by Curtis Bass
“So, are you ready to tell me about it?”
Actually, I wasn’t. I would prefer to never talk about it. But it had come up in our sessions, and I had told Nancy that I would talk about it.
“Uh, well, Uncle Stan was coming to visit for a week. That was the summer I was eleven and a half. I say ‘half’ because it was summer, and my birthday is in December. My cousin came to live with us when I was 12 and this was before then. Uncle Stan was Mom’s oldest brother and was probably about 40. He had lived most of his adulthood in Kentucky, rarely visiting home in North Carolina. I don’t remember him being a stranger, so I must have met him during some earlier visit. He was very outgoing and energetic, always seeming to be the center of attention in any group.”
“I don’t remember where he stayed for most of his visit, with various family members I guess, but the last night, he was with us. Mom brought him over for dinner. It was just Mom, Dad, Uncle Stan, and me. He was to spend the night with us. Mom was working for half a day. A cousin was coming over in the morning, and we would entertain Uncle Stan until Mom came to take him to the bus station.”
“He entertained us at the dinner table with jokes and stories. He included me in all the conversations, making me feel special, accepted by adults. I remember as the dishes were being cleared, he asked if I had ever heard of “The Curse of the Monkey’s Paw.” I guess everyone knows that story now, but I had never heard it. He told it with such intensity that I was on the edge of my seat. He even made me (and Mom) jump a few times. The man was a born storyteller. He had us all in thralled.”
“I heard Mom and Uncle Stan talking quietly over breakfast. I had slept in since it was summer. After Mom left, the house was quiet, and I dozed off. I woke about 9 and found Uncle Stan standing in the doorway to my bedroom. He said, ‘Wake up, sleepyhead.’ I smiled and sat up in the bed. He stood there and asked me how I was doing in school, what I thought about several other things, again making me feel like an adult. As we talked, he came in and sat on the end of the bed. I’m... I’m not sure if I can go on.”
“Take a minute. Calm yourself. Breathe deeply. In and out. You can do it,” Nancy murmured.
“He asked me if I had a girlfriend. I was only eleven for God’s sake. I had just figured out that girls didn’t have cooties and smelled nice. This was the 60s. We were innocent longer back then. I told him no, and he just smiled and said I would someday. He said it would be fun. He began talking about girls he had known in school. Some of what he said was becoming graphic. I distinctly remember him saying, ‘That old thing would get hard just looking at her.’ At this point I noticed I had uh... I had an erection. I had just started having those and was unsure what it was all about. I hadn’t even discovered masturbating yet. I kept the sheet bunched between my legs to hide it. He slipped closer and said something along the lines of ‘I think you’re getting excited.’” I closed my eyes. A tear slid hotly down my cheek.
“You can go on,” Nancy encouraged.
“He put... no, I can’t. I don’t want to.” Another tear slipped out.
“You want to tell it; you need to tell it.”
“He put his hand, put it... put it in my pajama pants, under my underwear. He, he took hold of me. I didn’t want him to. I didn’t know what to do. I was so scared. This wasn’t right.” I was speaking rapidly, nearly hyperventilating. “He said, ‘Yeah, you’re going to give a girl a thrill with this one day.’ I couldn’t say anything. I remember desperately wishing there would be a knock at the door as my cousin arrived so he would stop.” My face felt flushed, and I had to sniff.
“He just sat there looking at me, holding onto my, my, you know. I can never forget that moment, like it’s frozen in time. Then he squeezed it and let go and sat back. He said I was growing up. He got up to leave and said we should keep this guy talk between the two of us.” At this point, I was truly hyperventilating.
“Take a moment and breathe,” Nancy said. “You’re safe now. That was an awful experience. I’m so sorry you had to go through something like that. Did you tell anyone?”
“I don’t know. I was scared and ashamed. We did something bad. It was wrong. I had done something wrong and was afraid I’d get in trouble. And suddenly I was scared of Uncle Stan. I wanted him to be back in Kentucky as soon as possible. I didn’t know what to do.” “
You did nothing wrong. He was a responsible adult, and he betrayed your trust in him. Plain and simple.”
“I guess...” I let my words fade out.
“And stop that. There’s no guessing. Either you know and believe it or you don’t. Do you remember our discussion about the subconscious mind? You called it your ‘inner child’? I see him peeking around the corners of your eyes. I think he has something to say about this as well. What does he say?”
I didn’t filter or even think about what came out. I just let go. “It wasn’t my fault!” I wailed and broke into deep wrenching sobs. Nancy put a tissue in one of my hands and gently held the other. She softly said, “It’s okay. You’re safe here. Nothing bad can happen to you here. Let the emotions out. Take as long as you need.”
It took a few minutes to gather myself back together. Nancy continued holding my hand murmuring “it wasn’t your fault.” “Wow,” I said. “I’ve never told anyone that before.”
“You needed to get that out. What you said is true, though. Nothing that happened that day was your fault. You were a child. A sexual predator ruthlessly abused your trust, stripping away your innocence.”
“But it only happened the once...”
“There you go minimizing again. You shouldn’t devalue yourself or what you feel. Your feelings are real and have value. We don’t use the word ‘victim’ because it speaks to weakness. We prefer ‘survivor’ as it speaks to your strength. And minimizing your own feelings and importance is a classic symptom we see in sexual assault survivors, a way of punishing yourself and denying that strength. He may not have left any physical marks on you but you have deep emotional scars that have not yet healed, even after twenty-five years. The fear, the anxiety, the emotional pain is all very real and very valid. You feel what you feel and no one can gainsay that. You have worth and so does what you feel.”
“We have talked about the minimizing. We also talked about your feelings of worthlessness, of being somehow less or lacking, discomfort in social situations, inability to form intimate relations, extreme reluctance to let anyone see you naked or even talk about body functions. Always trying to please others, never yourself. These are all symptoms of sexual assault survivors. You’re not worthless, ‘damaged goods’ or less than. People like you. You even use that pain in your self-deprecating humor. You may be a bit overly modest but that’s okay. These are things we can work on.
“You’ve done some very hard work today, so I will not put you through any more. You’ve done well. I’m proud of you. We’ll stop here. But between now and next week I want you to think about forgiveness.”
“Never! I hate him and will never forgive him. Not till the day I die. He’s been dead for five years now and I’m glad he’s dead. I’ve since found out he fondled one of my girl cousins and Mom said they accused him of molesting his stepson.” “
Not forgiveness for him. You are allowed to hate him for as long as you want. I would say you have good reason. I want you to think about forgiving yourself. You’ve admitted today that it wasn’t your fault. Your inner child knows that. You need to stop punishing yourself. Now you and he need to forgive each other for the last twenty-five years of torturing yourself. You were scared. That’s okay. You didn’t tell anyone. That’s also okay. It may have been better if you had, but I cannot judge a frightened child. Something horrific happened to you and you survived. You and your inner child should celebrate that victory. I guess you could say you’re the last man standing.”
I left Nancy’s office. My head was still feeling thick from all the tears I had shed, but somehow, I felt so much lighter. The sky seemed bluer, the air fresher and the world not such a bad place. Maybe I will get through this after all. I started my car and waited for the air conditioner to cool. So, Inner Child, I thought to myself. Want to celebrate? I sat and thought for a moment. Then I smiled and murmured, “OK, ice cream it is.”