Press Pause - Chapter Nine
Why do I share so much about my life? Why do I work night and day to slowly get my story in front of strangers? I could join another organization and give my time to them. I could join a million protests and marches. Why put myself out to be judged by some, admired by others and dismissed by many?
Because somewhere, probably not very far from where any of us are at every moment of our lives there is a child being sexually abused, raped, physically abused, jumping in front of the mother to protect her from being hit by their dad, and beaten down in ways that will follow them into adulthood. And, those who stand in front of cameras protesting, raising fists and showing up at hearings simply do not speak for us.
For many of us the answer isn’t to protest, march and stand outside with signs screaming for justice. We understand there is much work to be done quietly, within ourselves. Many of us have happy, productive lives and successful marriages. But, we know there really aren’t any resources other than each other that will truly help us heal and find happiness. We understand that the power we possess in coming together in support doesn’t have to be played out in public and in marches. In fact, when those protests occur, we know beyond a shadow of a doubt that most of us are triggered and hold our breaths as the wave of criticism, mockery and misconceptions of who we are wash over us. It distracts from the work we are doing for ourselves because we will inevitably come across someone who makes us feel we have to explain or defend ourselves.
Why do I do this…because understanding how abuse begins is important. Understanding how it isn’t something someone can just forget is key. Sharing this chapter may make get a glimpse into why the betrayal and confusion can affect a person for years.
We want to be happy. We strive to be happy. We ARE happy. Living in the past is the last thing we want. Marilyn’s Place can keep lives moving in the right direction…it IS helping us to continue to keep our lives moving forward.
This is why I do this…
WARNING: It is graphic. It is triggering. It is the reality.
“Love and pain become one in the same in the eyes of a wounded child…because hell, hell is for children…” Pat Benatar
Once my mom and my stepdad married we moved to an apartment of our own. My uncle moved out on his own, and my mom found an apartment for my grandmother and my aunt right around the corner from where we lived. I loved that block. I had more friends than I ever imagined, and playing punch ball, stoop ball, Chinese jump rope and riding bikes became part of my daily routine.
A short time after we moved in my grandmother’s sister – my great aunt, Mickey – also moved onto our block. One of the things my mom loved to do with my grandmother, my great aunt, and her daughter, Ellen, was to go to bingo. There were several bingo parlors in Brooklyn as well as most of the churches who held bingo nights. They all had their chips, lucky charms, cigarettes and hope that each time they played would be the night one of them won the big pot. It was strange having my mom go out without me. Before moving she never went out without me in tow, even when she played cards with her friends on Friday nights. Now that I had a dad she could enjoy a few hours with the other ladies in our family.
At first having my mom go out to bingo was fun. Dad wasn’t as strict as my mom and each time she left he found a way to allow me to do something my mom wouldn’t have approved of had she been home. If I didn’t want to eat the spinach I hated, he would allow me to throw it out making me promise not to tell my mom. “It’s our secret, okay? If mom knows I’ll get in trouble.” If a show was on that went past my bedtime, dad would let me stay up the extra half hour but “it’s our secret, okay?” was the agreement. If dad was making us a bowl of ice cream, he’d give me a second scoop and throw extra syrup on it and I always knew “it’s our secret”. He explained that because my mom never had a husband to help her before that she was a little stricter than she needed to be so we had to keep the secrets because we didn’t want her getting angry. He said this is what daddies did; they were fun and let us do the things mommies usually didn’t allow. I was simply crazy about him and quickly started to become not only mommy’s girl but his too.
My dad picked up on the fact that I loved to sing and dance and that one of my favorite things to do was listen to records in my room. It wasn’t long before I had a brand new record player that flashed “psychedelic” colors on the lid as the records played, and I quickly had what must have been arguably the most extensive record collection of any kid in Brooklyn. They weren’t even married a year and already having a daddy was the best thing that ever happened to me.
It was during one of my mom’s weekly night’s out to bingo that I was sitting on the big, gold, velvet recliner watching TV that my dad called out to me.
“Missy, I need your help. I forgot my washcloth.” My dad was taking a bath and as I walked up the hallway he told me he left it on his bed. I walked into the bedroom but couldn’t find it anywhere.
“It’s not in here daddy.”
“Oh. I thought I left it there. I must have forgotten to get one out of the closet.” The closet was in the bathroom. “Daddy’s covered so can you just come in and grab one and put it on the side of the tub?”
I walked into the bathroom, opened the closet, grabbed a washcloth and closed the door, and as I turned toward the tub that’s when I saw it. It stopped me in my tracks. I couldn’t see his face, but I could see him pulling on his penis. It was big and he kept pulling it up and down.
“Did you find one?” I heard his voice but I kept looking at what he was doing. “Just bring it here and put it on the side of the tub.”
I quickly looked down at the floor and placed in on the side of the tub, but I could still see it. And, as I was walking out of the bathroom he asked me to do one more thing.
“Don’t run off so fast. Talk to daddy for a while. How was school?” At first I was relieved because I was no longer in the bathroom, but as I turned to lean on the wall outside of the bathroom I was in direct line of the mirror that hung on the outside of the bathroom door, and I had the same view as when I was standing in the bathroom. If I switched to the other side of the doorway I would be looking directly at the tub; either way I couldn’t avoid watching my father stroke his penis.
