Today we were talking about the planetarium. The place where our school takes a trip to learn about the sky and planets and everything space. My husband mentioned he would love to go again. I knew I had never been to our local planetarium. It was a trip every middle school takes. Today my kids asked WHY I have never been there and that was the question the sparked the answer I didn’t really want to know. For years I just figured I had been sick. But today when I answered it came out as “my… dad… called me off of school.” This answer lead to more questions of why he would do that. “Did he not want you going to then planetarium?” No. He was off of work, my mom was working, so he wanted the day to ourselves. You know, to have sex with his 12 year old daughter. I had forgotten it was the day of our trip as soon as he said he had called me out of school. I knew what that meant. I knew what kind of day I had ahead of me. But I remember getting on the bus the next school day and EVERYONE was talking about how awesome it was and asking why I wasn’t there. I, of course, gave the “I was sick” excuse which quickly became my reality. But after years of dealing with the things my father has done to me, taken from me, I just keep uncovering more and more. All the little details. All those times. And now it is just one more thing stolen from my childhood. The trip to the planetarium.
I was 13 and I had just met a boy who changed my life forever. I will call him J. J and I connected through our parents. He lived close so we began to see each other a lot. My dad made all the appropriate threats to a boy who was after his daughter. My mom put me on birth control. Everyone seemed to think it was inevitable that our relationship would be like every other teen relationship. But J simply saved me. He came in to my life at at the worst of the abuse. At the intercourse and ovulation tests to keep his daughter not pregnant, lie to the doctor as to why your “cherry” is broken, time of abuse. He saved me from the hell my life had become. Because of J, I finally said “no”. No more abuse.
And so over the years I have sought J out. Something in me has always been drawn back to J. We have the capability to love a lot of people in our lives. I love my mom, my kids, my husband. The love I feel is different for each of them. But it’s not less. Over the years, as J and I reconnected, my love for him became confused. I knew I loved him but not exactly HOW I loved him. We would get close and then separate, likely due to the uncertainty of what it was we were supposed to be to each other. But I always felt he was part of me, somehow. The last time we connected we became really close. I counted him as my closest and best friend. Then things ended badly. Our friendship ended with a slammed and locked door. I don’t even know why. But it has been years and I still feel this pull.
And over these quiet years I have considered the connection to him I’ve always felt. My love for him is unique. It is not like the love I have for my family or my husband. It’s not even like the love I have for my friends. It’s something different, something more. He gave me a strength I had not had before. The strength to say no. Over the years he has always come back in to my life in times when I need his strength the most. It has always been as though he is a pillar I need to survive. My love for him is like my love for the various parts of me. I need them to navigate this world. And so I return to the door. I look through the key hole. I wiggle my fingers under the door like a child looking for mom. I try to find a way to see the other side because I need the love that saved me.
It was towards the end, or maybe even shortly after, the decade of abuse. My parents were out at the bars, like they were nearly every weekend. I was home alone in my room feeling the crushing weight of the life ahead of me. I was 13, maybe 14. I knew that no matter what I did, what had been done to me would never go away. I felt the anger, shame, pain and disgust of what I was, my fathers little slut. This was the age before the internet. I had no easy access to a tool that I could easily search how many pills I needed to take to kill me. But I knew that one Vicodin and one muscle relaxer made me very relaxed, lightheaded and easily sexually assaultable. I knew from experience what one of each pill would do to my mind and body. So I figured a couple of each, plus some Tylenol, maybe a few ibuprofen, would be enough to get the job done. I took my cocktail of prescription and over the counter drugs. I laid on my bedroom floor crying. I didn’t write a note. I knew my father would know why I had died. He could explain to everyone why it happened, what he did. As the pills settled in to my body, so did the numbness. I started to float. I felt wonderful. I felt nothing. I felt relief as I drifted into nothingness, in to death. I was free.
And then I wasn’t. I woke up about 5 hours later. Crying and yelling in anger and pain I laid on my floor defeated. I couldn’t even die right. My parents came home, asking what was wrong, why was I crying. I just said I didn’t feel well. Of course it was the truth. I had the worst hangover of my life. My head felt like a million knives stabbing in all directions. I felt nauseous and tired. Not only had I not succeeded in dying, I had made my next few hours of life more miserable. And since that day I have thought about death. About finally succeeding. About finally feeling the freedom of the end. But I don’t dare try again because the thought of another failure scares me.
I always loved Christmas. It was my favorite time of year. We would celebrate on Christmas Eve with all of our family. My Grandparents from both sides would come, all of my aunts and uncles and cousins that lived local would come. I would pass out all of the presents to everyone. My mom would cook amazing meals and everyone would eat and have a wonderful time. I loved spending time with my house full of family. And then sometimes after everyone left my parents friends would come over and they would celebrate while I went to bed. I remember one year I was pretty close to not believing in Santa. They had a friend write a note from Santa since I knew my parents hand writing. I did figure it out later down the road but it was a magical thing to wake up to on Christmas morning. I would have to sit staring at my presents until my parents woke up. It was the hardest thing to do, to look and not touch. I loved spending time with my mom and dad eating left over cookies for breakfast from our night before. It was always a magical time of year.
