Sexual abuse doesn't end with the abuse. We carry it through our lives in subtle and not-so-subtle ways. While I have come a very long way through six years of intense therapy, I still have a long way to go to be free of all the long-reaching binds that hold me, even now, from who I am meant to be.
I am and will forever be grateful to my therapist for all she's done to guide me through the darkest parts of my past. Yesterday, we began in earnest a new phase of my healing work--working directly on my own sexuality. Even a year ago I would have been unable to do this. Even now, our talks are accompanied with averted eyes and much internal discomfort. She assures me this will get better. I believe her. She's been right so many times before.
The following is a memory that came up in our session yesterday. It will almost certainly end up in my second book, Ragdoll's Dance.
Through the process of integration, I am more able to see the full context of memories like this. I see both the pieces I always had in awareness and the pieces I blocked out either partially or completely. While I've always remembered parts of the event in my classroom in second grade, More details and a greater understanding came to me yesterday.
This is an account of a reaction to sexual abuse and not the actual abuse. I don't think it will be triggering, but I can't guarantee it. So - read on with good self-care in mind.
I am seven years old.
Last year, my first grade teacher told me and Annie Audenbach we were on the fast track. It wasn’t really a track. We just went in a special room for part of the day so we could skip second grade.
Then I was sick for a few months. I had rheumatic fever and that changed everything. I don’t get to take gym anymore, and I have to wear little metal things on the bottoms of my shoes so I walk right. You can’t really see the metal things too much, but they clang on the floor so everybody knows they’re there. Also, there’s this gross medicine I have to take every single day, and I have to get blood tests every Saturday and I didn’t get to go to third grade with Annie Audenbach.
So I’m in second grade.
I don’t like Annie Audenbach and I don’t like second grade. Mrs. Mitchel has mealworms in the closet. They live in a box of Raisin Bran and she says they like it in there. She dumps some out and there’s lots of worms crawling all through the cereal. If our Raisin Bran at home had worms in it, I might scream, but nobody screamed here ‘cause we all knew they were coming.
It's still gross.
I’m not a good listener. I don’t mean to be a bad listener. Sometimes I just forget to hear. I know someone was talking but when they’re done I don’t know what they said. One time Mommy said she doesn’t know where I go. I don’t know either.
Mrs. Mitchel was probably talking about the mealworms but I guess this was one of those times ‘cause I still don’t know why she keeps worms in the closet and now she’s putting them away.
She says we can take out our crayons. I open my desk and find them and when I close my desk she puts a coloring page on it. She’s giving one to everybody, and they’re all the same picture—a man and a little girl about to cross the street. The man is holding the little girl’s hand and there’s a sign that says “Don’t Walk.” A car is coming. It must be a busy street.
When Daddy crosses the street with me he doesn’t hold my hand. He holds my wrist so I won’t get loose. He holds on really tight and when he lets go, his hand-print is there.
I know the "Don't Walk" sign should be red, so I take out my red crayon. Mrs. Mitchel says to color our pictures. She’s going out for just a moment and she’ll be right back.
I watch the door close.
I feel worried.
I start coloring but I’m getting so worried I forget to color the sign and now the little girl is wearing a red dress and my crayon breaks in my hand ‘cause I’m pushing too hard.
I look at the door.
Mrs. Mitchel isn’t back yet.
I’m worried because there’s an idea in my head and it won’t go away. I don’t even think it’s my idea. I don’t know where it came from, but I swallow and put the broken crayon down ‘cause even though it’s not my idea, I know I’m gonna do it.
I get up.
My shoes clank on the floor.
I’m really gonna do it.
For some reason, when I really know I’m gonna do it, I don’t feel scared anymore. I feel kinda…strong. I walk right to the front where Mrs. Mitchel usually stands.
I turn around and face the class.
They’re all looking at me.
For just a second I think I shouldn’t do it, but then I think, no one can stop me and that makes me feel even more strong.
