What Is Right If Everything Is Wrong?

My father ‘borrowed’ his brother’s identification and enlisted in the war effort at the age of fifteen.  He told me once that it was an opportunity to escape home.  He trained as a commando.  His mission was to go into enemy territory, scout out where they kept their ammunition, and get out without being caught.  His instructions were to swallow a black pill (cyanide) if captured,  and kill any soldier he should encounter, in order to keep his unit’s operation covert.  He did not carry a gun; gun’s were too noisy.  He was trained to kill with either a knife, that he kept strapped to his leg, or his bare hands.

He knew exactly how to render an enemy immobile, and apply pressure to end their life.  I know, because he practiced on me.

He never let me forget that he was boss, and he could snuff me out in a moment.

He would do it in a state of drunkenness, in front of his male friends.  He’d twist my body in such a way that if I moved, I would surely break an arm, or a leg.  He’d hold me there, humiliated, angry, and make me tell him I loved him.

“Yes, Dad.”  I would say, teeth clenched, breathing like a trapped animal.

“What?”  He’d pull tighter.  “I don’t think that was very convincing.”

“I love you.”  I don’t know who I hated more, him or me.  I felt so cowardly.  Inwardly, I plotted revenge.  He might conquer me in the moment, but not the long term.

How long he held me there, depended on how much pleasure he was deriving from the moment.  He said he did it because he loved me.

“Your father loves you,”  my mother would echo.  “He’d never really hurt you.”  I was not reassured.  She said the same thing when he attacked her verbally, and psychologically.

She said the same thing when her brother tried to slip me his tongue.  “Your uncle fancy’s himself a ladies’ man.  He’s harmless.”  Even when his own daughters accused him of sexual abuse and refuse to see him, she defended him.   “Boys will be boys,”  she’d say.  “The woman has to control the situation.”

I was twenty-eight before I told her the reason that I disappeared when I was fourteen was because I had been abducted and raped.  It took me fourteen years to build up the courage to tell my mother that when men behave inappropriately it is wrong.  That they alone are responsible for their crimes, and that women are not to blame.

“I’m sixty years old,” my mother told.  “And I’ve never told anyone.”

“What, Mom?”

“I always thought it was the girl’s fault.  I don’t why I thought that, but I just did.  I knew my mother would say so, so I never told.”  She was only six, and riding in the backseat of her family’s new car, when her uncle took her little hand and made her fondle his penis.  Her parents were in the front, but she didn’t say a word.  She thought she did something wrong.

The abuse did not stop there.  “My mother would make me visit my grandparents, even though I hated it.  Grandma would be working in the kitchen, and she’d tell me to go and keep Grandpa company.”  ‘Keeping Grandpa company’ meant climbing into bed with the old man.  Mom didn’t explain any further.

The same brother that tried to french kiss me, was also a problem growing up, she confessed.  She’d just shoo him away.

Her younger sister wasn’t so lucky.  Their grandfather dragged her out behind the barn one day and raped her, while the rest of the children stood by helpless.  Only the youngest son grabbed the shotgun and threatened to kill the old man.  It was an empty effort.  Years later, the family would shun that aunt for her inappropriate sexual behaviors.

A child may be born with an innate sense of right and wrong, but it is not long before she learns to question her own instincts.  How do you unravel the corruptly tangled web of abuse and denial?  How does a child who has not been protected from wrong, learn to trust in right?

For me, it has been a slow dawning realization that words have no meaning.  A man can say and promise whatever he wants, but it is action that speaks the truth.  Holding your child in a death grip to prove your prowess, is not an act of love.

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