Trigger warning: sexual assault
In today’s world, I like to believe that we are all very conscious about the reality of slut-shaming, victim blaming, and rape culture. I’d like to believe that things like the Me Too movement have made enough of an impact throughout all generations that people feel comfortable and safe to share their stories, and that when they do, there are no questions regarding how short their skirt was, how much they had to drink, or if they could have potentially been giving any sort of wrong impression. I’d like to believe that when these victims open up, they’re treated as just that — victims. I’d like to believe that they are treated with the respect that they deserve for being brave enough to share their stories. I’d like to believe that whatever they share will not be said in vain, belittled, or result in them feeling guilty for speaking up.
Unfortunately, even today, that is not always true. It wasn’t in my case.
In fifth grade, I moved to the town my mother grew up in. It was a small enough town that we still had a generous amount of family in close proximity. Teachers who taught my mother were now teaching me (while constantly reminding me how much I reminded them of her). I quickly made friends with the girl named Ally who lived across the street from my grandmother. It was enough of a small town that we quickly figured out that our parents grew up together. Ally lived with her father and her grandmother. Her dad wasn’t home too much, and when he was, he reeked of cigarettes and cheap beer.
A little while after our move, my parents decided to get a divorce, which led to my mom going off the deep end. Her days started to consist of locking herself in her bedroom with a box of Franzia, blasting Evanescence and getting so drunk that I would have to pick her up out of the bathtub and get her into bed. I counted down the days till summer vacation so that I could spend more time at Ally’s and less time at my home. Ally’s house was every rebellious middle school child’s dream between especially her grandmother falling asleep in front of the TV, leaving us to get into whatever teenage mischief we could find, and her dad being too drunk to notice if a few of his beers were missing.
The first time something happened that I felt I should be upset about, I was in the shower at Ally’s. We just came back from a long day at the pool and were going to go meet some of our other friends at the movies. Ally told me that we weren’t allowed to shower with the door shut. At first I thought it was strange, but who was I to question one of the few rules that I’ve come across in her house? Midway through my shower, I heard someone walk in. Assuming it was her, I peeked out of the shower. There was not Ally, but her dad, quietly sitting there as if he was sitting in a recliner casually watching television in the living room.
My first instinct was to feel guilty, wondering if I was taking too long of a shower (in my home anything over 10 minutes is enough to get the water shut off on you). When I asked him, he simply told me that he just wanted to be there to make sure I felt safe. He stayed for a few minutes and then left, but not before we locked eyes in the small gap between the shower curtain and the wall. When I casually brought it up to Ally later, she was not phased — that was something that happened on occasion, and he just wanted to know we were safe, hence the cracked door. Okay, weird, I thought, but coming from a home where I basically went unnoticed, I felt a small bit of appreciation that my friend’s dad cared.
That was the first of a few weird times showering at Ally’s. The last time, my towel went missing. When I called out to ask her for another, her dad walked into the bathroom holding my towel. I was told that I shouldn’t leave my things on the floor at people’s homes, and that if I wanted it I had to get out of the shower and get it from Ally’s room. He walked out with the towel and I saw him set it on her bed across the hall. Again, I waited a few minutes and then very quickly ran into her room to retrieve my towel, got changed, and walked home without even saying goodbye.
My friendship with Ally started to gradually weaken. I didn’t feel incredibly comfortable spending much time over at her house anymore, but my home wasn’t somewhere I necessarily felt comfortable being for other reasons. I felt guilty opening up to her about why I didn’t like hanging out at her house anymore. To her this was something that was normal, and in my mind it would have been rude and judgmental to question that. I started to branch out in new groups of friends that Ally didn’t want to be a part of. Almost an entire year went by before Ally and I reconnected. At the time, my mom was still having trouble keeping it together around people. She was officially diagnosed Manic Depressive and had no desire to be a mother figure, so we went back to Ally’s.
Ally’s dad was out of town fishing with some friends, so we decided to catch up with a sleepover. It didn’t take long to fall back into the normal pattern of her grandmother falling asleep by 7 p.m. and us sneaking into the fridge to steal some of her dad’s beers. We were young enough that after (literally) forcing down two PBRs, we were highly looped and decided to call it a night and head to bed. Within the year of not being at Ally’s, she traded in her double bed for bunk beds. I can still remember the pit of jealousy in my stomach when I walked in and saw them, something that I’ve always wanted for myself but always flew under my parent’s radar as something unnecessary. I begged her for the top bunk but ended up getting stuck with the bottom anyway.
I had trouble sleeping, so I decided to sneak downstairs for some water and a snack, not bothering to put on pants since her grandmother had been comatose for hours at that point. I walked down the steps and was confused by the sound of the TV on. In all of the times I’ve slept over at Ally’s, I’ve never known her grandmother to wake up and come out to the living room. That’s when I saw her dad, sitting in the living room watching TV, a beer in one hand and a cigarette in the other, most definitely not on a fishing trip.
