Note: This isn’t a pleasant or pretty story. It’s just a reality and this woman needs to be released from the power of it and so she writes it.
I’ve never written about this before. I have alluded to it many times in an effort to explain the person I am, or to relay some aspect of my understanding about why crazy, ugly things happen, but I’ve never just spilled the whole story on paper.
I’ve tried to tell different people about these events at different times, but I’ve only been satisfied with the results of sharing once. I guess the whole thing is too fragile to take the chance that I’ll come away with the feeling that someone understood the desperation of the moment, or the confusion about my own response to the events; or the even more desperate feeling of still trying to sort it out all these years later as an adult. When one shares detrimental events of the past sometimes the response is sympathy; there’s rarely empathy; often indignation and occasionally pity. These responses I can take. However, I came away angry, disgusted and irate at the simply stupid and ridiculous response of my own sister, who after hearing my story, for some unknown reason, denied I ever experienced what I had just told her that I had experienced. I don’t think I have ever been so completely baffled.
“Oh Ronnie, that never happened,” she pooh-poohed my solemn testimony. “You must have just dreamt that or imagined it.”
It took me a jolting moment to realize that she was serious. At first I responded with an incredulous, “What?” and then I immediately realized that I couldn’t afford to continue speaking to her about it. Emotionally¸ I could not afford it. It was as if I was punched in the stomach. I only recovered gradually as I remembered her tendency toward ridiculousness. I dropped the subject in silence as if I had never brought it up.
I’ve since concluded that her natural inclination to feel responsible for and to protect her siblings was being too deeply wounded by the feeling of failure to do that for her to accept that all this could have happened to her “baby sister” (as she yet calls me) and she not have known about it or been able to prevent it. Regardless, I was floored and resolved never again to attempt to air my secret in her presence.
Now, in light of a news articles I read about the story of an eleven year old girl in Texas who was raped by eighteen men, I’m compelled by a desire to write the whole episode of what happened to me, along with an inner sorting out of my ordeal… or “ordeals,” I should say. That poor girl, God help her. I think I understand.
What makes me connect my experience with this little Texas girl are the things that have been included in articles covering the heinous event. Some news writers have felt the need to include things about this little girl’s background and her possible state of mind; almost somehow, if not casting blame on her, at least minimizing the guilt of the eighteen men ranging in ages from seventeen to twenty-seven who took part in the assault against her. The articles seemed to want to explain “why” it happened to her. Placing some onus on the way she acts; as if any way she could possibly have acted would justify her having been violated by eighteen men. There’s no rhyme or reason ever, besides simply the “evil that men do.”
They write such things as:
“They said she dressed older than her age, wearing makeup and fashions more appropriate to a woman in her 20s. She would hang out with teenage boys at a playground, some said.
“Where was her mother? What was her mother thinking?” said Ms. Harrison, one of a handful of neighbors who would speak on the record. “How can you have an 11-year-old child missing down in the Quarters?”
And they mention how she… “also makes flamboyant statements about drinking, smoking and sex,” on her Facebook page.”
I’m not going to comment further on this little girl and the horrendous crime against her. Her story and almost every other similarly horrific story makes me think of what happened to me. So I’m going to relate my own story and what I’ve concluded about the “why” of it and the effect it has had on my life and my way of thinking. I will attempt to be honest and transparent. I apologize in advance for the explicitness and I forewarn you, it isn’t “pretty talk.”
I wasn’t yet eight years old. I can picture each circumstance of abuse clearly though I cannot recall dates. I do know that it happened to me between ages five and seven. Four particular incidents are indelibly marked in my mind, and sometimes on my heart.
