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“I’m never going there again. Ever.”
“That’s fine. You don’t have to. You two never got along anyway.”
“But Dad, he, he touched me.”
“I’m sure you’re blowing it way out of proportion.”
That was the worst and longest car drive of my life.
Then I went home and threw up.
Truthfully, it all started several years earlier.
From a young age, I was a pretty serious gymnast. I loved the sport with everything and anything I had; it was my passion. I had an impressive collection of International Gymnast magazines, all stacked neatly on top of each other, dating back to 1999. I was in the gym so much that you could say gymnastics qualified as a part-time job, and I rarely had a day to rest. I competed all over the world and proudly displayed my bronze, silver, and gold medals in my room (the walls were decorated with numerous gymnastics posters that I ripped off of my gymnastics magazines, of course).
At one point, my coaches brought in a physical therapist from their native Cuba to the gym. The idea was that this therapist –- let’s call him C –- would help relieve our team’s many tears, sprains, and muscle cramps.
My mother, an avid tennis player from the time she was a little girl, took a liking to C. She made appointments with him weekly so that he would fix her weak back.
Less than a year later, C was mysteriously fired from our gym. My coaches never once mentioned his name again. Nevertheless, my mother continued making appointments with him, this time at his house.
When I was 12 years old, I seriously injured my back while attempting a gymnastics move that, from that day forward, would always terrify me.
My parents always had a hard time believing me when I was in pain. Perhaps it was because I was pretty emotional as a child; any little thing could set me off in tears. After months of insisting that I see a doctor because the pain was unbearable and I absolutely could not move –- I begged, I cried, I did anything to get them to listen to me –- my mother made an appointment with C.
I was frustrated. Sure, a physical therapist sounded nice, but what I really wanted was a doctor.
I went to C’s weekly -– or twice weekly, sometimes –- for over a year. We never got along. We bickered. He mocked me. I hated him.
At 14, C sexually molested me. It was an appointment like any other –- until it happened. I will spare you the details because that is not the point of this story.
My dad picked me up from C’s.
That was the worst and the longest car drive of my life.
In the months following the incident, I made a subconscious decision to fully reinvent myself. I quit gymnastics –- my passion –- abruptly, barely offering anyone an explanation. I transferred schools. I decided I would wear a bra (as a serious gymnast, I still looked like a child). I became friends with the popular girls at my new school. I even had my first boyfriend (the poor kid never understood why I was so opposed to handholding and any other display of affection).
And I binged.
I wanted to look different. More womanly.
So I ate and I ate and I ate.
In the meantime, I threw hysterical tantrums every night. “He touched me! Tell my mother to stop going to him! Tell her! He touched me!” I yelled to my father. And he sat there by my bed, hopeless and clueless, not wanting to believe anything had really happened, that my mother could really keep seeing a man that had harmed me in the most gruesome, unfathomable way.
I was too scared to ask my mother to stop going to C’s myself. I knew she would yell at me. For as long as I can remember, I felt that she hated me.
My father insists that he begged my mother to stop making appointments with C. He says that this all happened behind closed doors, that he did not want me to see him and my mother fight. “But all she said was that no one else could fix her back like C did,” he says.
Nine months later, my mother cut ties with C because he owed her some money. I was infuriated. This was enough for her to cut ties with him but my molestation did not matter to her at all?
For four years, I tried to convince my dad that C had sexually abused me. By then, my binging had turned into anorexia, I self-harmed daily, and I spent my free time doing one of three things: counting calories, plotting my escape from my town and my home, and wishing I was dead.
My then-best friend caught on to my anorexia and convinced my father to put me in therapy (as usual, my parents had chosen to look the other way). For months, I attended sessions, cried a little, and slowly started getting better. I never said anything about C.
My therapist thought that I could benefit from taking medication, so my parents made an appointment with a psychiatrist. He was a kind man, working from a sterile, cold hospital room.
Initially, the appointment was not anything extraordinary. We talked about my eating disordered thoughts. He asked me how treatment was going. Finally, he asked my mother to leave the room; he wanted to talk to me privately.
“Have you ever been abused?” he asked.
I shook my head no, but I had already burst into tears. I am not quite sure why, really. I had vehemently denied abuse many, many times before. For some reason, this one time was different.
It didn’t matter, though. The cat was out of the bag.
The psychiatrist asked if he could tell my therapist. It would make me better, he assured me. It would help. Whatever, I shrugged.
My next therapy session was awkward at best. My therapist mentioned C briefly, and then we moved on to other things, like how I thought my thighs were too fat. C never came up again.
In the end, it was my anorexia that finally turned the switch in my father’s head. One night, as he saw me struggle with my illness, he broke down in front of me for the first time. “Where did I go wrong?” he cried. “What did I do so badly that my daughter is in so much pain?”
“You didn’t do anything wrong,” I said. “But for the love of God, listen to me! C touched me. He touched me.”
I hadn’t spoken to him about C in over a year. By then, I felt that it was a lost cause and that I was meant to carry this ugly secret inside of me, all alone. I suppose it was telling my psychiatrist about C that triggered this response all over again.
My dad’s reaction was all the validation I needed -– or half of it, at least; I wanted my mother to show me that she cared too. But my father –- he cried, he punched things, he fell apart. It took the burden off of me a little bit; now, I didn’t have to fall apart all on my own.
Eventually, my dad and my therapist scheduled an appointment with my mother. They would tell her what happened, they said, but she was mentally unstable, so they had to approach this carefully.
This is what happened (granted, I was not in the room, but it is what I was told, anyway): my therapist explained that I had been sexually abused. My mother said, “Okay,” and nodded.
She never talked to me about it, never offered any apologies or words of comfort.
Two years later -– a year ago, actually -– I made the self-preserving decision to cut all ties with my mother for numerous reasons. She, my father, and I all sat in the living room as I explained why I was doing what I was doing, acting surprisingly composed.
“You never even apologized to me about C,” I said. My skin was boiling with anger, but I didn’t let on.
“Oh,” she said, as if we were talking about flavors of ice cream rather than severing a mother-daughter relationship. “Sorry.”