Sitting by the fire the day after cataract surgery feeling forlorn, I sent out this email to Seth. One of three non-abusive siblings. He moved here from California recently. He has been a life-long buddy of Tom, one of the abusers.
Not sure what possessed me to reach out. I needed the comfort from a friend after the first email. Her response was that maybe I needed to. So once it began, I kept going. And for the first time expunged my feelings in a way to feel good about without regret.
And the words kept coming. My emails are italicized, his are not. The feelings left after it all are that you can’t milk blood from a stone. That what I need won’t be found in what others call ‘family.’
He did finally say he was sorry for what I endured. That may have been what I’ve been looking for all along, but most likely too little, too late.
Got my eyes done yesterday. Due to the traumas in my childhood he did the rare exception of doing both under General Anesthesia. Every time any medical issue is attended to my body reacts as if it is mortal danger. It takes a long time to recover. Though my body lay still, my heart beat as if running a marathon, which concerned them. They got me out fast.
I would wish for a closer relationship with ‘family’ where support can be felt. But family is just a group of people I was born into. (unfortunately) I have created my own.
I know I’m kept at arm’s length out of fear I may talk about the reality of my life, the damage done that cannot be corrected. Though committing energy, years, and money to therapy, some things broken remain broken.
I was thinking of you wishing I could reach out. But you have said everyone had it so hard, which so quickly silences me. The ones who attacked me had it hard, yes, of course I get that. I think had I never been born they wouldn’t have had to carry it all around all their lives. And no one had to. There is a word, I’m sorry.
Not one ever wrote or called to just say “I’m sorry.” Afraid of my rage probably, that’s not a good reason. I was a little girl. What Danny did is blocked out to this day, though I know it was a violent rape. What Tom did was traumatize me further by put-downs and snickers life-long making me look bad and inconsequential whenever possible. If I am looked at as less than others, than what he did wasn’t so bad.
It worked. It worked. I have and still feel ‘less than.’ He sat around my table here at this house when I was in my fifties putting me down. No one said a word. He snickered at my dumbness at buying this house with a realtor who cut corners. Making a point of how little I knew so that you and Stevie had to help. Cutting me down throughout my life didn’t stop, and he excelled at it.
I am happy now, which translates to being at peace. (most of the time) It is not how most of my life was. Most of it was lived in anxiety and rage.
But I have this time where I am at peace, or as much as I’m able to have.
I think of you often. Too bad it can’t be more than that. You chose Tom. I am just an afterthought, someone to treat well so you don’t feel guilty. That’s OK. I have people who really love me, warts and all. And being an only girl in a family that would attack me rather than love me is something that has made me feel like an abomination. Those that did it, and those that knew and kept quiet.
I was forced to keep it all in, not physical force but many other ways. Everyone made sure of that, even now. Unprocessed trauma(s) does a lot of damage to all systems of the body. But I am strong, I am a good, courageous, and very special person. I also got through yesterday’s surgery which is something I have been dreading the last few years as my eyes became worse and worse, with a dread uncommon to most others. It is a special hell for those sexually abused as a child, to have anyone come close to one’s body. I suppose the repression of the rape has something to do with that.
I need to add that is was not love to criticize me for writing a book about the horrors I suffered. Love would be cheering me on. If I had the energy and ability, I’d speak across the country about the prevalence of childhood sexual abuse in families. And those that truly cared would applaud my courage and bravery for doing so. It is well past time for this to be talked about. It isn’t just coaches, priests, and scout leaders.
I’m sorry I’ve been negligent in getting back to you and let me say right from the start that I AM sorry for what you went through, a sentiment I believe I have expressed many times in the past (but maybe only in my own mind). I know if hurts you that I did not read your book. We all have our coping mechanisms, and mine is to box things up and store them away. That’s how I’ve always done it, am doing it now and probably will until my dying breath. Writing it was cathartic for you, and that’s great. I wouldn’t be for me and, I don’t want to know the details. I’m not proud of it, but that’s just the way it is. I can’t make you better. I wish I could, but I can’t and you know I can’t.
It doesn’t hurt me that you didn’t read my book. It hurt me more than you’ll ever know that I was criticized about writing it…. So much so that I thought I was having a heart attack and went by ambulance to the hospital and spent the night.
Your opinion of me meant more than my own. Not your fault. I needed to grow and appreciate just what is inside me, and it is powerful. My opinion matters to me most now, but it took all that to learn and only just a few years ago. We keep growing as long as we are living… : )
I don’t care if you read it. It wasn’t written for you. It was written for me, to scourge out what they had done which had blackened my insides for decades. Women who have suffered what I suffered do need to hear the details so that they don’t feel alone. That’s how I started to face what was done to me, by reading what other women went through feeling for the very first time less alone, less bad, less an abomination.
You don’t need to read the details. But I also won’t be silenced anymore for another’s comfort. I suffered. I still suffer. I don’t need you to make me better. I am beautiful just as I am. And I am learning more and more about the beauty, strength, and courage that lies inside me.
No not once, did you, or anyone else say you were sorry about the traumas I endured. The exception may be Don. Stevie never knew and now has enough grief of his own to deal with. In that flurry of our exchanges about the book there might have been a line about it, but the defensiveness flung at me negated it.
In this note for the very first time I hear you.
In response to your note on Thursday, I can’t tell whether I’m the one who criticized you about your book or someone else. I don’t remember doing such a thing, but I know I’m often guilty of seeing what I want to see from someone else’s words.
Something which caused me so much upheaval… you don’t remember.
You said in the email when there was a flurry back and forth after sharing the link to the book, that it wasn’t right to put family dysfunction out there. Or something to that effect. It was a blow to me, devastating.
Your embarrassment about what others had done meant I should stay quiet. It is common in families where this happens. The victim is further victimized, further wounded. The second wounding some call it for those attacked as children, then attacked by families to be quiet about it later on in life when they bravely speak out about it.
That was the criticism. After that I couldn’t hear anything else. But that is exactly how and why it keeps happening in families. The victim is made to keep quiet due to the shame of others. It became my shame, though it wasn’t mine at all.
A child holding all that in? Unprocessed PTSD causes life-long damage. If not processed at the time trauma occurs it can damage many bodily systems permanently… and it has.
You knew when it happened the first time because I told you as a child that ‘Danny fucked me.’ The words he must have used while he did it, though I have blacked it out except the time right before and afterwards when screaming in the bathtub because ‘it stung down there.’
Don came running in to see what was wrong. (I must have been 8 or 9 by the way, just a little girl)
That you didn’t do anything at the time, I don’t blame you, though I wish you had. I wish you stayed home to protect me. Impossible I know. You were a teenager.
But you knew more about the others besides Danny in your thirties when I sent out poem like letters to everyone about what they had done, yet it still didn’t matter. You chose to be closest to one of my attackers. As if it didn’t matter what he did. That I do hold you to. You can’t be on the sidelines. You must take a stand for what is right.
Tom must have been home from college when he crept up in the night to attack me while Stevie and I slept on each end of the couch falling asleep watching the Christmas tree. Attacks aren’t always violent. Some are quiet, waking me from a deep sleep.
The brother I loved and trusted became a monster drilling me down for decades afterwards, making me look bad whenever he could.
He may have done the most damage with his constant campaign to cut me down, belittle me, and make me look inconsequential. He tore me up more than all that happened. No one crossed him, or confronted him in his efforts. You have been his closest ally and buddy.
Coming out of all that I became much like a hostage bowing to her captives, the group of people most call ‘family’.