(Grace’s Note: This post deals with a topic that some of you may find stressful: sexual abuse. If this is too difficult for you to read about, you may want to skip over this one. Part 2 of my story is here.)
I heard the school bathroom door close. I held my breath to listen for anyone else in the room. I was alone. My knees were pulled so tightly to my chest that I could feel my heartbeat on my thighs. I tried to take a deep breath, but it felt like someone was holding my head underwater. Finally, I managed a sigh, a big inhale and exhale.
My hands loosened their grip on my knees and my head tilted upward as I tried to hold back my tears. It was almost time for class, and I’d have to go in and act as if nothing was wrong. My mind raced feverishly, almost as if I were planning a heist or prison break. Talking to myself just above a whisper, I said, “If you act perfect, nobody will see any difference.”
The first day of school used to be my favorite day of the year—until the sexual abuse began. School had been something I always enjoyed. I felt safe at school. I enjoyed working in groups, and like any other kid, I looked forward to recess the most. But all that changed during the summer before I entered the 4th grade.
My mother grew up as an orphan, never having known her own parents. I know she must have longed for the comfort of belonging to a family. She just wanted to give us the normalcy of having grandparents to spend time with. After all, we humans we are hard-wired to build connections to other people. Those connections form the basis for our social behavior. But what happens when people betray that trust?
My parents had befriended an older couple in the neighborhood and had encouraged us to accept them as our “grandparents.” What my mother didn’t know was that she was leading me into the den of a vicious monster, a man who stole my innocence and imprisoned me in my own body with guilt, shame, and insecurity. My struggle to overcome the pain and fear caused by someone whom my family had trusted would take a terrible toll on me later in life.
I took a deep breath and unlocked the door. As I dried my tears, I smiled in the mirror. At least pretend to be happy, I told myself. Many animals were able to hide in plain sight, so why couldn’t I?
I made a deal with the devil that day that would cost me nearly everything I loved. It wasn’t until decades later that I was able to tear down the walls I built around my pain and truly learn to love and forgive myself.