We learn to take what we need from its atmosphere; we run to it when feeling emotionally or physically threatened; we show gratitude to this starting point that enables us to grow. What is this place? Home. We all have different versions of it. But what happens if you can’t run home? What happens when one corner that represents safety in your home is taken away? Chances are, your voice gets stretched thin, making you silent.
Or maybe that was just me.
As I emerge from that corner, found in my mid-twenties, I pick up where my thirteen-year-old self left off-questioning her image, and why Hurt and Violation were trying to break into the bathroom. The turning of the doorknob was persistent and more unsettling to hear than anything else. I watched the gold and white around the button rattle. The wood on the door and its frame rubbed together, adding another level of uneasiness. I remember watching the young naked girl in the mirror back herself into a nook between the cabinet and towel rack. Did I grab the towel to wrap around myself or did I use my own body for self protection? Were my arms around my chest? Did I sit? I may have done all of that before getting to my shower. After telling my brother-in-law to stop touching and crossing the line with me on several occasions, I found him trying to invade my space, once again. Because we had company in the house, I was using my mother’s bathroom for privacy and locked the door beforehand. This time I didn’t tell him “No,” I showed him what “No” meant. This was the first time I fought back. Feeling the warmth of shock run through my blood, I didn’t see it as an act of bravery in the moment but looking back on it, using judgment to lock myself in was the best thing I could’ve done for myself.
For years, I tricked myself into thinking that the bathroom scene was the most difficult layer of the truth but it’s what I haven’t written and have been nervous to see in writing that’s been the most tangible and frightening: the beginning. When my sister moved away she told me to confide in my new brother-in-law if she wasn’t around-and she was always working. My dad moved out one year prior, my mother worked, and I was stuck at home with only one person to depend on most of the time: the stranger who my sister met online and married. He was eleven years older and he, somehow, ended up teaching me a bit of sex education because of a question one of my girlfriends had. We communicated through Instant Messenger. This was where he crossed the line for the first time: sending me winks and using me as an example in sexual situations. I didn’t realize that he was no longer teaching me for the better, or being a sibling, until it was too late. I saw myself as the other woman since I didn’t stop him right away. But I did tell him to stop. And he did, but in days to come, something would always bring him back to sex or winking or trying to teach me things that no twelve year old needs to know. Back in the late nineties, early millennium the words “online predator” and “molestation” hadn’t been used the way they are today so I had no words to link to the experience expect that I was “the other woman” and “guilty.”
One night, when I was home alone, my brother came by to clean out some clutter that he and my sister stored in our garage. No one had a problem with him stopping by when the house was empty. He decided to stay and watch t.v. with me in my basement. I sat cross-legged on the couch. We were about one seat width apart when his hand ended up on my chest. And soon after that his fingers wandered where they should’ve never been anywhere near. Then there was pressure. There was very uncomfortable pressure. When I was much older I realized that it was the same poking and pushing sensation that a woman feels when she visits her gynecologist. I’m sure I’m one of the very few who cry on the exam table. Sitting there, I thought he shouldn’t be the first person exploring my body, even before I’ve explored it! My eyes never left the screen, nor did the rest of my body move; my head remained straight ahead.
I can’t remember when communication and the inappropriate touching finally ended but when I was sixteen, he got convicted as a level II sex offender. His identity was finally exposed when he kidnapped a thirteen-year-old girl and was caught with child pornography on his computer.
During my adolescent years I used therapeutic writing and music as an outlet for dealing with what I repressed. Dabbling in drugs or alcohol never interested me but there was a phase where I didn’t care if I got emotionally hurt by men. I let them use me. I tricked myself into thinking friends with benefits can be for a woman, too! But it didn’t work. I would be very hard on myself for acting like someone I didn’t know. Where would I take my anger? I visited the punching bag in the garage among my sister’s clutter. My hits were unprotected against my skin in hopes of getting a rainbow of bruises. When I could no longer see my upper arms and knees, then that’d be my cue to go into the house. I didn’t protect my body from hurt. I would cry, choke on an attempted breath of air, and resent every part of who I was.
I‘ve come forward about my brother-in-law to a few close friends, therapist, and my mother just in the last four years. In college I took therapeutic writing courses that enabled me to feel comfortable enough to utter the words “I was molested.” I said that statement out loud to a class full of strangers for the first time in my life.
In the last year I’ve found and reported him using social media websites such as LinkedIn and Facebook. Both outlets pulled his profiles right away. As I cried, staring at the face on the screen, my tears were the only thing I felt; I didn’t feel anxious, I didn’t scream or inflict hurt on myself. My body was telling me that I’ve grown more than I’ve given myself credit for. Sure, there’s still hurt but my strength outweighs any fear, any weakness I have. I remember how deceitful he used to be. Even in a room with people, including my sister, he’d try to touch me. Knowing this about him, I have the ability to be one step ahead of his actions. He may very well continue to create online accounts, but now he knows that someone is watching him, someone is taking her corner of safety back home where it belongs.