TRIGGER WARNING: The content of this piece contains descriptions of sexual and physical assault. Some readers may find it upsetting. I have chosen to publish this work because it is – sadly – an all too common story for girls, and one that is often swept under the rug. However, I believe that Girl Museum, as a museum dedicated to girls and girlhood, has a duty to share all stories, even painful ones. By hiding painful realities, we condemn other girls to live them, too. Perhaps by sharing them, we can end cycles of violence.
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Girl Museum Inc.
Every memory is fragmented. Pieces are missing. Voices are lost. Most often, they are silent. I am simply witness to what remains.
Each of these memories is my own.
That makes it all the harder to write, speak, and remember. I try to be prosaic about it, but there is nothing prosaic about abuse. It comes in many forms, from many people, in many places, but at its core is something I can only call evil.
Perhaps it is a product of their own traumas. Perhaps it is because patriarchal society is so entrenched with the idea of controlling women. So many perhaps statements can make you dizzy after a while. So, I’ve stopped trying to account for their actions, for what made them monsters. All I know is what they did and how I felt and how it still lingers like swirling clouds in the back of my mind, ever-present hands reaching out to drag me back, to tell me this is how I should feel.
I know better now, but still, I feel it.
I don’t know when it started. Each memory is so jumbled with the rest. But perhaps it starts with one boy – not much older than me, but from a totally different culture. It felt exotic and exciting. The Internet was new, and chatting was “the thing” to do. Chatting was fun. Popping into public chat rooms, wondering who you would meet and what they would be like. If they might like you. It was so much easier than being in the real world. I had a happy home life, but not a happy school one. I always felt alone there, diving into books as if they could take me away. The Internet came and it was another book to open – only this time, the stories were real.
Did we have much in common? I don’t know now. I remember nothing of how he wooed me, or even what room we met in. But we were both lonely. I remember that much.
Time and again, we would visit – usually me visiting him, which never seemed odd then, but now does. I was always going to them. One visit, our families were socializing. I don’t remember what they were doing. We were at his apartment complex, in the hot sticky sun. I had to go soon. I didn’t quite want to. He wasn’t done with me yet.
My first sexual encounter, I was thirteen on a bench next to the elevator in his apartment complex. Out in broad daylight, but hidden from his parents’ view by the elevator. I don’t remember if anyone else was there. I climbed on his lap, felt him slide past my clothes and inside. Up. Down. Up. Down. Done. I climbed off, straightened my clothes. Went home.
One Christmas, he looked at me different. Friends for as long as I could remember, suddenly he was looking at me all the time. We stayed at his house – all us kids – and up late. It felt so grown-up. We watched movies, and as the others drifted off around me, I felt him weave his limbs between and around my legs. His fingers graced my waistline, touching softly. As darkness deepened, the touches turned to holding, to kissing. Did we stay up all night? Did it go beyond kissing and holding? I can’t remember. It felt good. It felt wanted.
I didn’t know what it meant. I thought he was saying, I love you. Then away he went.
It continued, that dark affair. In shadows and whispers, stolen phone conversations and emails. I have none of it, remember little of it, now. It always felt like he loved me, but the only time he said it was the night when I was seventeen and he called me. Drunk beyond recognition, he related how he’d been at a strip club with friends. Then I love you, I love you, I love you was all he could say. I refused to believe him, to acknowledge it could be real. He fell asleep on the phone.
I held on to hope so long, I mistook hope for love.
Others came, then went. I don’t remember the names of the kind ones. I remember the wrong ones. The three boys we went to visit late one Friday night, giggling like schoolgirls in our new cars and show-off clothes, sticky in the heat and wanting to be wanted.
Stepping up to the screened in porch, fireflies buzzing, heat sinking into our bones. Sticky sweet soda pop on the tongue, sitting in laps and laughing and giggling. Teasing one another to seem like the better girl in the bunch. They knew the game. We knew it, too. We just didn’t know how it ended.
One by one, they got called home. But no one ever called for me. I took the girls home but drove back. I remember walking through the gate, climbing the porch stairs, smiling and laughing. I took a sip of sickly sweet.
I woke up in a big bed, in a tiny room, air hanging like wine about to pour. Three boys around me – different sizes, slightly older, all passed out. Where am I? What happened?
Driving home. Rinse it off, hot water scalding the numbness. Get dressed, eat. Back in the car while the house is still quiet. Off to work. Stuck in a quiet office on a Saturday where only two people are in but they’re across the building and all I can do is cry, cry, cry as each paper shreds into smaller strips, words jumbled and lost.
Cry. Finish. Move on.
I saw one of them another time. He wanted me. He had me. He screamed and slapped as the blood ran down my legs. How dare you get me dirty, he said.
Another entered. Years long, this. Love, I thought, but it was pain more than most. This one crept under the skin. It wasn’t just feeling him, but thinking how he wanted. Slow and painful, like a snake crushing its prey slowly so the prey never realizes it can no longer breathe. I don’t remember when I stopped breathing.
He tried to run me over with his truck once, for always being in the way.
I broke up with him. He said in two months he’d propose. Held me up with one hand, feet dangling in the air against cold metal, choking on the words Let me go! as his eyes filled with fury and rage. Lights flashed. A car pulled in. My best friend stepped out, and he left. I gasped the night air in.
I walked into a trap. The apex of them all, the anaconda in a den of black adders. This is where I choke, where words fail. What do you say about the one who hurt the most?
He ripped apart the fabric of my being. He convinced me that only he could love broken, pathetic me. That he’d have affairs, but I could never. “Have the dishes done and my video game ready, or else. Be a good girl, don’t let them know what happens after dark. Drink. Smoke. Pills. Shrooms. Take them. Take them all. Forget with me.” I forgot it all. I split in two. One side you see, another you don’t. Scars hidden. Words silenced. Everything’s fine. It’s totally not fine. He kept me quiet, separate, alone. Daily phone calls, friendly coffee chats, studying and presenting and creating weren’t enough to break the surface. The bottles drunk each night, the joints smoked, the pills and drugs to top it off. How many days and nights were there? Years, but I remember so little. I’m not sure I really want to remember.
Trauma lives in our bones. It finds nooks and crannies to creep and settle, darkness ever-present. It’s taken so long to find light and love and hope again. Must I remember the dark?
I was lucky. I had people who got me out, who reminded me what love and trust and hope could be.
So many are not that lucky. What is it – one in five survives?
I don’t know if you can call this living, the hands always reaching. Dark hands. Clawed hands. They never really go away. Like demons with their trio of talons reaching to scratch you on the back, strange marks that are too complicated and mysterious to explain even though you’ve lived every moment of it. Every. Single. Moment.
But this is all I remember. This is all I know.