In a drunken slur, he commented on how much I’d “filled out” in the last year. He stood up as much as the beer would let him and touched my hair, then made another comment about how much I looked like my mom at her age. Without getting any water or a snack, I excused myself and went back up to Ally’s room. I felt a strange, uncomfortable, almost nervous feeling while I tried to fall asleep. That feeling multiplied when I heard the door knob softly turn and saw Ally’s dad walking into her room.
At first I froze. I wasn’t sure what to do, so I pretended to be asleep, hoping that he was just checking in to make sure we were sleeping and staying out of trouble. That we were safe, just like when we showered. The difference was that this time he didn’t just stay for a few minutes and leave, he crawled into bed with me.
I spent what felt like hours pretending to be asleep. I pretended to be asleep while my best friend’s dad crawled into bed with me. I pretended to be asleep when he started to play with my hair, just like he did downstairs. I pretended to be asleep when he crawled under the covers with me. I even pretended to be asleep when he began to lift up my long sleep shirt to show my underwear. It wasn’t until he started feeling around my underwear that I opened my eyes and tried to move away, but he gripped my thigh hard enough to where I froze again. His hand stayed there for a few more minutes, slowly moving, while I was still frozen.
I had zero sleep that night. I left as soon as the sun started to come up and never spoke to Ally again. I was twelve. I spent another twelve years repressing that memory. I convinced myself that since there was no actual intercourse involved, it wasn’t officially rape, that because I was fully aware of what was going on and didn’t try harder to stop it, maybe it wasn’t even sexual assault.
Twelve. Twelve years old when my best friend’s father crawled into bed with me. Twelve years old when I convinced myself that it wasn’t sexual assault because of what didn’t happen instead of focusing on what did. Twelve years old when I decided that there were other victims, REAL victims, who had worse things happen. Twelve years old when I convinced myself that It would be selfish to try and talk about my story in comparison.
It took twelve more years for me to decide it was okay to talk about what happened. It took twelve seconds for me to regret it. When I finally opened up, it was to my mother, who still had demons of her own to battle. She was selfish, distant, and only wanted to hear about what was going on in my life so she could interrupt me to tell me about the problems happening in her own. So why did I decide that after twelve years she was the one to share my story with? Maybe it was bottled up so long that I was finally ready to let it out. Maybe I hoped that sharing this story with her would be enough to trigger her maternal instinct to come out, which maybe would lead her to sympathize with me.
Instead she victim shamed me. My own mother victim shamed me. She told me that when she was younger, she was sexually harassed. She told me that she was “actually” sexually harassed, that what I had happen to me wasn’t the same; it wasn’t as hurtful, embarrassing, or terrifying. He didn’t put his fingers inside of me like someone did her, or anything else for that matter.
I thought that was the worst I could ever feel. I was ashamed. I never knew this part of my mother’s history, and here I was trying to act like something even close happened to me. I didn’t know what to say or how to feel. Every reason I had to not come forward sooner was just thrown in my face just as I was nervous it would be. Then she told me who assaulted her, and my shame turned to shock, which turned to rage.
Twelve. Twelve years old when my best friend’s father crawled into bed with me. Twelve years old when my mother let me go over to Ally’s house without any hesitation.
Twenty-four. Twenty-four years old when I opened up about my sexual assault to my mother. Twenty-four years old when my mother opened up about her own and told me that mine didn’t count. Twenty-four years old when my mother told me about as nonchalantly as telling me to brush my teeth before bed that the person that raped her when she was twelve was the same person whose house I would sleep over at almost every weekend, the same person who told me they liked to watch me in the shower to make sure I was safe, the same person who crawled into bed with me while my best friend was sleeping in the bunk above me.
I was twenty-four when my mother victim shamed me for accusing her rapist of sexually harassing me. I was in complete shock. How could you send your child to the house of someone that did something so awful to you? As a mother, how could you ever see that being okay? To her, it wasn’t her place to tell me who I couldn’t be friends with. That was the extent of her concern. I couldn’t speak to her for almost an entire year. To this day, I have never opened up about that night again. To this day, I still hold resentment towards her for not protecting me when she could have, when she should have.
Twenty-six. At twenty-six, I still hold the same resentment towards my mother’s actions, or lack of. At twenty-six, I’m ready to put up a fight with anyone who tries to belittle what happened to me or victim shame me for what didn’t happen. Most importantly, at twenty-six, I’m strong enough to share my story in hopes of having others in a similar situation understand that no matter what happened on any level scale, never feel guilty of telling your story, because there is always someone who needs to hear it as much as you need to share it.