Sometimes secrets from the past need to be past secrets – if they are kept inside for all time, they get trapped and can never escape. Secrets can drown one’s happiness and change lives forever.
When I was in the 3rd grade, my mother, brother and I had just moved to a new home on a long quiet block on Long Island. I was switching schools just after the school year started and I recall being scared. I was fine in my new school and instantly made some friends there. I remember almost all of my friends had fathers in their lives. I didn’t. I was being raised by a single mother who worked sometimes two jobs. I wanted a father though. Fathers were special – they doted on their little girls. Their eyes got brighter each time they looked at their daughters. I wanted to make someone’s eyes brighten. I wanted to be someone’s universe. I wanted a father or someone who could pretend to be a father. My mother was wonderful, but as a little girl, I wanted to know what it was like to have someone doting on me all day, giving me piggy back rides and pushing me on the swing. Someone physically strong enough to throw me in the air and catch me no matter how big I grew. I would have no fears. He would be my boogie – monster – killer.
What happened to me is deplorable – it is sick – it is dirty – it is what makes me lose sleep every night of my life. It is what causes me to suffer an extreme anxiety disorder. It is what causes my deepest and mostly irrational fears: fear of darkness – fear of crowds – claustrophobia – fear of dogs – fear of airplanes – fear of basements – fear of the unknown – fear of loss – fear of fear, even. It sits in the pit of my stomach like sour milk -curdling, churning – just waiting to be regurgitated. But shame, fear of fault, fear of blame, fear of being accused, fear of labels, and fear of hurt has enabled me to keep the best kept secret.
It all started in the summertime. I met a friend. She was 3 or 4 years younger than me, but we loved playing with each other. I loved her home. She had her own room decorated with Holly Hobbie. She had a canopy bed – something I had never seen before. It was one of the prettiest things I had ever seen. She had lots of games, an enticing swing set, a pool – all of the things I did not have at home as my mother could not afford them. In fact, there were many on our block who didn’t have such items so attractive to children. More importantly to me, she had a father. We quickly became best friends and I spent every day at her house. Her mother wrote the kindest letter about me to my mom inviting me for a sleepover at their home. Who knew that what would be my first sleepover at a friend’s house would eventually become the worst nightmare of my entire life?
I don’t recall the very first time at all – perhaps because that memory is too painful or just too confusing to bring to the forefront of my mind. But, there were many times. Hundreds – possibly thousands. I remember playing all day and then getting a bed ready on my best friend’s floor in her bedroom. I remember lying on top of a quilt or comforter, having a pillow and a blanket on top of me. I remember him coming in to kiss his daughter good night. I remember wanting him to be my father. I wanted this at my home. I remember him coming to me and touching me. He called it “tickling.” His daughter would sometimes say “why are you tickling her more?” The tickling he did to me was much different than the way he tickled his daughter – that tickling was the regular “tickle-tickle” kind of tickling. For me, my tickling started out as him touching my “privates” with his fingers. Of course at that age I had no idea there was such a thing as a clitoris – he introduced me to it. As difficult and painful as it is to admit, I liked it. It did not hurt at all – it felt good. Something so dirty and so bad made me feel good . In my mind then, it also made me feel sick. How could something so bad feel so good? It still gives me nightmares. This thing that I felt at age 8 or 9 felt good and bad at the same time. A paradox. The unknown often escapes into its own freedom, leaving behind an enslaved conscience.
After a few weeks of my sleeping over during the summer, my friend and I moved into her parent’s bedroom to sleep because that was the only room with air conditioning. We created a makeshift bed on their floor at the foot of their bed. We made our bed with a large quilt, two pillows and two blankets. Every night as we fell asleep, her father would come down to the floor and tickle us. Sometimes my friend was already asleep, so he only “tickled” me. Sometimes her mother was asleep in the bed just above me. Sometimes she was awake and saw what her husband was doing. Yes, her mother knew. To me, that is just as disgusting as what he did to me. She knew and said nothing. She let him sexually abuse me right in her own bedroom. I was 8 or 9. She did not protect me. She let him. I often think about her and wonder what she was going through to continue to accept a man like this as her husband. I hope she was going through something.
