I was repeatedly raped by a neighbor when I was 7 years old. I didn’t want my mother to find out, because she was a single mother working 3 jobs to support me and my brother and she cried enough as it was. We lived in a trailer that had holes in the floor so that sometimes raccoons and opossums would climb through. I was scared of them. The carpet was infested with fleas. I usually had flea bites all over my body. I never felt clean. We got clothes from Goodwill but they were usually old, faded, and stained. My mother did the best she could but we were all alone in the world. We lived in a rural area that was unforgiving of those who deviated from “the norm.” My mother tried to baptize me when I was a baby, only to be turned away by the local preacher because I was “a bastard.” We were not welcome in their churches, which were an important part of rural life there. I didn’t have friends at school. I was “weird” “dirty” “ugly” “too quiet” etc. Even most of the teachers looked at me and my brother in disgust. We were “the XXX family.”
I grew up with the understanding that I was worthless. That I should be ashamed of who I am. I barely said a word through most of my childhood. I didn’t say a word to anyone when they pushed me around, taunted me endlessly, beat up my brother and I. I never said a word when my neighbor (who, interestingly, was widely regarded as an outstanding member of society) raped me.
I led a very solitary life. My mother was usually gone at work, my brother would devote himself to his own activities, and there I was. I remember I would sit outside of my home and pretend to be a rock, because rocks didn’t feel anything and they certainly didn’t cry. They were indestructible, I thought.
I overheard one of the other little girls discussing the prayer they said before bedtime and I resolved to remember it. It went like this – As I lay down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep, if I shall die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take.
I thought about this prayer for the rest of the day, until I went home and decided on my own version: Dear God, I don’t want to live anymore. There are other people begging you to keep them alive. Let me take their place. I’ll die. I was about 8 years old.
But I didn’t die, much to my dismay. I woke up the next day, and the day after that, and the day after that. The days went by. My situation didn’t greatly improve, people weren’t much nicer to me, and my life didn’t get easier. But I got stronger. I discovered books as a way to escape from my tedious existence and by the time I was in 5th grade, I was reading at a college level.
I grew up and gained control over my life. I was no longer the defenseless, powerless victim I had been as a child. I had power. I could do whatever I wanted. I got a job. I studied hard so I could go to a good college. I escaped from my small, unforgiving town.
I have a good job now and good relationships. People who know me now would never guess I was once that hungry, miserable, terrified, beaten down little girl I had been back then.
As for my family, my mother still lives in that trailer. My neighbor is long dead. My older brother still lives with my mother. He has never gotten a driver’s license or a job. He doesn’t leave the house very often. A part of me understands his reluctance – why let the world do you more harm when it has already done so much? But I wish he would take the chance. I feel sad that our childhood all but destroyed him. If you want to know how to get through hard things, my answer is probably inadequate, but it is the best I have to offer. My answer is: keep going.