Trigger warning: Sexual assault, child abuse
Not too long ago, I couldn’t look at a tub of Vaseline without remembering what you did with it and where – when I was only 11 years old. I couldn’t use Vaseline, it had to be lip balm, chapstick, anything else, because that yellow tub took me back to that room again where the pain was so excruciating I thought I would die that day.
Something so simple, so small, so insignificant to anyone else, just another product in the pharmacy but that yellow tub was not just petroleum jelly to me. I would run away from that aisle, nobody knew why I was so quickly set off because I kept the pain hidden for so long, terrified that nobody would believe me, that nobody would love me anymore, that I would not be the beautiful person they once knew. That I was disgusting. That I deserved it.
I couldn’t listen to Pearl Jam’s “Better Man” without bursting into tears and remembering how you played that song so nobody would hear what you were doing. How you planned it all, concealing it so nobody had any inkling.
I couldn’t take a shower without the walls closing in on me, without feeling trapped because that is how you had made me feel when I begged you to stop.
For 20 years, I still remembered. I never forgot. I could never forget.
I remembered when I was in Year 7 and I was sleeping over my friend Emma’s house. We thought we were cool, camping in the backyard with tents, staying up late. Her parents brought food to the tents, us girls were huddled together and talking boys. Then the conversation turned to whether we would “wait for marriage”. It was now my turn. What do I say? I didn’t want it, I didn’t ask for it. But it had happened. And it was still happening. So did it count?
I remember feeling disgusted with myself, I felt like a liar, like I couldn’t even tell the truth to my own friends. That I was a fraud. I said I would wait for marriage, that I wanted my first time to really matter. For me to do it with someone who really mattered to me. But you took that choice away, I never got to wait for marriage. I wasn’t even 10 when that choice was ripped from me.
I remembered when we had to celebrate holidays together, when we went to gatherings, when we had to sit side by side at the table, when we took photos. I remembered dressing myself differently, as unattractive as possible, in the hope that today would be the day you decided to stop. I remembered when my car broke down and you were the closest person that we could call. I remembered sitting with you in your car, alone for the first time in 10 years and the memories came flooding back with how absolutely terrified I was when it was just us.
Yet somehow, when you picked me up in your car that day and we sat and we talked, I did not feel unsafe. It was that day when I started to forgive you.
You should not have done what you did to me in the shower, when I should have been asleep, when I had just gotten home from school, when I thought I’d be watching a movie, when I was on my own, when others were around too but had no idea what was going on.
You should not have told me you loved me, bribed me with gifts, pushed me away like a dog, made perverted jokes. You should not have lied to everyone when I had the courage to finally tell the truth after being on my own with this pain, this trauma, this guilt, this shame, for 20 years.
You should not have done any of those things to me. But I don’t hate you. In fact, I never hated you.
I would not be the positive and resilient person I am today if I let my heart fill with hate towards you. If I sought out revenge. If I laughed when that worker physically violated you that day. If I didn’t care when you became so sick.
I could have easily touched drugs or used alcohol to numb my pain. I could have harmed myself, abused my body over and over in the worst possible way. I could have done anything I could to fill the void that was left after you did whatever you wanted to me.
I could have become someone that hates the world, that hates people, that believes there is darkness everywhere.
But I didn’t. I don’t. And I won’t.
You see, that little girl didn’t know what I know today. That you don’t respond to anger with anger. That you don’t need to spend your whole life searching for answers you may never get. That you can’t wait for an apology, that you can’t live your life scared because of how the past has hurt you. That you can’t focus on all the things that make you sad and forget about the many things that make you smile.
I don’t know if you’re sorry. I don’t know if you feel remorse. I don’t know if, in the past 6 years, you have regretted lying to everyone and telling everyone I am the crazy one.
But what I do know is yes, you took my innocence away. But I forgive you. I choose to forgive you.
I don’t run away when I see tubs of Vaseline anymore. I don’t want to change the station when I hear “Better Man”, I’ve learnt to even like that song. I don’t rush out of the shower because the walls are closing in on me, I breathe and I am okay.
What you did to me was absolutely wrong. There is no excuse.
But I have let go of what you did to me. Of what you kept hidden. Of what you lied about to so many I used to be close to.
I lost those years. But I will not lose the rest of my life.
I will keep smiling, laughing, keep believing that I am alive because I am meant to help people with my story. That I will continue to show others that even in the absolutely dark moments, you can find the light.
And that light will be the one shining within you.