I was 5 years old the day I learned my body was not my own.
As I sat on the shoulders of a man whom my parents trusted, my brother loved, and I thought was hilarious and fun, I already knew this man had authority over me and if he decided to touch my body I couldn’t stop him.
Not to say I didn’t try.
There in the basement, playing catch with my brother, laughing and joking as a 5 year old and 9 year old might, this man was reaching his hand up my shorts.
I was stopping him. I was saying, “no”.
And he was stopping. For the moment.
But then he was back at it. Again. And again. And again.
And then, days later, he would come sit next to me on the couch while I was watching TV.
And he would put a blanket over my legs. And he would reach down and touch me.
And I would freeze.
I remember thinking, if I tell he'll get in trouble. And, probably, I would get in trouble, too.
I also remember thinking that our live-in nanny, (this man being her boyfriend), was in love with him. And if I told, she would leave our family and she would go with him. And that would be my fault. And I would be heartbroken. Because she was like my second mom.
So I didn’t tell. For 4 years. I kept silent. I kept freezing. I pretended to like it. Because, isn’t that what the adults do? Didn’t this make me an adult? Didn’t this mean I was special?
I craved the attention. But I hated the result.
I was lost and alone and I was a textbook case of a small abused child.
I became fixated on things. At age 6 I’d happened across the end of the movie The Exorcist and I was convinced that I was like Regan McNeil and something evil was going to come and take possession of my body.
Hello? Psych 101, anyone?
I had nightmares, I was afraid to walk home from the neighbor’s if it was dark outside, I was terrified of my parents leaving the house for any reason (and this was a time when they would take frequent vacations for a week or two or three at a time).
I was a raging ball of anxiety.
I patted myself on the back for enduring it. I would tell myself how important I was, how smart, how cunning I was to be able to lie so effectively. I was probably a genius. We were getting away with it.
I’d become so indoctrinated I’d started to think of the act as a “we”.
It was in 3rd grade gym class right around Halloween when I saw this paper skeleton hanging on the door. On it, they had written some safety tips.
One of these tips said, “No one should ever touch you inappropriately. (In your private parts). If this happens tell an adult you trust immediately.”
I read that sign over and over and over.
This secret game wasn’t fun. Even though I thought I was special. Even though I thought I was as cool as the adults. I still hated it. And my anxiety was getting worse.
It was time to tell someone.
A few weeks later a friend came over for a sleepover. We were really excited since it was our first one just the two of us.
My parents were out at a dinner party.
He was downstairs playing pool.
I mentioned to my friend that she didn’t have to participate but that this was something he was going to do to me and she could watch or whatever and not to worry. I was really used to it.
See, by this time, I would just go to him. Because when he would come to me (in my room at night, or when I was in the bathroom) it would scare me. I wasn’t ready. I wasn’t expecting it. The not expecting it was the absolute worst. It was SO MUCH EASIER if I went to him because then I wasn’t caught off-guard. I could pretend I was in some kind of control.
She grabbed me and said she didn’t want to go down there. I told her it was fine, we didn’t have to go. (Secretly I was praying he wouldn’t show up in my room later that night).
Instead, I freaked out in the middle of the night having revealed my long-held secret and got in the bed with my mom. And this poor girl woke up and found me not in my room and got so scared she went to my parent’s room, too.
When we all woke up I noticed she was crying and my Mom chastised me for leaving my friend alone.
I felt ashamed. I felt weak. I felt scared.
The next day she told her mom. And her mom found me in school the following day and told me she knew and that we were going to fix this.
I was livid. The secret was out and there was no putting it back in. I saw my entire life spinning completely out of control. I knew, without a shadow of a doubt, that my nanny was going to leave us. I hoped I was wrong. But I knew. To put this into context, she’d been with us since I had been a year old. She was family.
I also knew that this meant my parents would have to find out. I was ashamed. I was embarrassed. I was going to have to explain why I didn’t tell for so many years. Why I kept it secret.
I was terrified.
- The mom invited me and my mom to her home and she “helped” me tell my mom.
- They asked why I never told
- They asked if I was threatened with a gun (No. But being told that I would be blamed was threat enough)
- They asked me if I ever told him I wanted to do this. (Would this have mattered???? I was ages 5 to 9)
- They asked me what he did to me and when I answered that he only put his fingers inside me and made me touch his penis but never actually penetrated me with his penis, they said this was a “huge relief” (I mean, to me it was still an on-going betrayal of trust, messing with my sexual health, and inciting trauma for decades, but yeah, at least I wasn’t technically raped by this monster)
And yes. My nanny left our family. And she married him. And they had a daughter. And I feared for that girl’s safety every single day after.
Heaping. Piles. Of. Shame.
Cut to: Today
I’ve been through my fair share of OTHER negative sexual experiences and assaults. This is just a small sampling of them:
- Like the guy who first snapped my bra and then tried to have sex with me on the floor of my boyfriend’s apartment…WHILE MY BOYFRIEND WAS THERE – and then my boyfriend didn’t believe me.
- Or the older actor in the show who kept telling me all about his sexual fantasies and exploits (and how I was his exact type) and kept promising to “put in a good word” about me to the producers for the next show they were producing
- Or the popular teacher/improv guy who convinced me I was super special and he liked me but then kicked me out of his bed and his home at 2am with a handful of quarters to “find my way home”
- Or the relative who told me he wanted me to stay while he masturbated and when I refused said, “But what about all the things I do for you?” To this day I can’t get him completely out of my life. Because: family.
It’s no wonder we don’t come forward. It’s no wonder we worry about being believed.
It’s no wonder I still freeze when I’m touched unexpectedly.
Men: do better.
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