When I was a little girl, my babysitter started masturbating in front of me.
I couldn’t tell you when it started. I’m scared to admit I don’t remember any “before.” It just always “was.”
He lived at my grandmother’s house and we called him Uncle Joe. Joe was our fucking hero. He was the cool grown-up, who quoted Ace Ventura and let us stay up late. Everyone adored Joe, not least of which, my siblings and I. He was charismatic, funny, charming, quick-witted, talented, NICE, aaaand a child molester.
My siblings and I worshipped him.
In the summertime, my grandma installed a jacuzzi in her back porch. That’s when those flimsy red swim trunks entered my life, an article of clothing I’d grow to hate. Joe’s penis always had a way of “falling out” of those shorts. He liked to wear them around the house, when we played Monopoly or watched TV. The first time I saw his penis, the hot tub lights were casting a celestial glow around it like a spotlight. He was stroking himself underwater while my siblings and I named animals that start with the letter G.
I was baffled.
I loved Uncle Joe, and I wanted him to love me. But what was he doing underwater? Why did he turn on the jets when my grandma walked in?
I felt crazy. I asked my brother if he saw anything. He hadn’t. I suggested we sneak under Joe’s bed to spy on him. Maybe we’d catch him doing that “thing” again.
We camped under Joe’s bed only a few minutes before he caught us and pealed us off the floor.
“You scoundrels!” he said, shooing us away.
We giggled and screamed, as Joe shuffled us out the door. Suddenly I felt a firm grip lock around my arm. My brother stepped out as Joe locked the door in one swift motion. He turned around to face me.
The next part of this is extremely fucking difficult to talk about.
The door shuts. The lock turns. And we’re “wrestling” in bed together. His terry cloth bath robe won’t stay shut. My legs kick and squirm under his weight, and he’s extremely heavy. I can’t breathe. He’s clutching my wrists, and I feel completely powerless.
The synthetic comforter scratches my face, and I can hear my brother crying now. The door handle shakes violently.
I want him to rescue me. I want him to open the door.
And then I don’t.
I don’t want him to see this. My God. I can NEVER let him see this.
My body turns to stone as I stop resisting. I can feel my muscles tense up, then let go. Tighten, release. Resist, give in.
I’m scared to look down. Every time I do, his robe is open and I see his penis. I know it’s touching me sometimes, but I don’t want to know where so I look away. I think of music. I try laughing, and he laughs too. It’s all a game. We’re just playing, can’t you SEE?
My breathing replaces words. I have none left. I just want this to stop. I want this to stop.
I can’t make this stop.
I cannot. Make. This. Stop.
And so I disappear. I let the world around me fade to black. All the screaming stops, the grunting stops, the music stops. I stop inhabiting my body for a while. I dissolve.
When it’s over, Joe lets me go. He doesn’t warn me not to tell anyone; he doesn’t have to. He tells me he loves me, and I believe him.
My abuse continues like a secret double life, always hidden in plain sight. Most of the time, Joe is a lovable, compassionate caretaker, who makes everyone laugh. He teaches me how to play the piano. He helps me build my science fair project. Then every once in a while, he masturbates in front of me, or asks me to rub lotion on his penis, or cums with my hair on his lap. You know. Regular “he loves me” stuff.
Around the time I hit puberty, I stopped being interested in boys my age, and quickly became fascinated by older men. In my attempt to control the situation, I flirted with old men in chat rooms and tried cyber sex. My first kiss was with a 43 year old man. My hair turned white around 15.
When I turned 16, Joe got married and moved to New York. I was liberated. I felt like the victor; if Joe was finally gone, I could be safe. No one would ever have to deal with a shattered perception of HIM, or ME, or any of the drama that comes with “serial childhood sex abuse.” I could be happy! I could be normal! I could learn to date boys my own age. I could enjoy sex! I was truly optimistic in the most fatalistic way. I had no idea.
Years later I planned a trip to NYC with my siblings. On our way to the airport, my grandmother called to say Joe was picking us up from Newark. I couldn’t believe this was happening. There was NO reason to EVER see this person again.
For three days, I galavanted around Manhattan with my abuser. I kept my composure, laughing, smiling, making the most of this ever waking nightmare. On the last night our trip, Joe slept in our hotel room and at 3 in the morning, I woke up to find him masturbating over my bed. Suddenly all the memories and little “moments” I’d justified away came flooding back. I was 19 years old, but at that moment, I was 15 again. And 13. And 11. And 9. And 7. And 5. I was frozen in my bed with no one restraining me. Powerless as I’d ever been, a prisoner trapped in my own body.
I wish I could say this was the end of sexual violence in my story. In college I was raped by my ex-boyfriend, then later another friend. I stopped trusting people. I assumed anyone who was nice to me just wanted something (sex), and I resented them for liking me. I couldn’t trust “love.” The people who said they loved me did horrible things to me and if that was “love” I wanted no part of it.
I got a Bachelors of Arts in psychology, trying to fix myself. I went to therapy. I read books. I fell in love and got married. I made friends. I entrenched myself in comedy, music, and art. I did all the “stuff” you’re supposed to do, the steps. Guys, it doesn’t go away. Every single day of my life is a struggle. I live with a head full of memories, dancing, swimming, competing for attention. I’m happy to say it’s a struggle I’m winning because each day brings me further away from those experiences. But I’m still learning what it means to accept love, and trust people. I’m still learning how to believe in myself – consistently – for longer than a 20 minute improv set.
I can say this: I’m so thankful to be alive. I wouldn’t change a moment. Every fucked up sexual transgression that brought me to this point created one sassy, independent, creative broad, and I really like how I turned out. I do get sad sometimes.