I will never forget that July morning in 1979 when, at the age of eleven, my innocence was stolen away from me by a madman, disguised as a “member of the family.” He married into the family but obviously didn’t realize that sweet, little girls with pigtails were off limits. I’ve battled with how to deal with those demons my entire life since this tragedy occurred. It feels like, at times, that I can’t shake the fear, the shame, and the disgust over that incident, all of these years later. In a poem that I wrote called “History,” I say the following lines:
[T]he anger is still there
Most days I can control it, suck it up and own it
But it is still there
All these years later
It is still there.
Those words express for me how I sometimes feel about being violated and then told to ignore it and/or pretend “it” didn’t happen by someone in my life who should have been my protector. This person, I still have trouble forgiving. Sometimes, this person feels more like the violator than the violator.
Sadly, that one incident has affected me and everyone who has been and is a part of my inner circle. Sometimes I am distant. Moody. I pull away. I detach myself. I attempt to be “the life of the party,” as sung by Smokey Robinson, but really all I want to do is to be swallowed up by floor. I shy away from affection. I desire it but it also scares me. I am a control freak. The list goes on and on. And the worst of it all is I still, sometimes, blame that poor little eleven year old girl for what happened to “us.” The adult me scolds her for not being smarter. Why did you let him in? Why couldn't you see that he was drunk and out of his mind? Why didn’t you tell our daddy, so he could have fixed things? Why didn’t you protect us, dammit!?!
So the question is, why am I revealing all of these details about my life now in such a public forum? Those close to me know the details. I’ve spent years in therapy rehashing the story over and over. My husband, who is my lifeline and best friend, deals with these demons right along with me day after day, year after year. So why put this story out there? The simple answer is, I want to be free. At times I think that I am free, and then something happens. My senses pick up on scents that I relate to that morning – the smell of beer, Cherry flavored Kool-Aid, cigarette smoke and stale Pork rinds – and then just as “fast as lightning,” little Angela is catapulted back to the summer of 1979. But I am ready to stop this madness for good now. I am trying to adopt the mindset that I must speak and/or write the words that bind me so that I can be free.
Robin Roberts, the news anchor at Good Morning America, recently said she will “turn [her] mess into [her] message.” I like that. I will strive to do that and release myself of the “noose of child sexual abuse.” And that is what it is. The longer those of us who have suffered from child sexual abuse continue to swing in the trees of torment and despair, we continue to give our assailant the power. We must cut ourselves down from those trees and be free. I will continue to talk about this issue, because there is too much silence about it. Too many little girls and boys have been violated and they are too scared, even as adults, to tell their stories. Well, this is my story. And I say to this violent portion of my history, “I rebuke you.” You will no longer be my mess, you will, instead, be my message. I will write about this issue. Talk to young girls and boys about this affront to our youth and innocence. I will not allow another boy or girl on my watch feel as if the shame is theirs. I will stand up and speak out until it is the violators who will fall on their knees and cry “Mercy.” For their sake, I hope mercy will be granted. Simply put, I claim my freedom…Today.
For more information about child sexual abuse and organizations that can help children and families, click here.