Taken at the time of my grandparents visit which I share below. I am seven.
This morning I sliced a banana and put a dollop of peanut butter on my plate. All of a sudden my stomach lurched. I remembered something that has not crossed my mind in years.
I was triggered.
Anyone who has suffered trauma is triggered from time to time. Trauma happens as a result of anything that challenges or strays from what feels right to us as human beings. Whether the trauma is the result of an accident, the horror of serving during a war, sexual abuse or any other event, trauma happens.
I was seven years old and in the second grade. I got off the bus at the end of the driveway, walked up and entered my house to greet my mom, Nana, and Grandpa, who were visiting for a few days.
THE Grandpa. My abuser.
Mom asked if I wanted my usual snack, peanut butter in a small orange ramekin. Of course, I accepted.
As I sat there enjoying, propped up on the kitchen chair by The Yellow Pages, and swinging my little legs. Grandpa looked at me, curled his lip and said, “That’s disgusting.”
That moment turns my stomach. Not the peanut butter, mind you, but the way he was turned off by my snack choice.
All the while, he was sexually abusing me.
So peanut butter is disgusting. What?
I have been thinking all morning about how insanely twisted and skewed that scene was.
My grandparents came to visit often. I remember their visits as a young girl before my abuse had started – before I was seven-ish.
I loved their visits.
I have fond memories of sitting at our octagonal kitchen table with the yellow 70-ish chairs playing Rummy 500. Dad and Grandpa would drink a Knickerbocker Beer and Smoke Raleigh Filter tips, the ashes of which they flicked into the amber, plate sized ashtray.
We had fun.
I remember that Nana was dear to me. She was kind and sweet and spoiled me. When I had an occasional temper tantrum kicking and screaming on the floor, she would gently put her foot on my back and say, “OH! What a nice rug!”
I would soon come out of it and return to my cheerful self. She would give me a chocolate out of the box with the red bow on it. I always chose the candy with the pink rosebud on top.
Grandpa was standoffish. He left me alone for the most part. Then things changed. He took an interest in me.
We would walk to the playground. I would run my little fingers along the chain link fence that abutted the sidewalk. I would pick up the remnant of a deciduous a tree – that little bit that looked like a coat hanger and hold it up to my face as if they were my mustache.
One thing lead to another.
Things changed. He was not longer aloof. He paid attention to me. I was little. I did not know what he was doing.
He was grooming me.
You see, sexual abuse does not always just start with a “BOOM!” Most of the time it happens at the hands of a family member or a close family friend who takes the time and interest to foster the victim.
It happens over time. I may start with things like tickling, or an inappropriate touch or the perpetrator telling secrets as a way to build a bond. The abuser wants to build trust.
Over time, it changes. There is a sick takeover, an overpowering, so to speak.
Children are usually dumbfounded, scared out of their wits and lose their sense of selves. They don’t know what to do.
I knew what he was doing to me was wrong. It felt yucky. But I did not know what it was or meant. Was it the baseline? Did it happen to every little person?
I was ashamed and embarrassed. I did not know how to communicate what had happened to me to my mom and dad. Even if I did have the words, I was too mortified to speak them.
Much like most children, I looked up to my folks. I was a pleaser. I was teacher’s pet and was the only seven-year-old at the YWCA that was brave enough to jump off the deep-end diving board.
I did not want to “upset the applecart,” anger my parents or make a fuss. It was only me after all.
Yup. That is when that feeling started. It was only measly little me.
Way. Back. Then.
In my case, I kept my mouth shut. For years. I did not have the words. I did not know how to tell anyone that that “innocent kiss” did not feel right. I sat on his lap, but I was told to do so. I had to. Most of the time I quickly struggled and squirmed away. Again, it felt yucky.
I would give anything to go back in time and change it all. I wish that I had shouted “no!” I wish that I knew how to say the words. I wish that I had the confidence in myself to tell. I wish that he was locked away.
If I had, my cousin would have been spared. And others would have been spared, too.
I do not feel responsible for the abuse that happened to My Laura and other children. I did not know any better. No one taught me.
I did know enough to warn Laura about what Grandpa might do to her. But she laughed. She had NO idea what the details of my warning really meant. She laughed. She was little.
To a child, my words, my warning, the details sounded preposterous.
How can a child effectively warn another child when she, herself, doesn’t have the words?
As adults, it may be uncomfortable to do so, but necessary. Imperative, even.
I am not sure that people think to educate themselves as to how to protect their children. I protected my child out of absolute fear; I was overprotective, and a helicopter but that was because I was keenly aware of the peril.
But I never studied or researched HOW to protect my babe. I made it up as I went along.
Now I know. Now I know that there are tools and sources, and there is valuable information to educate us.
Parents. Everybody. You can learn the warning signs. You can teach your children the proper language to express inappropriate behavior or violation by another. You can convince them that it is safe to tell. You can cut it off before it begins.
There are no guarantees that you can prevent sexual abuse, but you can arm yourself. Be smart. Be proactive.
And if it has already started, that is not the worst thing. The worst thing is if your child never tells you about it.
I eventually told my parents. My abuse was swept under the carpet; it was not acknowledged by the other family members who were also told.
And neither was Laura’s, except by her mom.
Here is the takeaway.
Smarten up. Don’t be uncomfortable or embarrassed that you will insult someone or hurt their feelings if you are suspicious. Call the person out. Interject if you suspect someone has inappropriate behavior. Listen, speak up.
Join the bandwagon because when it comes to peanut butter and incest, you know which is is disgusting.
For more information or to register for a workshop or a lecture, please visit sayitsurvivor.org