I was fifteen, having left home because I had to, not because I wanted to. Don’t get me wrong… I dreamt of running away daily. I am not very brave you see, and I ascribed to the unwritten rule of “better the devil you know than the angel you don’t.” I knew the devil well, I had to kiss him every night and say, “I love you,” while on a daily basis he stole with his hands, his eyes, his toothless grin, his overgrown abdomen grinding against my tiny frame. Yes… I had studied the devil, and somehow it seemed safer to stay than run away, at least I knew the territory.
I knew who he was and what he was after, and that was me – I was the only one left to steal from. He loved to play cat and mouse and I was the mouse. He grabbed under my clothes, accused me of wanting to have sex with him, pressing his grotesque body into my slim one every chance he found, shoving his tongue down my throat, pinching my nipples, cornering me, gripping, grabbing and groping. I told myself that if he ever raped me, or tried, I was out of there. One night he made a break for it – and I left. I packed a few things in my bag went on the bus and never, not ever, came home.
My father taught me everything I thought I needed to know about predators – he was a perfect teacher, and I learned my lessons well. He raped everything he touched, my sisters notwithstanding. Somehow, I managed to escape, I think it was my wits and the warning that I had on account of the fact that he was imprisoned after confessing to the long-term molestation of my sister. She left home when she was thirteen.
Ruthlessly, I remained and he returned.
Daily there were privations so extensive that to chronicle them would be overwhelming to the rememberer and to the reader. One account I will, however, share with you… let us unpack a garment from the past, this suitcase is stuffed solid.
I was close to the age of eleven when my brother incurred a concussion at the rural school we went to. This required that my step-mother leave the home, pick him up from school and take him to the hospital. In homes like ours, you’d never actually go to the doctor, dentist or hospital, this was a rare occurrence, one that stands out. This meant that I went home on the long bus ride to my father at home – alone.
It was an hour bus ride and I felt every minute of it. A sick, dizzy feeling comes over me even now as I remember, my body does too. Our bus stop was a driveway away, which felt like a mile through concrete as I walked home.
I knew. I knew what he was capable of, and I knew what I was in for – no less than rape would be my lot. And I walked straight home to it.
I will pause here and tell you… that as an adult if this were a movie, I’d be screaming at the screen “Get out of there! Tell someone! Call the cops! Run away!!!” I did none of those things. I was trained from the cradle to comply and say absolutely nothing. Brut force and terror aided my imprinting. I learned well. The idea that I had “choice” didn’t enter into my mind until I was in my forties. There was none.
I walked slow, down the dusty gravel drive, past the dilapidated house into an even more dilapidated small engine shop behind the house. I stood in the door, afraid to go in the shop. He looked up, a cruel Cheshire grin on his immense face… He told me to come into the shop. I said no and backed away. The game was on.
I walked up the drive, but not faster than him – I would never. I walked in slow steps. I told him if he hurt me I’d run away. He mocked me and asked, “Where would you go?”
I floundered, “I will tell my uncle (his brother)”… more mocking… “He won’t help you… he is afraid of me. ” Fair point I thought…
“Get into the house,” said he.
“No,” said I.
We walked on… every step was verbally contested. Up the stairs of the landing, into the side door of the bungalow. Unable to breathe, heart beating wildly I stood rigid inside the door. The basement stairs were right in front of me, he commanded me to go down. He still had not touched me. I refused. Repeatedly he uttered his command in a mocking, smirking, calm manner. He outweighed me by a ratio of more than 3:1. I finally said, “I am NOT going down those stairs. If you want me to go down, you’ll have to throw me.”
I was eleven.
It may have been his recent incarceration that was fresh in his mind, but he walked slowly to the kitchen table and sat his immense frame down.
“I would never hurt you. I love you,” said he, attempting to repair the rupture.
“Oh yeah, just like you loved my sister? Right. You would too! You just tried. I don’t get it… I just don’t get it. Why would you have sex with a child when you have a wife?
Then my trashy, illiterate, toothless, violent father said the most honest thing I have ever hear him say before or since…
“It is not about sex, it’s about power.”
It took me four more years of regular more attempts before I left for good.
This may come as a surprise to you… but I actually thought I had got off lucky. He never raped me, therefore I didn’t really think I had been sexually abused, at least not too much. He wasn’t, of course, the only set of hands that stole, but he was precedent setting.
The lessons he gave me, made me see predators like him from a mile away. Equally, it caused me to be utterly blind to elite deviants… well-groomed, articulate, educated men whose strongest drink is tea.
When I finally landed in trauma-informed care with a therapist from Dr. Diane Langberg’s office, I was just forty. Forty years of predation is a lot of predators.
One of the first things she had me do was complete a list of the most signficant traumas that have occurred before I was 18. I thought carefully, chose only the things that I remembered with the most amount of emotional energy, and pared the list down to twenty. I was really worried that what I had been through didn’t really amount to enough to justify having “trauma” counselling… after all, I had not been raped by force.
She assured me that my twenty traumas were more than enough, one would be enough. I believe she is right. We clumped those traumas into subgroups and have currently dealt with four out of five of those clumps in a “trauma intensives.” This required me to travel to her office in Pennsylvania, find accommodations and spend hours each day with her, while we slowly lowered me down emotionally into all of these memories. I am sure there are many ways to do this work, but how she had me do it was to write about the trauma as follows:
- She was..
- She is…
- I was…
- I am…
Yes… it was a lot of writing. It was writing that allowed me to lower myself into the memory, very slowly. Like getting into water of an extreme temperature, a tiny bit at a time. I got to choose how low to go. One time I had such intense physical symptoms (swirling down a drain and off the chair at the same time…) that I had to stop and guess what? She let me stop. She didn’t force me, push me, grind me or rape me.
She made it safe for me to say no.
Saying “No” didn’t cost me psychologically, spiritually, emotionally, physically, financially or relationally. I could say no and it was ok. That was the first time in my life that had ever happened.
I was 41.
Mathematically, my father set in motion many an error in computations from the cradle to midlife. There have been many, much more calculated predators who worked and reworked the error to make a new, more muddled sum.
It was C.S. Lewis who said, “A (wrong) sum can be put right: but only by going back til you find the error and working it afresh from that point, never by simply going on. Evil can be undone, but it cannot ‘develop’ into good. Time does not heal it. The spell must be unwound, bit by bit, ‘with backward mutters of dissevering power.”
With competent, trauma informed care, I have been trudging back through these muddled computations; sheets and sheets of paper; book upon book; with a trustworthy competant guide – to find the source of the errors and work them afresh. Simply going on, made me vulnerable to re-victimization. Time did not heal it… nay, it was bit by bit, ‘with backward mutters of dissevering power.’ Be encouraged that if the sums of life are not adding up, it is possible to set it right.