I look at a certain type of man walking down the street with their little daughter; a man who looks as if he’s guarded, distrustful, as if he’s holding onto the biggest and most darkest secret in the palm of his hand; the hand of a young and innocent child that he’s been sexually molesting. He holds her hand tightly and keeps her close to his side in hopes that she will not escape, so as to not shout out their horrible family secrets to the world. My thoughts start to wander back to the days when I was her age, questioning and wondering if she, too, is receiving the same sexual abuse as I had. If she’s being made to do the same disgusting acts as I had. I shake the thought from my mind and quietly say a silent prayer for the little girl’s safety and pray that I am mistaken; that I am completely wrong.
At the time that I was being sexually molested, I felt it was my own horrible nightmare; my own secret that was only between Melvin and me. I was a little girl, who was supposed to be free-spirited, worry free and innocent; all the makings of a sweet child. But, my childhood was being shattered, as images were forever burned into my mind. I was becoming the product of sexual abuse. I can’t call it incest, because he wasn’t married to my mother legally, he wasn’t my biological father, wasn’t even a relative. But, regardless of what you call it, it was still a horrible act of violence. Sexual molestation is not only full of destruction, it’s also degrading. I eventually learned to create a wall within myself, a wall of protection that mentally blocked Melvin out.
Not only was Melvin a hazard to society with his alcoholism and cruel temperament, but he also carried the label of child molester. His upbringing of my brothers and I was deplorable and despicable. I guess with him not being my real father, in his mind, he probably felt he was justified to touch me inappropriately; that it was okay because he wasn’t technically related to me. He had no guilt or shame doing what he did to me all those years and, as I found out many years later, once I was an adult, what he had done to my brother, as well.
All my years growing up, I always believed that I was the only one Melvin was molesting. In my brother’s mind, he believed that he was the only one being molested by Melvin. It wasn’t until our adult life, years later, when we were having dinner together, that we were both shocked to discover that it wasn’t just one of us, but both of us that Melvin had sexually abused for so many years. During dinner one evening, my conversation with my brother was starting to get very meaningful, while reminiscing about living on the farm with our grandparents. Every summer, my grandparents would drive from Stoughton to Chicago to come and get us so we can spend the summers with them on their farm. My brother and I both agreed that this time in our lives was glorious and held so many special memories for the both of us. Years later, my grandparents eventually had to move to Madison because my grandfather had cancer and wasn’t able to handle the farm any longer. He needed to be closer to the hospital and his physicians. After talking awhile about how special this time of our lives were, I had decided to share with Steve a love letter that our grandfather had written me years before, during his sickness, as he knew he was dying. The letter read in part… “I keep thinking of the time we went to the country. We sure did have a ball stealing sweet corn. Remember your pet chicken? That was some bird! I would give $10,000 to be back there and do it all over again.” He, too, reminisced about the good old summer days when we would all be together.
Later in life, I always wondered if my mother ever knew of my sexual abuse. Thinking back, how could she not know? My mother never worked, never went anywhere and was always around. It’s not like she left the house and this is when Melvin attacked. Sometimes, mom would be in the same area where the abuse was happening. Surely, she had to have seen some odd behavior, not only in Melvin, but in her own child. Did she not find it suspicious that Melvin always wanted to take me with him on errands or task, even if it was just next door, to the empty apartment or to check on something in the building we use to manage? Did she not question why I came back disheveled and silent? Deep in my heart I felt that she did know to some extent about me being sexually molested by the man that she shared her life with. For reasons of her own, my mother kept her silence. If she would have confronted Melvin, either he would have left and that would have meant that any source of money or dependency she received from him would have been gone, too. She was so fearful of him and didn’t want to stir up any trouble. Mom was in psychological trap of her own. Mom would just sit there, frozen, not daring to move or say anything that would piss Melvin off. Otherwise, his hand would swing back, palm side directed toward my mother’s head, hitting her directly in the face; her head snapping back, only to bounce forward, waiting to receive the next blow. I never once saw her fight back. I’ve seen Melvin beat my mother just because she spoke out of line or just refusing to hand him her last dollars so that he could go and buy his vodka. Melvin would drink excessively before going to bed. He had a habit of talking in his sleep and would unconsciously wake up and start an argument with my mother, insisting and accusing her of something she did wrong, threatening, calling her a bitch. We all tip toed around him as he slept, praying we wouldn’t wake him up. My mother was scared to death of Melvin, we all were and, like us, sadly, she was a victim, too.
Occasionally, I’ll see something that will trigger me back to the days of when Melvin was being abusive. It’s a rarity, but it does happen. If the molesting didn’t happen in an empty apartment while cleaning for the next tenant, it happened on the back of a dark Greyhound bus while traveling or in a park underneath a tree far away from others. My earliest memories of Melvin touching me and making me touch him were when I was around three years old until I was about eleven or twelve, just after puberty was starting.
