Content Warning: Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault, Body Shaming
I was sitting in my bedroom with the door closed. I was writing in my diary (well an old notebook, but you get it) and trying not to listen to the sounds coming from the other room. They were ugly sounds. They were not the sounds of love. I started writing as a small child. Words had felt dangerous but also freeing. After the age of 6, I was raised as an only child way out in the boondocks without any other kids to talk to or spend my time with. I would write and write and write. Mostly lies. I would tell stories that I imagined the popular girls might tell about their lives.” Today, I had SO much fun at school! Then, after school, my parents took me to the movies and we ate popcorn and ate candy and it was like the best day EVER!” Things like that. But sometimes I would accidentally start telling the truth. In these moments, once my fingers stopped writing and my heart stopped pounding and my head caught up with my fingers pouring so many forbidden words out (onto papers that other people could find and read!) I would realize my mistake and burn them. We had one of those burn barrels in the backyard where once a week we would dump the family trash in and light it on fire. I would not wait until that day, because these words needed to be burned up immediately. Every single second that they existed was like an alarm blaring in my body. I would not even re-read them to see what came out of me. I would just quickly tear them to shreds. and then find the matches and let the wind carry them away in smoke.
The story that I am telling you right now is one of the stories that I wrote but could never let anyone read. But now I am big and strong and I am not scared to share these words. I need to share these words because as I have said before, secrets don’t feel good inside of me.
So, this day or night, I was in my room and the more the sounds escalated outside, the faster my fingers moved the pencil in my grasp. I was escaping and it was working, almost, until Tom burst into my room. I jumped. I could feel my throat squeezing shut as I quickly tried to shove the papers under my bed without him noticing. But Tom was not there. It was Mean Tom. I don’t think it was Drunk Tom which was the scariest, but it definitely wasn’t Loving Nice Tom. He snarled at me. “Come on. Move! I need to show you something.” He guided me out into the living room and instructed me to sit on the orange chair that used to be my bed. My legs were full of lead. I could barely move. My mom was standing there in the middle of the room. Naked. Her head was hanging low and she wouldn’t look at me even though I was willing her to look at me with my eyes. I wanted to know if she was safe. If we would be safe. I wanted her reassurance, but she wouldn’t give it to me. I surveyed her body. She looked bruised, but nothing looked broken this time. I couldn’t see her nose or eyes yet and they often revealed the worst of it. Mom had her nose broken more times than I can count. She was a professional at covering black eyes if we needed to go to town.
“Good. Take a good look at her. That’s why I brought you out here.” Tom was using his scary voice. He didn’t seem angry which was good, but still scary.
What was going on? I gulped past the squeezing in my throat. I had learned not to speak unless I was spoken to. I had learned not to scream so that I did not make the attack worse. Mom taught me the rules and when she herself broke them… when she yelled back, I was angry at her, not him, for the beating she received. She knew better. You can’t yell at a man attacking you. You can’t yell for help because no one cares and you can’t yell just to free yourself from this squeezing feeling. Just follow directions and be silent.
Mom was following directions this time. I could see that. He came closer to her body. He had all of his clothes on. He squeezed her breast hard with one hand and used the other hand to point at my mom’s nipple. “Do you see this shit? Your mom has the biggest nipples I have ever seen! They are fuckin’ dinner plates!” He was laughing. I think I was supposed to be laughing too. I tried to but all I could get out was a “ha.”
“and damn these fucking hips, man. Them fuckers are so fuckin’ wide! Your mom’s got a big fat ass and hips as wide as this fuckin’ trailer. What the fuck? How the fuck did you get so fucking ugly?” He was talking about my mom, but staring at me. Was I supposed to answer?
“Crystal! Are you gonna grow up to get ugly like this fucking whore? Are you gonna get these tiny ass titties and these wide fuckin’ hips? hahahahhahahahahhahahaha” He is laughing but this time I can’t even get out a “ha.” I look down at my body. I am starting to feel the tickle of puberty. I am noticing my own nipples getting darker and my hoo haw has little hairs growing on it now. I am 9 going on 10.
My mouth is dry so I can barely talk when Tom demands a response. “What the fuck! Answer me! Are you going to get ugly like your mom? Are you going to be a disgusting bitch like her? This is why I am always so fucking mad. Look at what the fuck I have to deal with.” He looks at my mom like she is the roadkill that has been rotting at the end of our road for weeks. I look at her too. She is ugly to me and I don’t know when it happened.
I used to take showers with her when she was little. Mama would bring me in with her because I was too scared to go in yet alone. I was maybe 5 when we did this. I loved these showers and still remember them vividly. I would close my eyes tight because I Was so scared that it would hurt when the soap ran down into my eyes, but when I opened them…when I opened my eyes, I would always take in my mom’s beauty. I thought she was more beautiful than a princess. She was perfect to me. Was she always this ugly or had she changed? Could my own body get so distorted and gross?
Tom was still looking at me. He had a satisfied smile on his face. Mom and I had gotten through this unscathed. He was bored. He left us and went to the kitchen for a beer. Mom and I were frozen. She could not look at me. She did not run to cover herself up. She did not cry or try to talk to me about what happened. She just stood there. I knew not to comfort her and she knew not to comfort me. That might make Tom angry and make him interested in this “lesson” again.
We sat there until I knew we were safe and I knew it was over. Then I scrambled to my room, grabbed the papers under my bed and tore them to shreds. I did not release my feelings, it was not a dramatic action. It was more a methodical tearing. Each piece getting tinier and tinier until there was no way that anyone could possibly put them together again.
I said a prayer as I watched the pieces of paper burn. “Dear Jesus, thank you so much for keeping my mom and I safe. I am so glad that Tom did not hurt us today. Thank you for loving us and taking care of us. I love you. Amen.” I did not say those words out loud because even though I was alone in a field and Tom was already two beers deep inside the trailer, I could not safely say these words out loud. I said them in my heart and I knew that Jesus was listening.