Five times in my life things were taken I didn’t want to give. Five different stages of life, five different faces, five different shades of shame to be washed from my skin.
The rupturing of my soul began with the redheaded neighbor when I was just a girl, not yet in kindergarten. Each afternoon I wandered over to watch my favorite show, “Fraggle Rock.” Eventually, I began hiding in my room instead of asking to go over and watch my show, insisting I was tired. My mother says we moved because I told her about the things he said he’d like to do to me. The trouble is I have fragmented memories: a bearded face approaching me (I hate beards), a pungent smell that for years sent me running to the restroom. I don’t think we moved soon enough.
Next, there was my sweet little friend when I was ten. She spent the night at my house. In the beginning, we were playing Barbies, you see, we were still such innocent little girls. But then, she wanted the one Barbie to violently rape the other Barbie. And then she wanted us to be the Barbies. I complied. This was just a game we were playing, right? A different variation of house? I was perplexed by the questions she asked me, “Did this feel good?” and many of her instructions, “Act like this hurts you.” It wasn’t until the next day the shame, regret, and confusion settled on my skin. Did my mom know what we had done? Would she still love me if she did? Did what my friend initiated make me gay now?
Those questions haunted me throughout my teenage years. However, looking back, I just wish I could hug her and tell her how sorry I am. Now her fear of her father makes sense.
Number three was a bad made-for-TV movie come to life. I was seventeen and a freshman on campus. He was twenty-four and there on a sports scholarship. We had known one another mere days. We sat at a table together in the college cafeteria long after we’d finished eating and talked. It felt like the time flew by and before I knew it he was saying he should drive me to work because if we didn’t leave for the library now, I’d be late. “Wow, I had no idea that much time had passed! Yes, it would be great if you could drive me, thank you!”
He pulled us into the darkest, farthest corner of the parking lot just as he realized he’d looked at his watch wrong and I still had about thirty minutes before I needed to report to my post. I didn’t mind. I enjoyed being with him and there was a song he wanted to play for me. The rest happened so fast. When I think back to that night, the thing that always comes to mind is his strength, how incapable I was of stopping him. Had we even been in that parking spot a full second before he’d yanked me on top of him and then beside him, ripping open my blouse, forcing my hand to touch the part of a man I’d never seen before?
Snot ran down my face as my milky white breast hung exposed, me powerless to hide it. For a moment, he pulled away and said, “You’re a good kisser.” Was he mocking me? He’d bitten my lip and it was bleeding. I cried in heaving sobs. Was this my opportunity for escape? I begged for mercy. I pleaded with him not to finish what he’d brought me here to do. I’ll never fully understand why, but he paused, pondered for a moment and then unlocked the passenger side door and pushed me out onto the rocks.
I sat hands shaking, tucking my breasts back into my bra, buttoning my pants, wiping my face with the back of my hands, collecting myself well enough to get inside to the bathroom without notice. There, I did a more polished cleanup and proceeded to report to work.
If it’s all the same, I’d like to skip number four for now and go straight to number five. It’s the one where the least occurred physically. It’s also the one I still have nightmares about. It’s the one where I was victimized all over again by telling the truth. It’s the one where people I’d known and loved for years weighed in on whether I was telling the truth or was “just a whore.” It’s the one where I sat in depositions while men in suits railed at me for not remaining composed, and chided me for “enjoying it and feeling guilty later.” It’s the one where I wished they’d all just take me out back and finish what the man I’d trusted so much started instead of ripping my wounds open over and over again the way they were. It’s the one where I learned there’s no mercy for victims.
There’s not much I can tell you about this one as the records are sealed. Here are two things I can tell you:
- I loved and respected him like a father.
- I told the truth because I knew there were others.
In the years after my first marriage fell apart, I sat in a corner chair drinking in the healing words of a wise and knowing counselor. I ran my hands along the plush of that chair when the words got stuck in my throat and I thought I might just crack open and bleed out on the floor. Together we unraveled the tangled mass of destructive choices I’d made in the end of my marriage and followed it all the way back to trauma number five.
Ever so skillfully, with such wisdom and tenderness, she began to scrub away the shame of yesterday. Day by day, I leaned into the healing work, speaking for the first time of the “stuff that happened when I was young.” And while it often felt as though someone was reaching inside of me and roughly poking at the things most tender, in time I realized the hard, holy, healing work we were doing was ushering me into a freedom and wholeness I’d never known.
I often forget numbers one through four ever occurred. It’s not until a friend divulges their trauma for the first time and I’m able to whisper a “me too” I remember I even have one that looks like theirs.
All these years later, I’m still healing from number five, for healing is a process. My husband comes around the corner when I wasn’t expecting and I jump out of my skin, heart racing, crying for no reason. And I joke that I have some kind of PTSD… but some things take longer to heal than others.
The nightmares come less often now, the one where number five and I are in the same place and I am trying to escape before he sees me. The seemingly endless tiny betrayals seem to fall away bit by bit, like sand slowly trickling from a closed fist. I accept a friend request I never thought I’d be able to accept, from the person who sent in a statement against me. Sometimes it even comes with an apology, an acknowledgment they were wrong. Sometimes, we just don’t look back.
What I need you to know is healing is possible, and so worth it. The first time your wise and knowing counselor pokes at the rawest place inside of you and asks, “Does that hurt?” Yes, it will hurt like hell. But friend, day by day this holy, hard, healing work will usher you into a place of wholeness and freedom you’ve never known.
Please, don’t hide another day. Let the healing begin today. Let every shade of shame be scrubbed from your skin. And when your friend summons the bravery to speak the words of trauma and shame for the first time, you’ll know to whisper, “Me too, now let’s get you free.”
Resources for Healing:
RAINN – (with a 24/7 support hotline for victims)