Sometimes You Have To Go Back To Go Forward (Repost)
(It's no co-incidence that I achieved clarity on the last day of 2011.
Like the song says 'suddenly I see'.)
I was 14 or thereabouts. We had only been in Benin for a year. I dont
remember how we as a family were introduced to him but whatever the
case he got so close to the family that hé could ask that we, the
kids, come and spend holidays with him. And of course the request was
very well received; he was an elderly person, my grandmother's brother
and a catholic priest.
There was little hesitation on his part. According to the sleeping
arrangements we would all be on the same bed, he inbetween, flanked on
one side by me and by my two younger brothers on the other. When much
later in the night he turned towards me, lifted his leg and placed it
on me I thought- no hoped- it was a mistake. I froze. I could feel his
erect pénis- though I didn't know anything about an érection then- and
the weight on both my thighs.
In my 'frozen' state I must have fallen asleep because I recall
feeling him attempting to insert his penis between my legs. I remember
freezing again and holding my legs tight together so hé could not get
in. I felt that if I stayed really still and stiff he would believe I
was asleep. Not that I felt the would let me be if I was asleep but in
some way I hoped it would make him realise that any movement from my
body was not a sign of complicity in the act. Hé struggled, albeit
silently so as not to wake up my brothers, with ineffective thrusts
until in my fear and shock I obliged him by relaxing my legs à bit so
the pénis slipped between my laps, believing he would not know there
was no penetration. He emitted a satisfied 'mm-hmm' and having worked
himself into à frenzy ejaculated shortly after. I felt the wetness in
between my legs. He was 52.
I cant quite remember if he said 'thank you' - a phrase he would use
often enough later on- or if hé stood up to wash himself, or whatever.
All I remember was waiting for the morning to come.
He never behaved like anything happened the next day, and when hé
brought us home, I acted the same. But it was à heavy burden for me to
carry so I wrote it down at the back of my diary, and cancelled it
out, but referred to it in the entry for that date. I tried to speak
to my cousin, a university undergraduate, about it. I showed her my
diary and she guesséd that the code BOB stood for back of book. She
checked the back and saw the scratched out sentence 'Fr --- M L to
me'. She asked what ML meant and guessed it by herself and just shook
her head and dropped the diary. I ran after her pretending to laugh,
telling her it wasnt what she had guessed. I was frightened and
ashamed, afraid that they would say I caused it somehow. And she was
from à staunch Catholic family.
When the actual sexual acts occurred, he made it physically,
emotionally and psychologically convenient for himself. Again he came
to pick us up for holidays,when we were there he made passes as much as possible, I resisted him the best way I could by being as rude as wasculturally possible in that situation, and generally showing my
displeasure. Especially when he caught me alone and would ask 'how are
you sexually'. He retaliated by making my stay terribly uncomfortable.
He would put me down in front of guests, give me à load of chores to
do and make sexist, chauvnistic remarks about how I did them, make me
go on without food and pretend not to notice. So many things. And in
equal measure he would lavish me with pampering gestures and items in
à bid to win me over. He would sometimes waylay me in the dark
with more suggestive questions and -I believe- actions. I remember it
made me very uncomfortable. I also remember not giving an answer that
he liked to the 'how are you sexually; question, prompting him to ask
me 2 more times in different situations. I also recall in my
Anger/fear/disgust(?) the last time I shouted a loud 'fine!' he was
embarrassed and tried to cover up with laughter and a retort, 'i know
you will always be fine. I also recall that a little punishment came
the next morning.
Another question he would ask me was ' are you à virgin'. I always
said 'i don't know'. Truth was, I didn't. I had never had sex with anyone or even come close but I had heard -as girls are wont to do- that other things could make you lose your virginity like running and exercise. Silly tales, I know, but girls believe these things.
On this visit to his place, however, he had a plan. When it was time for my brothers and I to go back home he dropped us off in installments- naturally, I was the last. The resulting week or two of my stay with him was enough to complete the process. It is probably a testimony to the amount of time that has passed that I cannot remember how that man made me his sex slave for over a week. What I remember was that he patiently, day-by- day, broke my virginity- yes, I was a virgin- until I was no longer sobbing or bleeding when we had sex. And he broke my resolve by a combination of rewards for compliance and punishment for refusals. I complied when he turned off the lights at night, took off his cassock and penetrated me. I complied when he brought a small towel and a bowl of water and cleaned my vagina and put his lips to it. Who knows, I may have even cried in ecstasy. At night I knew what to expect so that I could have some little treat, some respite, during the day, like a visit to my friends or a new outfit or whatever. Until the two weeks were over.
