I was sixteen when my mother brought a rapist home to live with us. They’d met in the locked psych ward a few weeks earlier. She was there for attempting suicide; he was doing a forced stay as part of his parole. Since I was the one who found her after she took the pills, I guess you could say I saved her life.
I can’t remember exactly when this new boyfriend started stalking me. Or rifling through my things. Or lurking outside my room all night, forcing me to sleep with a knife under my pillow. Or rolling up the blinds in my room or bathroom so he could watch me after I showered. I don’t remember when exactly he spray-painted the finished basement’s windows, leaving peepholes so he could watch from outside when I was alone, with my boyfriend or friends.
I can’t remember the first time I told my mother he was stalking me. I recall her ignoring my pleas for help. Or laughing in my face. Even when I screamed things like, “How does it feel to know he’s thinking of me when he’s f*cking you,” did nothing. The first time she saw it herself, standing with him in a driveway overgrown with weeds, she told me to put my blinds down from now on, as if somehow it was my fault.
As I read more and more about Dylan Farrow, Woody Allen and the sexual abuse that allegedly took place, I can’t help but revisit those terrifying moments, as well as the pain and shame that followed. I have a strong feeling millions of other women (and men) are doing the same. We’re shuddering not only because of the abuse we experienced, but because we know how easy it is for an adult to tell a child her memories are wrong. And how common it is for family members to tell an adult survivor she’s lying or looking for pity and attention.
Confused and ashamed, we’re forced into silence. We bury the secrets of our abuse deep inside our aching bellies. We try to move on and forget it. But then the Farrow/Allen tragedy resurfaces, and once again we have no choice but to confront the demons of our past.
When I was sixteen and all of this shit went down with the rapist my mother brought into my home, I didn’t tell anyone. Even when I went to live with a friend and her mom sat me down to talk about the obvious trauma I’d endured, I had no words, no language, no framework. While theoretically I may have understood the concepts of sexual abuse, voyeurism and stalking, I could not talk about my experience.
Eventually I found the words. And when I did, I was dealt another blow. My family did not give a shit. They told me to move on. They said it didn't happen. They said that bad things happened to everyone in our family and not just me. Somehow, perhaps because I’d found success in life, I didn’t have a right to talk about the girlfriend-beating, unemployed, alcoholic felon who barely hid his hard core porn and the vaseline jar under the living room chair and stalked me in my own home. My abuse was an inconvenience that needed to go away.
In the last few weeks, I’ve been following the story of Woody Allen’s alleged abuse of his daughter, knowing that I have no idea what took place in that attic between that famous filmmaker and his seven-year-old child. And then I imagine my family members wondering the same about me. Did it happen the way she said it did? Look at her Ivy League master’s degree, lovely husband and cute child; why can’t she just move on? Why is she embarrassing herself and us by sharing her story, a story we think she’s exaggerating for her own benefit?
I wonder what will happen once Farrow and Allen fade from headlines again. My guess is that women and girls will be even more reluctant to come forward. Abuse of any sort is completely devastating to a person’s life, when it takes place and for a long time afterwards. Add on to that the possibility of your family, friends and complete strangers telling you that you’re lying or crazy – and you realize that given the choice – silence seems like the only palatable option.
My heart goes out to every victim of abuse, past and present. I hope you find the words to tell your story. And I hope you ignore the people who will inevitably tell you that your abuse is inconvenient. You deserve better.
(photo credit: FrameAngel/freedigitalphotos.net)
Don't be a stranger. To get updates when I post here, enter your email address below and click the "create subscription" button. My list is totally spam free and you can opt out at any time. You can also come hang out with me over on Facebook.