“School was good. Can I go finish watching TV?” I was trying to look at the floor or the wall. I never saw a penis before and probably wasn’t even sure I knew what I was looking at, but I knew it felt like I was doing something wrong and I just wanted to go back to the living room and the safety of that velvet recliner.
“Oh, that program will be on again. Talk to daddy.” He asked a lot of questions and kept the conversation going for what seemed like forever. No matter how hard I tried to avoid looking at it, it seemed like his penis was everywhere my eyes landed. And, just when I was sure he would let me leave I instead saw what would be my first orgasm. I didn’t know what was coming out of his penis, but I thought hurt because I could hear him grunt and breathe heavy. And, once he was done, he placed the wash cloth over it and allowed me to go back to watching television.
That scenario would play out every time my mom went to bingo. And, as time went on each time she went to leave I would cry and beg her not to go. My mom couldn’t understand why it suddenly started upsetting me that she was going to bingo, but my dad was always there to reassure her it was just because she never left me with anyone before and it was something I had to get used to. Once she was gone he would go to his room, lay down and either listen to the radio or watch TV on his small television. He’d still come out and make us ice cream, joke with me or show me a magic trick and I’d always wish that would be a night he didn’t take a bath. I was confused and didn’t know what to do. I believed if I told him I saw him naked it would embarrass him or make him angry that I saw him. I felt like I was doing something bad because I couldn’t find a way to tell him what I was seeing. When he needed his face cloth or a towel – which was every time – I would run in and only look at the walls so I just made sure not to look at the mirror and as he insisted on talking to me I stood further away from the bathroom door so I wouldn’t see him climax. But, more often than not there was no getting away from the image.
One particular night my dad took a bath and never called for me. I remember it because it was the first time I was relieved he remembered his face cloth and towel and I wouldn’t have to get them for him. I heard my dad walk into his bedroom after his bath and he called out to me to make sure I shut the TV and the kitchen light before giving him a kiss goodnight once my show was over. I have no idea how much time was left until the end of what I was watching – it could have been 5 minutes, it could have been half an hour. I did as I was told, and when I walked into the bedroom to kiss my dad goodnight he was laying on the bed, eyes closed, TV on. Only as I stepped closer did I see that his pajama bottoms were open and his penis was sticking out of the front hole. I froze. I simply didn’t know what to do. Do I kiss him goodnight and leave? Do I just leave him there? What if he’s like that when my mom comes home? Will he get upset that I didn’t wake him and let my mom see him like that? A million thoughts shot through my brain. I decided to just shut his TV and leave. He’d never know I didn’t kiss him, and he’d never know I saw his penis.
As I started walking out of the room I heard his voice.
“Missy? Missy? Is that you? Did you shut the….what is this? Oh God! Missy, did you realize daddy’s pajamas were open?!? Why didn’t you wake me up? Do you know how angry mom would be if she came home and saw me like this?”
I stood there frozen in the darkened doorway of his room and didn’t say a word.
“Missy, if you ever come in here and daddy has fallen asleep with his pajamas open like this you have to close them! You can’t let mommy see me like this! You know how she feels about us covering up when we’re in our pajamas.”
I think about that now and I realize how easily he manipulated me into thinking it was my fault for not making sure he was “covered”.
“I’m sorry, daddy. I’ll make sure you’re covered if that ever happens again.” I felt guilty and I felt bad.
“Thank you. If mom ever found out about this or that I let you stay up late or have more ice cream she would be very mad at us.” Clever of him to lump all of them together, no?
My dad never needed my help in the bathroom again. But he did fall asleep again. And, the next time he did and I walked into his room to see his penis hanging out of his pajamas, I tried to wake him. He was snoring very loudly like he always did, and I shook him so he would wake up. “Daddy. Daddy! Wake up. I’m going to bed.” He woke up briefly and I told him I was going to sleep and he had to cover up. He said “Okay, okay” and as soon as I kissed him goodnight he started snoring again. I went back over to him and started shaking him, but this time he didn’t wake up. I was so scared; I didn’t know what to do. I couldn’t let him stay there uncovered and I was afraid my mom was going to walk in the door at any moment. I shook him a few more times. He stopped snoring but never opened his eyes. I didn’t know what to do but I knew I promised him I wouldn’t let my mom see him uncovered. I took a step back, picked his penis up, put it in his pajamas and closed the snap. I remember feeling like I had just done something terrible. I remember feeling like I was bad. My dad never moved; never opened his eyes.
The next morning we were eating breakfast and I couldn’t look at him. I was afraid if he knew I touched it he would yell at me.
“Did you go to sleep right after your show?” He was drinking his tea and eating toast.
“Yes. Shut the TV and the lights off, kissed you goodnight and went to bed.” I couldn’t tell him.
“I’m sorry I wasn’t awake to say goodnight, kiddo. When you’re finished watching cartoons make sure you help mom clean the house before you go out to play. And, remember, no telling mom about staying up late. It’s our secret, right?”
“Yes, daddy.” Our secret. My secrets.