The first on the roof of the Baltimore apartment building where my family lived. There was a black boy named Jerome and his friend, a white boy, whose name I don’t recall. (Damn, it just came to me that this boy’s name is the same as the heroic protagonist in my first completed novel; a savior-type instead of a predator. I’m not going to change it.) Years later, thinking back on the incident, it occurred to me that these two boys could have thrown me off the roof of that four story building or killed me up there, but they didn’t. They could have suddenly realized the gravity of what they had done to me, a six year old little girl, gotten scared I would tell someone, and simply pushed me off the side, or smothered me to death. If they were deviant enough to do what they did to a child, they could very easily have chosen to murder me. I’ve literally, had to shake my head to stop thinking of that scenario as it played out in my mind, keeping myself from expanding those thoughts into a whole other sad story. It’s bad enought as it is.
They performed oral sex on me and made me perform it on both of them. I don’t recall how long this went on, but it wasn’t quick. They seemed to be in no hurry. They seemed not to be worried about being seen. We were on a rooftop after all. There were no places where anyone could have seen us up there.
When I say “made me” is when all the little inner flashing lights and high-pitched waves of sound start up in my head. Clearly I went up there with them willingly. I don’t remember any coercing or coaxing; my memory actually “begins” with me laying there on the roof; one boy at my vagina and the other over the back of my head with his penis in my mouth. I’m six years old. I think that the two boys must have been at least 16, but I could be wrong. I really had no idea, except that Jerome was the older brother of one of my playmates. I can usually remember her name, but as I am writing now it escapes me. Two of her big sisters had already engaged in inappropriate sexual behavior with her and me, taking turns “dry humping” us with all our clothes on in their living room. This all happened while the 17-year-old “big” sister was supposed to be babysitting her younger siblings, but instead she was facilitating this activity. Oh now I remember. My little friend’s name was Janice.
I remember at one point on the roof, I looked over at the railing of the metal fire-escape steps and I could have sworn I saw my sister peaking over the edge of the rim of the roof, looking right at me and what was happening to me. (Not my oldest sister, who denied it ever happened when I told her, but my other older sister. She would have been twelve or thirteen at the time.) As an adult when I was “partially” relaying the story to her, I asked her if that actually happened. Was it her? Had she seen any of that? She said no. But, I could have sworn. It could have been my imagination. After all, the replay tape in my head doesn’t show that I registered any alarm at it. The fact that I don’t remember ever registering any alarm is one of the things that makes me go blank inside and renders the high-pitched tone in my head. I was experiencing it all. The hot sun beaming down on us; the smell of roof tar; the camaraderie I felt with the two deviants as they took advantage of a child, me; the curiosity that replaced any fear of what was happening to me; the willingness to do it; the physical enjoyment. What in the world was wrong with me? Was I really willing? I don’t know if I went up on that roof with them, or if I was already there and they came upon me or vice versa; but I know that I was laying there and all this was taking place with no one to stop it. During this and during another harrowing experience, I did not protest, or fight, or resist in any way that I can recall. I seemed to go willingly with these monsters and simply allowed whatever happened to happen. I have even, to my chagrin, been sensually stimulated at times, recalling the incidents. But I forgive myself. I was six years old. I don’t remember ever seeing or experiencing anything up to that point that would have pre-conditioned me to accept or participate in this behavior. The only such thing I remember is my peeking through the keyhole of my mother’s bedroom when my oldest sister and her boyfriend, who she later married, were lying together in my mother’s bed and I saw that his hand was up her dress. Explicit as that was, there was nothing else. I wasn’t raised in a brothel. We did not have dirty magazines or reel tapes of pornography in our home. No one in my family ever took advantage of me or acted inappropriately with me. (I was going to say no one in my home made me feel uncomfortable, but obviously that would have been hard for anyone to do…make me uncomfortable, that is. Humor folks — just to make this spilling easier on myself.)
I couldn’t tell you how the rooftop incident ended. I can’t remember what was said during this whole thing, if anything was said. My memory of it all starts where I’ve told you it started and ends there. The sex play with Janice and her two big sisters happened a few times. Those visits ended when their mother came home unexpectedly and caught them –not engaged in our nasty scenario- but with “company” in the house. Their mother made me stay while all four of them got whipped. She made them take down their pants and lay across the bed and she hit them with a belt. I finally darted out after the last child got hers. Now that was uncomfortable. What would she have done if she’d known what we had been doing? Perhaps she suspected her children capable of that very thing and that was the reason for the “no company” rule. I continued to play with Janice, but I never went back inside her house. I don’t think that she and I ever discussed what we had been doing, and I most definitely didn’t talk to her about what her brother and the other boy and I had done.
