When I was six years old and living in Georgia, a 17 year old neighbor boy forced me to give him a blow job. For years he had played with my brother and I, slowly grooming me, teaching me dirty words, how to play spin the bottle. He was attractive and older and his attention made me feel seen, even loved.
His family had sold their house and at this point it sat empty across from ours. Clearly out of time, Jeff intercepted me during a game of freeze tag. While my four year old brother sat outside on the porch steps, Jeff carried me in his arms, showing me around the freshly-painted, cavernous house. I believe he was pretending with me that we had just been married and he was carrying me over the threshold. I remember distinctly feeling like a princess.
Last, he carried me into the empty master bedroom and it happened there, on the floor, my knees scraped raw on the wall-to-wall.
I exited the house alone. I grabbed my brother off the porch, walked across the lawn, into the street and executed a masterful job of placing that gruesome memory somewhere far away.
I can see my six year old back ramrod straight under my t-shirt and I can feel my long ponytail hot on my neck as I walked my brother and I home. I can see my hand on his shoulder in a rare moment of affection and probably protection. I steadied myself then as I do now on that really normal image of brother and sister...
My mind must have been flying in untold directions, busted wide open. In memory, my brain feels like a shuffling deck of cards and I hear the sound of static like a swarm of summer mosquitoes.
The hot noon sun looked like it had never looked before. It felt like it had never felt before. The street we crossed was made of dirt and gravel...had I ever seen it before? I mean really looked at it? Had I ever seen the muddy creek our driveway straddled? What about that tree in the front yard, the cool garage, our dog? They were all new. Everything was new.
And while I recalibrated, I completed the filing.
By the time I had crossed that street, the memory was put away and I never told a soul until my college roommate confided her rape to me and I felt safe to reveal my story to her.
For over a decade, the incident had all but been erased from my memory, yet it had managed to vein through almost all my relationships and would continue to do so. I let friends and lovers choose me rather than choosing them. I had trouble seeing my way out of bad relationships. I was there to pleasure, not to be pleasured. I convinced myself that I could not prevent or stop painful events from happening, my job was simply to deal with them well.
And I was good at it.
That practice of dealing, filing, muscling through, of being pleasurable and pliant dogged me my entire life. Consequently, under-reacting became my game.
I remember the high school senior who trapped a freshman me in a stair well and asked, if I knew how to give a blow job. My thought bubble: since I was six years old you scum bag. My reaction: to let him kiss me.
At 16, I woke up one summer night from a drunken stupor (after downing what I hoped would be a suicidal bottle of Everclear) to find a person I'd just met earlier that night having sex with me. That sex-waking happened about four or five times that night and into the morning and with more than one person on top of me. When I found my way out of that nightmare and the 125 miles back to my parents' house, I didn't tell anyone. I made dinner for my parents and brother that night and put myself to bed. I handled the rape and the alcohol poisoning by writing Cure-inspired poetry into my childhood rainbow-adorned journal. For years and years this was a hilarious story I would confide to my friends, complete with a soundtrack: "Why Don't We Do It In the Road" (one of the places I sex-waked) earning myself the super-funny nickname: Gravelback.
I learned to handle these situations and many others like them with silence, strength, courage and humor and I wore that ability like a badge of honor.
But it was no honor.
Reacting with a numbed out perspective that this is what life is like no longer suits me. Under-reacting will not be my game. What served my wounded six-year old self does not serve me now.
I don't need to put myself in challenging situations just to prove how resilient I am or how much I can love. I do not need to prove my strength and courage to anyone.
And realizing that slowly, step-by-step, re-writing each jokey-story with honesty - letting each brutal truth have its day in the sun has been the journey.
There may be situations in this world I can't handle. I may fail. I may fall down. I may come with baggage. I may be irreparably damaged. I've done things I don't have answers for. But at least it's the truth. And for it I can be accountable.
But I retire from the pleasing, the bending, the filing, the sacrifice, the compromise that comes from my need to be in the company of what looks like love and that in turn forsakes my love for me.
I will try anyway.
I do love you crazy people, and this crazy planet, and I'm grateful for the God that keeps me tethered to it all. (Glad the Everclear didn't do it that night too.)