My dad did not understand why I burst into tears when I came back after he teased me saying he thought I wanted to live there permanently. (I didn't even understand it, until now, truth be told.) I continued my life from then going to school and all that but never went back to his house. I remember he came once by our house, ostensibly to check if I was still in compliance mode but I was very rude to him in front of my family. He also came to the boarding school which I attended. It was a Catholic school and he was a priest so it was easy to let him in. When he did come in and I went to greet him he ignored me completely and later sent a note through one of the students which essentially said something to the effect of a woman is sweet only if she is grateful and respectful. That was the day I told anyone about what had transpired between him and I ; I told a male teacher who would later become my mentor.
This is so difficult to write. 22 years later, I am still crying at these memories. But I digress.
Looking back I realise the farrago of emotions that I was experiencing at that time. This was a father figure, a religious symbol and a relative. I battled to separate the paedophile and the sexual abuse from that image, hoping that would cleanse me of the guilt I felt and relieve me of the burden to speak of it.
Life happened and I graduated from secondary school and moved to university graduated and moved to live on my own. While I had sexual experiences in the university I found that I was mostly in the victim mode- a girl who was taken advantage of by boys who only wanted sex. It did not help that I was pretty and so more in demand than others. I wanted the warmth of a relationship so I gave sex, this continued until I left school. And then, at some point in my life, for no reason I became promiscuous. Sex was no longer sacred for me and I did not really care if my sexual partner stayed or not. Suffice it to say that I have not had one regular relationship in my life.
I was 28 when I was able to acknowledge that feelings of unworthiness and dirtiness, emanating from the abuse of the past were the reason why I was trying to self-medicate with sex. I remember very clearly that I was watching Oprah that day and she had on some men who had been sexually abused as teenagers by a priest. The man echoed my feelings when he said he blamed himself for the abuse, and Oprah assured him that he wasn't to blame. She said she only was able to talk about her own abuse when she turned 40, and when she spoke about it to her dad, he said to her ' But I ask you, was it rape?'. She responded to him ' Daddy, I was 14 and he was 41 and he was my uncle. Even if I was standing on my head, naked, it was his duty to say, 'get off your head and go get some clothes on!'. I remember those words to this day when I find myself sinking into this guilt-induced depression.
But the most devastating consequence of the abuse for me was something that subtly crept up on me and destroyed my life. While I was with my parents in Benin after having my baby, I got into numerous fights with my family. My brothers, my siblings, my grandparents were not spared these very loud and sometimes violent fights. I got my nose broken and a deep gash in my head from one of these scuffles, this time with my elder brother. Needless to say, my mum was heartbroken by all this would be an understatement. One day she dragged me to her priest, in an attempt to prevent another fight that was brewing. A Priest ! Ha! v
I was instantly rude to him telling him I had no faith in priests but that did not deter him. He tried to have a conversation with me pointing out that God wanted me to act in love. I surprised myself and him when I told him I did not believe God really gave a shit about people if He even existed. Where was he when evil things were happening? The priest then went into his house and gave me a book 'Where is God when bad things happen'. The book helped me come to terms with my anger at God but not my anger at people. A few weeks later I had another bad argument, this time with my mother. I do not know what that young priest told me that day but I suddenly realised how angry I had been at everyone, how it was my way of ensuring they did not think I was soft and attempt to harm me. It was my defense mechanism against the fear of being hurt. I also realised I was angry with my family, my parents for not protecting me. I wept that day more than I had ever wept in my life.
That was the beginning of the healing process but the work is far from done. The good thing is that I am not afraid to show my soft, caring side to people now. The downside is that I am still working through my anger issues. I am actually writing all this as part of the step to healing. I also still have my issues with men, it does not help that my baby's father walked out on me when I was pregnant, but I am dealing with that.
Sexual abuse is not a thing to be swept over, it kills spirits, it makes a zombie of the victim. Thank God I am learning healing lessons along the way. My greatest lesson though, will be the one that I teach my daughter- you are worthy, you are perfect, and never ever be afraid to tell me anything.