But then came Christmas break. This was always the worst. My dad usually took off work to stay home with me. It was a good time to be home with my mom at work and no interruptions. He liked to make me dress in my mom’s lingerie and pose in front of the mantel and the Christmas tree. He enjoyed touching me and photographing me in the living room. He would even have me stand dangerously close to the open front window in nothing but a black lace onesie. I didn’t completely fill out the outfits like he liked but that didn’t stop him from enjoying himself. This was our Christmas tradition. But it never made me hate Christmas when I was younger the way that I do now. I know some of it was repressed and ignored for a lot of years. But when he attempted to kill my mom and then committed suicide on Christmas 2007, he forever changed how I would see Christmas. I now see the devastation the holiday brings. I not only feel the panic of my life being forever altered by the actions of a singular choice in one particular moment but I also feel the pain and anxiety of all the years past. All of the holidays spent indulging my father and his sexual desires had now been opened back up to me. I not only relive the fear of nearly losing my mother at the hands of my father but I also relive the nightmare of losing myself to my fathers hands (and mouth and body). Despite my fathers death, he will never leave me. He forever resides deep within the darkest parts of me and is entwined in all of our yearly traditions.
All over the internet you see articles and pictures and quotes and sayings of what mental illness is or is not. “Depression is not just sadness”, “anxiety is not just worry”, “PTSD is not just anger and outbursts”. What mental illness is, is completely unique to each person. This is a struggle many seem unable to move past. My mental illnesses and my type 1 diabetes are on completely different levels of acceptance. My diabetes is measurable. When I go for my blood tests tomorrow they will see what my A1c is, what my thyroid levels are, what my blood glucose is at. They will be able to tell how sick or healthy I am just by looking at numbers. But my mental illness is not so easily measured. You can’t look at my mental illness on paper and go “oh yes if we make some adjustments we can really get these numbers better.” The truth of it is, my mental illness is just as deadly as my diabetes. My mental illness is physically destructive too. But yet the only number that will tell you how badly I am doing right now is the number of eyelashes I pulled out this afternoon during an anxiety attack. That’s it. That’s the only measurement of health or sickness you will find. But that doesn’t make my mental illness any less severe than my diabetes.
Mans for the record, it was 23. 23 eyelashes.
It’s 4:00 pm on Thanksgiving Day. We are traveling along to visit family and eat dinner, just as we do every year. I stare out the window while the kids talk, yell, fight and laugh in the back seat. My husband talks about work, what stores we will go to after dinner, what we are doing this weekend. And all I can think is “if I jump out of the car, would I die? Or would I only be severely injured and become more of a burden on those around me? Maybe if I had jumped when the speed limit was 70 instead of 65 I would have had a higher chance of actually dying. It would be best to do it while passing a semi, it would never stop on time and the extra impact would surly take care of it.”
And this is my reality. It’s worse this time of year. More frequent. More graphic. More definitive. More involved. But it happens all year long. Going over the tall bridge in town (but people have survived that jump), driving off the overpass that looks to drop off a big hill, hit that big tree doing 100, on and on. It hasn’t gotten better. It hasn’t gotten easier. Year after year it is just all the same.
Lately there has been a lot of talk of victim shaming and falsely accusing going on in the media. A political party was accused of sexual assault and since it was said to have happened 15 years ago, it either doesn’t matter anymore or the victim made it up. I honestly haven’t followed it too closely. It’s a triggering topic for me. But it’s hard to avoid. It’s on the news, the radio, social media and being talked about everywhere you go. The big talking points have been “if it happened 15 years ago, why did she wait so long to say anything?” And there have been a lot of responses like “it would be a lot more BELIEVABLE if she had reported it right away.” And then you have the people who just can’t understand how anyone could NOT believe someone when they say they were sexually assaulted. Like, “what a serious crime why would anyone lie about that?” And of course “people need to speak up more often and bring light to the frequency and seriousness of this issue.” As if it is just that easy. But here’s the thing about it, it’s not. Now my father wasn’t like some abusers. Some abusers will convince the victim that they won’t be believed if they report it. Because it’s a he-said she-said argument and people tend to believe the narcissistic and manipulative abuser. And excuses of “she wanted it, I was drunk, she was flirting” are all easily excepted as valid reasons why a “no stop” was ignored. So as a victim there is always the threat that their very serious trauma will be brushed off or turned around on them. But I grew up never thinking this would be true. I was told regularly that if I told I WOULD be believed. That ANYONE I told would believe me and that it would be my fault when he was taken to prison and our family was ripped apart. So I didn’t say anything because I was terrified of the outcome of actually being believed. So I was completely unprepared for what actually happened when I finally told what had happened. I expected outrage and pitch forks at my fathers door step. I was an adult and I, foolishly, still believed that when I told there would be a catastrophic bang. But that’s not at all what happened. My closest friends told me I was lying. Even went so far as to say that I had “seen some lifetime movie and was just making up the whole story for attention”. When I told my mother what my father had done, she couldn’t believe it. The thing is, I HAD PROOF! I had hard, physical evidence that PROVED that this had happened to me. I had videos and pictures of me as a teen in the act of being sexually assaulted by my father. And you want to know what? Everyone wanted to see it. My mother, my friends, the police (obviously). Everyone demanded to see the proof of the abuse before they would even consider it truth. But my scenario is RARE. When is there ever video or photographic evidence of sexual assault? And why does it take seeing the physical evidence for someone to even begin to think it could be real? And when I refused to show the proof, the hate and accusations of being a liar increased tenfold. I was a horrible person for doing that to my father. I was a drama queen that just wanted attention. If I couldn’t pony up the CHILD PORNOGRAPHY for everyone to watch, the most traumatic and embarrassing piece of evidence I had in my possession, then I was a liar. Even the police didn’t do anything with my report until I returned with evidence for them to watch. They couldn’t do anything at all without seeing proof. And this is the problem. How is a 12 year old girl being raped by her uncle supposed to report it if no one will believe her? How is a college girl that is gang raped at a party supposed to report it when all the witnesses refuse to speak on her behalf? I walked in to my exposure thinking everyone would believe me immediately. And no one did. They all just called me a liar. And that is not ok.