I don’t recall the first time. Or the last time.
I don’t remember most times save for a few especially traumatic, crystal clear incidents that are burned into my memory.
But even those blur and run haphazardly together like ink in the rain.
The few that stand out in specific relief, the safe, dry, intact memories, those are a special kind of hell.
Anyone who has suffered a traumatic experience knows the feeling, the post traumatic stress reactions that rudely reach up from the hazy recesses of the subconscious and obliterate all sense of stability, sanity, and self.
I am very open about the sexual abuse inflicted upon my by the ‘kindly’ neighbor down the block. After thirty five years I’ve had a lot of time to do the work, to talk, to heal and to help others heal. I’ve done therapy and silently received the stories of other victims with a tear and a knowing hug. I’ve heard abuse stories from nearly every woman I know and more than a few men.
We share and we heal.
Part of my healing has been transparency about what he did to me. Telling my story is cathartic. I have long thought the telling of my story absolved me of the shame I felt for what a monster did to me when I was eight, nine, ten… was it until I was maybe thirteen? Or fourteen?
The ink runs.
I’m nearly forty six now and I thought that consciously working on this and myself for the last few decades had cleared the energy. Thrown open the blinds so the sun could disinfect me of his rot and cruelty.
Then I moved home. I moved three doors down from that same old evil. Driving past his house every single day, sometimes multiple times a day, I realized I’d left a stone unturned. Moving home, I found a crevasse where, unbeknownst to me, my wounded child self was huddled in the corner, mired in festering dis-ease and shame. Holdup in a place the sun could not reach.
That crevasse where terror still lurked… His. Fucking. House.
Still the same color. Still with the same derelict, now decaying, yard projects he was forever creating on his property. The same broken seashells embedded in the sloppy concrete retaining walls. The same rotting rope attached to the same rotting wooden posts. The same putrid statue sitting atop the same stone column. Its hands hanging below its pronounced, rotund belly suggestively close to its non-existent statue penis. The same sickening smirk etched into its unchanging face. That smirk makes my skin crawl.
To me that statue represented him. Short, grotesque, perverted. I have always imagined it was one of his yard projects, that he created it in his image. I placed a lot of anger, fear, resentment, shame, trauma, angst, confusion, and rage on that statue. It personified an evil man, long dead, but not forgotten.
I’ve fantasized about smashing it for decades. When I was little it seemed so high up, like I could never, never reach it.
I’ve been driving past His Fucking House in all it’s sameness for months now, actually, it’s nearly a year since I moved back home. Some days I drive past several times using my selective blinders to avoid the dirty white walls, the moldy eves with decrepit yellow trim, the brick walk and that diabolical fucking statue.
It began occurring to me in my many trips past His Fucking House that if ever there was an opportunity… I wanted to walk in there. I wanted to see IF I could walk in there. Could I even knock on the door? Innocents were living there. They’d have no idea of the history of what happened in His Fucking House and since I had no idea of my own reaction, I gratefully filed the idea away into the maybe-someday-if-it’s-ever-vacant file.
And then a month ago the tenants moved out and carpenters began their task. Well shit…. do I face this or do I let myself slide, give me a break, and not dredge up whatever demons lurk behind the door… in the kitchen… in the bathroom.
Being self-employed has such great perks like for instance, deciding on the way to work that today, inexplicably, is THE day. Don’t overthink it… the workers are there, the door is ajar, I have a flexible day, this will be intense but I’ll be fine. It’s been thirty five years… I’ll always carry it with me but it’s not fresh anymore, it’s not alive. Now it’s a back seat passenger who never gets to have a say about where I go or touch the climate control but is always there, nonetheless.
I pulled over, parked, got out of my van, walked to the door, knocked and put one foot inside in a single breath so I didn’t have a chance to think and change my mind. I just did it.
A nice man let me come in to look around. I didn’t tell him any more than that I grew up down the street, just moved home, and noticed the tenants had moved out. In my head I saw myself walking in, looking around, and leaving. I’d go home and write and heal and close this final chapter. Hard, but doable, totally doable.
That is not at all what happened when I walked inside His Fucking House.
I felt my chest constrict as soon as my second foot was inside. My mouth got dry and there was a metallic taste on my tongue. I remember vaguely thinking, just breath, this will be fine. But I think I forgot to breathe.
Looking down to my left, the fireplace… I remember him letting the neighborhood boys stand there, with him, all of them, peeing on the flames to put it out. Laughing at how naughty they were being, they’d never be allowed to do this at home. The fireplace was so much smaller than I remembered.
The built-in shelves remained but lacked all of his books, nautical memorabilia, yellowed newspapers, loose change, and clutter.
When he lived there, centered in the ocean view living room window, there was a desk piled with clutter. I recall papers fluttering to the ground with the ocean breeze from the open windows. I glanced away from the shelves toward the window expecting to see nothing but it was there. The desk.
