My mom, Dana, had an older sister named Doris. Aunt Doris is still one of my favorite people on earth; she was bright and full of life and twice as sarcastic as me. She was literally the definition of "the cool Aunt." She had two children, Adam and Tracy. Tracy died young in a car crash and it changed everyone's lives, even mine, though I was maybe five at the time.
But this story happens before that. The beginning is actually one of my first memories. I recall a few at the age of three, and one memory at the age of two, so this was among those. I was at my Nonna's house and she and my mom and aunt were going out. They left my cousin to watch me. I didn't know my cousin very well; he was older than me (somewhere in his teens I believe) and I remember thinking that I would just draw or play on my own, as I usually did.
When the adults left, Adam told me that we were going to play house. Everything after that statement is still crystal clear in my mind, from the beginning (which was him instructing me to lay on the couch because that's what mommys and daddys do) all the way to the end. I remember thinking during this that I didn't like it, it was wrong and bad and it hurt, but I don't think I argued or even spoke. And afterward, the adults came back and nothing was said.
Until I got home. I was never close to my mother, even at that young age. She was a stranger to me and we simply didn't talk (not that a three year old has anything especially important to say I guess) but I remember thinking to my little self, 'I need to tell her what happened.' I took my opportunity when she was in the bedroom sitting on the bed folding clothes. I climbed up and the memory is so clear, I can even remember feeling embarrassed because it felt like I did something wrong, and because she was not someone I trusted or felt I could talk to. I told her about the incident and I remember that she just looked at me in shocked silence for a few minutes before saying, "Don't tell your dad about this."
"Why not?" It was not anywhere near the comment that I had expected, even though I wasn't aware as a three year old that there was any appropriate answer.
"Because," and, since my dad was in the other room, she lowered her voice, "He'll kill Adam."
Instead of putting my mind at ease, I remember feeling my heart speed up at that. It was one of those moments where your blood turns to ice in your veins and you just feel cold and frozen.
I never told anyone else about the incident, and it wasn't mentioned again until I was about fourteen.
At least, I was kept away from Adam after that. We did spend time with Doris and Nonna, but much less of it was unsupervised and he was never a babysitter again. My aunt married a guy named Jerry who had two sons, and the older was in my age range. Every time we were at my aunt's, he would find some sinister way to "play" hide and seek or video games or something else, and it always turned into a field day for him to put his hands on me. On my breasts or between my legs, and I always just silently wormed away and did my best to make sure Ariel, my little sister, was never alone with him. I never told anyone about it. She was my concern and I just silently endured the son's touching. That's what I thought I was supposed to do.
When I was fourteen, my parents had a huge falling out with my Nonna and Aunt Doris. It was mostly my dad's fault (he loves being angry and flipping out on people) and culminated in my dad pointing a gun at their faces and forcing them off the property. Doris went to the police about this and they basically shrugged and informed her that my dad had 'paid off' the cops in the area. (I heard about this years later from her.) I was at school when all this happened, and remember coming home to mom sitting on the front porch with the phone, in the middle of a venomous conversation with Doris on the other end of the line. Like I pretty much always did at home I felt completely uneasy, and backed away without listening too closely to what they were saying.
But my suspicion about the conversation turned out to be true. My mom was still outraged afterward at her sister's behavior and while she was angrily smoking a cigarette outside, she told me face to face, "I told her about what Adam did to you."
I was furious. "Why tell her now? What's the point? What did it have to do with anything?!" I felt like at the very least, the only good my mom had done up until then is keep something very shameful to me private, and now she'd went and broken that pact. My mom was confused by my anger and shrugged dismissively, and I ended up storming away. I don't know to this day if she ever told my dad or if he found out after that conversation. If it was possible to bring up to Doris during a stupid petty fight, why couldn't she take me to a doctor to make sure I was okay? Or a therapist?
After years of being estranged I finally found Doris again years later, with the power of the internet. She was still living in Georgia and I spent some time with her, and actually lived with her for maybe a month in 2011. When I arrived I hadn't realized how sick Doris was; she had diabetes, was missing a kidney, and had congestive heart failure. She was pretty much bedridden to a chair in the living room, and this is where I spent most of my time reconnecting with one of the only positive female role models in my life.
We talked about my mom and dad. We talked a bit about religion (she is the only member of my family to know of my atheism and fully accept me regardless) and my hobbies and interests. When she found out I was writing a sci-fi book she promised she'd read it despite hating the genre. We discussed my future wedding. I was always hesitant and waiting for that conversation to come up. Finally one day, it did. We were actually in her vehicle, and she turned to look back at me from the passenger side. "I've been meaning to talk to you about something your mom told me."