After the first few times of him touching me with his hands, he then turned to touching me with his tongue. There I was a little girl – 8 or 9 years old – having oral sex performed on me. Of course I didn’t know that is what it was at the time – to me, it was “tickling” and it felt good. I liked it. I experienced my very first orgasm at age 8 or 9. Isn’t it human nature to like orgasms? I think so. That helps with my guilt for liking something so deplorable. Guilt is strong. Shame is strong, too.
The “tickling” with his hands and tongue continued for years. Every night I slept there, I was “tickled.” Sometimes when we were in their pool, he would come up behind me and rub his privates on my buttocks. I didn’t know what that was about at the time – but I do remember their next door neighbor seeing him do this to me once. She told some other neighbors who eventually told my mother that she suspected something was happening. “He is a little too close with your daughter,” one neighbor said. My mother questioned me about it – I was about 10 or 11 by this time – and I completely denied it. This was my first “big” lie of my life. Turns out it was the biggest and worst lie of my life.
He often told me not to tell anyone what he was doing to me. He made me feel special. Very special. Even more special than his own daughter…
One night as I was going to sleep at her house , I remember getting very upset and running into their bathroom to cry. That was the night I realized what he was doing was wrong. I remember crying because I was scared I would get pregnant. Although he had not tried intercourse with me at this point, he wanted to and was attempting to. I was so scared – it was late at night, everyone was sleeping and I just ran into the bathroom petrified. When he realized I was this upset, he came into the bathroom where I stood crying. He became apologetic, yet told me that I couldn’t get pregnant because I had not yet reached menstruation. I continued to cry and shake. Then he became protective of his family. I just remember “don’t tell.” I just kept thinking if I reported the abuse I had endured, my best friend, her mother and brother would be without a home if he went to jail. I felt bad for them. This was the home I loved. I couldn’t take this away from an innocent friend and her younger brother. Yes, these were my thoughts at around age 11-12. Today , although I cannot remember him telling me something would happen to him and them, I realize that the only way I would have such thoughts at this age is if he told me of the consequences of his actions. I could not have known what would happen at that age – this was the late 70’s – there was no google – us 11 and 12 year old’s were clueless.
I was not alone. There were at least 3 others who he abused. I witnessed some of it. He preyed on young girls who were vulnerable – who didn’t have a father at home or who had a somewhat absent father. I remember witnessing him fondling another neighborhood girl. I remember feeling jealous. Imagine that – being jealous of someone else being sexually abused!! Sometimes I wonder what would have happened if I spoke out. If I answered “yes” to my mother’s question about whether he was touching me in places that shouldnt be touched at my age. I wonder. I also wonder how many others he has abused because of my lie. How many came after me. This was the late 70’s. It’s 2014 now. Likely hundreds more were abused by this man. Although I’m told not to feel guilty because I was a child when I lied, the guilt is there and will be until the day I die.
The hardest part of all of this is knowing he abused other children after me. My memories of the sexual abuse didn’t start until my 20’s. They were always far in the back of my head somewhere, but I could tell no one. I remember the day I was ready to speak. I just started college and met a wonderful professor, also a lawyer, who was easy to speak with. It just came out of my mouth. She was stunned. She told me to seek an attorney immediately. I did. That’s when I learned about the statute of limitations and that it had expired. I spent months writing to our elected officials and learned of a new law that would extend the statute of limitations for crimes like this to 5 years after the age of majority (18). I learned the legislature was having hearings on this issue. My professor did a lot of leg work and arranged for me to testify at the hearing to extend the statute of limitations. Never in my life, to this very day, have I ever felt such a release as I did the day I testified.
I shook as I read my testimony to the legislature. My hands trembled. There I was a 20 something year old telling mostly men the specific details of what happened to me. I was embarrassed but knew that my testimony would help.
To be continued…. Meanwhile, please sign this petition.