My little brother was born when I was just five years old. That’s how I know how old I was when my abuse first started. I was four years old, a toddler just starting to learn about the world, when my uncle and my grandfather began to sexually abuse me. I can never remember who it began with, how it began, and I know I’ll never know why it began in the first place. Some memories of my abuse are more vivid than others. I remember feeling the carpeted floor beneath my hands and knees, the edge of my grandfather’s desk digging into my spine. I remember the taste of my uncle and grandfather’s skin, the scent of their sweat. I remember the feeling of their hands on my arms, my hips, my thighs, their mouths on my mouth, my chest, my most private area. I remember them whispering into my ears, though the words only sound like mumbled noises now. I remember them pushing this secret to the limits, stealing me to their rooms while my family was still in the house, touching my legs as they drove me to school, stealing my underwear when they finished, asking me if I “wanted them to put it in” though I had no idea what that meant at the time. I remember laying in my bed at night and feeling shame well up in my chest and my skin crawl with no amount of itching to relieve it…
My abuse didn’t end until my parents divorced, until I moved away from my uncle and grandfather to live with my mother. I think I was seven. And when my uncle came to live with us when I was eleven, he often told me to “give him a goodnight kiss.”
For years, I didn’t say a thing. I was just a baby, confused with why these strange things my uncle and grandfather did to me made me feel so good. And when I grew a little older, when I moved away, I learned that what I felt was not something a child should know. Let alone know by the hands of two family members. I used to wet my bed often because of it. The trauma led me to this problem for thirteen years and it was something I was embarrassed and ashamed of. I grew to hate myself for what my body felt, what my body continued to do, what I let my uncle and grandfather do to me. Still, I never told anyone because I thought, “it’s my fault.”
When I was fourteen, I had a breakdown. I could not stop crying and shaking. I was afraid of these memories I had, so I texted my friend and told her my fears. She said, “you need to tell your mother,” and I cried more. Finally, I called my mother and, through my sobs, I told her what my uncle and grandfather did to me. Disbelief, fear, guilt, rage—those were what I saw on my mother’s face. She hugged me to her chest and smoothed my hair, and when she let go she threw herself into action.
The police were called and I nervously, fearfully, quietly gave my statement to them. They spoke gently to me and reassured me that what lingering feelings I had in my body were normal because I may have been traumatized, but I was also growing up. My mother brought me to a therapist who helped me speak about my trauma, who gave me tissue when I cried, and who quickly changed the subject when she saw a particular memory was hurting me too much. When I told her that I felt at fault, she told me to imagine my cousin, or my little sister in my position. “Could you blame them? Could you allow those children to blame themselves?” I couldn’t. They were just babies. They were innocent and pure. They needed to be protected while they discovered the world.
I remember that my grandmother called my mother one day after I gave my statement to the police. She asked my mother if I was to be trusted, if I was being truthful in my story. “Maybe she just imagined it? Children have a creative imagination.” I had never heard my mother so angry. I was heartbroken. I didn’t leave my room for the whole morning because I love my grandmother so much and she hurt me with her words alone.
My mother was like an angry mother bear. I watched her cry after a therapy session of mine, saying that this ordeal has killed her trust in anyone, that she could barely trust even her husband (my step-father) with me or my brother, and she hated it. I don’t think she realized I made me angry and upset with myself (that nasty thought of, “maybe I shouldn’t have said anything at all” popped in my head), but I didn’t dare tell her. She did not often cry or vent, so I knew she needed to let it all out too. She was a victim in this too.
My father was broken. He couldn’t believe his own father and brother could do this to his daughter. He lost his faith and trust in them, grew angry towards them. But he had always been the family man, and though he could never forgive them for what they had done, he still cared for my grandfather when he fell ill with ALS and was given months to live. I didn’t blame him for it, because, as I told my therapist, I couldn’t bring myself to completely hate them—they were my family and I loved them.
At the same time, the police finally issued arrest warrants for both my uncle and grandfather. But when I called my father about it, he only brought me bad news: my uncle fled the country, possibly back to Peru, and when the officers saw my grandfather in his deteriorated state, they knew an arrest wouldn’t be possible. No arrest was made and my case was closed shortly after my grandfather’s death.
Today, I’m nineteen years old. I haven’t cried about this or returned to therapy in a long time. I’ve been diagnosed with depression and anxiety and take medication for it. I’m still battling with my self-hatred, with this idea that it was my fault, because I always think, “what if I had said something earlier?” I’m slowly learning to love myself again, though. I’m trying to take better care of myself, trying to pull myself out of this metaphorical hole I’ve dug myself into with the help of some friends. My uncle is still “missing” but all I feel towards him is resentment now, because he’s a coward (a coward with a wife and three sons who are older than me). It has become easier to talk about what happened to me to other people, though I don’t do it often. Sometimes, I’m angry and I rant and yell about it. Other days, I’m solemn about it, and I wonder what they might’ve been thinking as they laid their hands on a child, their own family, when they had wives and children of their own. I remind myself often that I did the right thing, timing be damned, because they might’ve moved on to my cousin or my sister. I’d lay down my life to keep them safe, to protect them from what I was put through.
I just hope that, one day, when I think about this part of my stolen childhood, I won’t feel tormented by the memories.
— Genesis, age 19