay his phone bill... and if he at 16 can manipulate our own adult mother... then he was capable of manipulating and controlling me... but I will still struggle with all of this... if they all had the power and I didn't... then that means that humans are really capable of doing that to another human being... and that I really was powerless and defenseless... I recognize the need to hold onto blame because it is so difficult to accept... but it has made me physically ill and mentally and emotionally ill and very spiritually drained. I want my body back, I want to be able to do yoga, dance, art, exercise without feeling triggered... and I want to be able to one day have sex with my future husband without thinking or worrying about any of this... So I surround myself with survivors and we support each other. I know it really happened, and I know it's not my fault.... I'm working on FEELING like it wasn't my fault. One day... I won't just know... I will feel and believe it too.