Remembering that rooftop makes me sad sometimes, mad sometimes. It sometimes makes me have to gulp back tears. It sometimes makes me call my granddaughter over to my lap and hug her tightly and kiss her little face all over and pray for her, rebuking even the thought that any such evil thing could ever happen to her or my other grandchildren. Sometimes the thought of it does nothing, or nothing that I can tell.
In a yard, back of an apartment house on the corner of Eutaw Place and North Avenue. The entrance to the narrow space was on North Avenue. I remember going into that backyard through that gate and once inside there were no spaces between the tall wood slates of the fence to allow anyone who might be walking by to see in. There were lots of windows and doors looking down into that yard. Wooden back stairs and small porches were at each landing of the five story buildings. At least three of the row-house style apartment buildings had visibility into that yard. Any number of people could have seen what was going on there. Any number of people could have seen me going into that gate with those three older boys, but no one stopped us. While I didn’t see any one looking out of any of those windows down on the scene of what was going on in that filthy space, I had the feeling then and I still believe that someone must have seen it. Someone must have been watching it. I was watching the windows.
They were brothers. They were dirty, snotty nosed boys. Dark skinned boys who used to be called “black” when it wasn’t a good thing to be called that. They must have been ranging in ages from twelve to fourteen or fifteen. They took turns penetrating me as I lay there looking up at all those windows. They were not hurting me, I seemed to like it. (Here come the high pitched tones in my head.) I was not fighting or protesting, or saying “no.” I was six or seven years old. The only thing I recall is the actual feeling of the acts and the windows. No words. No sounds. No ending. I remember going through that wooden gate in that wooden fence. I knew those boys, but I don’t remember much about them except that they were generally repulsive. They were not kids I played with, although during that time in my life I don’t remember many playmates at all; maybe just one or two for particular reasons; such as Teresa.
Teresa and I could play together for a full day and then somehow, at the end of the day she would inevitably beat me up. It was an odd routine. I don’t know what she was going through in her life to make her act that way. But I submitted myself to her sudden rages on a regular basis. She sent me home in tears many a time. I would tell my big sister what had happened and she would say, “Well stop playing with her.” It just wasn’t that easy, evidently.
One time I found the courage to go up against Teresa, the terrible, when I was determined to tell her mother that she had stolen my dime. I walked up the block with her shadowing me and threatening me every step. She promised she would beat me up if I said anything to her mother, and I knew she would, but I had plans for that dime. When Teresa took that dime out of my shirt pocket and declared it was hers, I was resolved…not this time. “I’ma tell your mother,” I said and headed up the street toward her house. The entire way up the street Teresa pushed me, hit me in the back, pulled my plaits, screamed at me and whispered in my ear how badly she was going to beat me. But oddly enough, this dime stealing summoned up some courage I hadn’t had before. I finally completed the trek to her building; up three flights of stairs to her apartment and knocked on the door. I had run the gauntlet. When her mother answered the door I told her the whole thing. She didn’t need any convincing. She took the dime from her daughter and handed it back to me. The woman had to literally hold her child back from physically attacking me, but that didn’t stop the seven-year-old bully from trying to pull from her mother’s hold to lunge at me. She screamed at me and made promises to “really, really get me this time.” Promises that I knew she would keep, but no matter, I had my dime back. I left their building with a smile of triumph, even though I could still hear Teresa’s threats coming through the window of their apartment. With playmates like Teresa, it’s no wonder that I played alone so much. I suppose that’s how I ended up in the clutches of those boys.