As I got older, Melvin touched me less and less. I was resisting him more and more. I was becoming more vocal, a person of my own mind who had gotten stronger mentally throughout the years. He no longer could manipulate me like he wanted to and he knew it. He had lost control. There was a time when I was nineteen years old that Melvin had moved out of our apartment. Not only was Melvin arguing with my mother, he was also arguing with me. There was a lot of tension with him arguing, insulting me, directly in front of others. He hated the fact that I was now an adult and he had no control of my life. He was jealous and hated the fact that I wanted something better for myself, was going to college getting an education; that I worked and had a great relationship with my boyfriend, Bill. I was finally happy with my life and where it was going. I was moving on and making every attempt to better myself and my future. Melvin couldn’t stand it. He knew he had no more power over me, no more manipulation or threats, no more beatings, no more sexual abuse. My body was no longer in his jurisdiction. So, to make himself feel better, he would pick fights with me, insult and degrade me, working his evilness in every way that he could because he knew he could no longer do it sexually.
The surroundings we lived in were becoming unhealthy. I became a woman with my own voice and I wasn’t going to stand for his abusive unhealthy behavior anymore. I learned to speak my mind, I stood up for myself and Melvin hated it. The abuser could no longer abuse; therefore, he left and moved out.
With Melvin now out of the apartment, there was less tension in the air, no arguing or picking fights, no more watching him drink himself into unconsciousness every night. With Melvin gone, it made life more peaceful. But, I had decided that I had enough of living at home. I was old enough to be on my own and I held a job where I could afford a small rent fee. I knew I didn’t want to be in that environment any longer. I was tired of the lifestyle, the lack of love, the filth, the depression. I needed out! I had an opportunity to move out from my mother’s place and rent a bedroom from a mutual friend that my boyfriend, Bill, and I knew. It was the mother-in-law of one of Bill’s brothers. Her name was Sophie. I was given such a wonderful opportunity from Sophie that I jumped at the chance to get away from the way I was living; to escape hell and live somewhere other than where I was. I rented a bedroom for twenty dollars a week and I had full use of the house and yard. I felt that this was the right place for me. Sophie saved me from a home of destruction and my words can never express my gratitude for what she did for me. Sophie’s sincere act of kindness with letting me live there with her was the turning point for me to step out into the world and become the young independent woman that I wanted to be. I had made final arrangements and I started packing my belongings.
Although Melvin had moved out, he would still come over to visit and spend time with my mother, giving her any money that he may have made from daily pay that day. One afternoon, while I was visiting, Mom told me that Melvin was coming over. My timing was impeccable! She had asked me to stay in my old bedroom and not come out while he was there, as he didn’t have plans to stay long. She didn’t want any further confrontation between us, so I told her that I would. Shortly after, Melvin arrives and sits down by my mother I could easily hear their conversation, as my room was just off the living room and there was no door, only a curtain. I could hear him ask where the boys were, meaning my brothers. Mom told him that they were outside with friends. Pausing for a while, he then proceeded to ask her where her “whore daughter” was. I can hear mom’s hushed words, telling him that I was in my room and to keep his voice down. His comment about me being a whore didn’t go unnoticed; I heard it perfectly clear. Doing what mom asked, I continued to stay in the bedroom. But, not being satisfied with my mother’s response, Melvin stood up and addressed my mother once again. This time, he bellowed in a more commanding voice, making sure that I heard him. His goal was to provoke me out of the bedroom, like a hunter does his prey. “Where’s your “whore daughter?!” It took everything I had to stay in my bedroom, I tried, but I couldn’t do it. I had enough. If there was something I wasn’t, that was that I was NOT a whore! I wasn’t going to allow him to belittle me any longer. Melvin wanted a confrontation and I was going to give him what he wanted. I came storming out of the bedroom, tossing aside a chair that was in my way, which only pushed my adrenalin even higher. Mom was sitting down, watching me as I stood in front of the asshole who was calling me a whore. Mom knew enough not to say anything; not to even get in my way, as I was about to go face to face with the devil himself. I was about to do something that she probably wanted to do her whole life. I stood face to face with Melvin and he had hatred written all over his face. If the words were visible, they would probably read… You whore bitch, how dare you leave and escape the hell and tortured life that I created for you. Damn you!
Standing before him, it was my turn to scream, saying to him, “Call me a whore one more time!” He stood to his feet, looked directly into my eyes, and told me that I was nothing but a filthy whore. It was then that something inside me took over and I reacted, snapping, with every syllable he spoke. With everything I had, I punched Melvin as hard as I could with both of my fists, making a direct contact to his face, chest and shoulders. I hit him so hard that he had landed directly on his ass, between a chair and a table, just inches away from my mother’s feet. I heard him land hard. Mom was in such shock that I had hit him that I actually saw a smirk slowly appear on her face.
