They say that you can’t change the past. I know different. On August 17, 2008, every childhood memory I had changed. Everything I thought I knew suddenly changed when my husband told me what Henry said.
When I confronted Henry, images of visits to Hecksher State Park and unwrapping Christmas gifts and sitting in the shopping cart at the grocery store flashed through my head. In every way but biology, Henry was my father. My mother turned over my care to her parents. She lived in the apartment with us but she washed her hands of me completely, with a few notable exceptions.
Even though the revelation of my own sexual abuse perpetrated upon me by Henry would occur well after that day, as he denied the accusation, a new set of images flashed through my head. Photographic images of myself. Photos that Henry took of me with expensive cameras and special lenses under the guise of being a hobbyist. I was often dressed in lingerie, sometimes my little girl penoir set, more often in adult lingerie. My mother would sometimes put dark lipstick and heavy eyeliner on me, making me look like a “woman-child.” Henry never dropped his film off at Fotomat or the drug store to be developed like everyone else. He brought it to a special store. The same place he bought his fancy equipment. He also wanted to convert the half bathroom in the apartment into a darkroom so he could develop his photos himself. Mama put an end to that idea.
Still, even though remembering these photo sessions made me believe the terrible story my husband told me about what Henry did is true, I never made the connection that he did the same thing to me decades before. Or maybe I did and I just refused to acknowledge it until very recently. I’ve been poring through old photo albums, digging through envelopes and boxes in search of pictures for Throwback Thursday now that I have a good scanner. I found a lot of me as a kid. I also stumbled across some from those photo sessions…and it’s all right there. On my face. In my eyes. It was captured right there. It’s amazing how our minds can let us see only what we want to see and be so blind to what is staring us in the face because we just don’t want to see the truth.
I was a joyful child with a cute giggle and infectious smile back then. When I didn’t realize that Mama was my grandmother and not my mommy. Or that Henry was my grandfather and not my father. Or that the woman who sometimes slept in my bedroom was actually my mother and not a strange houseguest. I look at photos from then and I see the light in my eyes. I see my chubby-cheeked grin and I can almost hear myself giggle. That’s what happy looked like on me.
Then the photos from my onset of puberty, 8-, 9-, 10- years old. My eyes lost their shine and became distant. I rarely smiled. You can see a sadness the depth of which a little girl that age shouldn’t know. I have a hard time looking at these photos of myself at this time because seeing them, I can remember how I felt at that point in time…ugly, fat, geeky, masculine (fuckin’ Dorothy Hamill haircut Mama always made me get) and unwanted. By that time I had become acutely aware of what my family dynamics were which, now I know, facilitated my abuse by Henry.
So on this somber anniversary, looking at my story laid out in Kodak moments, I am left to think why couldn’t I have made the connection sooner? If I had, Henry probably would not have raped the 9-year old girl, the subject of the story my husband told me on August 17, 2008. Or who knows how many others I didn’t know about?
By continuing this self-battery, I am continuing to blind myself to the truth; I am not the perpetrator. I am a survivor of horrific acts perpetrated against me by someone who exploited my helplessness and innocence for his own personal gain as well as by someone who, against all maternal instinct, knowingly and willingly fed me to him. My mind’s defense mechanism to make me survive and eventually escape was repressing these memories. Until those memories were unleashed, there was nothing that I could have done to stop my own abuse or prevent the abuse of others. Facing this truth, while helping to make me stop beating myself up, makes me feel more powerless than before yet simultaneously strong because I’m saying that I’ve been battered long enough.
We are all guilty of selective blindness to varying degrees and varying situations.
Today, I’m keeping my eyes and my mind wide open so maybe I’ll see something important that I might have missed before. Sometimes something that you suddenly pick up on can make all the difference in the world.
If you or anyone you know is an adult survivor of child abuse and want an empathetic person to talk to about it, any of the residual effects or to find out where to get help, please contact me. We’re in this life together.