Joni’s Note: I remember the first time I shared my story about sexual abuse. I remember the way my stomach felt like it was full of rocks and I might throw up or pass out at any moment. The beauty in the gift of sharing our story is that the story is how we connect. The following story was bravely told to me by a beautiful, hurting woman, as a gift for other women who may have struggled with the same thing. Please note that this post involves references to sexual abuse, and may be triggering to some.
I was born on August 23rd, 1979. From the time I was born we lived in Pomona, Ca. Mom was a stay at home mom. And Dad worked for GTE. We were poor but we lived like kings (or so I thought!). When I was 4 years old I began suffering sexual abuse by our paperboy, Mark. Mark in turn let his family and friends enjoy me sexually through a series of ritualistic sexual abuse encounters. They even enjoyed watching me think I had killed a neighbors dog after they gave it a sleeping pill to ensure the abuse would stay quiet. They told me they would kill my family if I ever said a word to anyone. They would take me out of my bedroom at night – through the window in my room – and carry me across a cemetery to where the group would meet. It was dark and I was afraid. The abuse went on for 2 years. No one had a clue.
For 2 years I would have night terrors and fevers and break out in blisters all over my body because I was terrified. I was scared they would take my sister and hurt her too (who was 4 years older than me) so sometimes I would crawl into her room and sleep at the foot of her bed with a baseball bat. To protect her. To keep her safe. She still has no idea that’s why she would wake up with me laying there next to her bed with my baseball bat and hardhat. Sometimes I would wear that hardhat because that made me feel more durable and less likely to be hurt. It didn’t stop the abuse. But I felt strong. Capable of taking on the pain. Capable of being strong enough.
One day Mark came to the house to pick up money from his route and I had a seizure when I saw him standing in the door. I swallowed my tongue and was rushed to emergency. Eventually it all came out that I was being abused. I told my mom and she was frightened. Apparently she had been molested by her families gardener and she was told to not tell anyone. Her parents just fired the guy and never got her help. So this was very traumatic for her to hear. When she told my father – a Vietnam vet with anger issues – he loaded up his shot gun and walked down the street to Mark’s house. He was going to kill him. The police arrested my father and he went to jail. He was eventually released. I can’t imagine what it must have been like to have heard that news as a father.
My mother put me through years of therapy – until I was 13 years old. I had men doctors who freaked me out. I had female doctors who freaked me out. I was abused by both men and women (young and old) so no one was safe to me. I had to play with these dolls and demonstrate how I was touched. I was so traumatized I couldn’t believe I had to show this shit to these adults. I felt like it was happening all over again. I couldn’t get past the hurt as every fucking week the doctors would bring it up all over again. Eventually I had my last session. And do you know what the doctor tells my mother? “Don’t be surprised if your daughter if your daughter turns out to be gay.” Who says this??? So you can only imagine how my life was growing up after 13. Let alone with I came out at 18. It was a fucking nightmare. I was still hiding.
So I grew up feeling NOT OK about myself because of what happened to me at 4. My mom was always reminding me of how horrible the world was and how I always needed to protect myself and that made it hard having any friends – let alone making it through even 1 slumber party. I remember calling her every time asking for her to come get me. I never felt safe. Because I was taught to never trust anyone. Ever. I had a hard time enjoying time with any members of my family – including my cousin and best friend.
And yet I was interested in sexuality because at 4 I had my first orgasm. I felt like a monster because I had all these feelings and didn’t know what to do with them. I liked women. Period. I was attracted to my female friends and I couldn’t say anything about it. I had to hide. Again!
5 years later…
So I came out to my folks 2 weeks before I graduated High School – circa 1997. This was 2 years after my mom was diagnosed with Breast Cancer. She had been diagnosed with Stage 4 Breast Cancer and was given less than a year to live. Because she was pissed off at that death sentence she lived 10 years. But during that time she was in bed, sick and fighting for her life. I spent time at home with her and did w/out parties and friends. My sister was in the Air force at that time so I was alone. Until the year I graduated I was home every day and weekend not sure when she would take her last breath. It was horrible. So when I finally made the decision to come out to her it was a Monday night. I was sitting next to her on the bed the night after I had taken a shit ton of pills because I wanted to die. But I didn’t. Grace. So I held her hand and looked down at her nail beds that were rippling because of the Chemo and said, “Mom. I have to tell you something. But I’m really freaked out to tell you because I think you will hate me.” She said, “You’re gay?” My mouth must have dropped open. I said yes. “I am gay.” And she said, “I know.” And that was it.
