What I Remember is This

This is, I think, going to be the longest post of this series. If you're sensitive to stories of child abuse you may not want to read this post.

Continued from here
A long, long time before I met Kristin, when I was still struggling with my sexuality, I put myself in a dangerous situation with a man. I didn’t like him. I didn’t respect him. But he wanted me. And I thought I could use him. It was stupid. The night we were sexual I wanted to stop. I hated him touching me, and I was terrified. Frozen. Inside my head I was screaming, outside I was mute. I wasn’t aware of feeling anything he was doing, but I guess my body did, because it produced lubrication. He thought I was having a good time. I felt betrayed, but not by him, by my own body.

That was not the first time I have felt so betrayed. I was sexually abused as a child. I half-remember one instance. And I’ve told myself for years that that was the only time. And I told myself that I was lucky, it wasn’t so bad. Yet. I have huge holes in my memories as a child. And now as I’m older, I’ve begun looking back at the abuse I remember and there are things that make me think that perhaps the abuse was more extensive than I at first thought. And that the abuse I do remember had a far more serious effect on my subconscious than I had first thought.

I was 5-ish. My mother came to me distraught. Another child had come forward with a story of sexual abuse. That child named me as being present and abused, as well. At first I denied it. I couldn’t remember anything. And then, suddenly, I did remember something. And that something terrified me, so I lied. I wasn’t afraid of retribution from my abuser. I was afraid of losing my mother’s good opinion. What I remembered was my complicity. You see, I remember the morning of the incident in question. I remember playing a game with the perpetrator. I remember the game was a very physical one, involving a lot of touching. And then the perpetrator asked if he could touch other places. And I remember negotiating the terms of my abuse and the abuse of the other child who was younger than I. And while I don’t remember the abuse itself, I do remember that there were parts of it that I liked. Ways that he was touching me that felt good physically. And here was my mother, rightfully horrified that her child was abused. And I didn’t want my mother to know that I had agreed to that abuse. Because to agree to something horrible, to enjoy it, is to be horrible yourself. At that moment I realized that I was a very, very evil little girl. And I would do anything to keep my mother from knowing.

So when she (metaphorically) pinned me to a corner, I admitted to the abuse. But I changed the facts. I changed the situation from one of emotional and intellectual manipulation (because as a 5 year old I didn’t understand those concepts) to one of physical force. In the new story, the perpetrator didn’t ask, he simply held me down and did. And then in subsequent interviews with various child protection officials, I added a small chase scene where the perpetrator chased me around the room, THEN held me down and THEN did what he did. The other child was so much younger than I (barely speaking in sentences) that I was the primary witness, and my version of the story was accepted.

For years I carried a burden of guilt – feeling that I had dumped on the perpetrator a large measure of responsibility for what had happened. I felt that he had been punished for doing more than he had really done because I was unwilling to take responsibility for agreeing to what he had asked. I felt that I had been capable of consent. And, in addition, was completely responsible for the other child being abused, as well. After all, I had negotiated the terms of the abuse for BOTH of us. In addition to that guilt, I carried the fear of my inherent debasement. I read avidly about the effects of childhood sexual abuse; I read about the high statistics of children acting out and turning into child sex abusers themselves. I felt certain that it was only a matter of time until I perpetrated again. After all, my depravity had already led to one child being abused (I wasn’t counting myself among the victims). And this is how I felt for years: horribly twisted, inherently evil, contaminated. A time bomb ready to explode and destroy everything around me.

Then I was 12. Puberty had hit me hard. I was starting to have sexual feelings. And that summer I began acting out on some of those feelings. I found a stash of porn and began an underground porn ring – circulating the magazines around my (oh-so-Mormon) friends. My (female) best friend and I spent afternoons touching and kissing each other. I was heady with hormones. And then my porn ring got busted. Someone ratted us out. And again I was evil. Again, I was a corrupting force. And though no one ever said this, I decided that those languid afternoons were not the innocent exploring that I had thought they were. They were the blackness of my soul oozing out to ruin children (even though my best friend was actually several months older than I, my conscience told me that she was a child and I had molested her.) I shut everything down. No conscious sexuality. No conscious sexual thoughts. No real feelings from my body.

Fast forward to my mid 20’s. And I slowly begin to understand that sometimes the body reacts to external stimuli in ways the mind cannot control, and that that does not say anything about your self-control, or lack thereof. It does not make you a slut and it does not make you depraved. I realized that the way I had shut down my body and disassociated from any pleasurable or sexual feelings was doing me more harm than good. And I started looking back at the abuse that I remembered with the eyes of an adult instead of the eyes of a precocious child. I began to understand that a 5 year old cannot consent to sexual touch and activities. I began to understand that it didn’t matter how many times I had been told that I was the oldest child present and thus “should know better” that that “knowing better” did not apply to sexual abuse, and that I was not responsible for that other child being abused. It doesn’t matter that multiple people over the years had said similar things to me; I needed to see it for myself. I relinquished a huge burden of guilt and self-loathing. And yet still there was more…

