I was a five-year old, middle-class kid, growing up in Oklahoma with an acre out my backdoor when my grandfather came to live with our family. As an innate nurturer, I would help my mom and dad take care of him by doing simple things like bringing him a bowl of cereal, keeping him company, and reading to him. We spent hours on our front porch swing talking, laughing, and watching the people in the park across the street. He was my friend and a quiet companion.
One day, glowing from having just turned 10, I was hangin’ out – watchin’ some cheesy 80’s TV when I heard my grandfather coming down the hall. I knew he was heading outside, so I hopped up, and went to the door. Usually, my grandfather hung out by himself for a while then knocked when he was ready to come back in. But this day was different.
When my grandfather pulled my arm and dragged me with him to the porch swing, I didn’t think much of it. It was a nice day; I imagine I thought he wanted some company. I’ve always been a snuggly person – at that age I still loved to crawl in behind my dad in his chair while he watched game shows. So, when my grandfather put his arm around me – I snuggled in close to his fuzzy brown and orange sweater.
And then it happened. This day was the first day my grandfather molested me. I was terrified, frozen, and confused. I remember thinking that he just didn’t realize that he was touching my breast and so I shifted my body, but his hand returned. This was the first day of many that my grandfather would violate our friendship and rob me of my peace and innocence.
It went on for months and got worse, but no one noticed and I didn’t tell. I just knew I’d done something to cause it. To everyone else, I was the same ol’ Rachel – laughing, crackin’ jokes – but in my room all alone I’d sit trying to fight off all of the confusing new thoughts that had become a part of my everyday life, “I deserve it. It’s my fault. I’m ugly. I’m worthless.”
One day, my Aunt drove up unexpectedly while he and I were on the porch. He withdrew his hands so quickly that I finally knew for sure, that what was happening was wrong. But that made things more complicated. I thought I should know how to stop it and therefore I must have been doing something to cause it. This was the first day I felt deep shame about what I experienced.
Then, on another day, here I was again – on the porch, being yet again violated. Then all of a sudden, my mom came flying out onto the porch yelling, “Rachel, get in the house!” I jumped up so shocked and scare – I mean, this was my mom’s best “You’re in trouble child” voice. She had been walking by the window and saw him touching me. What I vaguely remember next is her standing over me, not aggressively, not in anger, but just her presence. What I do clearly remember is in that moment thinking, “It really is my fault, I’m the one in trouble.” Of course, this belief is one that I struggled with for years and years until I eventually was able to challenge that belief by recognizing that my mother was just scared and wanted to get me away from him.
Fortunately, when my parents discovered what was happening, they immediately removed him from our home. Unfortunately, that didn’t make the thoughts stop. My mind was quickly becoming my worst enemy: You made it happen! No one loves you! Why bother living? You must have liked it or you would have done something to stop it.
My parents wanted me to get help and even found me a counselor, but I wasn’t having it. I didn’t want to talk about it – I would literally run away to the woods so they couldn’t force me to go. I just wanted to pretend that everything was okay. So, I buried my head in the sand and tried to be a “normal” little girl.