Surviving shame

I got in my car and rolled down my windows. I blasted Placebo through the speakers, feeling a tingle so sharp at having found the perfect song for my angst. I wanted everyone to know I was angry.

I was stopped at a traffic light. I stared at the red like a frenzied bull, ready to go at the change of light. I turned sideways at the driver next to me and glared. I didn’t care if he caught me — he was a man, after all, and men deserved to feel some hate.

Okay, rewind.

I should clarify that I am not a raging man-hater. Nor am I angry all the time.

I get angry when I’m reminded of the injustices and dirty deeds done to girls and young women by men — and not just men… but men they know. I listened to a friend today talk about her experiences with one family member as a girl… potentially two. And as I listened to her shaking voice, I knew that this grown woman has carried damage inside ever since… and shame. You wouldn’t know it just by looking at her. She is calm, composed, upright… and strong. She survives.

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Why does this happen? Why is my friend the one that carries the shame, when this happened to her as an innocent? Why is she the one whose sense of self-worth deflates because of someone else’s crime? She is a beautiful, intelligent, educated, loving woman who deserves a partner who makes her feel like a goddamn queen.

Listening to her words, I could relate. I feel shame, like a fine glaze on my person, every damn day. It won’t rub off. I feel dirty. It makes me feel like I have to overcompensate, be extra nice, be extra apologetic, be something more than I’m not. I can never feel completely whole ever again, and I haven’t, not since the age of seven.

Why are women treated like this?

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An adult’s secret, a child’s shame

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A murmured command, a dilapidated porch. His eyes closedfrom ecstasy or from shame, I could not tell. Hands on my skinny thighs. Lego’s and Barbies and Nancy Drew books swept off the bed. Nancy Drew could not have saved me; her wholesome efforts to catch the villain would have been futile. This was a villain that evaded magnifying glasses.

It still amazes me how much detail I remember, for events that feel like dreams. I still remember his black mustache and swarthy skin, and how he used to cook breakfast on the weekends. Mama seemed so happy to have a man so willing to do the cooking. She used to say that in all her years as a mother, the only time she had been able to sleep in was when he was around.

I don’t really feel rage for my mom’s ignorance—feigned or otherwise. More like a quiet, seeping anger. A martyr’s anger, the kind that nibbles at you and serves reliably as an excuse. (Years later, I found out that she may have known something all along. But that’s a story for another time.)

As for him, he was (is?) a pedophile. That was his modus operandi. People say that the effects of shock after trauma are what keep you from feeling anything. After being numb for some time, the pain comes, along with the tears, the recognition of loss, the anger, the self-hate, the sensation of a phantom limb… Well, is there such thing as a phantom limb for innocence?

I once came across a website created by a pedophile, for pedophiles. It sympathized with them. Pedophilia, on this website, is characterized as a disease, as an orientation… Apparently, people who identify as pedophiles cannot change it or help it. They must simply accept that they are sexually attracted to children, and that acting on it is a crime, and will effectively render them pariahs of society. Upon reading this, in my disbelief, I started feeling sorry for them—Stockholm Syndrome instigated by the internet.

He fit the description. He touched me inappropriately, he told me to touch him back; he was an adult and I was a child then. But to label him, to mentally diagnose him that way would make a mugshot out of him; he wouldn’t be my mother’s lover years ago who made us breakfast. I’m not ready, after all these years, to make him guilty.


Updated 8/29/2016:

Upon further research, I have come to realize that, though he committed sexual acts against a child, that does not necessarily make him a pedophile. Pedophiles are attracted to children. But some, if not most, choose not to act upon their sexual desire. 

More later on the topic of pedophiles versus regressed child sexual abusers, I suppose. 


And yet, here I am, questioning if I have overtly been the product of all those incidents all this time, or if this is who I really am. My social awkwardness then and now; my fascination with sex and intimacy; my twisted perspective on father-daughter relationships… Is this all due to occurrences that still feel hazy to this day?

I don’t think I’m angry, per se. I have built my wall of self-preservation, a wall that started being built between the ages of 7 and 12. I merely mourn the normalcy that could have been, if all of it had not happened. I mourn the chance to feel innocent and whole, to not always feel like I’m hiding a secret, a secret that was not my fault, but still unnervingly, a secret that I am ashamed of. It’s a minefield I have yet to tiptoe across with the people I am closest to—my own mother, my siblings—and can only tell an online community of complete strangers.

I long for the day when I can look at a father and daughter playing together, and not feel a sour tinge in my soul, or for the day I can look an older gentleman in the eye and not feel naked. Until that day, this will always be my secret to bear.

A response to today’s Daily Post prompt: Secret