The truth is I believed something was wrong with me. I believed that men don't do things like this to little girls who don't deserve it, so I must have deserved it. I must have been too ugly, damaged, brown, different. Just not good enough.
I spent the last few years of my childhood and my entire adolescence hating myself, but I had no idea why. I had repressed the memory of the neighbor with the waterbed and how he wanted to 'tickle' me one afternoon. But still, I cut my arms every time I couldn't handle this demon writhing inside of me. It was almost as if the physical pain released the internal one, allowing it to seep out of my arm rather than suffocate my insides.
When I was 18, I got my first summer job before college as an outside sales rep. I made appointments to present the product at people's homes and always made the sale...except for one.
A trusted school chaperone, classmate's father, and local firefighter took me out to his house in the middle of the desert. I thought I could trust him. I had no reason not to. But by the time he dropped me off at my house, I was a vacant shell left with no trust, no joy, nothing.
I spent the rest of my afternoon trying to scrub my skin raw just to get him off of me. Maybe if I had showered a fifth or sixth time, I could completely erase what had happened from my body, from my memory, from history.
I struggled silently for years because I didn't want the world to know how messed up I was, how dirty, damaged, and ugly I was. I didn't want to disappoint the ones I love. It took a loving husband and months of therapy to come to terms with the rape and my stolen childhood. And, even as I write this, I am not completely healed. The anger is gone and the self-hatred is finally a demon with no power over me. But the fear, I think that still lives in me.
I am afraid that it can happen again and I am afraid that it will happen to someone I love. But I am not afraid enough to stay quiet and I not afraid enough to not fight back.
My therapist once told me, "You did what women do best. You survived." I did survive. But I want more than that. I want to be free and I want others to be, too. I am concerned about a loved one who seems to be going down this same path: the secrecy, the same, the self-destruction. I want to show her that there is, in fact, empowerment in speaking truth, even when it's ugly.
If telling my truth can help free her from that, can help free anyone from that, I'll shout it from a mountain top!