When Emily first wrote about her rape, I was moved. And then that story got picked up, and Emily found herself amidst a sea of victim-blaming and downright ugly comments claiming that such a story couldn’t be true or couldn’t be told this way or shouldn’t have unfolded the way it did. I was disgusted. I took it personally.
I took it personally because I have my own story, with no evidence to back it up, and one of the reasons I’ve never told it is because I can’t prove anything.
Most of the people who know me assume my father is dead. This was true even when he and my mother were still married. Even when he and I lived in the same house. It’s because of the way I’ve talked about him since I was about 15-years old, or rather, not talked about him. If someone asks, I’m happy to share that my dad is a jerk that I cut out of my life years and years ago.
Quick background: My dad is a drug addict. Cocaine, specifically. I learned this when I was around 11. I stopped speaking to him around the age of 15. It’s hard to live in a house with someone you don’t speak to, but I promise you I did, save for some occasional fighting. I cut off all communication entirely when I left for college.
My mother (finally) divorced him when I was 22 and living in California. My father now lives alone in an apartment and has no relationship or communication with me, my mom or my younger sister. Oh, and I think he may have molested me.
This isn’t an accusation I throw out lightly and it wasn’t a realization that I came to easily. Obviously. And I haven’t really talked much about it outside of a therapist’s office. How do you talk about something that you aren’t sure even happened?
Here are five things that I do know:
• I began cutting at age 12 when I was in the 7th grade. I have no idea where the idea came from or why I started. The first time I cut myself, I cut my thigh (therapists tell me this is a common thread amongst victims of molestation, which is why I’m noting location for you) although all subsequent cutting was on my arms. I was a light cutter, meaning I didn’t cut deeply so as not to leave any scars or very visible marks. I only needed to break skin, to see a sliver of blood, and my tension would dissipate. It was always about control. I put myself in therapy a few months later (I was a strong-willed kid), and didn’t cut again until freshman year of college. I haven’t cut in almost 8 years, in case you are wondering.
• Once, when I was home sick from school, around 13, I was watching Oprah in my room. This particular episode was focused on women who’d been molested by their fathers. This was probably the first time I really heard this discussed. I don’t remember anything specific about the show, but I remember how I felt while watching it very clearly. A morbid fascination. I couldn’t turn it off. Until I found myself gagging, and ran to the bathroom and threw up. I was completely uncomfortable, and had no idea what was happening. I pushed this incident to the back of my mind for years.
• I was 14 the first time I found incest porn on the family computer. I told my mom. She had my dad clear the computer. This happened again and again throughout my teens. At some point I started deleting it myself.
• My father made many inappropriate comments to me, to my friends and to other adults in front of me. Comments of an explicitly sexual nature.
• I have vulvodynia. Living with it is a whole article in and of itself. Suffice to say, there’s a correlation between this condition and victims who have been molested, particularly when they were young.
There are other murky, barely-remembered facts I can’t share because they’re barely remembered. There are other life-facts about me that fit the “profile” of a molestation victim. But it always comes back to those five things I just listed for you.
And nightmares. My mother will tell you that I’ve never been able to sleep well. I’ve been an insomniac on-and-off since they pulled me out of her womb. And they don’t give children Ambien. (Actually, did Ambien even exist when I was a child?) And I’ve always had nightmares. Not run-of-the-mill nightmares (I have those too) but intense, straight-from-real-life vivid night terrors.
These night terrors followed me into adulthood. Once I really engaged with therapy, out in California, away from my New York life and family and childhood, they faded. I have maybe one or two a year now, often prompted by something that forces me to bring my father back into my subconscious. A lot of these nightmares are about my father harming me. Or saying inappropriate things to me, much like in real life. Many of them also feature my mom, and me yelling at her to help me.
I had a terrible nightmare one night when I was staying at home for a weekend during my senior year of college. I don’t remember what it was about. What I remember is that I walked downstairs, found my sister in the living room, and burst into hysterical tears. She, of course, asked what was wrong. I blurted out “I think daddy molested me.”
This was unfair, because she was still in high school and not equipped to deal with what I was saying, but I needed to say it. Right then. And she was there. To her credit, she stayed calm -- my sister got all of the calm genes -- and said that I had to tell my mother.
My mother asked my father about this shortly before they got divorced. He denied it. That means pretty much nothing, because my dad is a liar. My mom can’t say whether it did or didn’t happen, she can only promise she didn’t know (I believe her).
One more story, actually. One more piece of “evidence.” This one came later, when I was already knee-deep in really engaging in therapy about my dad. I was living in California. I was going to get a massage. I didn’t ask for a female masseuse because I’d been to this particular spot before and they had already told me they only employed female masseuses. So when a short, fat, heavy-breathing man (important only because my dad is short, obese, and a heavy-breather) called my name as I sat in the waiting room in a robe, I was caught off-guard.
I am NOT a woman who has trouble expressing herself. But for some reason, I was terrified to ask not to have this massage. I went into the room even though my inner voice was screaming at me not to. For the entire 60 minutes, I was panicking. I could barely speak. I’m actually surprised the guy didn’t ask what was wrong. Maybe he did; I’m guessing I wouldn’t remember.
All I could think was, “Why do I feel this way right now?” And my inner voice was all, “Marisa, you know damn well why you feel this way.”
I have always been resistant to accepting the possibility that there may have been actual, physical molestation at an early age. When I first began delving into this in therapy, I would insist that all of my “symptoms” could just as well have been caused by non-physical, psychological abuse. My therapists haven’t disagreed so much as turned the tables and asked why I insist it’s not possible it was physical.
I will likely never have an answer to this. If there is a memory hidden somewhere in my subconscious, I kind of hope it doesn’t ever resurface. I’ve come to my own terms with this. And it’s my truth. I might have been molested.