In this essay I describe my early sexual abuse and the effects of it upon my psyche.  If you have had a similar experience, you may not want to read this essay.  Although I’ve done my best to deal with the subject in a way that will be least likely to trigger anyone, the contents may do that.  My primary desire in publishing this essay is to describe the aftereffects of abuse, the “fog” that came over me as I lay under my bed immediately after the abuse.  To a great extent, that fog has remained with me ever since.  Some people don’t believe sexual abuse is damaging because it often does not involve physical harm.  Although my abuse did involve physical hurt, the lasting damage was to my psyche. 

“You were such a bouncy little girl; you were always up dancing on your toes.  I even considered sending you for ballet lessons.  But when you were about four or five, you changed.  You became heavier on your feet, and you didn’t dance anymore.  I never understood what happened to you.”   

My mother said those words to me when I was in my twenties.  At the time, I did not understand what had happened to me, either. Feeling that the words were significant, however, I stored them in that area of my mind where I store information that I suspect will be important in the future.  Later, when I was in my early forties, I had a disturbing flashback that enabled me to attach a memory to my mother’s words.  Since the flashback and the initial memory, I have been able to piece together the story and understand why, so long ago, I stopped dancing.      

      By the time I was four, my mother had begun the practice of turning me outdoors to play after breakfast.  Most of the people at home in my neighborhood during the day were middle‑aged or elderly women, so I suppose my mother thought I would be safe.  I would like to think she thought I was safe, at least.  After breakfast, I made my daily rounds, stopping first at the home of a neighbor who owned a little fox terrier named Brownie, and I took great delight in feeding Brownie his breakfast.  When I left Brownie’s house, my next stop was at the home of the neighbor lady who sold cream.  She fed me cookies and let me talk until she lost patience and sent me on my way. My last stop was at the house of Mrs. Greenleaf, a widow whose grown son lived with her.

      Mrs. Greenleaf’s house was right next to mine, and her kitchen window looked directly into my bedroom.  Because her house was so close, I visited her often.  I liked Mrs. Greenleaf, and I believed she liked me, for she let me sit on her lap and cuddle.  When I was four, I figured that anyone who let me sit on her lap and cuddle liked me.  Why would I not believe that?  After all, I had seen other little girls sitting on laps and cuddling, and in my young mind, people liked those little girls, so why would Mrs. Greenleaf let me cuddle with her if she didn’t like me?  The fact that my mother refused to let me sit with her and snuggle caused me to doubt that my mother liked me, and I would not have asked my father because I was afraid of him.  So I regarded Mrs. Greenleaf as a precious source of affection and spent a lot of time at her house.  I did not tell my mother about this aspect of my relationship with Mrs. Greenleaf; what I told my mother was that the neighbor fed me cookies and let me talk to her.  Since I was a very talkative little girl, I suspect my mother was relieved that she did not have to listen to me.

       Although I did not understand it at the time, Mrs. Greenleaf exacted a payment for allowing me to sit on her lap.  Each time I snuggled on her lap and put my arms around her, she put her hand inside my panties and fondled me.   Even at age four, I knew that something was happening to me that should not happen, but I didn’t understand it.  I was confused because nobody else touched me in that place and in that way.  Because she let me sit on her lap, I thought she liked me.  Yet I didn’t think that people who liked other people would put their hands where she did.

       I continued to visit her, hungry for the closeness and affection I did not have at home, hoping each time I could snuggle with her and she would not bother me with her hands.  But each time she did.  She never talked about what she was doing to me, and I never did, either.  I didn’t talk to anyone about it.  I wanted to tell my mother, but I was afraid she would be angry with me and spank me.  I knew that what happened when I visited the neighbor was bad because my mother and the Sunday school teachers had taught me that good little girls never let anyone see their underpants.  No, that part of my anatomy was off limits for all purposes except the most necessary and basic, but Mrs. Greenleaf did not seem to understand that.  So I knew that what happened when I cuddled with her was bad, and I also knew I was bad because I visited her and let her touch me in that place.  It did not occur to me that Mrs. Greenleaf was bad.

        One day my visits to Mrs. Greenleaf came to an abrupt stop.  When I look back, now, I associate that day so long ago with Good Friday.  In the church I attend, the Episcopal Church, on Good Friday the cross on the altar is covered with a piece of purple or black gauzy fabric that allows me to see the shape of the cross  beneath but prevents me from seeing the cross itself.  Each time I attend the Good Friday service, I feel a sense of deep loss, as if the light in my spirit has been dimmed, and I also feel a sense of panic, as if I have been separated from part of myself.  On Good Friday in the Church, however, I know Easter will come in two days, and I know that what I have lost will be returned to me.

       That last day I visited Mrs. Greenleaf was a Good Friday in my heart because a veil descended upon my spirit and separated me from the light in my life.  After Mrs. Greenleaf and her son had grabbed me and had held me down on the pull-out ironing board in her kitchen and she had pulled my panties down enough so her son could see my nakedness, she turned on the hot water tap in the kitchen sink, pulled my corduroy overalls and underpants all the way off, and then the two held the exposed part of me under the scalding hot water.

      I remember screaming and struggling to get away from them.  I remember tugging at the straps of my overalls, trying frantically to make them stay up.  And I remember Mrs. Greenleaf’s words as I tried to get out the back door: “I have magical powers, and even when you can’t see me looking into your bedroom, I can still see you and watch everything you do.  I can tell by watching you if you are telling anyone about what I did to you, and if you tell, I’ll find you and kill you dead. And what will your parents do with a dead little girl?  They won’t want you at all, and they will put you in a box and bury you in the ground.  So you had better not tell anyone!”  And I didn’t tell!  Not until I was age forty and remembered the incident when I had a flashback.

        I was not badly damaged physically that day, but there was other damage.  I ran from Mrs. Greenleaf’s house and managed to sneak into my house and reach my bedroom without my mother knowing.  I remember that as I hid in the darkness beneath my bed, a fog enshrouded me and separated me from the rest of the world. The world beyond my hiding place was unchanged, but a veil of fog prevented me from seeing that.  In addition, I knew that I was bad and would never be a good girl again.  What I had lost that day would never be returned to me.  I experienced the Good Friday darkness and sorrow, but no Easter joy or hope of joy awaited me. 

       Now, with my adult mind, I can look back to my childhood and trace the effects of that day in Mrs. Greenleaf’s kitchen.  The foggy veil that came between me and the joy, the dancing, and the light in my life has never completely dropped away, although after sixty-some years and after a lot of hard work in therapy I can say that at times the fog clears enough to allow me to glimpse the full light of Easter just long enough to know it exists.  I am patient.  I have a sense of my young life before the darkness and before the veil descended, and that sense sustains me and reminds me to stay on my path as I continue my journey toward healing. 

 

     

 

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