Nausea sucker punched me in the gut, my instinct was to turn and run but my feet stayed in place. My eyes focused and I realized it wasn’t the desk but a huge tool box on casters. It wasn’t the desk he pushed me against, bruising my ribs so he could hold me still while his hands took what they wanted. Not the desk not the desk not the desk… just an industrial size tool box on casters, not the desk.
I stepped forward to the threshold of the kitchen. The pantry unchanged, the same tile counters, the same aluminum kitchen window, the same tiny dining room… the same the same the same.
Looking into the kitchen I recalled the pervading stench of garlic… in his home, in him, he always wreaked of garlic, his skin, his breath, his hands. I couldn’t walk into the kitchen, or maybe I didn’t need to, I don’t know but I backed away, I’d seen enough.
The deck beyond the toolbox… he used to let the boys blow things up with firecrackers. Tin cans mostly. Sometimes fruit or an old lobster carapace.
Oh holy shit… holy shit… this is why I hate balloons and the sound they make when they pop… ohmygod. I just found that as I write… oh my god that’s why I hate balloons…. Holy shit. Writing is always good for me but damn, I didn’t see that coming. Firecrackers and popping balloons. Crystal-fucking-clear. Enter PTSD in an overwhelming, sickening rush.
Just breathe and write, breathe and write. Okay…
I didn’t go out on the deck, I didn’t need to. I needed to walk into the bathroom. This was the room I’d come for but now I’m not sure I can do it. Just go, don’t think. Get it over with.
Back then there was a raised loft bed in here, in the bedroom that leads to the bathroom. The only bedroom. I remember piles of filthy clothes everywhere but a path to the bathroom through them. I could feel my hands starting to shake and bile rise in my throat. I thought I would throw up before walking in. Keep going. Just go in.
More sameness. The pink and burgundy tile. The same pink bathtub, The same aluminum window. The same the same the same.
I stood there as long as I could make myself and I felt myself unraveling one shallow breath, one crystal clear memory at a time…
He lured me there, then pushed me inside, not hard but it was a push. I remember hearing the door closing and turning around to see him leaning back against it, panting, he was panting old man garlic breath and opening his pants. I was crying and scared and he lurched forward, grabbed my hands hard and it hurt and he forced himself into my hands thrusting and shoving himself hard against me. I was crying and I remember him putting his hand on my head, shoving me to the floor. Shoving my face into his dick. Rubbing his flaccid self over my face, momentarily restricting my air. I remember crying and squeezing my eyes shut and I remember hearing him panting and I recall the stench of his unwashed rank dick and the smell of old garlic.
After that my memory is less clear, I don’t know what happened next but I do remember getting the door open and running and running and running…
Standing in this same bathroom with memories vividly assaulting me I started shaking and I remember thinking it was odd that I was going to pass out in this bathroom and how dirty the floor used to be and I didn’t want to pass out here. I couldn’t move or breathe or stay and I didn’t want to be here anymore, not one second more in His Fucking House. The shaking hit my legs and I got out. I don’t remember saying anything to the men or maybe I did? I left before I hit the floor because it was coming, I could feel it.
My body moved without me and as soon as I was outside and the air hit me and I heard myself saying, I did it. I did it I did it I did it I did it I did it… in my outloud voice but I don’t know when I started saying it and then my legs gave out I collapsed on the front walk. I crushed my eyes shut to make it stop. The memories, the blackness, the nausea, all of it.
When I opened my eyes I was hands and knees on the hideous brick walk, with the broken seashells, outside the white house with the yellow trim, and the pink bathroom and all the sameness the exactly same.
I did realize I was having a panic attack but I couldn’t breathe, I couldn’t get up and I could not make it stop. I can usually soothe myself and breathe but I couldn’t breathe and I felt my stomach flip and I heard myself babbling and it was getting blurry again. I think it was only a few seconds after I hit the ground that I heard a man’s voice. He was speaking kindly, telling me to breathe. He pressed his hand to my back and I think he asked what he could do. I can’t recall exactly but I stood up, he helped me walk toward my van and I almost got there but my legs gave out again. He just was there, holding my arm… steadying my back, asking me to breathe with him, slowly, deeply, he said it again and again and I did, I breathed with him.
He made eye contact with me and the blackness receded and my legs steadied.
I didn’t know that would happen, that reaction and when got back into my head I realized this kind stranger was probably the only reason I didn’t pass out and brain myself on the fucking brick.
Oh fuck. This is why I hate brick, isn’t it? Of course it is. All the brick around this house. Holy fucking shit. Red brick. This explains so much.
The shaking would not stop but he helped me to my feet again and kept me breathing. He asked again what he could do. He asked what happened. I told him only that an evil man lived in that house when I was a girl and he did evil things to me. That he was long dead but the house, I had to go in. I had to do it. I had to see it.
