When I was a child, I was molested by a person who was taking care of me.
I was a prime target for a predator. In the months leading up to the trauma, I was dealing with a lot of change.
My young, single mom and I had lived with my grandparents since I was an infant, and it was the only home I’d ever known. It had been a little over a year since we moved out on our own, and life wasn’t always easy. I remember times of feeling hungry and eating cheesy scrambled eggs for dinner because that was all we had. Thanks to welfare, usually, we at least had dairy staples in the fridge.
When I started the second grade, I became a latch-key kid, riding the bus home from school and staying inside alone until my mom got off work. It must have felt dramatically different from what I was used to. Up until that point, I had never been left completely alone.
I was a good kid, though. I never went outside, kept the doors locked, and didn’t answer if anyone knocked. I knew right from wrong and understood that doing these things would keep me safe.
Then, my mom married a man she’d been dating for six months. Suddenly, I had a new dad and little sister. And a lot of new rules.
In the beginning, we were the picture-perfect family. We did fun things together, like going to the rodeo and different tourist attractions in our city. Even though my stepsister was three years younger than me, we got to dress up like twins in new matching outfits, wearing our own favorite colors (mine was pink) to show our uniqueness. My mom would curl our hair so we looked extra pretty for the camera.
But the newness faded, and tensions of an instant family began to surface. For me, the biggest hurdle was getting used to the new rules I suddenly had to follow.
My mom was an easygoing person and didn’t care much for discipline when it was just us. I was naturally obedient—already shaping up to be a people pleaser—and didn’t care much to be a troublemaker.
But after she got married, things started to change. Discipline became a regular part of my life and something new to fear.
I have a vivid memory of getting in trouble for something I didn’t do.
I tried to plead my case, standing up strong for myself yet desperately begging for someone to believe me. But they wouldn’t listen and refused to even consider that I might be telling the truth. I was completely dismissed and it felt like I was tossed aside, an annoying distraction from the fun plans they had that night.
I was so furious with the injustice that I stoically took the punishment, clenching my jaw in anger as hot tears streamed quietly down my cheeks. My indignation forbade me from making a sound as I cried.
Having your innocence denied is a special kind of pain; it gets in your head and sticks.
That experience taught me that I had only myself to rely on. They would never know the real me, that was a secret. It was like a lens covered my eyes allowing me to see my parents for their true nature, and I didn’t trust them.
I learned how to protect myself with the fear I lived in every day, and my secret life was born.
I tiptoed around and found ways to be myself without drawing attention or causing trouble. My stepsister and I would get into silent fights, baring our teeth and pulling our long blond hair in secrecy to avoid discovery.
And as if moving away from my grandparents and having a new family dynamic to navigate wasn’t enough, soon after my mom’s new marriage, she began taking care of her best friend’s infant son full-time. I was too young to know the details of why, but suddenly there was a baby in the house that undoubtedly took a lot of my mom’s attention. Between a new husband, new daughter, and new baby, there wasn’t much time left for me.
Dismissal and belittlement felt like common occurrences in my life. I didn’t feel heard. I wasn’t seen. My parents were too caught up in their newlywed infatuation and playing house with a new baby to notice anyone or anything else.
Then, there was a new person who started taking care of me.
I don’t remember a lot about him or all that took place. I do remember that the season was hot, which would explain his existence if I was out of school for summer break.
I don’t remember exactly how old I was, but my guess is probably eight or nine years old. I do remember he was much older than me, but still likely a teenager.
I do remember liking him. I liked him, because he liked me.
He gave me attention, something I had been missing for a long time. He talked to me and listened to what I had to say; he even laughed at my jokes. He didn’t tease or make fun of me. He gave me brief solace from the usual treatment I’d become accustomed to in my home. I looked forward to seeing him every day. It was a fun time, usually.
Since I don’t remember much, I can only assume what tactics he might have used to seduce me into trusting silence.
Maybe he told me I was pretty? Maybe he told me I was smart? Maybe he told me he trusted me? Maybe he told me I was a good girl?
Maybe that’s why I kept the secret.
Maybe that’s why—even though I knew it was wrong—I touched his privates beneath his shorts when he was doing the dishes, because he encouraged me to.
Maybe that’s why—even though I knew it was wrong—I didn’t tell on him when he tried to put his face near my privates, after walking into the bedroom while I was changing into my bathing suit.
I knew it was wrong. I was old enough to know this was adult stuff even though I didn’t understand it.
I knew it wasn’t right when I got uncomfortable—feeling his warm breath—and jerked my body away before he could put his mouth on my naked skin down where no one is supposed to touch you.
But I liked him.
I liked the attention he gave me. Naughty attention was better than none. So, I kept our secret.
And then suddenly, the secret was exposed.
My racing heart fell to my tummy, and my face became red-hot. I began trembling as overwhelming feelings of shock and panic overcame me.
I knew I was in trouble.
I also knew things would never be the same. I worried and wondered what would happen to him. I felt dread when from my window, I watched him being led, handcuffed, into the back of a police car.
And then I felt confused and just as uneasy as the time he tried to touch me—when I had to spread open my legs for a doctor in a strange place that had dolls with real privates unlike any dolls I’d ever seen or played with.
I guess they didn’t believe me when I said I’d never been touched. Ironically—after the doctor’s examination—then, I had been.
I guess that’s what I deserved for keeping secrets.
I don’t remember much else from that strange time in my life. I know it was never spoken about and swept under the proverbial rug. I simply forgot about it, suppressing it for almost a decade until my promiscuous teenage years when I suddenly remembered it again.
By that time, it was too late to talk about the truth of all that happened.
My mom had become an alcoholic and my stepdad and stepsister were long gone. I never had a relationship with them again. I always wondered if they blamed me for keeping the secret.
Both are dead now, my mom and stepdad, so the story will always be vague. The details will always be fuzzy. There will always be questions that will never get answered.
The trauma, however, shaped the rest of my life. The repercussions are felt to this day with my struggles with intimacy and the many sexually related mistakes I’ve made along the way.
Now, I know better, though.
Now, I know it wasn’t my fault and that my young mind didn’t have the capacity to understand the right thing to do.
Now, I know that I was the perfect age for it to happen, the most common ages of victims are between seven and nine, and I’m part of the staggering number of kids (25 percent) who are molested by their 18th birthdays.
Now, I know that 90 percent of pedophiles are well-liked by the family—and child.
Now, I know that predators are very good at slowly seducing their prey, so children don’t avoid them but instead, feel protected and bonded with them.
Now, I know that even if I liked the attention, it didn’t—and doesn’t—make me a bad girl.