The first time he abused me, that I can consciously remember, was when I was four years old. He was my grandfather’s brother, I called him Uncle Charlie.
Every summer my parents, brother, and I go back to the United States to see my grandparents. Uncle Charlie and my great grandmother would also come for about a month to spend time with us. I can’t remember when it all started, but my first vivid memory of him abusing me was at the pool. We had a hot tub and a big pool in our backyard and I loved to swim. I would constantly ask my parents to sit by the pool and watch me while I was swam, but one day, my parents told me they needed to make lunch and that my uncle would watch me instead. I probably swam in the little hot tub for twenty minutes. I had on my favorite arm floaties, with a Spiderman cartoon on them. I was splashing around, pretending to be a mermaid, acting childish…
He came over in his bathing suit and said he would join me. He had swam with me and my dad a lot before. In fact, at that time, he was someone I looked up to. I would play on the swing sets with my uncle, watch movies with him, and blabber on to him about childish things that no one else had the time to hear. I carried on in my own little world, and then he pulled me over and sat me on his lap. He started talking to me, and thinking that he was trying to tell me to get out of the pool, I kicked my legs and asked him to let go so I could play longer. He grabbed onto my wrist a little tighter than usual, I felt uncomfortable but I kept splashing around and laughing. And then he put his hands down my pink, ruffly little bikini bottoms.
After that he would touch me whenever he had the chance to. When I played on the swing set, when I was watching TV alone on the couch at night, when I was lying in bed at night. On a few occasions, he would even feel my private parts in the big pool when my dad was only a couple feet away sitting in the hot tub, but unable to see me. Sometimes, at night while I sat on the couch he would put his hands down my shirt and move them around my prepubescent flat chest. I was terrified to be around him alone, I hated the way he made me feel. He was old, wrinkly, and his hair was starting to turn grey. I didn’t even understand what was happening, but I felt disgusted. I began to resent him, and from that summer on, I hated returning back to the States.
Whenever I did go back to the US, I did everything I could to avoid being with him. I stopped going to the pool unless I knew my parents would be able to see me. I stopped going on the swing set, I didn’t dare to watch Disney channel unless my little brother was in the room with me. As I grew older, and he continued to molest me at every chance he could get, I grew more and more ashamed. I blamed myself for everything that had happened. I asked myself all the time why I couldn’t scream when he touched me, or tell my parents what was going on… but I was so afraid. He was the only person who took care of my great grandma, and he was loved by many. How could I ruin his life and turn his whole family against him? How would my family view me? How could I leave my great grandmother alone? If he wasn’t around anymore what would happen to her?
I hated him, and I wished every day that he would die. I felt disgusted with myself, disgusted that what was happening was even happening, and that I didn’t know how to make it stop. I couldn’t tell my parents, I felt so embarrassed. And worse, I felt like everything that had happened was my fault. I felt like every time I asked him to stop and he didn’t, it meant I wasn’t important and was completely helpless.
I grew up hating him, and every summer I would treat my uncle rudely. I had to hear my parents tell me for years to stop being rude, and get grounded multiple times when I was around the age 7 for trying to kick and hurt him. For nine years, I had to hug him every summer when I arrived at the airport, sit next to him at family lunches, and act like everything was okay.
I always wondered, why me? The few times I went back to Europe to visit my great grandma, who my uncle lived with, I would see all my other female cousins and wonder if he had ever touched them the way he did me. They all seemed to like him, and I could never understand why he had chosen to hurt me. Did he think it was okay? He never acted like he was doing anything wrong.
The last time he touched me inappropriately, I was 13. From that summer onwards, he never touched me again. Maybe it was because I finally grew up physically, maybe he was realizing that I was learning the differences between what was right or wrong and that he could be exposed if I had realized sooner that what he was doing was as seriously wrong as it was.
But I’ve carried that shame my entire life, and even as an 18 year old now, those darker parts of my childhood still haunt me. I still wonder all the time what I could have done differently and why I didn’t say anything, but it’s sometimes hard to put into perspective just how helpless and afraid I was at that time. I still see him every summer, and I still say hello and act friendly as if nothing had ever happened. I don’t know if that’s how I’m supposed to act, but for me it’s easier to try to forget and move on, and honestly I think it’s the only way I will ever get closure.
It was hard to learn to trust anyone after that, when I first met my current boyfriend, the idea of being intimate with him took me a long time to wrap my head around. I didn’t think I could ever move past that shame I carried with me, but by being with someone who takes care of me and loves me endlessly, it became easier for me day by day to cope with the flashbacks and reminders of my uncle.
Sexual assault is a huge issue nowadays, and one that most of the time goes by unnoticed. Only two people know about my history with my uncle, but the depression, fear, humiliation, and degradation that I have carried for 18 years, and will carry for a lifetime, is something I hope no one has to endure. The most important message I have for anyone who has been sexually assaulted is that it truly isn’t your fault and the worst thing you can do is blame yourself. I know it’s hard and the mortification I feel towards my past is something that I’m not comfortable to share with many, but life goes on, and day by day I feel more inspired to learn to fully love myself, my flaws, and my past.