Memories of my early childhood are fuzzy at best. I remember the Spanish I spoke to my nanny who didn’t understand English, the smell of popcorn my mom made after a long night of college classes, the perfect shade of pink on my bedroom walls that glowed in the morning sun…for years, I reflected on these moments with a smile, filing them into the photo album in my mind, overlooking the minute detail that robbed me of my innocence…the moments that would wreak havoc on future relationships, personal insecurities and overall trust with any human being I encountered.
At the tender age of five, I was a victim of sexual assault. My abuser was not some elderly man who took me under his wing, rather, an older boy (roughly ten or twelve) who liked to play with me and my friends after school. Silly games like hide and go seek, tag, Marco Polo in our pool. I don’t remember many physical details about him, other than his piercing green eyes and dark hair. I also know he had a sad home life and a dad who was pretty rough around the edges.
While I can’t say with certainty how often or how severe the assault was, I do remember feeling embarrassed, nervous and confused as to what was happening to me. A gentle tug on my dress, his mouth touching my neck and shoulders. For years the only vivid memory I had about the occasion was the shine on my white patent leather shoes. I believe I was staring down at them, hoping if I stared long enough he would go away or I would wake up from a bad dream.
Everyone I know and love was not privy to these events; I held it in my heart under lock and key. I was witness to his behavior with other girls on my street, and I vividly remember racing on my bike back home to tell my dad what I had witnessed. I don’t remember his response, I only recall not telling him that I too had taken part in his sick games.
I refused to be labeled a “victim” and, quite frankly, didn’t feel that what happened to me was worthy of being said aloud or should be classified as some sort of assault. Fast forward to me at age 15, trying my best to navigate relationships with the opposite sex. I met a boy, he said the right things at the right time, and wanted to have sex pretty soon after we started dating. I will not say he forced me into anything—I was a willing participant. Even though in my heart I knew I wasn’t ready for the emotional consequences, I gave into those moments anyway. My boundaries were violated at such a young age, I did not know how to build my walls back up to protect my heart.
My fears were realized when I found out I was pregnant at 15. I would soon give birth to a beautiful baby boy at 16, more often than not raising him on my own until my marriage several years ago. Every subsequent relationship with men moved faster than it should have; a tiny voice telling me to say yes so I wouldn’t end up alone. That is a very real weakness that, with faith, healing, and support, I have slowly overcome. I refuse to be a prisoner, alone with my thoughts. I have removed this layer of guilt and shame, hopefully showing others by example that those moments and memories do not define me. By shedding light on a topic that is often whispered about in church pews and counseling sessions, I hope it fuels healthier conversations with parents and their children so they don’t have to suffer in silence. Statistics show less than 2% of teenage mothers graduate college by the age of 30…I am among the small 2%. I not only completed high school on time, but graduated college in four years with a full scholarship, working the entire time and taking care of my son. I now have a job that I love and my son has the balance and structure in his life he deserves.
A few years ago my mom and I drove through our old neighborhood to see what had changed. The strange part is, that boy’s home still had a sad, worn exterior that had not been updated since the time we left in the early 90’s. Perhaps the bad memories that occurred still penetrate the walls and energy, effecting all families who enter.
Everyone is a victim of circumstance; it’s up to each of us to rise above it and create our own legacy.