a bolt of electricity strikes at the base of my spine and surges upward, pulling me into an alert, upright position like a meerkat standing sentinel over his mob. momentarily, i am deafened by the powerful impact of the information i'm absorbing. i am only beginning my freshman year of high school, so i am as yet new to the experience of epiphany, but i will learn to recognize it as a calm feeling, akin to the state of clarity and stillness that washes over me after a good, hard, endorphin releasing cry. except that, in this case, my eyes are dry, and though they aren't picking up any new visual stimuli right now, they are opened wide as i grapple to come to terms with what i've just seen. someday, this will be the feeling that informs me that other people probably don't have seizures in their spanish class, and that keeps me standing riveted in the middle of a campus road while ghosts of my past whisper the word "abuse" in my ears. but today, it almost knocks me out of my chair, and i find myself glancing around the classroom in disbelief. can it really be possible that nobody else has been effected by this?
the darkness of the room means that nobody notices my strange reaction. the roll down screen at the front, which covers the whiteboards that are usually decorated by colorful scrawls vaguely connected to religion, continues to flash images of sad faced teenagers. i settle back into my chair to watch, resting my elbows on the table in front of me for support.
what i have just seen, which has brought flooding back to me a memory i'd hidden from myself deep in my psyche, was a dramatization of a story narrated by a clearly troubled teenage girl whose face was nearly hidden by piercings. while she made her painful confession, an actor dressed as a priest slipped his hand under the skirt of the little girl meant to be the narrator.
that's when i remembered. and it wasn't long after this that i began telling people.
it's late at night, and i should really be headed to bed. it can't be much later than eleven pm, realistically, but i'm fourteen years old and i have school tomorrow, and nothing good can come of being one of the last members of my family awake and about the house. my mom is loading the dishwasher; i hear the clink of dishes as she lifts them out of the side of the sink designated for those items that have already been rinsed, and positions them in the slots of the dishwasher's two slide out metal racks. i am keeping her company, not actually helping but sitting on a barstool at the granite covered island, which houses the sink and dishwasher on its other side. i am giddy, because my mom and i picked up "cappuccino blast" drinks from a local ice cream shop earlier, and the mixture of sugar and caffeine is like rocket fuel running through my veins.
i don't know why, but suddenly the urge grabs hold of me to tell her. as hyped up as i am, i actually manage to get the sentence out: "when i was ten, dmitri kissed me in the closet of his room" before i lose my nerve and clam up. all at once, i am freezing cold and nauseous, and my mood plunges as though it's been buckled into an iron ball and chain.
my mom's response is hardly encouraging: "you should have told me sooner. we could have gotten him help." and for four years, as far as she is concerned, that's that.
the amount that i tell people really varies. when i become comfortable confiding in my uncle, after some time has past that i've been coming to him for advice about jimmy and folding my arms over my knees as i sit at the foot of his ancient brown armchair, i trust him with a few scraps. i tell him that dmitri held me on his lap in the dark, on a beanbag chair, that he kissed me and told me he was "just practicing." my uncle grows very quiet and solemn, but i am quick to assure him that no, no he didn't rape me.
i talk to a few people at school, meaning friends, not counselors or nurses; not a lot, either, but too many and too often. after that, it's easier. i don't feel anything when i tell it to a friend i meet at college, though i see the tears of compassion rush to his eyes, and though my leg trembles uncontrollably, the whole time i speak.
i am ten years old. i am wearing a loose grey dress; it has flowers on it, little white and yellow and pink flowers that are too cartoonish to actually suggest any particular strain of a real plant species. i do not know what the material is, but it isn't cotton because it isn't thin or soft enough. this is a well made dress, very casual and nearly as shapeless as a potato sack sewn onto my body, but built to withstand wear and tear.
my mom is not home. i believe it is monday night, because if i remember correctly that's the night she spends a few hours setting up for then holding her right of christian initiation for adults class at the catholic church my family attends. the closest thing my mom has to her own life or a job is the time she devotes to preparing for this class, typing away at her computer in a regal green chair in her bedroom. her talks on subjects such as the sacraments, marriage, gospels people struggle with, and homosexuality all become matters for discussion when i'm a little older, while we are on our exercise walks. for now, it is enough for me to know that when she gets home, she'll probably bring leftover goodies with her, such as my favorite triple chocolate chip cookies from costco. my brother dmitri is baby sitting, as the elder two of the russian boys have not yet fallen out of favor with my mother. it's been less than a year since the pair arrived in the united states, yet they speak excellent english already. the only lingering trace of an accent any of them retains belongs to dmitri, the oldest, and to be honest it's mostly manufactured from the speech of rappers and gang-bangers he's watched on tv. not withstanding the facts, that he and his siblings are literally the definition of caucasian, and that he was born in siberia, dmitri seems to believe he is a love child of randy jackson. one of his main hobbies is lying stretched out on a towel in the sun beside our pool; he is not tanning, like the golden child does, because that's girly, but he informs us that he's "getting black."
i am ten, and he is thirteen, and we come from two different worlds, but both of us have at least one thing in common: there is an anger in us, that has not yet reared its ugly head. but soon will.
