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silent speeches

i may know the word
but not say it
this may be the time
and i might waste it
this may be the hour
something move me
someone prove me wrong
before night comes
with indifference
-natalie merchant

the first person i ever told about my experience was my at-the-time best friend, when i was twelve years old. i was reading an entry from my diary, in which i confessed two secrets, the first, being in love with a man who is still very important in my life, and second, being molested at the ages of five and six. i became very embarrassed as i read the second secret, ashamed, infuriated, humiliated. my cheeks burned. she stared at me for a moment, then said, "you must feel so dirty." and i did. i really did. i stared at my hands. dirty. my reflection in the mirror across the room. dirty. my skin. dirty. the hair dangling around my face. dirty. everything about me was dirty. i was silent, feeling degraded, alone, misunderstood, taken advantage of, first by him and then by my best friend. now i know she couldn't have felt what i was feeling then, because she was only ten years old, and it was unfair of me to expect her compassion. after telling another friend, who timidly confessed after i did that she was also a survivor of sexual abuse, i told the man i was then in love with.

i had considered myself to be in love with him from the time i was eight up until then, and my feelings had not wavered. he was fourteen years older than me, and totally safe. i have known that since the moment i saw him, and that was one of the reasons i adored him so much, i think. one afternoon, i began to have a panic attack. i was alone in my home. the images were swirling around in my head, and for the first time in my life i couldn't make them go away. i picked up a knife in the kitchen and thought about killing myself with it. my hand was shaking so much i frightened myself. i began to cry uncontrollably. this was my first real flashback. up until that day, i had remembered my experiences only in brief moments, and shrugged them off with a shudder, feeling embarrassed. now i realized it was something terrible that had happened, not just humiliating. it was awful. i picked up the phone and called the man i was in love with, at his work. i was amazed when he said he would come right over. he arrived less than ten minutes later, and folded me up in his arms when he came inside. we were sitting on the black futon couch, at the south end of the house, and i was so crumpled he was practically lying on top of me. his weight felt safe though, because of who he was, and his strong arms were encircling me. i felt so dirty and used up when i told him. "someone hurt me, when i was a little girl. he was bigger than me, so much's so scary." immediately he began to panic, his arms were tighter around me, his breath hot on my neck. i spoke his name, over and over and over. and then, suddenly, as he was rambling about how above all he had wanted that never to happen to me and it was too late, too late, i got suddenly too upset to look at him, rolled out from beneath his body, and ran into the bathroom, where i locked the door, collapsed, and wept.

in the days and months after, i was constantly afraid he would tell my parents, the police, or my older sister. finally i told him that i had made the story up, and i didn't know why i had "lied" to him. i told him over the phone, so he couldn't tell, hopefully, that i was lying. he still doesn't know the truth.

after that, after feeling the panic that i'd felt after telling him, i didn't tell anyone else for a long time. i never talked about it again with my best friend, feeling that she probably thought i was dirty and maybe if i just didn't remind her she would forget. if i had problems with it (flashbacks, emotions, memories, nightmares...) i dealt with them myself. alone, in my basement room. it made me stronger, but it also made me bitter, and i was hell to live with for my thirteenth year.

later, when i was fourteen, i told another friend, and she reacted as if it was nothing. she said people did stuff like that all the time, and gave me the sort of idea that it was something boyfriends and girlfriends did every day. i tried to tell her that i hadn't wanted to do it, and that made it wrong, but she didn't hear it, or if she did, she didn't care.

i have had a few fairly serious relationships, and only one of my serious lovers has ever known about what happened. early on, i couldn't bring myself to tell them, because what if they thought i was dirty too? or what if they realized that being sexual wasn't an easy thing for me and now they wouldn't want me anymore? or what if they thought it was no big deal? what if they said it was my fault?

and now that i realize that there are people out there who would help me through it, i don't feel like dating is the right thing for me. i'm feeling so insecure, so wobbly, so on my own and cheated all at once. and i also feel like i'm a very hard person to love, and so i don't want to be rejected again, not while i'm feeling the way that i am.

in this section i'm going to talk about why i've made the decision to tell or not to tell certain people in my life. i'd really like to hear your comments as well; experiences of telling (or not telling) your story.

these accounts were originally written in november of 1998. they will be updated as things change.

