My big sister and I moved in with my aunt when I was 9, and I was angry. I expressed that by fighting with my sister.
But fighting made me depressed. I’d say things to my sister like “I wanna die,” and “I don’t wanna be in this world.”
I didn’t tell anyone else how I felt. I didn’t want to seem weak, like I was letting my struggles get the best of me. I grew up in a neighborhood where you got beat up for crying outside.
Crying also got me hit at home, so I learned from an early age not to show my feelings.
Plus, I didn’t want to talk about why I was upset. I grew up in a home with my mom, my sister, and my mom’s husband, who was also my older sister’s father. He sexually abused me starting when I was 7 years old.
I told my mom, but she didn’t believe me. She told me later she didn’t want to believe he was that kind of man.
He kept touching me, and two years later, I decided to tell my mom again. I also asked her about penises and ejaculation, and that made her believe me.
Turns out there was already a child welfare case on our mom because a family member had reported suspicions that my sisters and I were being abused. Soon after that, Child Protective Services (CPS) showed up. They asked me if he’d touched me, and I told them the truth.
Not the End of the Problems
After I told them in detail what he’d done to me, police went to my mom’s boyfriend’s job and arrested him. He was in jail for three months.
At first I felt happy that he wasn’t going to be around, but then I realized that three months was no time at all. I felt betrayed. A young girl tells you what happened to her for years, and the criminal gets three months?!
Even with him gone, my family still had problems. My mother is mentally challenged, and will tell you herself, “I have the mind of a 3rd grader.”
That may be why she didn’t do anything the first time I told her about the abuse.
I had a lot of anger, and she and I fought all the time. My sister and I also ran away. The police were at our house 10 times in just a month after my mom’s boyfriend went to jail. So CPS removed my sister and me and placed us with my aunt (my uncle’s wife).
Aunt Hope is very pretty, with nice hair and an ugly laugh. Moving in with her was scary because I didn’t really know her, but after about a week I started to feel at home. She has a huge heart, and she made me feel like I wasn’t alone.
But even though I trusted her, it was hard to talk about what had happened. She knew I’d been abused because it was why I lived with her, but I never wanted to talk about it. I thought she didn’t want to either—it’s uncomfortable.
In a weird way, it was easier to talk about it to my mom, because I knew she couldn’t understand on a deeper level.
Because of her cognitive disability, talking to my mom was like talking to myself. But talking to my aunt made it more real, and I wanted to block out what had happened.
I wanted to feel normal instead of being the girl that people had to talk nice to because I’d been abused.
Talking about the abuse made me angry, and I didn’t want to take my anger out on my aunt. I avoided all subjects that made me angry.
After a visit with my mom one day, Aunt Hope asked me what was wrong. As always, I said, “I don’t wanna talk about it.”
Actually, I Do Want to Talk
Even as I said it, I was terrified that my aunt would give up on trying to understand me. Even though I wasn’t ready to answer, her asking about my feelings told me that she cared. So I shared some of what I felt:
“I’m upset because when I visit Mommy, she never wants to do things that I want to do. She makes up excuses that it’s too hot or it’s too cold, so let’s stay inside. And inside, all she does is sleep or watch the time, waiting for our visit to end,” I said.
I was crying so hard that I didn’t think Aunt Hope heard me.
But she did. She said, “You have to learn how to sit your mother down and let her know what you’re feeling. I know she can’t process things the way normal adults do, but she does hear you.”
“But every time I tell her something, she seems to forget, which makes me feel like she doesn’t care. What’s the point of talking if she’s not going to listen?” I said, getting louder.
“Alright, first of all, watch how you talk to me. You’re not mad at me, are you?” she said in a playful way.
“I know it is frustrating to have to repeat the same things over and over again, but the more you say it, the more she’ll catch on.”
I felt better. “OK, next Wednesday, I’ll tell her everything that I am feeling without leaving anything out.”
“OK, now go wash your hands. It’s time to eat,” she said, after she hugged me. Conversations like this built my trust in Aunt Hope, but I still didn’t want to talk about the abuse.
After I’d lived with my aunt for two months, my agency enrolled me in therapy.
My therapist, Cindy, wanted me to talk about the sexual abuse. But I knew if I did, I was going to cry, and I didn’t want to be pitied or seem weak. I felt like telling too much would allow people to take advantage of me.
