As an adult, I look back on my relationship with my father and realize that it was full of broken promises and disappointments. But what becomes clear to us as adults is often overlooked when we're children. As a kid, all I wanted was for my dad to love me, to spend time with me, to tell me that I was good enough.
My biweekly visits with him were something I so looked forward to, and I was especially excited to spend weekends with him when my aunt, uncle, and cousins moved nearby. My dad often slept through the day and was up at odd hours of the night, so when I'd visit, I'd get shuttled off to my aunt's apartment to play with my cousins while he was asleep; we'd go to the park, run around the neighborhood, and then come back together to watch a movie with my aunt and her husband (my uncle through marriage).
One night, we came back to the apartment for our movie night and things took a very unexpected turn. The only "furniture" in the living room was a series of air beds scattered around for the kids (it was a one-bedroom apartment housing seven people). We all got situated, my aunt towards the front with some of the younger kids, and the older kids (myself included — I was 11) sat toward the back with my uncle.
I couldn't see very well over some of the kids in the front, so my uncle said I could lean over his stomach to prop myself up. I did, and shortly after the movie began, I felt his hand start to rub my back.
At first, I didn't think anything of it, but the longer the movie went on, the lower his hand slid down my body until he slipped it under the waistband of my shorts and began touching my butt.
My body tensed up and my mind began to run in a million different directions.
Is this really happening?
This can't be happening.
What if someone turns around?
Why won't someone turn around?
What do I do?
What can I do?
I felt completely helpless. And as quickly as my world was shattered, the movie ended, and he moved his hand as if nothing had happened.
On this particular night, I was supposed to be sleeping over, but I was worried about what would happen to me if I stayed. I made something up about feeling sick and told my family that I was going back to my dad's.
As I grabbed my jacket to leave, my uncle asked for a hug. I felt cornered and wasn't sure how to get out of it without raising the suspicion of my aunt, so I let him hug me. As he did, he ran his hand down the back of my body again, held me so tight I could barely breath, and whispered in my ear, "If you tell anyone, I will kill you."
When I got to my dad's house, I ran into his room and told him what had happened. I knew what my uncle did was wrong and my mother had always told me if something like that ever happened I was to tell her immediately. My dad grabbed his phone and went in the other room, and when he came back, he told me my mom was coming to pick me up.
On the way home, my mom asked me why I wanted to come home so early, and I asked her what my dad had said. She told me that he said he wasn't sure what was wrong with me but that I wanted to leave.
I was so shocked by his lie that I didn't know what to say at first, but I finally found the words and told her what had happened. By then, we had made it home, and my mother called the police and then my dad. She took the phone into the other room, and although I could hear her yelling, I couldn't quite make out the words.
Later, she told me that when she asked my dad why he hadn't told her the truth and called the police himself, he had said, "Because he's family."
He's family. His sister's husband was family, but not his own daughter.
The man whose attention I begged for, whose approval I craved, had chosen his adult brother-in-law over his 11-year-old daughter.
Things only got worse from there. I gave my statement to the police, and they questioned my uncle; he denied everything and cited my family as witnesses. When I went to discuss the next steps in pressing charges with the police I was met with questions like, "Well, how were you lying?" "What were you wearing?" "Were you and your uncle particularly close?" The longer the questioning went on, the more I began to feel like maybe I had done something to deserve what I got.
My father didn't want to see me, my cousins weren't allowed to talk to me, my aunt called me a liar and a "drama queen," and on top of all that, the very people meant to serve and protect were treating me as if I had somehow invited this invasion.
We found out through some digging that my uncle had been accused of the same thing once before, but because of the laws in the state I lived in, it was outside of the statute of limitations and therefore not valid to my case. The officer I spoke with said, "It's your word against his, and this isn't going to go in your favor."
Ultimately, nothing happened to my uncle in the way of punishment in my case, and while he was left to roam free, I was locked in a prison of fear and doubt, looking over my shoulder in constant fear that he would make good of his whispered promise. I began to dress differently, shrouding myself in oversized clothes to hide my body, my grades began to suffer, and although I pretended to be fine, I spent a lot of time contemplating ending my life.
Thankfully, I'm fortunate enough to have a mother who recognized that I was hurting and a stepfather who proved to be a strong and stable presence in my life. Through their guidance and assurances that what happened to me was not my fault, I began to go through counseling and worked to bring my life back to some semblance of normalcy.
It took years to heal, but I finally realized that I couldn't let the heinous actions of this man negatively dictate the direction of my life.