The last story I want to tell took place right next door to my house. There was a fat, little squat of a man who lived in the bottom apartment of the house across the narrow breezeway from ours. He had a little girl who didn’t live with him but when she visited him we played together very nicely. I went into their building and rang the doorbell thinking that she must be there. She wasn’t. But her father invited me in. I don’t know what he said to coax me inside. My memory begins with standing in front of him as he sat on the side of the bed. He directed me to pull down my pants. Why I can remember that they were brown corduroy is a mystery. He pulled down his pants, leaving his boxers up and lifted me up onto him as he lay back on the bed. He had a big fat stomach and I teetered on top of him. I remember him at some point saying that this was a “little game.” I did not like anything about this game. Suddenly I shouted out, “My mother is calling me!” “I hear my mother calling me!” Somehow those words stopped him from continuing. It was almost as if it paralyzed him. I jumped down, pulled up my pants and took off running through his apartment to the front door. I heard him shout out as I ran, “Don’t tell anyone about our game!” I don’t know from where, save for the grace of God I came up with that little ploy to get out of there, but it worked. And I never told a soul about it. I fictionalized that incident and included it in a novel as something that happened to a little girl named Snooky… but it was me. It happened to me.
Its funny I should mention “the grace of God” because for many years I was very angry with God. Especially when I questioned how He could have let these things happen to a little girl and He never answered me. He’s never answered me. I’ve rationalized many somewhat suitable answers but they were all bullshit. All I could come up with to placate my anger and bewilderment was – at least I wasn’t killed.
For twenty years I had put all that craziness in a place. When I say “in a place” I mean that I don’t think I thought about it at all. I don’t remember it being an issue on my mind until my daughter was born in 1984 and it all started to creep back into my memory. By the time she was turned 4-years-old, it hit me hard, to the point where I could not sleep at night. I awoke at night crying and agonizing over the unfairness of it all. I cried over it as if I were watching it all happen to another little girl. Having my own precious daughter made me understand how fragile and beautiful and innocent a little baby girl is; and how she must be protected and guarded like a precious jewel. I was incensed, appalled and horrified. I could not figure out who to blame. I didn’t blame myself. I didn’t blame my family, who should have kept better watch over me. I didn’t blame the deviant characters who perpetrated the crime against a child. There was only God to blame.
I was in such agony imagining what it would be like if my own baby had to go through anything as horrible as what I had experienced. I was full of rage. I was mad at God then and asking Him again for answers. But still there were no answers. All I could scrape together from it all was the conviction that I had to be on guard for my own children. I would fiercely take every precaution to insure that they would never have to deal with the horrendous experiences I’d been through.
I told my husband about everything. We sat up late one night and he listened quietly and sympathetically to everything I had to say. He was the first and only person to hear the stories through and respond in a way that soothed my pain. It wasn’t anything that he said in response, it was, rather, the look on his face and the questions he asked. He made me know that he understood the confusing feelings I went through. He made it easy for me to express every nuance of my feelings to him without fear of judgment or condemnation. At the conclusion of my story he held me and we pledged together that our children would never be subjected to such evil…ever.
I wish I could say that I came to some conclusion over the matter that reconciled my hurt. I wish I could say that God spoke to me and told me what the purpose was of me having to go through what I went through as a child. That never happened. But somehow I have put it all back “in a place”; another place where I realize that I am a stronger, more understanding, more compassionate person because of, not only that, but everything I’ve experienced. Only I can say that about myself. No one else has the right to make that assumption or even to repeat the words.
I also realize that the phase of promiscuity that I went through as a young woman was about “control” because of the things that I had gone through. Like the line in the movie Pretty Woman when Vivian says “I say when. I say who.” I understood her completely. That’s about all I can glean from it.
What if none of it had ever happened? Wouldn’t that be nice? One day, when I see Jesus, I’m going to ask him what that was all about. Until then I have chocked it up to “the evil that men do.” I am not mad with God anymore. Yes, I know He knows. He saw it all. But what can I say? I pray hard when I think that far worse things are happening to some child right now, even as I put the period at the end of this sentence.
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