Melvin lay there on the floor in shock, staring up at me, but now with the words of holy shit written all over his face instead. He didn’t dare stand up and confront me, nor did the words “you’re a whore” ever come out of his mouth again. If he had, I would have hit him again. As I stood over him, watching him squirm on the floor, I said through gritted teeth, “Don’t you EVER call me a whore again! I am NOT a whore! I am a wonderful, kind-hearted loving person; something that you will never be! So, don’t you ever call me a whore again!” Melvin never spoke or acknowledged me again and these were the last words that I ever spoke to Melvin.
Years later, I learned that Melvin was diagnosed with liver cancer and was in the late stages of the disease. He eventually moved back in with my mom so that she could be his full-time care giver. As his health was deteriorating, mom took care of him more and more. She would feed and bathe him, even changing his pissy and shitty diapers, lifting his legs and changing him like one would do a baby. This is how thin and frail he had become. Mom stood by Melvin’s side until he took his last undeserving breath. I often wondered why she had made such a personal and dedicated commitment to take care of a man who would beat and abuse her, who belittled and treated her like shit on a daily basis. Once, Melvin kicked her out of our apartment, making her sit in the hallway for hours and hours, telling her that she didn’t have a home and that she didn’t live there anymore nor had anything to do with her children. I remember crying by her side and she told me that I better get back into the apartment before Melvin finds out that I was with her. He didn’t want anyone to be around her. Ironically, these were the same set of stairs that I was made to clean a pool of blood from when our neighbor shot his wife. Melvin had abandoned her, as she sat alone in the stairway. Many years later, as he was dying of cancer, why couldn’t she abandon him like he did to her so many years before? Did she feel that he shouldn’t die alone? After all, he was Jeff’s biological father. Could she have loved him that much after everything he had done to her, to her children?
I was at work one morning back in December of 1993, when I received a phone call from my mother. I can tell in her voice that something had happened. She said, “I know you probably don’t care, but just thought I’d let you know that Melvin passed away last night.” It was at that moment that I felt like someone squeezed the breath right out of me. I wasn’t prepared for that moment, although it was something I wanted all my young life… for him to die and go away. I couldn’t tell mom that I was sorry or that I felt bad for her. I couldn’t say any words of sympathy whatsoever. They just weren’t in me. All I said was okay and then hung up the phone. I stood and went directly to the bathroom, locking the door behind me. It was there that I cried my countless tears of liberation and rejoice; my tears of relief. I suddenly felt refreshed and cleansed with every breath of air I took. I was relieved to know that Melvin had finally stepped off the face of this earth forever and, hopefully, into the arms of the master devil himself. I was relieved to know that he will never have another opportunity to hurt another innocent child or woman again. His abuse had ended the moment his life did.
I have heard cases where an innocent child dies from their sexual and physical abuse, while another survived. For the survivors; their heart, mind and soul will have this memory of abuse with them for their entire lifetime. Some may be stronger than others, where thoughts can be placed on a top shelf like a book, collecting dust, where they will never be disturbed or influence their lives again, while others may have everlasting effects that will constantly challenge their lives forever. I find it heartbreaking that one individual can alter your trust, feelings and beliefs just by their words and actions alone.
Many times, my thoughts had questioned why my mother consoled a dying man in his last moments of life, especially knowing that he was the one that added unwanted chapters into her children’s lives, as well as her own. It wasn’t until I was sitting on my deck a couple of summers ago that I had my answers.
As I sat studying the sky, I watched the birds dancing above my head. The sun was a glowing orange that was setting for the evening. I watched as the last remaining sliver of sunset disappeared below the horizon. I sat with a glass of wine, sipping, as I wiped a stream of unhappy tears from my cheeks. I was having marriage troubles; the kind that left me hopeless and questioning myself where did I go wrong. I was sobbing and now directed all my questions go God. Why did my husband take his frustrations out on me? Why was I receiving such verbal abuse from him? What did I ever do to deserve such abuse in my life that started from the moment I was born to now and what seems to continue into my marriage? I pleaded with God to help me understand.
It was at that exact moment that my mother’s vision came into my mind. I was suddenly reminded of all the physical abuse she received, as well as the verbal. I was reminded of all the times that she sat there crying to herself, taking in all the horrible cruelty that Melvin was throwing her way. It was also at that moment that I understood exactly what my mother had gone through. I felt her every pain. I felt every ounce of hurt that she felt. I felt her shame, her empty heart. I felt her lack of love. My heart suddenly felt compassion for my mother, perhaps, the same compassion that she felt for Melvin as he was making his final descent into death. It was then that I completely understood. I told my mother that I was sorry. I was so sorry for everything that she had to endure in her life while being with Melvin. He had taken away so much from her. My tears are no longer about myself, but for my mother. My heart was full of empathy and it was at that moment that I forgave my mother for everything. I forgave her for the way she treated me, for her lack of emotion, for her lack of protection. I forgave her for the way she couldn’t love me.
“The truth is, unless you let go, unless you forgive yourself, unless you forgive the situation, unless you realize that the situation is over, you cannot move forward.” ~ Steve Maraboli