I braced myself. I'd already made the decision to lie about it. I'm not sure why; I think I wanted to spare Doris any pain. She would either think I was lying, or learn that her son was..well, pretty monstrous. She had already lost her other kid and I had no intention of being the center of more family drama.
"Your mom said, and we never could figure out if it was true...did Trampus molest you when you were little and he was living there?"
This caught me completely off guard. Trampus was my older half-brother, my dad's son from a previous marriage. I remembered him faintly in those scattered hazy memories before age five. He had indeed lived with us for a few months, and then suddenly one day he was gone. I assumed he had just went to live with his mom. Nothing was ever said about it. I remember stuttering stupidly something about not remembering it. And I actually asked my older sister Susan about this a few months later.
"Yeah, we were never sure if that was something you said as a kid or if Dana was just jealous of Trampus and wanted him gone. She never liked him. But he would never do that. Dad never argued or saw anything happen, it was just Dana's word."
Indeed, I don't remember anything ever happening between my older brother and I--actually, he acted just as annoyed at a little excited giggling sister as you'd expect for a teenage boy. But the whole situation opened up a whole new sickening set of options. Had something happened with him and my brain just blocked it out? What if my mom did lie about it to get him out of the house? Did she use the situation with Adam, which I do vividly remember, as inspiration for the lie?
I felt a lot of anger toward this entire incident, which was kept from me my entire life until this point, and I was 25 years old--so, not that long ago. I just assumed that Trampus left, and never knew I supposedly had anything to do with it. And I still awaited Doris's question about Adam, which did come. I played ignorant and lied through my teeth. She seemed relieved, and confused about why my mom would even bring something like that up out of nowhere years after it happened. During her ruminations she mentioned her ex-husband, Jerry (father of the step-cousin who also liked to grope me anytime he could.) She said one of their biggest marital fights occurred after Jerry supposedly opened the basement door to find Adam masturbating to a photo of Doris. Jerry swore the incident happened, but Doris refused to believe it, and instead turned on her husband.
And of course, during the time I stayed with my aunt, her son was in and out. We had a few tense and awkward hello's and didn't speak much. He was just like I remembered him and I suppose a part of me was still revolted and shocked about what happened so many years before. I avoided him at all costs and once Doris had passed away, I never spoke to him again.
The whole situation, in retrospect, just makes me sad. It's not like we didn't have enough drama, or me enough trauma as a kid, to throw in a random incest encounter. And nothing makes me feel dirtier, especially knowing that I come from the south and I can't reluctantly mention it without some jackass making a joke about "fucking your cousins." Thanks, yeah. It may or may not have had some medical effects on me as well, but I can say obviously it had emotional impact. What's worse, this isn't even the only time a family member sexually assaulted me--the other situation happened when I was in foster care, and it was an uncle by marriage, which didn't make it any less bizarre and awful.
And this isn't really something I've even touched on in therapy. I'm sure it will come to that point eventually, but it doesn't affect me the way it has in the past. Not something you'll hear me complain about. I wish that everything had been different and I am at peace with feeling ashamed. I hate how these assault survivor groups scream in your face pointlessly DON'T FEEL SHAME!!! as though it's my fault that I'm feeling improper feelings. And I'm not. Shame is a mind's way of regulating its actions, and it's not an action I'd ever like to repeat, so, shame it is. Shame is also one of our older emotions, and I am at peace with feeling something so biologically primal and appropriate, especially considering I was far too young to reason myself out of it. Maybe one day it will go away, but I'm not going to bust my ass trying to feel something that isn't true or change my perception on something that wasn't my fault.
I don't know why I'm even sharing this story. I do think it's important for people who have gone through this to know they aren't alone, and it honestly sickens me how many people, upon hearing my (two sentence description) of the event have similar tales. Either from a family member, or a total stranger. I wish it didn't have to be that way. I would rather feel alone and be the only sufferer than find common ground. But if I had felt more comfortable telling others, things might have gone differently. I believe in every case the truth should come out to protect potential other victims, as well as bring the abuser to justice, and acknowledge and support the survivor. But that wasn't the case in my circumstance. It's felt like for almost twenty seven years, I'm the only one who knows the truth.
Now it's here, and I can feel a bit more at peace about it.