It happened at a sleepover. We slept together downstairs, on the pull out couch in the living room. She was older by almost a year and coaxed me into doing things. I knew it was wrong. I knew I shouldn’t do it, but I did it anyway.
I was 7 years old and terrified I’d get pregnant. What would I say to my parents? They would be so angry. I didn’t want to play with her anymore. But in the social hive of elementary school, cutting her off would have been a bad, bad idea. So we had other sleepovers. The same thing happened again, and again, and again. At age 7, I was serially abused by another child, and one of the same sex.
Trauma doesn’t just go away. The abuse triggered a latent depression that surely was lurking anyway, with my bad genes and its subsequent severity, but it wouldn’t have come so soon. Depression ate up my childhood. Destroyed it. Put it through a wood chipper and ate it.
My parents… Well, my parents each had their own reaction. Obviously, I didn’t tell them how dirty, how filthy I was. So they were left with a miserable, anxiety-ridden child who said she had no friends. My father thought my mother would take care of it. My mother couldn’t accept my mental illness. Her non-acceptance meant non-treatment.
My depression crawled on for years. I was worthless, horrible. I cried so often that my mother told me it was my fault I didn’t have any friends. My sixth grade teacher called to tell them I had I problem — I know because I picked up the phone.
In seventh grade, we had to go to confession, and I suddenly became obsessed with the idea that if I didn’t tell about my abuse (which I viewed as my fault), I would go to hell. “I touched someone and let someone touch me,” I mumbled to the priest. Nothing ever came of it.
In high school, I was sent to the nurse because I started weeping during an assembly on anorexia. I wasn’t eating because I wanted desperately for someone to notice — something I used to be ashamed of, but now something that makes me unutterably sad. My parents were called. I was yelled at not to do that crap. I remember sitting at the bottom of my parents’ bed and mumbling, cowed. When the nurse called about my cutting, the same thing happened, only this time I got yelled at in the kitchen.
Trauma just doesn’t go away. It finds new cracks, develops new iterations. My abuse had told me I was worthless, and in the resulting depression (which also told me I was worthless), my parents refused to help, leading me to the conclusion, yet again, that I must not be worthy of love.
Like so many abuse victims, I went looking for validation in all the wrong places. Boys and sex — they could somehow, someway, erase what had happened to me. My first lover ended up holding me night after night while I cried about my abuse. I slept on the couch in his room, and I’d bolt awake, shaking, teetering on the razor edge of a scream, and he’d have to hold me and hug me and remind me it was over. It was over. But trauma like that never ends.
“You have to remember things for me,” I would tell him. “Remember, because I can’t.” Events fuzzed out on the edges, and my childhood became blurred out. It would be years before I learned that extended untreated depression can destroy your long-term memory. It makes it literally incapable of holding onto all of your memories for an extended period of time. I don’t remember things to this day — like each of my kids went through a shrieking phrase, for example, like the baby is doing right now. My husband has to remind me, and I have to trust him.
I had few female friends, and I never really trusted them. My abuser was a girl. My mother refused to help me. All evidence pointed to women as untrustworthy, as dangerous. I clung to serial boyfriends instead. I clung to male friends. Then I clung to my husband. I have only one or two friends left from high school, and about the same number from college. I don’t talk to any of them regularly. Trauma stole that from me. Even with treatment, even with medication, I find it difficult to make female friends.
Trauma always finds a new way to sneak in the door. I may have treated the depression. I may have beaten the beast, for now, locked it in the closet and kept it quiet, for the sake of my children if nothing else. But now, the sense of bodily worthlessness born of abuse has turned into an obsession with weight.
I hate my body. I loathe it. I try so hard to be body-positive, but I can’t accept this tummy or these arms. I live in a body I hate. I talk about it incessantly to my husband. I can’t let it go. I wonder if I would find this easier without the kneejerk response of shame to my own physical self.
Now, as my son approaches the same age I was when I was abused, I am vigilant. He does not spend the night at other people’s houses, and we talk about appropriate touching. But I worry. At playdates, I’m always the mother checking on the kids playing in the back. I’m always the one to discourage building a tent out of the bunk beds. Trauma waits in the wings. I feel as if I’m holding her back from my children.
Years and years and years ago, one 7-year-old girl touched another, again and again and again. Trauma doesn’t leave you. You don’t just get over it. You hold it at bay — always waiting, waiting, waiting for it to come back again, this time in a different form.