The confusing family

The confusing family
Wednesday February 10, 2010

From the age of ten on, I now know, I had no real family. My brother raped me on my tenth birthday, after molesting me for at least a couple of years first. My father had been kind in my early childhood, but had long since departed emotionally and intellectually through mixing prescription drugs for depression with alcohol.

At the time of the rape, my mother took me to the doctor because I was bleeding. I hadn’t told her what had happened yet; I didn’t have
sex education in school till a few months later. That’s when I told her. I might have told the doctor if he had asked if anyone had touched me. Instead, he colluded, by saying that the damage could be caused by riding bicycles and falling on the support bars. I have no idea if that is true. It sounds like a bunch of baloney. I believe my mother must have suspected what really happened, because I found out later that her own brother tried to rape her as a child, but she kept silent, too.

I do believe that my mother loved me in my early childhood. When I finally told my her what had happened, it was one of the most terrifying moments of my life because I was so filled with shame. To her credit, my mother rocked me on her lap and told me it was not my fault. She put a stop to the abuse.

However, she immediately downgraded the crime. She told my almost seventeen-year-old brother to stop “bothering” me.

After that, she behaved as if she were unconscious. She immediately pretended to forget what had happened, as did my brother. Suddenly, they were a “team.” But she forgot about me! She never mentioned it again, and I was forced to do the same, by example. She made me choose presents for my brother on his birthday, as if he had never destroyed me on mine.

It was as if she had been asked to choose between her children, and her choice was clear to me. She chose to protect my brother, the rapist, and left me in a pit of despair. I was turned into a false child, abandoned by my mother, even as I behaved falsely to try to keep her–the one remaining family member I couldn’t bear to lose.

A few years later, when my younger cousin was molested by a neighbor, my mother asked me how her parents could have neglected to protect her, and why they didn’t try to help her.

One of my earlier memories is my brother hitting me over and over and then holding me in the air with one hand while I raged and screamed and tried to hit him back. He would snicker and laugh at my helplessness. I don’t remember my parents ever taking that seriously.

I believe my brother wished I had never been born, and did his best to make me feel that way, too. Once, for about six months, when I was nine, he lived with cousins instead of in our home. This was the best time of my life. There was no monster waiting to get me anymore, and no one for my parents to protect me from. There was no drunken craziness either, as this was shortly before my father’s alcoholism really began in earnest. But almost as soon as my brother was back in the house with me, he raped me. It was as if he were telling me I could never be free of him, never be safe, and was punishing me for my short time of freedom.

In earlier childhood, my parents spanked me on two or three occassions, probably between ages three to five. They were careful to use only light pressure. However, I remember how every instinct in my body urged me not to come to my parents for a spanking, no matter how light. It felt as if I were being dragged to them by an invisible force. As you mention in your writing, I can’t remember why I was spanked.

When I look at what I wrote–rapist brother, alcoholic father, unconscious mother–it is so much worse than the way I used to imagine my childhood. But that was my childhood. I minimized it by telling myself “worse things happen to others.” Of course, this is an unassailable argument since (in most cases) there are other children suffering even more, and even a lot more. However, now I realize that was just a way to deny my own pain.

As an adult, when I first talked to my mother about my brother again, her response was “That’s just what boys do.” When I told her he should have gone to juvenile jail for it, she said, “Oh no, he didn’t do anything bad enough for that.” She also asked, “Why didn’t you fight back harder? Why didn’t you run away from him?”

How could she blame me like that? Because these words told me she did, even as she also said she did not. My older brother must have outweighed me by around eighty pounds at the time of the rape. He was already at his adult weight and height (around 5’9″, 160 lbs.) Why did she think I could have stopped him?

She says now that she never blamed me and I could have spoken to her about it as a child anytime I wanted to, but I can’t believe this is true. Her response when I did bring it up years later, after college, was nothing but blame and defensiveness, as you see here.

When she blamed me, even as an adult, I blamed myself, too. I thought, maybe she’s right. Maybe I should have screamed really loud, begged more, somehow slipped out of the house in the middle of the night alone instead of going to bed when I was supposed to (they left him to watch me!)

Though she would vehemently deny it in words, what she taught me through her actions is that rape is not a crime, and that women are here only to be subservient and obedient to men. She taught me the latter lesson also by making me get in the car as a child–over my vehement protests–with her and my father when he drove drunk, which he often did. During one of those terrifying rides with my drunken father at the wheel, that’s when I decided to give up on him. I did that consciously to spare myself pain. Perhaps that is why I don’t feel much anger at my father now (though perhaps I will later, I don’t know.) I gave up counting on him early, and openly rebelled against him as a teen.

I also found out later that my mother never told him about my brother, though she had said she would. I grew up thinking he wanted me to be silent, too. Most likely he would have. In any case, he did not protect me in the first place.

My parents divorced when I started college. After their divorce, my mother was devastated. But though she made me her ally and confidante in her suffering, she never acknowledged once, by word or gesture, how I had suffered. It hurt me that she could be so wounded by my father’s infidelity, but thought my brother’s rape was “just what boys do.”

I repressed all of that anger, and catered to her. I was so worried about her. I came home almost every college break and nearly every weekend to be with her. I see now that she could never have co-opted me in this way, if not for the earlier abuse and neglect.

