Cigarette smoke still gives me an instant migraine. I don’t think that’s an accident. I’ve gotten migraines since I was 8 years old…the exact age I was the 2nd time my Father started molesting me. I remember it as clear as it was yesterday. He was sitting in the chair at the kitchen table. I was in my pajamas – the ones my Mother had made for me…hunter green…now my favorite color. T-shirt material, ribbed edging, bloomer bottoms…proper. He called me over to sit on his lap. I don’t remember where my Mother was, or my brother for that matter. But I remember ever single word my Father said to me…8 years old…38 years ago. I was so pretty…don’t get fat like your Mother…a little rub here…a squeeze there. But all Daddy’s did this, right? Right?
I remember the day I finally told my Mother what had been going on with my Father…1 month shy of my 18th birthday. I had just come in from a date with a boy I’d been seeing. My Mother was sitting on the couch, and I was sharing with her the good time I’d had. She was sharing too…that things weren’t going so well between her and my Father. Her words…’I don’t know about your Father and I.’ I followed with, ‘I don’t know about Dad and me either…’ I instantly wanted to suck the words back in…but I couldn’t. Her look of terror said it all…”What do you mean?” “Nothing…” I tried to play it off…but it was out…no unringing that bell.
The 10 years in-between are a blur of confusion about what was happening, why no one was helping me to make it all stop, growing into a teenager with feelings and emotions that conflicted with everything that was happening TO me, wondering toward the end if I was actually still a virgin or if my Father had taken that right FROM me, and lots of embarrassment for what I felt, physically and mentally, all the time.
When I think about it, I never HAD a childhood. The story is that the actual abuse started when I was 5 years old. I do not recall that portion at all. Apparently my Mother found out when I was 6 years old, and my Father was made to attend counseling through various facilities because he was in the military. My Mother said she continued to ask me if anything was happening, and I would always say no. Either at some point, she stopped asking, or I stopped telling her the truth…either way, 2 years later, hunter green pajamas, bloomer bottoms, no more questions.
Times and places are really irrelevant…in the house, outside of the house; when my Mother was home and when she wasn’t; in my bedroom or in their bedroom; piano room, truck, Army depot, dirt road, bathroom…all a nauseating whirl of cigarette smoke, sweat, danger of being caught, trying to evade…but no ultimate escape.
I remember vividly the day the Sherriff called the house and asked if I wanted to prosecute my Father. I was just shy of 18…and my Mother hovered over me, waiting to see if I was going to have her husband thrown in jail. I answered no.
I remember going to court – Plaintiff, the State of South Carolina, with my Guardian Ad Litem seated at the table with me, versus the Defendant, my Father, with my Mother by his side. And the Judge speaking so very harshly to my Father, and him looking so small and terrified, and the Judge telling him if he were walking on the same side of the street as me, he was to cross to the other side of the road, and if he saw me in a store, he was to leave. And I left that courtroom feeling so badly I wanted to vomit, like I had done something horribly wrong.
And I remember therapy after therapy after therapy – a group for victims, a group for perpetrators, a group for families…I remember how in group therapy there was no one else whose Father had molested them – it was an Uncle, or neighbor or stranger…not a Father…like they’d never ever heard that before. And then in the family group we all met together – Dad, Mom, my brother and I…and THEY were ready for Dad to move back home…and I was not. And then it was all about my pajamas being too short, and I walked around the house ‘asking for it’ – and I just couldn’t hear that anymore. That was August…I remember because it was time for college, and my original plan was to live at home and commute to school – only about 15 minutes away…but after that group, I suddenly decided to board at school, and never lived at home again.
I was convinced that my Father only molested me. He had a sickness – that’s what I told myself. I never once believed that he snatched children off the street and messed with them. There was no evidence that I could see to support that claim. I was an easy target to feed his sickness, as simple and as easy as that.
I also never questioned as a child that my Mother knew what was happening to me. That day when I opened up to her, she seemed genuinely shocked to find out what was going on. She reacted immediately to get us to safety and get me what I needed. Several people in my life have since tried to imply that she had to know…there’s no way a mother could not know something was going on under her roof. My response to that is simple: my Mother died way too soon for many things – to see me marry, to meet her grandchildren, to enjoy an adult relationship with her children. I would love to have a conversation with her and ask her many, many things. This question is not one of them. I know she loved me to the best of her ability. I know she parented me with the best skills she possessed. I also know she did not abuse me. As a parent and the child of abuse, I know I have spent my life hypervigilent to make sure my children will never know the pain I experienced at the hand of anyone…ever. Does this mean my Mother missed the signs? Absolutely not. My Mother struggled with her own issues of self-worth, self-doubt and depression. The bottom line is that I choose to focus on the positive things she did to raise me right, and once it became known to her what was happening, she got us all out of that situation immediately.
Lastly, I am asked constantly how I could have forgiven my Father for what he did to me. My answer is the same to basically everyone who asks…how could I not? I was raised to know and love Jesus Christ as my Savior. We live in a fallen world full of sinners just like me. My Father was no exception. As I mentioned, he had an illness for which I was the unfortunate target. On the one hand, I am grateful that no other person had to experience what I did as a result of his illness. I am equipped with God’s love and mercy, and have walked through much of the damage caused by those years of abuse. On the other hand, I had no way of knowing the depth of that damage, still reaching me some 38 years later. Though I’ve forgive him and he’s gone on to glory, I still have scars from what happened. I work through these as they come up, and I thank God for the testimony when I reach full and complete healing! My Father passed away just a few short years ago, and I was fortunate to be by his side in his remaining days. We shared some precious time together, and I learned priceless things about him that I would never trade. Not uncommon, I did learn that my Father was also the victim of sexual abuse at the hand of several strangers as a teen. This is not a justification of his behavior, but more insight into the damaging effects and repetitive cycle abuse has on people. I am consciously choosing to stop this cycle with me. It stops with me…
Those who read my writing know I typically put it all out there when I share. My hope in sharing this immensely personal account is that one person…somewhere…will find the courage to either tell someone they are being hurt, or stop hurting someone TODAY. No judgment, no blame; just release and healing…