I went to visit my Aunt Loretta the other day. She mentioned several times that I was an outgoing little girl. I wanted to be the center of attention. Anyone who knows me now, and has known me most of my life would have a hard time believing that.
I remember, I told her, always wanting to wear a dress my mother had made me: it was white with small purple flowers. It had a small ruffle at the bottom. And all I wanted to do was summersaults and flips while this dress flew up over me. Aunt Loretta said I would laugh and lift my dress up too. Lots of little girls do things like this. It’s funny and innocent. The thing is, the child Aunt Loretta spoke of is so far from who I soon became. I do remember these things – as young as I was. I remember being social and loving attention. But it took me a long time to remember. My outgoing and attention seeking behaviors were squashed at a young age. When I think back to my childhood, so much centers around the year I once referred to as “the year I became cynical.”
The truth of it is, that things that ruined my innocence and changed my outlook and behavior, happened over more than a year. It was so much to handle and all happened so quickly in a short period of time, that I have compacted it into one year.
When I was seven years old I was molested. I was on a playground at night with my siblings and friends – this was behind a family friend’s house. I approached the merry-go-round – a larger one with seats and a wheel in the center you could use to spin yourself around. I had n ever been on one like it before and was very excited. I sat on the merry-go-round and began to spin it. Two men soon approached and offered to help me get it spinning. The men sat next to me, and I don’t remember all that was said to me. What I do remember is the feeling of panic and fear that soon hit me. perceiving the surrounding world to go black and feeling miles and miles away from the other children. A hand reached under my shirt and tried to move down from my stomach. I managed to say “no” and ran away. What I remember next is sitting in the large dining room of the family friend’s house being comforted by my mom while all the men ran out to try and find these two invaders.
At this point I will now admit that the order of some of the next events is muddled. I really don’t remember what happened first. What I do remember is that this first violation happened in the summer. When that summer ended I began my first year of public school. Fat round me in sometimes homemade and sometimes ill-fitting clothes and a scarf on my head and name that no one seemed to even try and pronounce correctly. I was miserable. I was made to feel miserable. I so badly wanted to wear my scarf but felt alienated. It didn’t help that the first invasion of Iraq was underway – 1991 Persian Gulf War as they say. I was called a lover of Saddam and a terrorist. The latter name is something I still get called today. Hooray racism. No matter how much I tried to prove my Whiteness, I was dismissed. That Irish counts for nothing when you’ve got Other blood in you. It didn’t matter that I wasn’t Iraqi – it was all the same to them. (Still is). And I got my first taste of a “Persian.” There was another half Iranian in my class, but he Anglicized his name and made sure to publicly distance himself from me. I was getting my scarf pulled regularly with no help from a teacher or guidance counselor. I was being ridiculed for my weight and the poor kid and sometimes foreign food I ate. It was a fucking terrible school year.
So there’s that. The next two things are what I confuse in terms of timing. That’s the thing about being molested – it has a tricky way of feeling like it’s happened every fucking day of your life. It invades even the happiest of memories. My aunt (not Loretta mentioned above) and her husband were visiting. It was a bright sunny day. I remember that so clearly for some reason. Like damned Rebecca Hall in The Town – how can sunny days feel so shitty? Oh you know, when assholes do bad things. At this point, I was eight. I was walking in the upper level of our house in front of the bathroom, between the three bedrooms. I don’t remember what room he emerged from, but my uncle told me I was sweet or beautiful or some bullshit line, pulled my pants down, and kissed me on the butt. I again said “no” and managed to get away before anything else could happen.
I told immediately. That’s something else I remember vividly. Where I was sitting – the lighting, my surroundings. The reaction was different this time. I was met with a declaration that I was too friendly. Somehow what happened was on me. My expectation that my uncle be thrown out and beaten was not met. Because I was blamed, for years I forgot that the two previous men had been persued. I was devastated. For years I not want to talk about either incident at all. I didn’t even want to think about them. I felt ashamed and at the same time convinced myself that what happened in both cases was so minor compared to violations other people experience that I was overreacting. I hid myself as best I could. Weight seemed to be a good way to evade sexual advances. As was a generally unapproachable attitude. That once extroverted, attention seeking girl diminished into a depressed, anxiety ridden person – fear of judgment, fear of touch, fear of trust, fear of intimacy…. To top it all off, when I was eight, my Amu Hossein died.
Amu Hossein was my dad’s best friend. He was like a real uncle to us. He was part of family vacations, visited us regularly, and just generally amazing. Turns out we were distant cousins too. I loved him dearly. We all did. When he was sick, he had deteriorated so much he did not want us kids to visit him. I remember the night we were told he had died. We were sitting around the table eating Walt Disney popsicles. I had a cherry flavored Mickey Mouse. Once the news was shared I did not finish that popsicle. It was in my hand, no longer a clear mouse. A sort of rounded mound of what once was. I don’t know that I have ever cried like that again. I felt completely at a loss. It has been over twenty years since he died and not a day passes that Amu Hossein isn’t somewhere in my mind.
I have never, since the first time they happened, told anyone the details of the molestations. There is still a great sense of shame. Sometimes even the word “molested” feels too strong to describe what happened to me. I have to remind myself that that is because I love in a society and world where women are taught that we do not matter, and children are taught to submit to authority. Women are questioned regarding all violations. We are expected to ease up and be happy someone pays us any mind. Any person who thinks like that has no business associating themselves with me. I am tired of hiding. Hiding behind weight and shame and sadness and mistrust. I am tired of being forced to deal with the reality of what happened to me on my own – and thankfully, in the last few years I’ve found some strong advocates for my feelings, and I am so grateful.
I don’t know that I will ever again be like the child I once was. It’s been so long since she was around. Maybe it’s just a matter of telling her it’s okay to be herself – it’s okay to come out – it’s okay.
The uncle who molested me died when I was eleven. I remember being happy. I would never have to see him again. Of course, despite the years, what he did still violates me – emotionally, mentally, psychologically, and even physically. I have often fantasized about brutally beating him, publicly humiliating him – maybe castration? It brings me comfort. But what I really needed was to be rescued then, to know I was not at fault, to be comforted. The loss o trust that occurred has in many ways had longer lasting effects. I felt completely alone.
Even after all the therapy I’ve had and the ability to do things I once thought impossible, I know I can never escape the pain of what happened and its aftermath. Things resurface. I still manage to forget, until reminded, that at one point I was boisterous and outgoing and loved talking to people. I am glad to be reminded. I think I need to be. Yes, it causes me to reflect on what changed, but as I continue to navigate my way through self discoveries, I want to know who I was and I want to remember how I got here. I want to no longer feel alone. And who knows. maybe opening up like this will help even one person. I strongly believe in telling our stories. Keeping quiet is not an option.