So I do it. I look right at Bobby and Mark in the first row and I pull my dress up. Their mouths open and their eyes get big. They see my underpants. For just a second I think I’m gonna stop there, but I don’t. I pull my underpants down as far as I can reach without dropping my dress.
Everything seems really slow except my heart. I turn a little to the left and I see Brad leaning around so he can see from the back row. I turn a little to the right and I see Billy standing up.
I feel funny inside. It feels ugly and trembly and warm and throw-uppy all at the same time. I look right into poopy-pants-Perry’s face. He's in the second row, right in the center and he looks scared.
Everyone sees me.
The room is so quiet.
It's such a funny feeling and I know I had it before.
They’re looking right at me... right at it... and they don’t even have a choice.
The funny feeling... the funny feeling... it's bad. I suddenly know it's bad and I can't breathe and I don’t feel strong anymore. I look around the room and I see the girls and I feel angry. I let my dress fall back down. I walk back to my seat, pulling my underwear up right through my dress. My shoes are really loud now because everything else is so quiet.
Then Bobby goes, “Oh ho!” and everyone starts laughing and bratty Colleen says “I’m telling!” and my heart is really really fast and I feel hot all over.
It’s so loud in here. So loud with laughing. I’m trying to remember what happened. The ugly mealworms flash through my mind and the coloring picture is still on my desk and the little girl’s dress is dark, dark red and my broken crayon is right on her face and that feeling is still inside me and I wish it would go away.
For a second, I think I’m going to cry, but I don’t.
I start laughing. We're all laughing really hard when Mrs. Mitchel opens the door.
Then everyone gets really quiet. Colleen and Perry raise their hands. Stupid poopy-pants blurts out that I took off my underpants! I know I look pretty shocked ‘cause I didn’t. I’m still wearing them.
But I still have that bad funny feeling inside and Mrs. Mitchel is looking at me.
Daddy has a batticle this year. That means he doesn’t go to work so he can get a PHD. You get one by reading and writing lots of stuff and if he gets one, they’ll pay him more money. It seems kinda funny since he’s not even going to work, but that’s what he said.
Mommy works in the daytime now, so it’s good Daddy’s home. When me and Marty come home from school, Daddy gives us lunch.
Marty yawns. That’s good ‘cause he has to take a nap after lunch ‘cause he’s only in kindergarten.
I don’t have to take a nap ‘cause I gotta go back to school.
Daddy makes lunch different from Mommy. He gets everything out and puts it on the table and then asks us if we want any of this and any of that. I get a big slice of liver sausage and some cheese and some celery and some crackers and then he asks if I want beets. I say no ‘cause beets are gross.
He cuts up an apple. I like apples.
The phone rings and Daddy answers it. He’s listening but I don’t know who he’s hearing. I feel scared and I don’t know why. I think maybe it’s my teacher on the phone and then I don’t know why I thought that.
‘Cept I know something’s wrong… there's something… I remember the little girl on the coloring page and then I remember Poopy-pants pointing his finger at me. There’s half-chewed apple in my mouth and I wish I could spit it out ‘cause right now my throat feels too small for it.
Then Daddy puts the phone down on the table and I know it’s Grandmother talking. I can hear her, but also I know ‘cause he usually puts the phone down when Grandmother calls so she can “go on and on like she does.” It seems kinda’ mean, but Grandmother talks a lot and she doesn’t seem to notice.
I’m really glad my teacher didn’t call. Suddenly I remember the bad idea and the bad funny feeling. I don’t know why the bad idea came in my head but I think it had soething to do with the little girl on the coloring page. Maybe she had the bad idea and the funny feeling and somehow it got in me.
I drink some milk to get the apple down my throat. Then I drink the rest so I can get up from the table. I have to keep remembering the idea because it keeps disappearing and I wish it would disappear and not come back. The more I think about it, the more it seems like it was the girl on the coloring page who pulled her dress up. It was her who had the funny feeling, not me, and I hope she doesn’t put that idea in my head again.