I wore crotchless panties for the first and last time at five years of age. I don’t know where two of my brothers, ages 10 and 13 at the time, acquired such grown-up sexual paraphernalia, but I assume that they stole them from one of the neighbor kid’s mothers. So began two years of too-graphic-to-share-details sexual abuse in my adoptive household.
I don’t remember being specifically ‘groomed,’ only that I followed all three of my brothers around like a lost puppy dog. The abuse took place in the kitchen, living room and bedrooms of my own home. On some occasions, it happened when my parents were out of the house, but I distinctly remember learning the meaning of the word ‘fuck’ as my oldest brother snaked his way around in the dark and made his way into my room.
I have crazy time markers in my life because of the abuse:
When Mrs. Hayes, my first-grade teacher, talked to us about appropriate and inappropriate touching, my alarm bells went off. Her example was a stranger on the bus putting his hand on a child’s shoulder. Where had my brothers put their hands on me? This is when the abuse stopped. As I recall, my awareness demanded that I retreat to safe places and be on guard.
In the fourth grade, I started my period. I did not tell anyone because I was sure that it was an indication that I had had sex. I wore three pairs of underwear at a time for almost a week until one of my friend’s mothers noticed blood on my clothing.
During my senior year of high school, I had a rare afternoon off from athletic training. My boyfriend called me, and I had an emotional meltdown. The night before, my parents had been questioning, “Why don’t you act like the other girls on the team who hug their parents?” I wanted to tell them the truth, but I was too ashamed. My high school boyfriend was the first person that I told about my abusive past. How scary is it to trust someone with a secret after you break up?
Other memories are foggy. There were clues that my parents did not see. At some point, I made sure to cover my whole body (including my face) when they came in to kiss me goodnight because I didn’t want to be touched. I remember starting to do a strip tease to get attention one night in the back yard. I would often sneak into the kitchen to get food.
Sadly, not only was I physically degraded – I also had to endure taunting about my body and looks because I was different. I wasn’t the only different child in the house. My parents provided foster care, mostly to babies and two school-aged boys who lived with us on separate occasions and shared a room with my oldest brother (I have to believe that this was before he decided to decorate his room with Playboy centerfold pull outs). I pray that they did not suffer my same fate, but, like me, they were vulnerable.
It ‘s hard to look back on my teen and young adult years as two of my three brothers continued to haunt me with their misogynistic comments and drunken behavior. Even though I do drink alcohol, I never drank in front of my family for fear that the truth would ooze out of my mouth and make a big mess. I became increasingly uncomfortable with family obligations because I did not want to celebrate those two in any way.
One of my brothers was arrested for date rape in the mid-90s. My family was all up in arms. I remember my mother using the evilest tone of voice to say something about “that lying fat bitch.” All along I thought that the lying fat bitch and I are one in the same. I refused to go to his trial and am sad that I didn’t have the courage to step up and testify. At the time I felt like I could have put him away for a long time.
In my late 20s, my saving grace was psychotherapy. I lucked out and clicked with the first therapist that I met. After countless sessions, covering everything from lack of confidence to overeating, I was ready to tackle my abuse story. It was ugly, but talking about it helped me to release my shame. I did not and do not have to feel obligated to those two brothers. I built up the courage to write them letters and one day I actually sent them. The premise was, ‘I remember what you did, I’m not carrying it with me anymore, and I will not celebrate you.’ They were both living with women with families at the time, and I warned them against touching more children.
It was freeing, but I was scared. I had nightmares of them coming to my home and shooting me. The truth is hard.
Not long after I sent the letters, I also disclosed my secret to my parents. It was one of the most challenging things that I have ever done. Their response? My father said nothing. My mother told me, “that’s just what happens to girls in families.” At that point, I didn’t want to take my life, but I was worried that I could somehow inadvertently harm myself because the pain was so deep. I had to argue with my mother about rape, because she was under the impression that, at five-years-old, I chose to engage in sexual activity and was not held against my will. My third brother did step up to support me, but he still cannot comprehend the situation. I don’t think that I’ve shared the panties story with him (I told him that I wouldn’t go into detail) but I have to remind him that it wasn’t ‘kids being kids’ as there is a clear imbalance of power between an eighth grader and a five-year-old. I learned about inappropriate touching at six – they knew better and repeatedly committed a crime anyway.
I’ve been separated from my adoptive family (with the exception of my third brother) for two years, and the primary reason is a difference in values. I think girls are worth more. I think I am worth more. I’ve recovered emotionally to some extent during this time period as I don’t have any more negative interactions to fill up my baggage. Some friends ask if I will reconcile with my family. I don’t know. I know that I don’t want to be around my two brothers ever again and that I think it is insane that the family tolerates their drinking. Blood does not tie us, so is this a forever obligation? There is a shared history, but women who partner with abusive men have shared a history – should they even keep loose ties? Without common language, values or interests, it feels like there is nothing left to explore.
Have you ever experienced inappropriate behavior from your adoptive family – rape, neglect, abuse?
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