Out of Control
He was kicked out of our house when I was eleven. To her credit, my mother did this for my sake. He had petitioned her to have me put on the birth control pill—at that age! I had not even started my period yet. There could be no innocent explanation for that request; it was part of the set-up— abusers start their preparation years in advance of the actual crimes against children. My mother didn’t know about patterns of perversion (and I would only learn of them as an adult), but she instinctively knew I was in danger and that she had to act. I didn’t tell her until I was an adult that he had already molested me once. He didn’t even threaten me not to tell (in fact, he did it while I was sitting right between him and her in the front of our pickup at the drive-in one night; but she was blind, both literally and figuratively, and didn’t know what was happening). I was just too ashamed to mention it. Also, another dirty old man in our apartment complex had gotten to me first, and I didn’t tell her about that either, because I was too ashamed. That time I was ten. It was so twisted—me feeling ashamed for what they did to me.
The problem was, I had beautiful little breasts at age ten. They just sprouted suddenly, out of nowhere, and every pervert within a half-mile radius had his eye on me. And as they just kept getting bigger, I could not walk to the grocery store for my mother without getting catcalls. I was a sexualized child. Little by little I learned to hide my breasts in bulky clothes and to be wary of getting caught alone on stairs or in other dark corners of our apartment complex. The old man had two sons who lurked in those corners, lying in wait for me. They both tried to molest me at different times, though each time it happened, I got wiser. I learned to beat them off physically and to scream for my mother. But when it came to my own father, and me trapped there in that truck, I can’t explain why I didn’t cry out or resist. I felt completely helpless. Sitting between the two people who were supposed to protect me.
My father was a schizophrenic who was hospitalized a few times. He was also addicted to pornography, with which our home was filled. There were Playboys and Penthouses and Hustlers spread all over the house, but again, my mother was blind. She didn’t seem to realize that her children were up to their eyeballs in filth. He played XXX movies in the basement, with no effort to shield us. And then he would take the whole family to the drive-in theater to watch porn flicks. He would make us crouch down in the back seat so the ticket seller didn’t see us. Of course, children were not allowed. And my pious Pentecostal mother went along. Because, she explained years later, she thought she was “loving” her husband. We were eleven, eight, and five the night he molested me. The little ones were playing in the bed of the truck. I had had the privilege of sitting up front with the grown-ups.
Even after my mother had filed for divorce and my father had moved out, he came to visit us almost every day. He was always asking me about the growth of my breasts and other developing signs of womanhood. I remember the day I started my period. I told my mother, and my father happened to be in the house visiting. To my horror, she felt the need to tell him. I didn’t want him to know. I could not articulate why, but I really did not want him to know. Thereafter, he was always leering at me, putting his hand on my abdomen and asking me if I was pregnant. I was in junior high.
When I was nineteen and already living away at college, I came “home” for a visit. He was living in a hovel not far from where my mother and step-father and my other siblings lived. He talked me into staying at his place for a few days. It was a filthy, grim basement, but I felt guilty that I had lived with my mother all those years after the divorce and here I was an adult and I couldn’t claim my mom wouldn’t let me. I was older, but somehow more defenseless. And besides, I thought, maybe he was not thatperverted. It had been years since he molested me. Maybe he had reformed? When I look back on it now, I am at a total loss to explain my reasoning. I just knew I felt guilty about never staying with him. He acted so pathetic and lonely and wronged.
He put me in an interior room that had no windows. When the door was shut it was blacker than pitch. The bed was situated in the middle of the room, like an island. Like something in a nightmare, really. To my relief he did not bother me while I slept. The next day, however, he talked me into sitting on his lap. Again, I cannot explain the sense of guilt that made me consent to this at nineteen. He promptly got an erection. I jumped up and moved to a chair, but I didn’t leave. Not yet. I don’t know why I didn’t leave.
We started talking about the past. He apologized for my childhood again. Presumably for the abject poverty that kept us sometimes hungry and always next to homeless, evicted from place to place because he couldn’t hold down a job or pay the rent. Then, to my sickened astonishment, he brought up what he did to me when I was eleven. Why was I astonished? Because for eight years (nearly half my life at that point) I had told myself that he was out of his mind when he did that, that maybe he thought I was my mother, sitting just one person away—couldn’t it have been an honest mistake? I thought he must have been so out of his mind that he didn’t even remember. That’s what I told myself.
But he did remember. With no sense of horror, he remembered. And he called it a “momentary weakness.” I was sick to my stomach, but still I did not leave. Not until we had an ugly conversation about my brother’s childhood death and other unhealable family wounds over which we shouted blame at each other. At some time during this fight what happened earlier when I sat on his lap came up and he said these words, “I don’t have any control over what my penis does.”
And finally, I left.
-Elisa L. Everts
Elisa L. Everts, holds a PhD in sociolinguistics and was a former English major (well, is an English major; it is a condition one never outgrows). Two of her poems are being published in Lavender Review (forthcoming) and Misfit Magazine(forthcoming). Elisa writes and teaches near Washington, DC.