I thought I had a wonderful childhood. It was filled with smells of warm soup, big family gatherings at every occasion and Star Trek adventures with neighborhood kids. My family was pretty “Leave it to Beaver”. I felt privileged to have been adopted into a family and not just born into it like most kids. I was chosen. I remember that my home was peaceful. My parents seemed supportive of each other, cooperative and I never did hear them raise their voices or quarrel in any way. But it is that silence that would eat us all up in the end.
It wasn’t until puberty that I realized my childhood was blood stained.
At some point during my first year of high school, I became aware that I’d been raped. During his school break from boarding school, my brother would bring me to the bathroom, lay me face down on the bathroom floor, and have sex with me.
The space was small, a wall to my left, the sink to my right and my head touching the edge of the door above me. I didn’t cry out, although I felt trapped, nor did I tell my parents. I don’t know if he threatened me to keep this secret or made it a game he thought I would enjoy. At 9, I didn’t realize what was being done to me. He was 5 years older than me, a teenager at the time. I’ve allowed myself to use that as an excuse over the years for his lack of restraint. Teenage hormones, experiencing great loss as a child and his lack of intelligence have all been excuses I fed myself whenever I was forced to be in the same room as him.
I have difficulty eliciting any of my childhood memories. I don’t remember riding my bike, laughing with my friends, or what colour my favourite dress was.
All of them have been taken away from my consciousness since my mind needed to protect the little girl inside me. My mind blanked everything out. The warm soup and fun times I spoke of earlier are not my own memories but stories that people have told me or photographs I have seen of those days; illusions I created to make myself feel normal.
I told my mother about the abuse in a letter when I was in my teens. She confessed to have known about a similar abuse that occurred between my brother and another female member of her family. She said she had subsequently asked my brother if he had ever laid a hand on me and took his word when he said he hadn’t. She acknowledged this was a mistake, and then she asked me to keep this secret from my father as he would be deeply hurt.
Being asked to keep this secret, as if I’d done something wrong, telling me that I needed to hide was just one of the devastating decisions my mother made.
Although it was a relief to have been heard and believed, I also knew she made an incomprehensible mistake to have trusted a child predator to provide an honest answer. She also demonstrated a total lack of judgement in not asking me directly.
I knew instinctively that I would have to save myself and found a therapist to speak to. As I spoke of my fears and my hurt with my therapist, I did eventually understand that I needed to tell my father; my brother had since married and had a child and I feared for the safety of his newborn daughter.
I find it difficult to express the depth of my disappointment and disillusionment at this juncture in my life. I don’t know what my father thought of my revelation. I don’t know what I expected but I didn’t think I would be facing a masked man. If he felt outrage or anger or profound sadness, I didn’t see it. At his lack of emotions, I proceeded to ask for what I needed from him. I wanted him to make sure my brother got help and that his child would be safe.
For years after I struggled. The subject was never discussed again, and life went on as it always had. I sat through countless family dinners and birthdays, where I was repeatedly subjected to listening to my brother’s big plans and life stories. We continued to share family Christmases even after my parents’ divorce. All the while I felt obliged to not take anything away from my parents’ sense of family. Who was I to ask for a separate celebration from my abuser, who happened to also be their son? How could I be so selfish and unforgiving? It was during these years that I put on a brave face and carried on the charade. Unfortunately, there wasn’t a single soul who ever asked if I was ok with this arrangement. I was so stoic that even my husband and my closest loved ones never questioned my strength in resigning myself to these fiasco gatherings. I suppose that is one more thing I blame myself for.
I never dawned on me that I could question this arrangement. That I didn’t have to suffer through the farce of a happily family gathering.
Like all good stories, things always get worse before they get better. It wasn’t without reason that my mind protected me from this next revelation. In an almost sixth sense intuitive flash, I remembered a moment of my childhood when I’d been brought to the hospital. I called the local hospital where I grew up and requested my medical records. Even though I didn’t want to know what the report would say, I drove the 5 hours to retrieve them. As I sat in my car, moments after opening the report, words started popping up from the pages: “… 9 year old patient… complaining of acute pain in lower left quadrant….no nausea, vomiting or diarrhea…complains often of irritated vaginal….” But it was in the next line that I realized I had been left to the wolves:
“…. Mother noticed several occasions where the blood came from the vagina.”
The truth, I have been told, will set you free. My truth was my ultimate dismembering. My mother had known. She was aware of the other victim and also knew that I had vaginal bleeding as a child; there was no way she couldn’t have put the pieces of the puzzle together and saved me from the humiliation, shame, guilt, and utter hopelessness that I’ve felt throughout most of my adolescence and adulthood. I can’t find a way to justify what she has done. My mother chose to protect herself, bask in the lie she told herself and my father to conserve the image of a perfect family.
It was after my 40th birthday party that I choose to discontinue any kind of relationship with my brother including with his family. A choice I am tremendously proud of.
I still have difficulty with the terminology of what happened to me. Was it sexual abuse or rape?
I feel the shame of not having protected myself from a predator but my shame didn’t end when the rape ended.
It follows me and haunts me every time I allow someone, anyone to take advantage of me. Without wanting to or truly being conscious of it, I keep people at a safe distance, and retreat when I feel the slightest inkling of mistrust. I have characteristics similar to many other victims: difficulty in creating attachments, feelings of isolation, shame that I didn’t speak out, guilt in burdening my family with my problems, fear of rejection, difficulty in asking for what I need.
In the end, I always knew I would need to be my own hero. It’s never too late to find your strength, to find your voice, to be brave. It was a freeing decision to stand up for myself. And now, I must do the work that lies ahead to forgive the people around me who fed me to the wolves.