Recently, and by recently I mean the last few months, I have begun to revisit my abuse. And now I wonder if that was the only time I was abused. I have no memories of other abuse, but then I don’t exactly remember the abuse in this situation, either. And I probably wouldn’t remember anything about this if my mother hadn’t been told and confronted me. If I hadn’t had to talk about it with detectives and social workers and therapists. But there are signs that I may have been more extensively abused. And perhaps not just by the perpetrator that we know of. My extreme reactions to semen, for one. The fact that I have a difficult time feeling wet between the legs and that I have visceral reactions to body fluids on my hands. But also the fact that I don’t remember much of my early childhood, that I have always found it easy to escape from problems by retreating inside my own head. But most interesting to me now is the fact that I was capable of negotiating with my known abuser, and that I was capable of creating such a convincing story about a far more physically coercive episode of abuse. It was as if I were drawing on experience to create that scenario. I am by no means convinced that there is more abuse in my past than I remember or was documented, but I am beginning to wonder. The perpetrator had had a great deal of access to me before he was caught. Perhaps that wasn’t the only time he abused me.

And all these recent thoughts and suspicions emerged because of an email last winter offering advice about how we could increase Kristin’s milk supply.

To be continued…

Posted by Trista @ 9:45 AM

Read or Post a Comment

Wow Trista. I'm in awe of your bravery in discussing this episode and its subsequent events so frankly and honestly.

Thank you for being so open.

Posted by Blogger J @ 10:20 AM #

Trista - I first read this & saw that there were no comments & chickened out about being the first. Because this is so weighty and huge and deep and painful. And what does one say to that? So I clicked away and flitted through the blogosphere, but your post struck a chord with me and so I came back. I will echo what J says, about you being brave. Not just in putting this out there, but looking within. I understand how sometimes that can be incomprehensibly scary. I hope that writing about this gives you some sort of catharsis, and that slogging through the painful bits will, ultimately, loosen the hold of possibly long-forgotten, hurtful memories.

Posted by Blogger Brooke @ 10:30 AM #

I'm sorry this happened to you. Your desire to explore how you feel, to confront the lasting implications of abuse when doing so is difficult, shows what a courageous, inspiring, and beautiful person you truly are.

Posted by Blogger Lauri @ 11:26 AM #

I am so sorry this happened to you. It takes such a long time to realize the truth of our lives. It sounds patronizing to say I am proud of you, but that's basically it - it is awesome to see someone do such heavy duty emotional work. We are all here with you.

Posted by Anonymous bri @ 12:03 PM #

Trista, I can empathize in more ways than one. It is incredible what people do to children, and my heart hurts that you were one of those children. I admire and respect you. Working through it is agonizingly painful. I hope that somehow you're able to find some peace.

Posted by Blogger Faith @ 3:55 PM #

Damn, girl.

I can't think of anything to say other than what people have already said -- you're brave, and a fabulous writer, and a fabulous truth-teller. May you continue to heal & to speak the truth.

(I can't help thinking that cutting your hair sparked off some extra bravery. Heh.)

Posted by Blogger Anne @ 4:59 PM #

I, too, am in awe of your courage on so many levels.

Posted by Blogger hd @ 5:48 PM #

Well, scratch my comment about inherited attitudes to these things.
I also have a bit of a "swiss cheese" memory. Doesn't it feel so disturbing? No wonder you're grossed out by body fluids. This stuff just seems to permeate so many aspects of our lives. I'm hearing you Trista *hugs*

Posted by Blogger mermaidgrrrl @ 6:33 PM #

I'm sorry about that, but we almost have that in common, I say almost because I remember when I was 4-5 that a friend's brother took me to his room and told me about a game, which involved his "little toy" and as a child I heard toy and I said yes, the it turned out the little toy was his penis, he show it to me, told me to touch it so I did, then he lift up my dress and told me that it would be more fun if he put it "down there" and then a red light went off on my head and I ran... And you know what? I've never told this to anyone, but you are so brave that you inspired me to let it out.

Maybe we don't have that in common, but I can relate to how you feel a little bit, maybe that's why I don't like sex that much, I mean I do like it, but I can live without it..

Hugs sweetie...

Posted by Blogger Sublime @ 9:44 PM #

I too am in awe of your bravery. Sexual abuse at any age causes many of the same feelings -- that part of the responsibility was yours, not allowing to fully see yourself as the victim. It's incredible too how it affects you sexually and emotionally for a long time to come.

I'm sorry this happened to you; I'm sorry too that I can relate to the situation. Hopefully we'll both find the strength to conquer everything that is has brought to our lives.

Posted by Blogger Mandy @ 9:26 AM #

wow. I have written and deleted so many things in this little comment box. I was abused by a neighbor at the age of 6 and was beyond mortified. I'm so impressed by how 'together' you are now. I think one of the reasons why I am single is because of that summer when I was 6. Everything is linked.
It just makes me feel so happy for you that you are able to love and be loved in such a healthy way now.

Posted by Blogger Calliope @ 1:04 PM #
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