Trigger warning: child sexual abuse, sexual assault
You were my first memory.
You were my first friend. My earliest memory is of you – I remember you would hide and stare at me, while I was sleeping on a bundle that Amma tied between two pillars at home. I barely knew what was happening around me, but I knew you were an ally. You were like me – all the adults were so… tall. You and I saw the world from like, two feet, but we thought we had figured everything out. We had solved life.
We grew up exploring the world around us. We fought like our lives depended on it. Do you remember the time we fought so much that Amma came into the room and offered to give us hammers to kill each other just so we could keep quiet? It still brings a smile on my face. The time we were so eager to know why talcum powder wouldn’t dissolve in water but turmeric powder did? Yeah, I know what you’re thinking – we were extremely smart for our age. So many memories and so much joy. The best 12 years of my life. Just a girl and boy talking about the world around us, growing up, playing, fighting, and learning.
By day, you were my biggest enemy and by night, something even worse.
Something changed when the next year come around. You were…depressed, I suppose. But I swear I did not know any better. I didn’t know that the constant black cloud that hung above your head, was called ‘depression’! You became aggressive. We would fight like always, but you would hurt me so much. No, I don’t mean by your actions. I mean by your words. You teased me, you called me fat. You would laugh at me with your friends beside you – while trying to “find a bone on my hand”. You never minced your words about how I wasn’t as smart as you.
By day, you were my biggest enemy and by night, something even worse. You told me to touch you in weird places. You told me, no, wait – you convinced me to use my mouth. You told me that you wanted to touch me. You told me that this was the age of exploring your sexuality and so this was totally normal. I now wonder if you were telling yourself that?
As these events were unfolding and my body was performing physical actions, my mind was panicking. I was elsewhere. I had been transported. I wanted to stop. I wanted to stand up for myself. Why could I not? I didn’t want to do this. Oh god, I was scared, I wished and hoped that you would just stop.
Finally, after what seemed like years, when it did stop and everything was over, I felt what I now characterise as hope – I could go to sleep now, and tomorrow would be another day. Except tomorrow wasn’t a good day. How could it have been when this was just going to happen again?
Maybe you’d take solace in that you weren’t the only one. The trauma I now suffer from isn’t only because of you. We’ve spoken about this before, but you and I were both abused by the conductor on our bus – I’m not sure about you, but the memory I have of him is so vivid, you’d think I was one of those genius kids with an eidetic memory. He was tall, with a mole on his face. He had facial hair. He always wore brown pants and a white plaid shirt. Our house was the farthest and for him, this was a great opportunity to exploit a 7 year old girl and a 10 year old boy in an empty bus.
The driver was a fat man in his 40s and he used to look over while his friend and coworker forced us to suck his cock. Yes. This is the memory my mind would switch to every time you threw your frustration, violence, and the deepest, darkest, dirtiest thoughts on me as I fell asleep, and I always hoped that tomorrow would be the day it would end.
The trauma I now suffer from isn’t only because of you.
I am writing this letter partly because I have avoided confronting you for far too long. I’ve spoken about it, in parts and bits, to long term partners who were always good to me. They said they understood, and I would smile a tired smile. I am also writing this letter because I want to speak a little bit about what happens after a life time of abuse. There are misconceptions about various definitions of being thoroughly ‘fucked’.
When my abuser stopped abusing me, my brain responded in one of the ways brains respond – by storing the scarring memory pretty damn deep in the subconscious. I think this is simply a testament to the nurturing nature of the brain, its way of protecting us from confronting a hurtful issue when there’s no one around to help you. But this is just one way. Brains respond by immediately rejecting that the event ever happened, brains respond by panicking – by turning life completely upside down, and so much in between! Yes, I am talking about the brain as if it is its own person. That is the only experience I have had and that is the only experience I will know to write about.
At the end of the day, I am thoroughly ‘fucked’. My body responds to normal sexual intercourse with pain and a sharp closure of the vaginal muscles – a condition called vaginismus. My relationships have suffered greatly – constant trust issues, negative self talk, and a general dismissal of my existence. These are all, as I’ve learnt now, by-products of my tumultuous past. I’ve also suffered from an eating disorder and continue to have severe body image issues.
I literally hate you. I hate that Amma and Appa haven’t been supportive, but dismissive. I hate that they still love you, and still have your picture in their WhatsApp display picture. But I also haven’t responded in many other ways that some other survivor would. And that’s the thing – everyone responds differently. Though this is easier said than done, the most important thing is to focus on getting help, rather than focusing on whether you ‘fit the bill’ for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or analyse so deeply into why you are the way you are and whether it is has to do with the sexual assault. Maybe it does, maybe it doesn’t. But get help. It will be the best thing you can do to yourself.
I want to confront my abuser. But I can’t. I’ve thought about what I would ask him and it changes everyday. The day I write this, this is what comes to mind: “Why did you do it? Was it because I was your sister and so easily accessible to you? Was it because you just…had to? I have forgiven you for way too long and it is time I reclaimed control in this relationship. You’ve caused me a lifetime of pain with your horrible actions and nothing justifies it, I would add. I really do hate you. But you’re my brother, and my earliest memory in life is that of the love I felt for you.”
Featured Image Credit: Lydia Ortiz via Teen Vogue