for now, we play in a glowing innocence reminiscent of the infantile versions of the fox and the hound. maybe hide and seek is the game, or maybe it's tag. either way, my bare feet that are not allowed to come in contact with the wood floors lest their oils damage its surface, slap the pannels, unrestrained by the socks i'd be forced to wear if mom were home. suddenly, my feet aren't touching anything. i'm flying. i'm rising into the air, borne aloft by my older brother's arms, which lift me so effortlessly that i don't feel any uncomfortable tugging of gravity underneath my armpits. for some reason, i think about him being a fireman, and maybe he's just rescued me from a burning building. never mind that a moment before the object of the game was to get away from him.
dmitri is wearing basketball shorts, blue ones. his hair is heavily gelled into a multitude of little black spikes. i remember the sigh of his body sinking into the bean bag chair, the protesting sound of the material inside rearrange itself to conform to the shape of his body as he settles into place. he is leaning back, a king lounging on a throne. when did the light turn off? was it ever on? i do not remember the door closing, but suddenly here we are, in the dark, just him and me, and all i can make out is the shape of his jaw. it brushes against my face, and the prickly stubble he boasts even at his young age tickles my skin. he never tries to kiss my lips, but his mouth explores my face. "don't tell anyone," he whispers. "it's alright. i'm just practicing for making out."
then his hand slips underneath my dress. it passes over the round of my belly, its warmth bringing me sharply into awareness of the chill of my own flesh. his hand strokes my breasts, which are nothing more than two barely differentiated pads of baby fat. i will have to wait until i'm out of my teenage years before they become more noticeable than the mountain peak of fat around my belly button. dmitri has another pair of shorts, bicycle shorts, beneath his outer layer of basketball clothing, because he is not allowed to own boxers, but wants to appear as though he's got them on. my underwear is white. why do i remember that? i'm at the age where it doesn't really bother me if my dress gets caught in the elastic waistband of my panties after i use the bathroom, so that my skirt rides up in the back and offers everybody i pass a peek. i don't understand why i can't run around topless like my brothers, and it doesn't phase me to step, dripping out of the bathtub on pull on undies patterned with flowers or disney princesses right in front of everybody. later, i will learn to despise dresses and skirts in general, even though there are days at high school on which i have no choice but to wear them, because i hate feeling so exposed and unprotected. there is nothing but a thin layer of cotton, ever so much thinner than the material of my dress, to separate me from something strange and hard that presses against my small body, and begins to make me feel as though i am a vacuum cleaner that's sucking up the whole world, scouring it clean by eliminating every messy detail, starting with my internal organs, then my bones, my gelatinous fat, my skin, my hair.
the whole time, he won't stop laughing. his laughter echoes in the air, the sound reverberating and building on itself, so that it eats up every other part of the memory. the laughter is a giant fish that swallows me whole, and never, never lets me out again.
one of the most bizarre things i've ever experienced, i think, was listening to the responses of the few immediate family members with which i shared this shameful secret. overwhelmingly, the reply i got was not, "i'm sorry," or, "that's terrible," or, "are you alright?" but, "i already knew." as though the rape were something i wore around like a second skin. as though that's what they were thinking, every time i flinched and shuddered at the sound of two metal fold up chairs crashing against each other. all i could think was, why hadn't they ever said anything? how could they let me go through something like that on my own if they really knew all along? how could my mom get so angry and frustrated at me over my peculiarities if she really was aware from the get go that i was demonstrating my trauma? how could she tell me when i came to her, sobbing, my chest torn wide open by the hell i'd put my body through at only seventeen years old, that i didn't deserve help? i did question my oldest sister about this point, but she never really gave me a conclusive response. that's just the way my family operated; we didn't talk about things. we put them out of mind and hoped they'd melt away forever, and proved to the world that we were all tough as nails and didn't need anybody else by denying each other the slightest inkling of sympathy or consideration.
so now, fast forward until i'm in my senior year of high school. it's before prom, before the idea of sleeping over at a friend's house and getting drunk has even entered my head. i have not yet turned over a new leaf of responsibility and family involvement. my mom has just recently stopped buying me subway sandwiches; in fact, this is the day that i found myself spilling my guts before a religious director of some sort whom i didn't even like. my mom has already dropped my brother and the two girls with whom we carpool off at our house, and we've finished a circuit around the neighborhood, during which she blew off a lot of steam at my expense. we are just pulling into the driveway, but we're both still strapped in. i am so close to being safe, being through with this ordeal, but then she asks the question that strikes me dumb. "what is wrong with you?" and the scary thing is that she expects - no, she demands an answer. "i don't know" will not cut it; she's expressed that explicitly. "what's wrong with you?" and she really wants me to answer, to say something to explain why it is i've let her down so decidedly yet again. when my mom gets on a track like this, repeating an unanswerable question, she'll either ultimately answer it herself by spitting something venomous that characterizes me in the most unflattering light possible, or she'll decide to punish me for disobeying her order to speak. i'm so close to graduation; it's only the fall semester, but it's still my final year of high school. i cannot let myself trip when i'm so close to the finish line. the world spins around me, a chorus of drum beats filling my ears with a relentless, dizzying melody that accelerates faster and faster and faster until finally i make it stop.