for a long, long time i vowed never to tell my mother. i was constantly afraid of her finding out somehow, and punishing me for it. for many years i thought the attack was my fault, so it made sense that i worried about punishment. when i was old enough to realize that i wasn't going to be punished, i still couldn't tell her because by then i was old enough to understand how guilty she would feel as a mother. whenever my mom gets upset and needs to feel worthy, i hear her say, "i've been a good mother. i've taken care of you kids. you've never gone hungry, you've always had clothes on your backs and a roof over your heads, none of you has ever been raped or molested..." and i wince, because i have. about two months ago, my mother and i were in an argument. i became very emotional and accidentally mentioned something about it. i can't even remember what i said now, i was so scattered. i realized what i had done and raced down to my room, but she followed me. i told her to go away, and she stayed. she asked me questions, sounding like she was in complete shock, and i regained my control and answered with a diluted story. i told her that it was okay, it wasn't that bad at all. that it only happened once. when she asked questions to which the answer was yes, but which i thought were too traumatic, i responded with, "i don't know." i asked her to keep this between the two of us, and she agreed. some people tell me i should tell her everything. maybe they're right, maybe i should. but i can't right now. that's the truth. i can't. someday i'm sure i will, when i have the strength and the courage and the power to stand up to anything anyone might say. then i'll tell her, and i'll show her everything; my artwork, my poems, this webpage, and i'll say, "see. i got myself through this. i was okay. but i needed you too. you backed me up, even when you didn't know it."

12/6/98 i told my mother more. i finished washing dishes and said, "mum, can i have a few minutes alone with you?" she agreed, we went to my room, and talked about everything. i had been thinking i would wait until i was stronger, but then i told myself that i had to do this to make myself stronger, and i did. she looked so like she was my friend more than my mum. she sat on my floor with her knees pulled up under her chin and looked like a college girl. she played with one of the necklaces i had left out, and said she was sorry, and she had devoted her life to keeping us safe, and i said, "i know, i know." she told me, she said i was brave.

i've firmly decided that i will never tell either of my father figures. my biological father i can't tell because i think it would make us ten times farther apart than we already are, because he wouldn't understand, he wouldn't be able to comprehend it, he would feel helpless because he hadn't been able to do anything. i think he would draw away from me and into himself, so he wouldn't have to deal with the reality of it, the fact that his little girl, who used to climb up into his lap when he came home from work and ask him to draw her a picture, had been violated in such a way. i know he understands keeping secrets; there are hundreds he keeps away from us, about his past, his difficult childhood, his life. so he wouldn't hold that against me.

my step-father, on the other hand, would. my step-dad and i have always gotten along pretty well. sometimes we fight, but it usually passes easily. my real dad and i have never faught, because we were never close enough to do something like that. but my step-dad and i have real conversations, and we talk about issues in my life, which he promises to keep secret, and issues in his, which i promise not to blab about either. in the past couple of years we have grown apart a bit, but that's understandable. i know if he found out now about my violation, he would first be angry at my attacker, threatening, talking about pressing charges, killing the guy, all sorts of violent things i don't want to think about. then, later, after calming down, he would resent me, because of the fact that i didn't tell him sooner. my biological father would understand, like i said, but my step-father, i think, would be hurt. i know that if i ever decide to tell my entire family, i'm going to need someone to help me out when i tell my step-dad, someone to tell me it's not my fault i didn't tell him, it's just his way of dealing with the shock, it isn't my fault. it isn't my fault. because i'm starting to realize now, it isn't.

5/12/99 i have told my step-father. in writing my personal theatre piece about sexual violence, a lot of issues have been raised that i might have rather left alone. awhile ago, after rehearsal, i had a breakdown and went from rehearsal to a friend's house, where he and i spent an hour and a half talking things out. when i got home, my parents had been up, worrying, and they immediately began lecturing me, demanding to know why i had been out. i finally broke down, angrily, and spat out at my step-dad that i had been abused as a child. he looked resentful, as i had predicted, and said, "yeah, that's what that theatre piece is about, isn't it?" my mother looked very pitying, and touched my hair. things were okay.

