Notice: this article contains language about sexual assault that some readers may find disturbing. This article and any opinions expressed herein are solely for educational and informational purposes only. It is not intended as a substitute for professional advice.
As kids, most of us knew that when our grandparents were coming over, it meant secret sweets, cards with money, and instant defense whenever you got in trouble with your parents. Or some of us knew that, at least. My grandparents on my dad’s side lived in a different state than us, so we never really heard from them, aside from monthly phone calls and cards for birthdays. But the year I was nine-years-old, they came to visit, and my siblings and I couldn’t have been more excited.
The first day they were there was filled with happiness, junk food, new clothes, and baby pictures of my dad. I went to bed excited to do it all over again the next day. But that night, my grandfather came into my bedroom and sexually assaulted me, changing my life forever.
Looking back now, I probably should have seen it coming: he was extra touchy during the day, his fingers lingering in places they shouldn’t have been on a child. Have you ever gotten a hug that lasted a little too long, or a kiss on the cheek that was closer to your lips than you would have liked? I have, from my grandfather. I was a kid, afraid of the dark from that night on not because of monsters, like most kids, but because you’re afraid that the second you close your eyes, your grandfather will slip into your room to “play” with you. “Don’t worry,” he used to say when he was in my room at night. “It just means I’m happy to see you.”
At this point, a lot of you are probably thinking, “Did you tell anyone? Why not? Why wouldn’t you tell someone?” My response: Who do you turn to in this situation? As a nine-year-old, I didn’t think anyone would listen to me. He used to tell me that no one would believe me. After the visit, I couldn’t stop the nightmares I had night after night, and I couldn’t do anything to lessen the disgust I felt with myself. I had allowed him to do something unforgivable and disgusting, so why shouldn’t I get sick every time I looked in the mirror? What kind of person was I?
Even though I never told anyone, I could feel people looking at me like they knew. I was impure, unworthy of anything decent because of the sickness he left within me. No amount of showers could clean the blackness corroding my soul day after day. I tried to force myself to erase the memory, and it never happened. But as time passed, it became easier and easier to push the weekend aside, almost as if it was a bad dream. Holidays came and went, and we heard nothing from them.
Unfortunately, all good things come to an end. The month before my 11th birthday, I was at home, thinking about my upcoming birthday gift (a Mongoose bike). I was sitting in the living room enjoying a bowl of Cocoa Pebbles (my favorite cereal) when the doorbell rang. Have you ever been on a roller coaster with an extreme drop? You spend the entire ride to the top preparing yourself, but the second you get there and the descent begins, you realize you aren’t ready for it. This is only a small bit of how I felt when I opened the door to see my grandparents standing there.
This time, they were there to stay for a while, much longer than a weekend. They would be using the apartment in our house until my grandmother recovered from surgery. Have you ever felt like you wanted to die? Like you truly, deeply wanted off this earth because nothing could save you? Do you know what it’s like to feel that at such a young age? That was how I felt, and I didn’t know what to do.
I never slept, I barely ate, and I locked myself in my bedroom whenever I could, avoiding everyone for weeks on end. My parents had no idea what was wrong with me, and what could I say? How could I look my father in the eye and say, “Daddy, Grandpa came into my room and made me touch him while he touched me?” It would ruin my life, his life, and probably end my grandpa’s life. Instead of speaking up, I avoided home as much as I could – thankfully, school and soccer meant I was almost never alone with my grandfather. During the weekends, I spent as much time with my friends as possible. I think this is where I started to build a wall against my family, making myself an outsider. I couldn’t talk to them, so instead, I pushed them away.
After months of this, nothing else had happened with him. I had started to almost convince myself that I made up the time he came into my room years ago because he was acting so differently. He left me presents, he was funny, and he never made me feel weird. His hands didn’t linger and he didn’t come to my bedroom once.
I started to feel okay… until I noticed my younger sister acting strangely. That was when I realized that he had stopped going into my room because he was going into her room. I had once again allowed something to happen that never should have happened. I had to put a stop to it, and it couldn’t be her, so I made sure it was me. In order to keep him from hurting her, I used myself and my body to persuade him back to my room. Can you imagine? I was 11-years-old, and every time it happened, the words, “slut, prostitute, whore, trash,” went through my head. I became numb to what was happening and after a while, transported my mind somewhere else. My sister knew what was happening, and it wasn’t what I wanted, but I hoped she knew I was only doing it to protect her. I knew there were times I hadn’t kept him from her, but I was trying to make up for that somehow.
This continued for months, neither of us saying a word to each other or anyone else, until they finally left for good. I eventually got sick and ended up in a psych ward, speaking to a therapist who told me repeatedly it was not my fault. I don’t know if my parents knew, but part of me thinks they did: after that visit, none of us ever spoke to them again, and they never reached out.
As the years went by, I became even more distant and depressed, constantly rebelling against everything my parents told me, getting tattoos and piercings, and drinking heavily. I threw myself into jobs and school, remaining distant and avoiding people, because if I couldn’t trust my own flesh and blood, then who could I trust? It’s been 16 years since it happened, and I still haven’t been able to get the horrified look on my sister’s face out of my head.
Today, I am doing better, but I don’t think I will ever fully recover. Sometimes when my boyfriend reaches for me in the middle of the night, just to cuddle or be closer, I kick and scream until he snaps me out of it. He loves me through my mood swings, my nightmares, my self-consciousness, my insecurities, and everything else that still sticks with me after all these years, and that helps. I have spoken to therapists and written about it, but the thing that helps me most is knowing I have someone who unconditionally loves me and accepts me without question.
I will always have scars on the inside and I still sometimes feel disgust when I look in the mirror. It’s been a really bumpy road. When I watch the news about women getting raped by co-workers, friends, or strangers, the already fractured little girl buried deep down inside of me breaks a little more. If you’ve been through this too, I know you understand. I can’t promise that the pain will ever go away, and I don’t know how long healing will take, or what will ease the pain completely. What I do know is that this man took a lot of things from me, some I will never get back, but what he didn’t and couldn’t take was my will to live. You’re not alone, and together, we will survive this.
If you have been a victim of sexual assault and you would like to get help, call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-4673 or look at the National Sexual Violence Resource Center (http://www.nsvrc.org/). If you are depressed or have ever had suicidal thoughts and you would like to get help, please call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 800.273.TALK (8255).
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