i cut in. made it short and sweet, like a well aimed blow of an executioner severing the spinal chord before his victim ever becomes aware of the agony of decapitation. "dmitri sexually molested me when i was ten."
my mom was quiet, for a few seconds that stretched into an eternity. "i knew that. i suspected it for a long time, and then when you told me he kissed you that night a few years ago, it confirmed it for me. i hope you don't mind, but i did talk to grandma about it. i didn't tell anybody else, but i needed her help to be able to deal with it. i don't think i've told you this before, but i was raped when i was in college. it was while my parents had kicked me out of the house; i was living in the dorms over thanksgiving break because i had nowhere else to go. almost everybody was gone, so campus was very empty. i was walking home in the snow one night when a man grabbed me - a black football player. he held me down on his mattress, and in the morning i just snuck away, back to my room, with blood trickling down my legs. i'm so lucky i didn't get pregnant. i didn't tell your grandparents about it because i didn't want them to feel bad, like they were partially responsible for not inviting me home over the holiday. i never even told your dad, because i know it would really upset him. though it does bother me that the guy made it; i've seen him playing football on tv a few times, and dad talks about how cool it is that we went to school with him. my one consolation when it happened to me was that, i told myself, i went through that so somebody else wouldn't have to. i thought, i could deal with this; i'm strong enough that it won't crush my spirit. i don't even really think about it anymore. i prayed that i'd borne that pain so none of my daughters ever would. it's one reason i've tried to create a sheltered world, separate from all the dangers out there, for my children to grow up in. but i guess you can't keep every evil out, no matter how hard you try. i've always felt like i didn't want to let it define me. so i put it behind me, and i didn't really need to talk to anyone about it to deal with what happened. but if you need to talk about what happened to you, you can. i'm always here to listen."
from that time until i was sent to live with my grandparents, i was allowed to see a therapist one a week. my mom drove me to sessions, during the first of which she sat on a couch next to me and did all the talking, explaining why i was there to a very attentive little woman with a thick, intelligent sounding indian accent.
if i had it to do again, writing my story, if this were a novel, i would make sure to mention in every chapter leading up to this that i was raped when i was ten. i would make you picture it the same way i did every day of my life until relatively recently. i would ensure that it was a huge part of my identity, to you, the reader, that you couldn't really think of me without remembering that i was violated and had my innocence stolen from me at such a young age. i would never let you forget, for a moment, that even in my darkest, ugliest moments i have this to fall back on, that i was hurt so deeply that everything crazy and evil that comes from the pit at the center of my being is really him. i would encourage you to empathize with me, start drawing parallels between myself and who you are, and you would not be able to help admiring my strength to overcome what might otherwise have defined my existence.
and then i would give it to you, like this. stark naked and as insulting as a slap in the face, with only a sentence of introduction to ensure that if your eyes skim this page before you finish reading the rest of it, they won't accidentally fall upon the ending and spoil the surprise. because, you see, it didn't happen. i made it up.
here is what really happened: i am laughing. my giggles echo in the air, like wind chimes tinkling in the breeze.
i do not remember the door closing, but suddenly here we are, in the dark, just him and me, and all i can make out is the shape of his jaw. it brushes against my face, and the prickly stubble he boasts even at his young age tickles my skin. i begin to kiss him. my lips trail up and down his square jawline, my mouth closing slowly and gently over ever inch of his day's growth of stubble, for all the world as if i know what i'm doing. i am seated in his lap, sort of, but the only thing i feel against my thighs or my butt his his left leg. because he's set me down so that sitting on him like he was santa clause, not my lover. he asks me what i'm doing and i tell him, still giggling, "i'm practicing." too late, an alarm bell clangs in my head. i know nothing of sex; as far as i'm concerned, i've just committed the extremely grave sin of adultery or incest, acting with my brother as only man and wife are supposed to. it is not something that has been done to me, that causes me to lock this memory up tight inside my brain and throw away the key, keeping me totally ignorant and undisturbed by it until i stumble upon a clue years later, but something i have done.
i understand that this admission on my part seriously undermines my credibility. that's the point. though i cannot find any real statistics about false allegations of rape, but i know this makes me a member of a very exclusive subset of the population that absolutely nobody in their right mind would ever want to identify with: i am the girl who cried rape. i want to try to create in you, the reader, the feeling of betrayal that must have struck everybody i confessed my lie to, after they'd spent days or months or even years believing my molestation story. because i am not a saint or a video recorder; i am a human being. worse yet, i'm a human being with a history of mental health problems. i do not claim to be completely reliable or even to do a passable job at separating my biases and opinions from the facts of what happened in my home while i was a child. because this is not a story about facts, at all. the point is that it's up to you to decide how far your take me seriously, how much credence you want to lend to the anger and pain of a person who once planned to take to her grave a secret that might easily have sent an innocent person to jail.