Some of my first memories, from when I was 7, were hearing my mother and big sister Linda complain about how I got too much attention. They called me “Daddy’s little girl.” I was really happy to be loved by my whole family, but my father’s love was the most precious.
Everything was going well for me when I was very young. School was fun and I loved going into the classroom in my uniform that my mother had ironed the night before. I had two best friends. We all had pink Barbie backpacks and saw ourselves as beauty queens. We had high self-esteem; some kids at school saw us as conceited.
After school my father would pick me up and take me to the bodega (corner store) and tell me to get whatever I wanted. If I couldn’t go, he brought me my favorite treat, Doritos.
Around this time, my mother sat down with me and my sister and said “We aren’t your birth parents.” I said, “No, Mommy!” because at first I didn’t understand what she meant. She explained that our parents had died when Linda was 5 and I was 3, and that she and Daddy had adopted us the next day. They were friends of our birth parents. Linda had a few memories of our birth parents, but I don’t have any.
It hurt to find this out, but I handled it well. My life was fine and I felt happy with these parents, the only ones I remembered.
But everything changed one day when I was 10. I would never be that happy, trusting girl again.
End of Childhood
I was home alone with my father that day, using the computer in the living room. I sensed someone behind me. Slowly I stopped typing. I smelled my father’s cologne, and then he was standing too close to me. I wondered what was going on. He whispered in my right ear, “Your ears are beautiful,’’ and then he licked my ear. It felt like a dream; I touched the mouse to make sure this was real. “Is this happening to me?” I asked myself.
The second time he touched me, a few days later, I ran away afterwards and locked myself in the bathroom. He knocked on the door and slowly I opened it. He said in a pleading voice, “Please don’t say anything to anyone, not even your mother.” I wasn’t sure what to do; I put my head down.
He kept touching me for three years, almost every day. It made me scared, sad, and angry. I was angry at the world and angry at God because it felt like He gave me something too hard to deal with. I began to ask, “Why?” I felt like I was being punished by God but wasn’t sure what I had done to deserve that.
The thought of going home from school and seeing my father disgusted me. I was also scared because I didn’t know what he was going to do to me next. Over the three years, the things he did got worse. I felt like I was in a different world and that I wasn’t living my own life. I was living the life of someone else, a young girl who no one cared about who was getting abused by the man she called Dad or Papi.
I tried to make sense of what was happening. My father didn’t seem to know if I realized what he was doing was wrong. It felt like he considered this more of the same love he’d shared with me when I was a little kid. In my family, hitting a kid is part of loving a kid, and he seemed to think that sexual molestation was loving, too.
But even though I was confused, I was sure that this wasn’t the love a father is supposed to give a daughter or the love, as a daughter, I had to accept.
I kept it all inside for three years and then I began keeping a diary to let it out. Soon after that, I told my sister. She said my dad had on occasion molested her as well and how scared she’d been that he was going to do the same to me. I asked her, “Is that why you kept on telling me not to wear shorts around Dad or show my skin?” She nodded her head yes, and we hugged each other and cried.
I began to feel really angry that he had hurt her, too. I wanted my sister to always be OK like she had always wanted me to be OK. I loved her so much, and knowing that he’d hurt us both made me want to fight. I wanted to stop this from happening to us. But I still couldn’t imagine telling my mother. She loved my father and did everything he said. She’d say, “He pays the bills.”
Telling and Denial
Four days later, my secret spilled out again. It was the day of my parent-teacher conferences, and my mother, my sister, and I drove into school together in the evening. When we got to my homeroom, my teacher started to tell my mother how I was doing with my assignments. My mother does not speak English well, and she got confused. She called my father and he came in to translate what my teacher said.
But he was telling her the opposite of what my teacher was saying! When my teacher said, “Virgen is doing well,” he’d translate, “Virgen is messing up.” I got mad. “That’s not what the teacher said!” I protested to my mother.
I knew my father was doing this to hurt me. He was mad at me because earlier in the day he wanted me to go sit with him inside the bodega with his friends. Now that I was no longer a little kid, I hated doing this: It was embarrassing when someone I knew from school would walk in the bodega and see me sitting on a milk crate with a bunch of men listening to Spanish music and joking. My father would stare at me every time he took a sip of his beer. I’d sit there watching the black cat that lived in the store wandering around, wishing I was home.