my older sister guessed once, about what had happened. she told me, when i was eleven, before i'd told anyone or written anything about it, that if anything had ever happened between my attacker and i, i could come to her if i needed to talk. i remember that moment with perfect clarity. i was sitting on my blue carpet, she was perched on the edge of my bed, her voice became serious, and mine immediately went high-pitched and i began babbling. no, no, nothing ever happened. i giggled nervously and said i didn't know what she was talking about anyway. i think that of all the people in my family, telling my sister would be the easiest and the best choice if i needed a family member to talk to. the downside is she has a very close relationship with our mom, and would probably tell her about anything i said, thinking it's what's best for me. but it isn't, and right now, i don't think i would be able to convince her that it isn't. someday, i'm fairly sure i will tell her, when i'm an older woman, living on my own, and what my family thinks of me or how they react doesn't have as much of an affect on me. i'll just sit her down over a cup of green tea and tell her the whole story. maybe i'll see some emotion from her, for once, or maybe she'll just grab her velvet scarf and say, "i'd better be going. and by the way...i'm sorry."

the reason i haven't told my brother is simple: i can't stand the idea. he's fourteen now, and very juvenile. there have been times when he has remembered the day at the playhouse, and teased me. it's awful. he stands there and says, "i remember when you and him kicked me out of the playhouse so you could kiss." and he draws the word "kiss" out in a sing-song voice, and i sit on my chair and try not to shudder. the way he deals with upsets in his life is to joke about them, and i really don't think i could handle him joking about this. i just couldn't deal with it, and i would probably end up feeling a lot of unneccesary resentment toward him. i also don't really know who he is, because he's changing so rapidly it's impossible to catch up with him. my feelings about it might change, when he's older and knows himself better and i know him too, but right now i feel like it would be a mistake to tell him any more than he remembers.

lately, i've been telling more and more people, and it's getting easier, partially because i think the people i hang out with are more supportive, and partially because i think i'm getting stronger and more supportive of myself. i've had quite a few negative reactions (including a guy who i'd just told pinning me to his bed and kissing me, because he thought it would comfort me) and a few really wonderful ones. sometimes people just look at me blankly and nod, and that's okay too. i don't mind it as much.

i lost someone very dear to me recently because of this. she was absolutely glorious, and i loved her very much. but the attack began to plague me, and affect my moods, my attitude, everything. i was lying a lot, about anything and everything, and she detected that. she didn't know about the attack, and when i finally told her, after having a breakdown and screaming that he was going to get me, she stood up and walked out of the room, looking shocked. we have seen each other a few times again after that, and the last time i really talked to her she said that she knew people by standing in their shoes, and mine didn't fit her.

my friend oceania knows, and she's supportive, but sometimes i feel uncomfortable talking about it with her because i don't feel like it's a subject we feel the same way about. so it's a little strange. i've discovered that "the sooner the better" is really true involving stuff like this. in the past, when i've waited a long time to tell people about it, it has been very difficult, and sometimes one of us feels the need to end the friendship because of the awkwardness it creates. whereas when we start the friendship with the person knowing and doing their best to understand, we have a better relationship in the long run. my goal is to find a circle of friends i can safely share with, who will be there when i need them, and who will strive to understand. and i'll do the same for them.

love is a difficult subject for me. i'm very overly-romantic, always telling everyone that i'm in love when i'm really not, telling them that i believe this is fate, that i think this could be the one, even though in my heart i know it's not. it's scary, sometimes, how much i can fool myself into believing what i say. i have daydreams and fantasies and hopes about how it will be when i finally tell someone who i love what has happened in the past. i always hope for tenderness, and remorse. i want someone to really care, really regret that it ever happened, and wish it could be changed. i just want someone to put their arms around me and say that i am good enough, that i am not dirty, that i am pure and i am okay. i want someone to tell me that they love me, and mean it.

9/21/99 two lovers have been told. aramoro and hamlet. different men, different times. aramoro wept. he stood there on the sidewalk, my poppy love, and cried beneath a streetlamp. i took his tear on my index finger and swallowed his sorrow, and i cried looking into his wet brown eyes. he cried for me, and nestled me gently against his angelic collarbones.

hamlet is a darker tragedy than some, and i sat in an alley, on the gravel, before we were close in many ways, and told him bravely of my pain. the vulnerability was there, but not glaringly obvious. he sat, looked at the stars, and smoked his cigarette. listening very intently, empathizing, understanding my pain and loneliness. later that night he kissed my cheek, and so began something.