So instead, Cindy and I talked about how my aunt and I were getting along or how I was doing in school. We also played a card game in which you had to answer questions about what you would do in certain situations, or your future desires, or things you hate or love.
We also colored pictures, which she would hang on her walls, and I played with dolls in her big dollhouse.
Our visits usually ended with her asking me if I was going to talk about what had happened with my sister’s father. I’d say, “No, I’m not ready yet, but I will see you next week. Have a nice day,” as I was walking out of her room.
After a year of this, Cindy said, “Trina, we are going to try a new way to get you to talk about what happened because you NEED to.”
“OK, what is it?” I asked, with a little hesitation.
“I want you to take this notebook and write down everything that happened. You don’t have to read it out loud. I can read it myself, or if you want, you can. It’s your choice.”
I Could Stop
I was 10 years old and my feelings about the abuse had been bottled up for three years. I began writing what happened, and relief swept through me.
It was the first time that I wrote about my feelings and what had happened to me. I was surprised at how calm I felt, partly because the pressure was off me to talk about it.
I included that I thought it was my fault for not telling someone else besides my mom after she didn’t believe me.
Writing was still hard, but I could stop whenever I wanted to. When I handed the notebook to Cindy I hesitated, but I knew that she couldn’t help me unless I let her in.
Cindy read what I wrote about the abuse, while I sat there and waited for her to finish. The silence was awkward, but also good because I didn’t want to talk. When she finished, she said, “It wasn’t your fault,” which was great to hear. Then she suggested that I try to read it out loud.
I picked up the notebook, and I just couldn’t do it. I started, but then had to stop. Cindy didn’t say anything. I think my tear-stained face told her how hard it was for me.
Face to Face
This was the first time that I’d given my version of what happened since that interrogation room with the camera on me, where I felt like I had to say certain things to satisfy the CPS people questioning me.
The CPS people were building a case against my sister’s father, and they didn’t seem to understand that they were making me relive memories that I wanted to keep shut. I didn’t want to be there.
In my therapist’s office, instead of cameras, I saw her patient face waiting to hear my story. Writing it all down and letting my therapist read it helped me become less angry.
I didn’t have a part of my mind locked away and hidden anymore. The CPS people had asked me why I didn’t tell someone sooner, and I felt like they were telling me it was my fault.
I told Aunt Hope about the writing, and she got me to write too. One day I came home from school upset, and she asked, “What’s wrong?”
As always, I replied, “Nothing” and went into my room. We both knew I was lying. I was upset because I’d gotten in trouble at school for shouting at a teacher to leave me alone.
But instead of saying that, I messed with my sister until we got into a fight. My aunt became frustrated and said, “If you won’t talk about your problem, at least write it down.”
So I wrote about how people were bullying me and no one liked me, not even my best friend from 1st grade, and how my sister got all the attention.
Aunt Hope didn’t say anything after she read it. She just hugged me, and that hug expressed more love than her saying it verbally. I knew that I wasn’t alone.
After that it was easier to talk to her. I told her how hard it is for me to talk about emotional things. I told her that when I’m angry, I need my space. Once she knew these things about me, she stopped pushing, and our relationship improved.
We still don’t talk about the abuse. I never wanted to talk about it, and I don’t think she does either. It made her angry that he did that to me. And I know she loves me; we don’t need to have that conversation.
Part of Me
It has helped me to talk to others, though. I told my 7th grade history teacher about the abuse, and she told me it wasn’t my fault, which I still really needed to hear. It felt wonderful.
I don’t tell everyone what happened, but I have told my siblings and some of my closest friends. They didn’t laugh at me or use it against me or overreact. They all said some version of, “No matter what, I am here for you.”
That response helps me know that there are people I can trust who can help me truly find myself. It makes me feel heard.
As I got older I saw more and more that holding my pain in was not going to get me anywhere. I can’t help being angry about what’s happened to me, but taking out your anger on people just pushes them away. People usually want to be around positive people.
When all you do is hurt people’s feelings, no one is going to want to talk to you. But you can’t just pretend the bad stuff never happened, either. I used to pretend at school that I was perfect and that I’d never been through any struggles in my life.
Writing helped me move past pretending. I’ve owned up to what happened and admitted to myself—and a few others—that it is a part of me.