When I was little, I was so different from the anxious, slightly functional adult that I am now. I pushed for lead roles in class plays. I introduced people to things that I loved because it was great and they should know it too. I wanted to write plays, and create things with others. I wanted to show how brilliant and capable I was.
Then, everything changed. My life became a series of befores and afters.
Before, when my class did Peter Pan for our first-grade class play, I argued that I should play Peter. I pointed out that Peter was originally played by a woman on Broadway and I loved to pretend to fly. I got the part.
Before, when why class did Wizard of Oz, I got the role of the narrator, which had the most speaking and required the best reading. I offered the idea that I could kick my podium for thunder.
Before, when I brought in my dad’s cassette of "Sink the Bismarck" by Johnny Horton and insisted that we listened to it. I danced around the classroom without one single worry what the other kids would think of me.
Before, when I told my teacher and then the class that I wanted to modify a book I had read, Fantastic Mr. Fox, into a play we could perform as a class.
Before, when I wrote two “research papers” (really they were just overly long paragraphs), and turned them into my teacher. I knew I was smart, and I wanted to show how much I knew. I used our encyclopedias and typed it out on our Tandy 2000. They were about blue whales and Napoleon Bonaparte.
Before my sister molested me. Before she made me kiss her outside when we were children. Telling me no one would care, they would think she was my boyfriend. Before she made me hump her in the bathtub. I was terrified of being in the tub alone. I didn’t want to get sucked down the drain. She told me she would stay if I did it.
After, when I quit speaking up in class. I didn’t even want to cough. I would hold it in until my eyes would water. I didn’t want to be noticed. I didn’t want any attention.
After, when I would wet myself until seventh grade. I couldn’t ask for permission to go to the bathroom. The anxiety of having to ask for anything made my chest tight. My heart would race. I couldn’t do it. So I would hold it until I couldn’t. In seventh grade, when we had breaks in between classes, I didn’t have to ask anymore.
After, when I stopped doing plays. I stopped going for any role that would make me front and center. I could be in the choir but never solo.
After, when the very idea of being touched by another woman makes my skin crawl. I can tolerate my mom and my other sister, but anyone else is difficult.
After, when I would have nightmares so severe, I was afraid to close my eyes. I would have night terrors that would make me scream in my sleep. I still have trouble sleeping, and when the nightmares show up, it’s hard to even blink.
After, when there was no more affection between my older sister and I. It escalated to violence. One time she beat me so severely, the left side of my body was in pain for hours. My mom was worried she would have to take me to the ER.
After, when I feared people would leave me, or abuse me when I wasn’t useful anymore. That if I didn’t play along, everything would fall apart. And it would be my fault. When I stayed with people I shouldn’t, fought for people I shouldn’t, because I felt I couldn’t survive on my own.
After, when I would pick at the back of my head until it would bleed when I would become anxious.
It’s hard to look at my life as a series of befores and afters. But that’s what it is. Before I was molested, and after. Before, when I was outgoing and wanted to create things for other people to take part in, and after, when I just wanted to disappear.
I’m still more comfortable working around men than women. I feel more at ease. I don’t even like taking part in conversations dominated by women. I still don’t like being the center of attention. I would rather not be noticed. When I go out I’m more comfortable being small and invisible.
I still don’t think I’m worthy of any attention I do get. I just assume at best they’re being nice, at worst they’re plotting to use me. I have trouble being alone with my thoughts for an extended period. I need music, TV, a good book, or my phone. I almost always feel like an “other”. I don’t know what it’s like to feel like I truly belong somewhere.
Some things have gotten better. My boyfriend has been very understanding of my issues. He’s helped me get more comfortable going out, and being around people. He makes sure I feel safe. He’s very aware of when I go from fine to not fine, sometimes even noticing before I do.
I was telling him a story from when I was a kid, the one about the Peter Pan play, and he asked me what happened. What had caused me to go from arguing for what I want, to just sitting and accepting what was given to me. Without him, I don’t know if I even would have seen the before and after.