So earlier that day, I said, “No, I don’t want to go to the bodega with you.” He was angry and decided to get me in trouble with my mother by lying about what my teacher said. I was so angry at how he was acting at the parent-teacher conference and so sick of him.
I was also sick of feeling scared to fall asleep because I knew he’d come to the room and I’d feel him breathing and smell his cologne before he started touching me. I was sick of his lies and of the way he treated people, especially his family.
That night, my mother went to hit me with the belt and I started to cry. My father came into the room. My mother asked why I was crying so hard, and I told her, “Mommy, Father has been touching me in a wrong way.”
For an instant I felt better for telling. Then I noticed that she didn’t even look sad. She looked like she knew already but didn’t care. My father yelled that I was lying. I ran to my room and laid down on my bed crying. I hoped that I would wake up the next morning and this would all be a nightmare.
On Sunday, we went to church as usual. My mother spoke to me and my sister nicely, no yelling. She said, “We are going to go to church right now and pray. What happened was that someone did a witchcraft on your father. Someone probably put his picture upside down, someone who hates him. It was nothing but a witchcraft, so let’s pray and then forget about it.”
I felt confused and began to wonder, “Can that be true?” I knew that my mother wasn’t the only one who believed in witchcraft, but did I? I gave myself some time to think about what I believe in and what I thought was wrong and right. I decided that my mother was wrong and that she didn’t want to accept the truth. I was 13 and I was alone against my parents.
Soon after that, a teacher found my diary: Looking back, I think I left it at school on purpose. Then ACS got involved. I was taken out of my home, but then begged to go back to be with my sister because she was very sick. I stayed with my family another few months, and my father’s abuse changed. It was less sexual and more angry and punishing.
Besides his smell, I was most afraid of his hands. He used them to feel underneath my shirt, or hit me when I didn’t do what he told me to do. Each time I said “No” to him he would get mad and punish me. He acted like he owned me and like I had to do whatever he wanted me to.
ACS took me away from my parents for good soon after that. I have been in care ever since and have struggled to get free from what my father did. His abuse, the secrecy, and my mother’s denial broke my sense of self. I began to feel that I meant nothing if the father I’d loved so much could take advantage of me and not care.
One day I began cutting my left wrist, and I cut and cut and didn’t stop cutting until I felt that I had done what everyone else was doing to me. I had started to believe that it was meant for me to feel pain. Soon after I went into care, I made my first suicide attempt and got addicted to cutting.
I was diagnosed with major depressive disorder as well as P.T.S.D. (post-traumatic stress disorder), and I still struggle with mood swings. The doctors told me that all this was a direct effect of my father’s abuse. I began to live a life of depression, of relying on antidepressants, of counting on a therapist to help me make it through my day.
All my cutting and suicide attempts may have been me trying to destroy that little girl who was abused by her father. If I destroyed her, I thought, then what would be left was the younger girl, the one who could trust.
But that didn’t work. And the older girl was more lost than ever because she had escaped the abuse but didn’t understand why she kept the pain. My father’s betrayal makes me wonder, “Am I important? Am I a person someone should take advantage of? Did my parents ever really love me and why did they stop?”
My Path Forward
I feel like I’m only just starting to know who I am. Accepting what happened, saying “Yes, I was sexually abused,” helps me find my identity. I still have difficulties trusting guys. I hate to say it, but I feel like men are all the same. I feel that if my own father abused me, then anyone could. It’s hard to trust anyone after you trusted someone completely and that person hurt you.
I am still working on my self-esteem. I want to accept that I am pretty and that my parents didn’t mistreat me because I was ugly. I’m also trying to understand that I am important, that no one may take advantage of me like my father did.
I believe that everyone has his or her own path, where you sometimes face things you don’t want to. On my path I’ve had to face what my father did to me. I know that many young teens face this, and I want them to know that they are not alone and should not give up.
It’s hard to accept that the first guy who touched me was my father, and that the man who was supposed to protect me hurt me, and that the happy girl was turned into a sad girl and now an angry girl.
But I have accepted it. And I get myself back by moving forward with my life. By getting myself out of danger; by advocating for myself in foster care; by getting into college; by writing and painting and making friends; by still living, I realize that I am strong. My father took away the happy girl who trusted everyone, but he didn’t take all of me.