Names have been changed.
My sister Elsa and I were inseparable. Even though she is two years older than me, we took the same dance and Sunday school classes and had the same friends. On days when we played outside after school, she would do my homework for me if she was done first and I would do the same for her. Of course we fought sometimes, but they were little fights and we made up right away. I looked up to her. I’d show her off to my classmates.
But our relationship changed five years ago, after my uncle molested her while I was in the next room. I was 12 and she was 14.
A lot of my family lived with my grandmother in her three-story home: me, my mom, my sister, my aunt, and two uncles. It was about 4 a.m. on Christmas Eve when a nightmare woke me up. I went downstairs to see if my mom was in the living room sleeping, but she was out so I went to my grandmother’s room to watch TV. I expected my sister to be in there (we often slept in that room since my grandmother worked at night) but she wasn’t. Then I heard footsteps.
I opened the door and saw my Uncle Mike looking at me from the end of the hall. He muttered something under his breath, but I couldn’t hear him. Then I saw my sister run into the bathroom. She had on a T-shirt with no pants. I thought it was weird that both of them were up in the middle of the night.
The Same But Different
In the morning, Elsa did her usual off-from-school routine. She brushed her teeth, combed her chocolate-colored hair, and watched TV in my grandmother’s room for two hours before making breakfast. But I could tell something wasn’t right.
Her expression was guarded. Her eyes darted around the room a lot. Usually she’d be chatting up a storm, or she’d play with her dolls. (She was too old for dolls but she liked to play with them anyway.) But she did neither of these things. I asked her what was wrong.
“Mike touched me,” she said, and pointed to her private part. I was surprised and confused. I knew that meant she was molested, but I didn’t expect our uncle to do something like that, especially not in a house full of people. She asked me to bring her the phone to call our mother at work. I didn’t hear the conversation.
A few minutes later, Uncle Mike knocked on the door. I opened it and he asked for Elsa. When Elsa heard his familiar Jamaican accent, she ran inside the bedroom closet.
“Where’s Elsa?” he asked, walking into the room.
I didn’t want to be rude and tell him to get out. “I don’t know,” I lied. Mike noticed the light from the closet and opened it. I sat on the bed watching them. Mike peeked his head inside the closet. I heard small snippets of his words, but the ones I held onto the most were, “Please don’t tell your mother.”
“It’s too late for that,” I thought.
After Mike left, I went downstairs to make myself breakfast. I was upset thinking this could happen in my own house. I blamed myself for not waking up a little sooner. Maybe I could have stopped it. I felt like the worst sibling in the world. Sometimes now, years later, I still do.
Soon, my grandmother came home. “Mike, what’s wrong? Why are you crying?” she asked. I went upstairs and saw my uncle in his closet, crying. He said, “I did something bad.” He put some of his clothes in garbage bags and left.
My mom came home from work and we took Elsa to the doctor. Whenever my mom is stressed she’s calm and quiet. I sat outside the doctor’s office with my aunt and entertained myself with a puzzle book. The white walls of the hospital made me nervous. The air smelled like vaccines and cleaning fluids.
My mother came out with Elsa. “She’s not injured. He didn’t penetrate her either. So far, everything’s fine,” my mom reported. I don’t remember how Elsa was acting, but I know it didn’t even occur to me to try to comfort her. I was too young to know how devastating this was.
Moving to Safety
After Christmas, my mom went to the police station to press charges against my uncle. She also decided we had to move out so my sister and I wouldn’t be in any more danger. My uncle was still living in the house and my grandmother hadn’t told him to leave.
“She just wants the rest of her house fixed,” my mother told me. Uncle Mike was in the middle of working on repairs when this happened. My grandmother eventually kicked him out once the repairs were done but my mother didn’t forgive her for letting him stay so long. I didn’t blame her.
My mom couldn’t afford to rent another house, so she sent us to live with my dad for a while and she moved in with her cousin who lived a few blocks away.
My mom sent Elsa to therapy for a couple of months. But it didn’t seem to help. She was angry a lot. Her eyes looked hard, like she was torturing Uncle Mike in her mind.
One time in the car, I asked my mom and Elsa, “If Mike was dying on the street, even though he hurt us, would you help him?”
“No.” They replied in sync without hesitation. “I wouldn’t help him either,” I replied quietly. The rest of the car ride was silent.
When the court date arrived, Uncle Mike pled guilty. With this plea, he had to spend a few months in jail and be labeled a sex offender when he got out. There was also a restraining order against him so he could never go near my sister. She was upset he wasn’t in jail for longer. None of us have spoken to him since.
Life Gets Harder
Over time, my relationship with my sister became distant and strained. She was mad at me most of the time. She started hitting me a lot, which she had never done before. I was too young to understand she was probably taking her anger and pain out on me. I missed our fun times and closeness. But I stopped wanting to be around her.
About two years later, when I was 14 and Elsa was 16, my mother made up with my grandmother. That really upset my sister, and she lashed out at me even more frequently. Her insults were like knives. “Shut the hell up,” she’d say after I made some minor comment. “Mind your damn business.”
Sometimes when my mom tried to talk to her about her attitude she’d shout, “I’m like this because he made me like this!”
On Elsa’s 18th birthday, we had a party and a cake. I didn’t get her a gift. I’d usually buy her presents but these last few years my mom had to force her to say thank you to me. So I stopped. But it didn’t make me feel any better.
The next day, my grandmother came over. Jokingly she said, “Y’all need to clean up in here! It’s a mess!” Elsa got mad and told her to shut up.
Later when my mom asked her why she spoke to her grandmother like that, I was in my room with my friend getting ready for a Sweet 16 party. I heard her scream, “I have no respect for your mother!”
That’s when I realized Elsa was bitter that my grandmother let Uncle Mike stay and repair her house like nothing had happened. Elsa ran out. My mother tried to stop her and my mom tripped and fell down the stairs. My friend and I ran out to help her. “That’s it! You’re 18 now! You can live with your father! I just want you out of my house!” my mom screamed.
My sister moved in with my dad. She started therapy again, but I don’t think it helped. She seems like a machine that can’t be fixed.
My father and I talked recently. He said Elsa resents me because she was molested, instead of me.
That helped me understand her better. My dad says she’s still vulnerable and I need to be more patient with her.
If there’s a time in the future when we can talk like we used to, I’d tell her how guilty I still feel that I was so close by and couldn’t prevent something so horrible from happening to her. I hope one day she is able to stop taking it out on me.