There’s a new media frenzy every week it seems. Most recently the news has devoured every angle and aspect of Harambe the gorilla being fatally shot to prevent injury or possible death to a small child who fell into his zoo enclosure. Before that, it wasn’t possible to skim the headlines without seeing a story or few debating the need for non-gendered restrooms.
While I have opinions and personal views regarding both issues and I could easily delve deeper into both, this week’s newest fixation has been on a subject I feel quite strongly about. A subject that for years has caused extreme anxiety, hopelessness, shame, guilt, and anger to name a few. I could endlessly describe the various degrees of emotion I have personally felt over the past 30 years of my life. The most prominent one however, the emotion that sticks out above all the others, is the overwhelming feeling of seclusion. Let me back up a bit.
This week, the victim of Brock Turner, the athletic swimmer from a prestigious school who has been convicted of three felony charges for a brutal sexual assault, released to the media, her statement in which she read to her assailant details of the assault she unknowingly endured during an unconscious episode she experienced. In her statement, she mentions that although she does not have the mental memory of what had been done to her, she carries with her the pain from that night. The agony, the shame, the knowledge of her own vulnerability on a night when she simply wanted to have a good time with her younger sister. She will forever have moments of uncertainty and anxiety because of a decision this young man made in a moment of pure selfishness.
As I read the victim’s statement, I couldn’t help but choke back tears. I had to step away from my computer more than once to regain my composure before continuing. I can relate to how she feels because although circumstances and scenarios differ, I too am a survivor of sexual assault and rape.
As I mentioned above, my story begins some 30 years or so ago. I was four, or maybe five, during my earliest memory of it. Too young to understand what or why it was happening, yet smart enough to comprehend the feeling of it being so terribly wrong.
I was playing in the living room of my parents’ small two bedroom house. My sister, brother, and I lined the kitchen chairs along with other random pieces of furniture and toys to drape sheets over, making an array of tunnels to crawl through and play hide and seek in. It was late. My father was in bed; my mother had left for her late night shift. We had company that evening. My half sister and brother from my father’s previous marriage. They were 12 and 11 years older than me, respectively.
We played for what was probably not long, but felt like hours in our small minds until my brother and sisters fell asleep. Running on fumes myself, I continued playing in the tunnels that were my fortress from the world. With My Little Pony dolls in each hand, I became a queen fighting off sleep to protect her Barbies from the GI Joe’s lurking right outside the entrance.
All was grand in my little life. Until it wasn’t.
He caught me off guard. Not wanting to play with my sister and I earlier in the evening, my half-brother now crawled toward me and hushed me to be quiet. Warning of impending doom in the form of goblins and dragons outside our makeshift tent, he told me to lie down and be still. He spooned his large body around me and whispered that he would protect me as he lifted my hand and placed it on his erect penis which by now was sticking out of his boxer shorts. Surprised and confused, I quickly pulled away. He hushed me again and grabbed my hand once more. With more force this time, he wrapped my fingers around his penis and used my tiny hand as a prop to help himself masturbate. He then proceeded to use his other hand to reach under my nightgown and into my panties where he eventually made his way into me.
I couldn’t move. I couldn’t scream. My mind wondered to darkness. A blank slate where no thoughts occurred. Numbness.
It didn’t take long for things to progress from there. Aided by my lack of struggling, he easily mounted himself over me and entered my frail body with the force of his post-pubescent one.
Pain. Stabbing. It hurt so much. Darkness. Numbness. I felt nothing.
When he was finished, he said not a word as he crawled his way out of the tunnel and onto the couch to fall asleep. I was confused and emotionless all at once. Not three feet from where my younger sister dreamt, I had just lived a nightmare.
Over the course of the next few years, the abuse escalated. The rapes became more frequent. He became more bold. On days when he was gone, I was fine. I played with my siblings. I laughed. I even slept. Then the weekends would arrive. I’d hear my father mention he was picking them up and I instantly withdrew. I refused to wear nightgowns. When my mother told me I had to, I reluctantly agreed, but wore jeans underneath. I would drown in my Strawberry Shortcake blanket; wrapping it around myself like a burrito. Then I would lie still, struggling to catch fresh air, as I pretended to sleep with the hopes that maybe this time, I actually could. I rarely had that chance. I was too weak to overcome the strength of this boy three times my size. This boy who became the monster that lurked outside my fortress and always found a way to break in. My brother. My rapist.
I won’t go into any more gruesome details with this story. There are many, as well as other assailants who turned my childhood into a game of survival. My story shall be left unfinished; perhaps a pause to be later continued. What I know is this. My heart goes out to that young lady who fell victim to such a cruel act. I have lived the emotions she is living now. I have felt the guilt of the what ifs. She will always be reminded of what she went through, but she will also forever know that she is strong. She is a survivor. Most importantly, she must know that she needs not live her life in seclusion.