I honestly can’t say that I know exactly where it all began. The trouble is that the fond memories intertwine with the inappropriate and drawing that line to decipher between the two was very difficult as a child, especially when I was too young to understand. The abuse and grooming was such an integral part of my life that I thought it was completely normal – until it wasn’t.
I was 4 years old when my mother left my father and moved across the country from New York to Utah. At the time I hated her for it, but I understand now that my father was not a perfect man. This isn’t his story, though, so I’ll leave that part out. My mother was a beautiful woman, and dating was not difficult for her. The men came and went – some were nicer than others, none were really horrible by any means.
When I was 7 she had found “the one” and married my stepfather. The two of them became heavily involved in the Mormon church, and by proxy they involved myself and my older siblings as well. Things were well enough for me, I was the youngest and mostly oblivious, but my naivete vanished quickly as the abuse escalated. For my older siblings it was mostly physical. My brother would get slammed into the wall, both would get beat with a wooden spoon, etc.
For me it started as I began to mature. I watched as my siblings were abused and was told it was their fault, so I avoided making their mistakes. Perfection, however, was unattainable. At the age of 8, I wore shorts that came above my knees and was told I was immodest, at the age of 10 I was told that I needed to respect my elders and was yanked into my stepfather’s lap by my pony tail because I told him he wasn’t my real dad. At the age of 12 I was called a pathetic slut because I wore a two-piece tankini bathing suit at a family reunion to go swimming with my cousins in a hotel swimming pool.
But at all of those ages I was also told that I was a beautiful young woman, that I was “daddy’s little girl”, that he loved talking to me when I was bathing because it was so calm in the bathroom. He would come into my room at night or in the early morning hours and rub my back, saying that he just missed me because he worked so much. When I was 14, he became a high priest in the Mormon church – for those who don’t know, these are the council of men who decide the fate of other members. Their position is above a bishop or a stake president even.
At that time he also began to ask me to take my shirt off when he would make those late night visits, saying that it was easier to massage me that way. I remember the feeling of his hands on my back – they were so big that his thumbs would touch together on my spine and his fingers wrapped around my sides slightly. I remember beginning to feel uncomfortable as his finger tips brushed the sides of my breasts and how I pushed it off as accidental the first time. After the third or fourth time, when his fingers lingered and moved lower down my sides to cup more of my breast I started to worry that something else was going on, but I didn’t know what I could even say about it.
I finally told my mother one day about the middle of the night visits and how I felt uncomfortable, feeling sick to my stomach that I was going to break her heart, and I recall her response very clearly. “Your father is a man of God, he loves you. He knows you like massages, he’s just trying to show you that he loves you, that’s all.” Completely blinded. So the visits continued. And the insults continued in the day time. I was shamed for the pajamas I wore to sleep, boxers and a tank top are inappropriate, I was called pathetic because I questioned the church, lazy because I didn’t enjoy the housework, a slut because many of my friends were male, a liar because I would forget 1 thing on a list of things to do.
During all of this I was a 4.0 student in the accelerated learning program for students (ALPS) on track to move into the IB program in high school. I was the beehive president, and then the miamaid president. I cared for my 2 nieces and 1 nephew hours of almost every day. I was active in martial arts, and previously in gymnastics. I spent hours in my bedroom reading books and exercising, and yet I still felt worthless. I felt like less than nothing. I felt that the only worth I had was that I was “growing into a beautiful young woman.”
When I was 16 years old my world came crashing down around me. For two years my physician had assumed that I had endometriosis and every month I went through excruciating pain for at least a week, usually up to two weeks. This particular day I was in a lot of pain. It happened to be a Sunday. I told my mother I wasn’t up to going to church and laid on the couch to fall back asleep. As they were heading out the door my stepfather said he was getting a headache and he would stay as well. He laid on the other end of the couch and I fell asleep. I woke briefly to realize he was rubbing my feet, and fell back asleep. I woke again as he pushed his way next to me and began rubbing my legs, saying he hoped it helped with the pain, and I fell back asleep.
I woke again as he stole the one piece of me that was still mine. I gasped in shock and froze, for a split second my rational mind told me this couldn’t be real, that I must be dreaming, and the only words that escaped my clenched throat were “what are you doing?” I was in such shock that I literally could not register what was happening to me. And then I felt sick. I fought, I ran to the bathroom, and I jumped in the shower and began to scrub my body from head to toe. I felt dirty. I felt soiled to the core. No matter how much I scrubbed I couldn’t make myself feel clean. I sat under the water and heard the bathroom door open. I heard him sit on the toilet and then he asked “what are we going to do about this?” and that is when the anger set in. My blood began to boil. We? What are WE going to do? I informed him that I would tell my mother and hoped to never see him again in my life. He left the room.
I called my brother and told him I needed him to come pick me up, and I went to my room to get dressed. As I was dressing, this man came into my room and forced me to forgive him only moments after he had taken my life. He didn’t force me by demanding I do so, but by presenting me an opportunity that was nearly impossible to resist in that moment. He held out his hand to me, and in it sat a beretta 9mm handgun. His words ring in my ears to this day, “if I have to do it, will you do it for me?” and the only thought that kept me from complying was that I didn’t want to live the rest of my life in prison. So I hugged him. I hugged the man that had just taken everything from me. I tried to take the gun half-heartedly, but he refused, and I left.
That was 11 years and 1 month ago. My mother is still married to this man. For years she told others that I had seduced my stepfather, that my clothing was provocative. My bishop told me that I shouldn’t have been wearing short shorts in the house to tempt such a good man into doing something so sinful. I spent 3 months living in my car and showering at friends houses, or at the gym at school. I worked to survive, I fell behind in school, I lost my chance at graduation, and I numbed the pain of betrayal with alcohol and marijuana. It was the only way I could face the day with a smile. I have reconciled my feelings with my mother, I understand that she is damaged in her own way, but I also understand that the entire course of my life was changed in that moment and it could have been entirely prevented had I been heard.