He asked me some questions and we talked for a few minutes. I don’t recall exactly. I asked if they were going to paint the outside. He said they were and again something in me broke… more shaking, more tears.
I made myself look up at the house again and there it was. Mocking me. That horrendous statue of a disgusting little man with its sickening smirk. I told him I’d wanted my whole life to smash it, I hated it so much. A few more breaths, he asked if he could hug me, it was comforting and grounding and I felt well enough to drive half a block back home. He walked me to my car, told me I was strong and that I would be fine and if I needed anything else I could come back, he’d be there for me.
Simon. His name was Simon, this kind stranger.
Sitting in my van with a box of tissues, more tears came. I just wanted to go home but my vision was all tears. Work could wait, I needed home. As I started to leave I heard my name and I stopped. Simon, whose day was just torpedoed by a hysterical stranger, was walking to my car door with gloves, goggles, and a small sledge hammer.
I think he said, ‘Do you want to take it down? The stature? You can, you can take it down if that would help.’
My van reparked herself and I got out and walked to the stone column. It was so much shorter than it was in my childhood memory. He dropped the tools by my feet and said, ‘Wait a minute.’ and left. He came back with a ladder, set it up, and then he put the gloves on my hands, I put the goggles on and I climbed up the ladder. I sat astride the top step, he placed one hand on my back and one on my leg and he steddied me. Then I hit it. I hit it again and again and I smashed it and smashed it and smashed it and the bits of red brick clay flew into my hair and my mouth because I think it was open. I was screaming. Later in the day my throat hurt like I’d been yelling at a concert and my neck, jaw and shoulders felt like I’d gotten fierce whiplash.
I wanted to smash kill every part of that vile statue and I did. Then my arms got heavy and tired and I felt wobbly and I stopped. When I looked, it was gone. I smashed it all. It was just a few hunks of rubble and piece bent rebar. I smashed it. I finally smashed it.
After I was standing on solid ground he asked about the other statue. Did I want to smash that one too? I could if I wanted, he’d help me. No, not that one, it was fine. That one I could live with. Again he steadied me, breathed with me and walked me to my car.
On the way to my van I said he must be married with daughters to be so compassionate to a strange, hysterical woman. No, he said, well I am married, but I have boys. I said ‘That’s better. You’re a good man, you’ll raise good men.’
I thanked him, he put me in my car again and I went home.
I went home and had a breakdown in the kitchen while telling my youngest daughter, Julia everything I could remember. I’ve always been open with my girls about my abuse and used it to teach them about the sanctity of their own bodies and their boundaries. But this mom, hysterical in the kitchen, telling this story, this was a different mom. But my Julia… she just stood there and let me get it out. She gave me her love, hugs, and amazing energy. I got my wits about me, went to my appointment and worked for a few hours. Then I came home and slept for four hours in the middle of the day.
Maia, my first born, came home the next day and I told her what happened. She sat by my side with one arm around my shoulders and her hand holding my hand and I retold it with more memory and less hysteria. In her serene Maia way, she held space for me and grounded me through the retelling.
It’s a process, healing through telling. Trusting those who know you best with the worst stuff. Hearing myself say it again and again outloud. There’s revelation and catharsis in the telling.
The next day we celebrated Thanksgiving with friends and family, Friday I spent the day with my Maia child and it was perfect.
Today is Saturday, the day of unpacking it all, revisiting not just the events of Tuesday but through writing and telling and remembering and expelling it to the page, I’ve healed a little more. No, fuck that, healed a lot more. I’ve come so far since he last touched me but I didn’t realize, until I went back into His Fucking House, how much more I had to go.
I avoided driving that way for the rest of that day and the next. Then I womaned up and Friday drove down the hill like I normally would past His Fucking House. As I passed I saw Simon and the other workers outside. Ha. What are the odds? So I waved.
Then I saw it, as I drove past, on top of the column, where the vile statue no longer stood… not a speck of rubble or even the bent rebar remained. Instead, resting atop the plain stone pillar was something beautiful, a testament of survival. No, not simply survival, a testament to living. A life that after years of abuse I chose to live fully, joyfully and without apology. There atop the stone pillar lay a stem of vibrant, life affirming, hot pink, bougainvillea. Flowers… Simon couldn’t have known the significance of flowers for me but there they were, smiling at me, flowers.
Thank you Simon. I will forever hold space for your kindness and compassion. You helped a broken little girl heal and finally, completely, leave the past in its place.
I love writing I mean I LOVE WRITING. It’s helped me regain agency over my dark stories and celebrate my growth and joy stories. Writing helps me self-heal and has given me a place to explore my creativity and keep my sanity! Working for Our Story and Starfish Connection gives me an opportunity to do what I love and give others a place to do the same in a supported community that we built for storytellers like me.