I have always imagined him still sitting in the smelly old sofa chair in the corner of the living room. With the stained rug. Wearing his old-man pajamas while watching reruns of The Waltons and The Andy Griffith Show on TV Land. The house with the cesspool situated on the front lawn, a dirt crawl space for a basement and a high water table. There were days when the smell of sewer hung like a heavy shadow in the house. The tank obviously needed to be pumped, but there was too much denial and not enough money to do so. My mother would silently light candles to mask the smell. There are no candles strong enough to blanket the stench of feces and trauma in a house of dis-ease. None.
He didn’t talk much. He’d sit and brood with an energy so heavy I could feel the weight of it. It added to the thickness of the air I choked on like a volcano burning deep and hidden whose release erupted only in the dead of the night in the darkness of my bedroom. I hated him. I would mutter it under my breath over and over again, “I hate you. I hate you. I hate you.” But there was no place for my hate. How could I hate someone so vehemently when I had no reason? Any discomfort — physical or emotional — was, how shall I word this — forbidden? It wasn’t allowed. It wasn’t real. There was no room for truth with all of the dead air and menacing gazes taking up so much space.
At age 11, I woke up in the middle of the night to the sound of my own voice sobbing in the bathroom. Shrieking in pain and crying out, “I don’t understand. I don’t understand! Why am I hurting? What’s wrong with me!?” The pain so unbearable I leapt and hopped round and around in the small space of our bathroom, wailing like a wounded animal. I couldn’t remember how I got to the bathroom in the first place and I didn’t understand why my vagina felt like it had been sent through a blender. I remember my mother appearing briefly, putting me in a sitz bath and blankly stating, “That’s totally normal. Some people just wake up in the middle of the night with raw, red and bleeding vaginas. You’re okay. Totally fine. You can go back to bed.” Okay, maybe she didn’t say raw, red and bleeding vagina but she did tell me people just wake up hurting down there sometimes. A totally normal thing. Who knew?
It has taken me years to tell this truth. To speak of how I got to the bathroom to begin with. To discuss why I was in pain. Why I was hurt. Why I was wounded. I was raped. And both of the adults in my house knew it. I knew it but I was told I was crazy and wrong. If I were a better person, if I didn’t live in that house, if I hadn’t been born — years of sexual abuse would not have happened. It was my fault. And because it was my fault, there was no reality to it. I was just bad and flawed and to be blamed for my own irrational discomfort. Like the stench of the cesspool, we didn’t talk about it. We tiptoed around it and pretended it wasn’t there.
This past weekend was our kids’ first swim meet of the season which means about 30 hours of sitting and waiting in a hot, loud pool for maybe an hour of racing. Rob and I had micromanaged our time down to the last nanosecond. Sunday morning was my time to ride my bike on the indoor trainer. Pancakes were made. The dog was fed. Snacks packed. Water bottles, towels, goggles, caps, flip-flops, swim suits and sound-drowning headphones for grown-ups, were loaded in the car. Rob left with the kids and the loot for the first shift as I settled in to bike ride with my own creature comforts.
Sometimes there’s music on the long rides. Other times a movie. Lately, I ride with the lights off — managing the sensory overload while moving at the same time. I’m still negotiating Post Concussion Syndrome and things are simply more taxing. Distractions are always a good thing on these rides so I keep my phone with me. About 45 minutes into my ride a got a “ping” on my phone alerting me that one of my social media posts had been “liked.” Grateful for the diversion, I quickly opened it and I immediately froze. I think my heart stopped. Everything stopped. I stopped and I nearly fell off of my bike. One of my Rape Culture Awareness posts had been “liked” by a woman I’ve never met before. Okay, yes, this happens often. But not this — as I scrolled through the woman’s profile I saw standing next to her, holding her hand and smiling, was the sociopath, the pedophile, the rapist. My rapist. Years have passed with him living on that sofa chair rotting. But here he was — in picture after picture — living life, smiling back at me, in a relationship with this woman who “liked” my Rape Culture Awareness post. Really?
Yes. Yep. There he is. And I’m left to wonder, Why? And, How? And I’m not quite sure what to do with it all. In my naïve mind I’d hoped that he and my mother would have readily let me disappear outside of the narrow bandwidth of their sick world and never give me another thought. In my real mind I knew I was putting myself out there in the world and anything was possible. But this? I’m just not sure what to think about it. A weird algorithm that linked us together? Some random fluke? I doubt it. And yet I also doubt that the pedophile would be having conversations with this woman, “Oh by the way, the woman I raped and molested as a child is writing about me.” Yet, sociopaths are unpredictable and evil. So there’s that too.
Part of me wants to write: “Hello, Woman. You’re standing next to a pedophile, a sexual predator, a rapist and I find it bizarre that you’ve ‘liked‘ my post about Rape Culture. Please stop ‘liking‘ my posts.” Another part of me thinks, “Who gives a shit. I’m staying out of your twisted world and I plan to continue letting the light in and living in the here and now with the family I’ve created.”
For now, I’ll stick with that latter. I’m beginning to be able to hold a whole range of emotions without fearing they’ll swallow me up. I refuse, as I have always refused, to allow the abuse to entrap me. I will not be a victim. I will not be paralyzed. I will not experience myself as broken. I am not broken. The people who hurt me are deeply, deeply broken. But I am whole and I am learning to bring all of the pieces of myself to the surface so I can decide which ones are a part of me and which once are residues of sick, abusive people who thought they could be a part of my story. They’re not a part of my story. They are the puss and foreign objects of a wound that need to be debrided — scraped off so new, healthy tissue can grow.
My recent head trauma is teaching me that all trauma is a process. It requires a redefining of how we relate to ourselves and the world. I crashed my bike on 7/24/16 and my body is on a healing journey. At age eight my world was completely rocked when my mother used me as a barter to win the love of a man whose soul is so contorted he doesn’t have a self to love. What do I do with that? I continue on my healing journey. I delete the social media post so I can safely write about it here. I continue to care for myself and let the people who love me care for me too. I’ll keep my heart open and know that I’m not alone. I’m connected to a world so much larger than my childhood trauma. I’ll write my truth. I’ll stay on my path. I’ll hold in my heart the reality that I am loved and I will keep creating the ending of my own story. I own that ending. No one else does. It’s all up to me.
My message to all survivors is the same message I tell myself every day — life is about choice — we are brave whole-hearted people mastering self-care and self-compassion or we are traumatized victims. I just can’t hold the image of myself as a victim. That’s me smack on the ground after I fell off of my bike never getting back up. I can’t live like that. That’s not embracing living. That’s being beaten. Instead, I’m debriding the wounds. I am. Debridement is a painful, painful procedure but it has to be done for new growth. I’m scraping off the septic, toxic lies and making room for new health. I’m embracing what is real. I am making room for healing. I am breathing in the fresh air.