Things Change

When I was very young my parents would pack the kids up and drive a few hours to their town of origin, which was Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan. Most of the time the brood stayed with our maternal grandmother and father, because they had the space available in their home. On one particular occasion, when I must have been around 8 years old, my younger brother Joe and I went alone with my father and stayed with his sister Etta.

Aunt Etta was the eldest of 11 kids, my father was the youngest. Etta was probably a bit of a surrogate mom to him; his much older sisters doted on him as a child, while his mother, weary from carrying the weight of so many children with what appeared to be an often absentee husband, probably couldn’t give him the attention or patience he might have needed.

Etta looooved my little sister, although she was just a baby at this time so the adoration had only just kicked in. And my sister wasn’t along for this trip. In my childhood memory Etta regularly shunted me aside as someone who had to be tolerated. In fairness, I think she was probably nicer than I’ve painted it in subjective memory, but I resented the way she doted on my sister and the way everyone else smiled upon their special bond. Etta was a matter of fact, ouspoken woman used to being in control, and for her there wasn’t much to enjoy about my bookish, sullen nature. In stark contrast, there was my sister: an adorable, outgoing, curly-topped, Italian moppet. Although this visit was prior to my getting glasses, and I can see in old photos that I was a pretty child at this time.

One of Etta’s great sorrows in life was that she and her husband were unable to conceive more than one child: our cousin Randy, who was a kind and cheerful boy, too much older than us to be of interest, but still a lovely guy with an easy smile. I liked Randy better than i did his mother, who expressed her desire for more children by taking in foster teenagers, like Kenny.

This visit was the only time I met Kenny, and I don’t think he was in their care for very long. In my memory it seems as if he was 18 or 19. I was so little that he seemed very old, but in retrospect he was probably more like 15 or 16. I remember that he was tall and skinny and his hair was cut overly short.

From the minute we landed, Kenny was all over me. He ruffled my hair, he tried to joke with me, he pulled at my clothing, he found any excuse to touch me, and the few times I happened to walk near him, he pulled me into his lap. He was relentless about getting me into his lap.

I hated it. I was averse to the spotlight and didn’t want to be touched by anyone other than my immediate family. And I was already well on my way to mind-crippling physical guilt courtesy of the Catholic church. So on a good day this would have been too much. I sensed instinctively that this was not the standard attention that a teenage boy should be lavishing upon an 8 year old girl. But I didn’t know how to rebuke the advances. The only recourse seemed to be to tolerate them as best I could and hide from him as much as possible. His attention made me feel guilty, and creepy, and weird, and even more alone than usual while surrounded by people. My father was preoccupied, my brother a pest, my aunt politely masking her mild disdain. I counted the hours until I could get home to the warm presence of my mother.

The night before we were to leave, I woke up in the dark, feeling the energy of someone standing next to my side of the large double bed that Joe and I were sharing. It was Kenny.

Ugh. What now? Why was he standing here in the dark? I wasn’t scared as much as sincerely bummed out that there he was again. I lay frozen and could hear my brother’s baby snore sleep next to me.

He whispered, “Shh. Don’t wake up your brother.”

He squatted down and slid his hands under the covers and under my flowered cotton nightie. I squeezed my eyes shut. He fingered my vagina very gently in weird motions.

It seemed silly, albeit horrible. I felt as if my privates were like the folded paper cootie catchers we played with in school, and he was just moving it back and forth looking for the answer. Do you like red, blue, green or yellow? Do you pick 2, 3, 4, or 5? 

The clock on the nightstand ticked quietly.

“Do you like this?” He asked.

“No.” I whispered. He wiggled his fingers a bit more.

“Doesn’t it feel good?”

I didn’t answer but shook my head, my teeth clenched, waiting desperately for it to stop. I felt beyond icky and terrified that my brother would wake up and see what was happening.

After a few more hour-long seconds of effort he gave up with his poking around. He leaned into my ear and said, “Don’t tell your dad or your brother, okay? It’s our secret.”

I felt hate bloom in my heart.

I didn’t tell. I felt deeply ashamed and I could never let them know this awful secret about me, especially my father, who loved me. I felt that if he knew that I was dirty, he would stop loving me. My Aunt Etta was right. 

I sat quietly in the back of the car, looking out the window as we drove home the next morning: my childhood cracked forever, the world a grey place.

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5 thoughts on “Things Change”

  1. I feel anger towards this asshole. Why is it that so many of us have our childhood blemished by some fucked up male who by chance was born into our family? It took guts to write about this Raf. Don't know if it will ever make up for the years of keeping this secret, but it must feel freeing to get it out. Big hug. xoxox

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  2. Aw, thanks Frances. You're a good friend. I jotted it down for the book and then started thinking about how many of us experienced something similar, so I posted it here. It's kind of everybody's story. I don't feel too much anger towards him because he was so young, and in the foster care system, so who knows what his history was. I never saw him again, thank God.

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  3. Experiencing this kind of violation is horrendous and so very difficult.

    Living with it is more difficult.

    Talking about it, “telling the secret”, is even more difficult.

    Finding some way to let it go, either by acceptance of self-worth or by forgiveness of violator (and hopefully, eventually, by both), is the most difficult of all.

    Understandably, some or all of the above are not always possible. However, you've confronted and conquered all four obstacles, my dear friend. Nothing short of inspirational. Your life proves that, even though a crime such as the one you've described can never be undone, the sorrow, hatred, anger and fear resulting from it can be alleviated, with time and strength and love.

    Thanks for posting.

    XOX
    Carla

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