That night I felt like a weight had been lifted off me. I was still alive. And I was gay. I was free to be me! The next day when my dad picked me up from High School I asked him how mom was. He said,”I think she is fine. She’s not here.” I looked at him and asked where she was. He said she left for South Dakota to see her family. He said she wasn’t handling my “gayness” very well. My heart broke, sunk, collapsed, exploded, died. I was alone. Unworthy. No one understands this now. The one person I told left. And she left with my trust and vulnerability. I fucking hate life. I hate me. I am shit. My dad never talked about my sexuality ever.
Eventually Mom came back but things were never the same again. She saw me as something evil, something to be feared and despised. I never understood why. I just remembered all those trips to the beach together (even when she was sick with cancer) and everything being OK before I came out. But now that I had a label I was not OK. I was NOT OK. Mom kicked me out of the house when I was 17. She didn’t love me anymore. She wished I’d never been born. I was worse than her cancer.
She died of brain cancer on December 2nd, 2002. She was 52. I remember the ambulance drivers wheeling her body out of the house and thinking to myself how she never really knew me – nor how I never really knew her. At least through the years that meant something. The years I really needed her and perhaps those years she needed me. And yet there I stood as her body was wheeled out to the ambulance and taken away. To be burned, wrapped up in a box and sent home to sit on some shelf. To never once say she was sorry or that she loved me.
My grandmother (my mother’s mother) died 8 months after that. She was my rock for many years. She died of Alzheimer’s. She let me stay with her when I was living in my car and fed me when I had nothing to eat. She loved me when no one else would say the words. The last conversation we had (after Mom died) was her asking if we could move in together because “we knew how to take care of one another.” I miss her every day.
My dad died of complications from a Lung Transplant in 2007. He was 62. We didn’t have much of a relationship. Sadly. But I do remember watching war movies with him and asking why he cried when watching Full Metal Jacket. Years later I watched it again as an adult and I cry every time. I guess now I understand. His pain was wrapped up in the war.
Within 5 years time I had no one to tell my story to. Sure I had friends (even family) but those were the people who saw me as a fighter. “You are your mom’s daughter. You will survive this.” They had no clue I was a fucking disaster waiting to be found. I am like that leaky gas pipe you DON’T want to find with a match. But I kept it together and became that strong person I had to become when I was 4. Talk about life repeating itself when it knows its on its last legs. Only difference is I’d look funny in a hard hat and probably be put in jail for carrying a baseball bat openly.
I had no one to fall back on. No one to help me if I fell. So I told myself there were no 2nd chances and there are no opportunities to fall. YOU CANNOT FAIL. YOU CANNOT SHOW THEM PAIN. YOU CANNOT GIVE IN. YOU MUST GO ON. YOU ARE ALL YOU HAVE NOW. FACE IT. NO ONE WILL EVER UNDERSTAND THIS. YOU ARE ALONE. IF YOU FAIL YOU DIE.
I will be 37 this year – a success in all things – living a great and healthy life – someone who exudes confidence and spits in the eye of fear and shame. Yet I am the biggest liar of them all. I am NOT confident and when I spit in the eye of fear and shame I spit in my own eye for not acknowledging my pain. I wear masks. I wear struggle like its the new fashion. Yet no one sees it. No one knows. I’m really good at hiding.
I have had to be strong. I have had to survive. Pain could not be felt. I had to go on. I had to say FUCK IT if I was to survive. I had to put my big girl panties on and LIVE THE DREAM!! After all – there are families living in war torn countries – who the fuck am I to feel bad for myself. Get up! Go to work! Stop feeling sorry for yourself! GET UP!!!! FIGURE IT OUT!!!!
The price I am paying now is in writing this letter. This letter to me. This letter to you. The price I pay is one I suggest you do everything to avoid at all cost. Don’t ignore pain. Live it. Feel it. Experience it. Share it. Don’t let it become who you are. Let it be a part of your story and let it live through the hope it can bring others. I can’t fix me. But I can accept me as being broken and imperfect. I can accept me as having a shitty past. I can and WILL accept me for me. I can keep telling myself this until I believe it. Until I accept it.
One last comment: I found out from someone very close to my mother that she also struggled with her sexuality and that when I came out she fell apart because she never dealt with her feelings for women.
Don’t let this be your experience. Be honest. With yourself. With your past. With your kids. With your spouse. With your family and friends.
Just be. That’s all. Just be. And be OK.