I was either five or six years old when he tickled me. And, I know that at least in part, I enjoyed it.
There was a time I wanted to remember everything. Every sordid detail. My therapist, Becky, was trained in hypnotherapy, and I absolutely begged her to hypnotize me, but she refused. I thought it was better to know and deal with the memories than to not know and speculate…filling in what I couldn't remember, but I’ve since changed my mind. Some memories, I imagine, were forgotten simply because of my young age. But mostly, the memories are best forgotten by the conscious part of my being, left only to a part of the brain that is protecting me, and for now, I'm OK with that. I'm OK with admitting that I need protection.
WRAPPED WITH A BOW
My molester was my babysitter's son. The only reason I know how old I was, is because my brother was still in a playpen, and he’s five years younger than I am, and my sister, who’s a year younger than I am, was already at the babysitter's house when I arrived at the house after school, meaning she wasn’t yet in school or she was in morning kindergarten and got there before I did. I remember having a snack at the house and sometimes I remember what the snack was, but today, as I’m writing this, I can’t remember.
That happens sometimes – memories come and memories go. I’ll both forget and remember the same thing over and over again like some sick twisted “Groundhog Day.” Sometimes I remember the things before and I remember the things after, but I can't remember the in between. The in between is that sacred space, the space from which I need protection. The memories that are tucked away in neat and tidy boxes, nicely wrapped in pretty paper with bows and placed high on shelves, just out of reach.
Sometimes my therapist or medical provider will have to remind me of something I once remembered, and then long forgot again. I used to worry that they'd think I was lying until I was told that this is a common occurrence among abuse victims. Those memories sometimes go to the in between spaces. Often, because I'm getting too close to an adjacent, sacred in between space. When those pretty packages are on their shelves, they’re outside of my conscious being. I wasn't safe when I was 5 years old and I may not feel safe in the moment, but the memories are safe. Safely tucked away in packages until I can pick up the boxes and open them again.
Opening them on my own is almost always caused by a trigger – some other memory…smell, touch, taste, sight, sound, a muscle memory or nightmare, and it's just as often the case that a trigger causes me to realize that I'm approaching the in between and I neatly wrap up that memory, tightly tie that bow, and tuck it away again on a shelf, because I'm not prepared for what havoc and chaos it may bring into my life in that moment.
DID SHE KNOW?
The babysitter was an older woman, but in reality, everyone is old to a five-year-old. So, I can't rely upon that memory. She had two sons. One was in his teens, maybe late teens to early 20's. One had light hair. The other dark. The only way I can judge my molester's age is because he had what I can look back and call moderate to severe acne. That means the babysitter, really wasn’t as old as my memory would lead me to believe she was. In my mind she was a little old woman with white hair, although I guess she could have been his grandmother. None of that really matters on the surface, except that I want to know that the things I do remember – the befores and the afters, the things that aren't in the sacred in between spaces of my memory aren't deceiving me. My visceral responses to certain smells and activities illuminate the in between spaces for fleeting moments. I know that they're not deceiving, not lying…they're telling the truth even when they're hiding. But what about the befores and the afters?
He would usually tell his mom that he was taking me upstairs to watch whatever sports happened to be on TV that season. That's where he most often molested me. I seem to remember watching football, but there may have been others as the seasons changed. Basketball is a fleeting memory, too. My parents told me that we weren’t with this sitter for very long, but it seemed like years to me.
How did his mom not know? How did she not suspect? She was in the house while it happened.
Did she know? Did she cry at night for me? Does she think about me today? Wonder where I am? How I am? Remember my name?
I FELT SPECIAL
He always popped popcorn before taking me upstairs. That's how I knew it was getting ready to happen. This is a before. I guess the popcorn was to entice me to go with him. Later, as an adult, popcorn would trigger me. It took years of intense therapy to identify it as a trigger and Becky and I stumbled upon it during one session. It was the first trigger I recognized, identified, and understood. Before then, it enraged me, and almost ripped apart my young marriage.
Yes. Popcorn almost ruined my marriage. It used to belong in the sacred in between space, but it doesn't anymore. Now it's a before. Before the molestation. Right before.
My molester and I would lie in his bed, watching TV. He'd lift up my dress or pull down my pants and panties and he’d fondle me. I don't know if he penetrated me with his fingers or with anything else for that matter. I just don't know. That memory is on a shelf, tied up with a bow. It's in the in between. I do know there were times that he’d insist that I return the favor. That's both a before and an after.
I remember what I think is the first time he unbuttoned his jeans and took my tiny hand in his, pushing it under the waistband of his underwear, until it touched his coarse pubic hair. I didn't understand what pubic hair was at the time.