I think that if it had been anyone but my brother (a neighbor, for example) she likely would have stopped at nothing to prosecute him, but because he was “family,” the abuse had to be minimized and hushed up.

For years, though I didn’t deny my brother’s abuse, I suppressed my anger at my parents role in it. They didn’t even try to protect me from my creepy, evil brother.

Before I read your book, I would have had a hard time calling him creepy and evil. I would have thought those words were too strong. But they are not. Even if he did not grow up to be a monster, he surely was one!

I tried to confront him and forgive. That didn’t work, although there is a bit of satisfaction in knowing that he knows I know what he did. But he denied the worst of it, as is usual. And how can you forgive someone who is saying (by denial, if not outright) that you are a crazy person making up stories? I swallowed my anger, because I was told you have to forgive for your own sake, not for the abuser’s. I wondered why I didn’t get better.

I became very ill, and stayed with my mother. Then, no matter how sick I was, she made sure to tell me that she “felt worse than I did.” She would say that as she left for work, even when I was so ill I could barely walk a few feet at a time, especially when I had no one to help me stand up. I take this as more evidence that I could not have spoken up more to her as a child.

I have mixed feelings for her, because she did give me love at a very young age, and she put an end to my brother’s abuse, acting as an Enlightened Witness, however briefly. She also utterly failed to protect me beforehand and neglected me afterward. But now those mixed feelings are out in the open. For the first time in years, I feel real love for her at times, as well as real anger, and all the rest. I can recognize the difference, because real love is not painful.

I now know that my mother’s older brother tried to rape her on multiple occasions, starting when she was around twelve, and she never told anyone. She felt she didn’t have to, because she “got away.” She told me that several times, and each time she sounded smug about it, as if it had been an innocent little game, and she had won. But running for your life for most of the night does not sound like a game to me. After that especially aggressive and prolonged attempt, she stayed away–from her own house–for years, as a preteen and teenager, to avoid him. She never acknowledeged that she was an exile from her own home, and then she did the same to me.

She had a picture of her and her brother as children on her bedroom wall. I took it down. She agreed that was probably for the best, but she still talks of her brother affectionately. When my cousin told us that her father (my mother’s brother) had beaten his wife and children, my mother expressed shock, because he “never laid a hand on her.” Oh, yes, he did. He grabbed her over and over. And he tried to do more. But she still acts shocked about his hitting his wife and children. This makes no sense to me, but she draws a clear line between one kind of violence and another. To me, it is all the same. The only difference is one weapon is a penis and the other a fist.

Even though my brother was one of those rapists who pretends he is being nice to a child while molesting or raping her (“I’m not going to hurt you,” and that kind of thing he would say as I cried and begged him to stop) the violence was no less appalling.

The special humiliation associated with sexual crimes, coupled with threats of what will happen if the victim tells, make it easy to cover up. I believe this is partly why these crimes are so popular. After all, it’s not unusual to hear someone talking, even bragging, about how a parent beat him and it did him no harm, but no one ever says his father/brother raped him and it did him no harm.

Till now, I never married because I felt the abuse was all my fault (though not consciously,) and also I knew (consciously) that I couldn’t stand to have my brother at my wedding. I thought, how could I tell people why he wasn’t there? And I thought the only way I could protect my children from the same thing was not to have any.

Now I know that’s not true. And should I ever marry, my brother will not be invited, and those closest to me will know why. Before reading your book, I would have said, of course my parents would be there. But now, it depends on whether I would want them to be there.

I am going through a lot of grieving, but already feel great relief, too. Already, I am no longer full of so many fears of disaster, and no longer take the notion of suicide seriously. When I make a mistake, I no longer sink into a pit of self-recrimination and despair, fearing that I may have caused some unforeseeable harm to myself or others. I am not anxious nearly as much of the time, even though I didn’t realize how much of the time I was anxious before. Much of my superstitious behavior is disappearing, too, which I also didn’t fully realize I was doing. I no longer feel I am responsible for everything bad that happens in the world.

I see around me how many other people are filled with this same anxiety I used to have, wherever I go. Today, for example, a woman who is a cashier at a local grocery store, was so anxious. She spoke much of the time in an unnaturally high voice, and she went out of her way to be polite to everyone. In spite of this, I saw two of her co-workers treat her with unwarranted contempt. She made a little joke, and one sneered. Then another addressed her as “Hey, you!” in a very rude and commanding way. I saw how she is used to being the victim, and always worried, and the crueler people she works with respond to that with more cruelty. I made sure to be extra nice to her and could tell she appreciated it. I will have to start carrying around copies of some of your flyers to give out.

Your name, Alice, is very appropriate; I have read that in English, at least, it means “truth teller.” And a “miller” grinds or refines raw product into something valuable. I love you for sharing your truth in writing, and found “Drama of the Gifted Child” especially helpful. I intend to read all your newest ones now and then go backward. I think you are very right when you say that bright, young child is still there, waiting. I have felt her already, quite a bit.


You may publish this letter.

AM: Fortunately, you make steps to liberate yourself from the confusion that was your daily life for years. And you seem to succeed. This is certainly not easy because you were lied to the whole time.