Last night I drove by my childhood home for the first time in years, and felt absolutely nothing. At first I experienced a sense of relief that there were no intense emotions bleeding my heart. But then as my boyfriend and I drove off into the night, away from that house of torture, a slow anger burned through me. Anger that, because of you, because I needed to survive emotionally and mentally all of your secret maulings, I had to completely blank out. You stole so much more from me than you could have imagined.
You stole my ability to be present in the moment: to experience with all of my senses and mind and heart colors, scents, the texture of things. You forced me with your cruel hands to live in a state of perpetual detachment, to float off somewhere inside myself in that deep secret place; my only safety from your intruding hands, voice, body, harsh demands. Would it surprise you, anger you, perhaps, to hear of this secret place? To discover that you didn’t possess every inch of my soul after all?
You took a trusting child who was heartbroken, grieving the loss of her real father, and turned her into little more than a robot. You made it impossible for me, for so many years afterwards, to make eye contact with anyone. All of my life I’ve flinched at any sign of intimacy or compassion. I’ve avoided people and situations which might have enhanced my life because of the fear and distrust you instilled in me. Fear of being hurt, used, rejected, laughed at, abandoned.
You lied to me. You said you loved me, but there was nothing loving about your rough voice insisting I learn ugly words I didn’t want to know. There was nothing loving in the way you threatened me, stalked me, burst in on me in the bathroom, laundry room, or my bedroom. Your angry commands and sarcastic put downs didn’t communicate love to me, either.
First you instilled fear in me, and stripped me of my identity so that, forever after I’ve stumbled through life without even a natural ability to navigate myself across town without getting hopelessly lost. Then you mangled my concept of what it means to be loved so that I’ve equated love with pain and abuse and suffering. I’ve settled for whoever would have me, selling myself (giving myself) to the lowest bidder. I thought no one of any value or integrity would ever want me.
Sex was such a commonplace part of my childhood that by the time I escaped your dictatorship, it meant nothing to me. You destroyed any sense of sexual right and wrong. When I was sixteen, I lost a boyfriend because of rumors he’d heard about my history of promiscuity. Stunned, I walked around in a daze for weeks, trying to make sense of his rejection. I couldn’t shake the memory of his cold voice, and his eyes refusing to meet mine—those eyes which had always gazed at me so sweetly before. I tried in vain to figure out society’s views on sexual morality. I couldn’t grasp why anyone would judge me because of something so insignificant. What did sex have to do with anything? You made sex a routine part of my life, such as doing homework or brushing my teeth. I didn’t know it was meant to be something special, not until the knowledge came too late.
Once upon a time, before I left your house of incest, I dreamed of saving myself for that special someone every girl believes will come her way. But this dream you also robbed me of. By the time I fled there was nothing of value to save, for I was damaged goods.
My first love walked out on me when he discovered I wasn’t a virgin. I was fifteen and didn’t even know the definition of virgin. To this day I can still see the hurt in his blue eyes, hear him accusing me of being a slut. I couldn’t bring myself to tell him the truth: that my stepfather was the only sexual “partner” I’d ever had. It took me years to recover from the loss of my first love. Years of not caring who I was with because my heart was shattered.
You stole my glorious childhood. You tainted every turn of the jump rope, every game of hopscotch and tether ball. You turned every Christmas miserable with your foul mood, so miserable that none of us kids could enjoy our gifts. You spoiled our meals with your angry explosions and cruel words. You made it impossible for me to feel comfortable or safe around the fathers of my friends. I was always on guard, waiting for some one to take advantage of me.
You destroyed any sense of pleasure or pride I might have taken in our brand new suburban home. It may as well have been a dilapidated shack, with rotting walls, for all the enjoyment I experienced living there. Despite the smart furnishings and lack of the annoyances we’d endured in former homes (slugs on the walls, ants, etc.) I felt shame walking through its rooms, and great unease, as if the very walls mocked me.
You ruined summer for me. Because the abuse began one hot summer morning, I’ve never since been able to truly enjoy that season. Depression grips me as that time of the year rolls around. A depression which causes me, all over again, to feel like a helpless seven year old.
You deprived me of contact with my father, and I can only conclude that you were afraid I would tattle on you, and you’d be held accountable for raping me.
You caused me to dread walking home from the school bus every day never knowing if you’d be there or not, waiting to pounce.
You evoked in me so much fear that to this day I am still jumpy, frightened beyond measure of people lurking around corners, or popping up behind me unexpectedly.
You ridiculed my writing, the one thing that gave me deep satisfaction and a sense of identity. I took to writing furtively to avoid your nasty mean spirited comments. It’s hard even now to share my writing with anyone, because I keep hearing the echo of your sarcasm. But see, I press on; I’m writing anyway.
None of my relationships with men have lasted because I’ve always been suspended in limbo, waiting for the pain and abuse I associate with love to begin. I doubt and analyze everything to death. None of these men were my abusers, but they too paid the price for your actions against me.
Because of you I suffer the inability to enjoy simple pleasures without enormous guilt contaminating everything.
I don’t even remember how old I was when I lost my virginity, and that is a pain that will haunt me the rest of my days. How fitting that you ended up a pile of colorless ashes which could have easily been flushed down the toilet: small, powerless, lifeless, like me like me.
(I’m still playing sleuth, sifting for clues to prove your guilt.)