I was scared.
My little fingers reached his hard penis.
I was scared.
It was warm down there.
I was scared.
I pulled my hand back.
I was scared.
He pushed it back down.
I was scared.
That’s the last thing I remember.
Everything else is in between. It's wrapped up with a bow, sitting on a shelf.
Why do I remember parts, but not all of the molestation? Why don't all the memories fall into the sacred in between space – the void before and after the memories exist? The safe space.
Because I allowed it to happen?
I knew what was going to happen each time he made that popcorn. Each time he took me up to his bedroom in the attic.
I allowed it to happen.
I welcomed it. He called it tickling.
I just knew it made me feel good.
It made me feel special.
I don't ever recall being threatened.
That doesn't mean it was my fault.
It wasn't. It wasn't. It wasn't.
I keep repeating it. When will I believe it?
One night, he tickled me while sitting in a rocking chair on the porch, looking at the stars. His hand was in my panties.
My sister walked out onto the porch and I called her over to the rocking chair so he could tickle her in the same way that he was tickling me. I wanted her to be special, too. He quickly pulled his hand out of my panties and told her to go back inside the house.
He was upset with me.
Where was his mom?
She was in the kitchen making pies. I’m sure of it. I don’t know why pies. But, I’m sure it was pies. Pies don't trigger me. At least I don't think they do. There was a time that I would have said popcorn didn't trigger me. I didn't understand how triggers worked. I like pie. I get sick each and every time I eat one. Maybe cherry pies trigger me.
I WANTED TO TELL SOMEONE
I don't know when I realized that what happened was bad and that it all belonged in the in between spaces. It all belonged wrapped up tightly with a bow and placed on the highest shelf I could find, but I started having nightmares about it as I got older. I'd dream he was cutting my clitoris with a pair of scissors. I would wake up both aroused and wanting to throw up at the same time.
One day, while I was still in elementary school we were at my grandparents' house when I felt the need to cry. I first scrambled my brain to come up with what I thought would be a good reason to start bawling my eyes out, so that when my mom asked me what was wrong, I could give her an answer, that wasn't, “Whats-his-name tickled me…”
Maybe it didn't all belong in the in between after all.
My reason, when my mom did indeed ask, was, “You have to work on my birthday!”
She assured me that she didn't.
I didn't date in high school. I was talkative around my close friends, but shy and withdrawn around the rest of my classmates. It made me a target for incessant bullying – just what I needed. More trauma. Overall, I was an excellent student, although there were times that I'd do poorly and I distinctly remember hoping that someone, anyone, would ask me, “Why? What's wrong?” I just wanted the opportunity to tell someone.
No one asked.
It stayed in the in between,
The molestation set me up for a lifetime of struggling with low self-esteem, poor self-confidence, and depression. There are times that I hid it well – and was successful. And, there were plenty of times that I had people and circumstances in my life that gave me a boost that I needed to make me think everything would be alright. And, I've had good things happen in my life. But a cloud of depression hung over me at all times, sometimes with breaks of sunshine, but sometimes the cloud was so saturated that a storm raged inside me. I didn't always know that it was depression. I didn't understand what depression was.
Then, with incidents of military sexual assault and trauma, and physical abuse, I’d spiral downward, the storm raging for weeks, months, and even years, and I'd wonder, “What is wrong with me?” The good in my life, the sunshine never seemed to be enough to sustain me. Not my career. Not my husband. Not my children.
I was the common denominator and these things kept happening. I believed they were my fault. How could they not be?
Later, I learned that according to a 2010 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), that a young child or adolescent who has a history of rape is twice as likely to be raped as an adult compared to women who had no history of sexual assault. I don’t use ‘rape’ as what happened to me as a child because I don't know if I was penetrated, yet maybe it's just a matter of semantics. Oddly, this statistic makes me feel better, as crazy as it seems, because it means somehow, just maybe, the repeated victimization wasn't my fault. Isn't my fault.
The study makes me a statistic. And, I'd rather be a statistic than to be at fault.
I CAN'T CHANGE THE PAST
And yet today my therapist asked me if I thought I was to blame for the molestation, the assaults, the rape, the harassment, the bullying. Whether I could have prevented them. I honestly don't know how to answer, but I do know that I did my best to report each incident after the fact. My best just wasn't good enough.
I also know that I’m trying to live the best life I know how to live with the circumstances I’ve been dealt. Everyone has a story. This is mine.
I'll stay in therapy. I'll stay medication compliant.
Because, I can’t change the past, but I sure as heck can take responsibility for my present regardless what the future may hold.