Yesterday was one of those rare days when you feel like everyone around you is staring right at you, judging you, and it’s you against the word. I attended my sister’s wedding, which normally is supposed to be a special bonding time between mothers, daughters, sisters, and family yet, for me it was a day of agony, pain, and betrayal. The man who was violent toward me as a child (and my sister), was invited, along with his family. Three of his four sons sexually assaulted me as a child; and here he was at my sister’s wedding. I watched in shock as everyone including my dad, brother, mom, and sister hugged the man, smiling and laughing. I felt paralyzed, and it took everything I had to not flip a dinner table over and scream.
How could these people who are supposed to be my family treat this man like a godsend and treat their own daughter/sister as if I need to get over some argument? I kept imagining the loving families you always see on TV, like 7th Heaven. If that was my family, they would tell him and his family to get lost; they would be disgusted at their presence and they would embrace me and tell me they choose me.
But they didn’t.
The first assault took place sometime between 1992-1995 (I was very young, but I vividly remember what happened). Two of the sons named Jason and Bryan had me and my brother outside under a tarp of some sort, they took off our pants and underwear and forced our genitals together. I remember squirming and trying to get out from under that tarp while they laughed. I must’ve been around four years old or so. I never spoke about it with my brother until after the events of the wedding. He claimed he had no memory of it, and suggested I had an embellished imagination. This cut me even deeper because my own family didn’t believe me. I felt isolated. As I grew older, I remember learning about sex as a normal person does in school and remembering that day. Was that sex? Was that “losing your virginity?”
I now understand that that was taken from me.
We relocated back to California (from Idaho) when I was around five. My mom was remarried at this point and my sister and I were living with my mom and stepfather in Fresno. I was 12 years old and there were a couple weeks left of middle school. One day after school, my mom picked me up with Ken, the father of the two boys who assaulted my brother and I years earlier. My mom had left my stepdad, and said we are moving to Idaho with Ken. She was having an affair and wanted to run away with him; he was also married at the time. With nothing more than the backpacks we had from school that day, we moved from California to Idaho, against our will, and without my biological fathers’ consent, or my stepdad’s for that matter.
I remember my mom and Ken trying to make us think it was going to be so much fun. “It’ll be great, you’ll love it!” We stopped at a Walmart and bought a few items of clothes, and that’s all we had going into Idaho.
I was very resentful of the move. I missed the last few weeks of seventh grade, and I didn’t understand why we would be ripped out of our home with not so much as a warning. Ken acted nice at first, saying he would give allowances and stuff. I remember him saying he would take me to get my nails done and take me to a tanning salon, which I thought was very weird, as I was a 12-year-old girl. His only stipulation: we were NOT allowed to call our father. If we were caught, we would be punished.
We didn’t have a house phone, so we used his cell phone to call our friends. He made sure to remind us that he would check the call log to see if we called our dad. We lived in an old white home, which was empty. Little by little, we would get pieces of furniture added but it still never felt like home; like a safe haven to retreat to. Our bedrooms had no beds or dressers. My mom and Ken went to work every day, and I was responsible for being the adult in the house that summer with my little sister and Ken’s youngest son. We made our own meals, which consisted of ramen noodles, cereal, and any other cheap processed food.
We lived by train tracks and I remember watching the trains go by everyday thinking, “Maybe I should try and jump on.” It was an industrial area and the train carried freight, not passengers. But it moved slowly enough past the dirt road we lived by that I could probably manage to leap on and hold onto the side stair rails. I imagined all of the places it could be going: California, Washington, Oregon; any of these places would be better than here. Wherever it’s going, hopefully it’d take me closer to home, to my friends and my life.
One day several weeks after moving to our new home, we were at a park and I asked to use the phone and I snuck to call my dad. Ken caught me. He grabbed the phone, grabbed my arm and yanked me behind a tree. With his grip holding onto my arm and one finger in my face, he threatened me. I don’t remember the exact words as I was filling with terror at that time, but it was something along the lines of, “You don’t ever call your father again, or else.” I think I may have blocked out some of this because I just remember feeling a complete loss of control, and lack of autonomy. I felt like we were kidnapped (which now I know we were according to the law), and that I couldn’t call anyone for help.
During that summer, one of Ken’s other sons, David would frequently visit our home. We were all friends for the most part; however, one night I was sleeping on the couch and David climbed on top of me, kissed my lips and put his tongue in my mouth. I froze. I remember thinking how weird this was, but I knew it was “making out.” David was about 15 or 16 at the time, and I was 12. I just lay there frozen with his tongue in my mouth. I remember him saying, “You know, when someone kisses you, your supposed to kiss them back.”
I didn’t say anything. Later, when my peers talked about kissing a boy for the first time, or having their first boyfriend, I flashed back to that night. I didn’t say anything to my friends because I wanted my first kiss to be as special as theirs would be; but I knew deep down this experience was taken from me, too.
I don’t remember exactly when I first told my mom about the incidences, but I have vague memories of telling her in my childhood. I recall telling her about Ken’s violence and threat to not call our dad. “Rory, he has gone through a lot; he just buried two of his children,” she would say. At the time, I think I believed her. My mother wouldn’t allow anyone to purposefully hurt me, so she must be right. I thought maybe I should cut them some slack; however, I still felt very “wrong” about the whole thing. I felt like these people just weren’t right. Perhaps I was a highly sensitive person but I felt a dark cloud being around these people, but I didn’t know how to express it.
By the end of the summer my mom ended up leaving Ken and moving back to California, to be with my stepdad again. I saved all of my “allowance” that summer and my mom borrowed it all to get us back home, a pattern that continued throughout my life. I finished middle school and high school in Fresno, but always had a wall up with my mom. I went to college and once again my mom left and moved to Idaho. I continued my life focusing on my studies, in the hopes that this would be my way out of a toxic environment and dysfunctional family.
After years of being closed off from my mom and distant, I began seeing a therapist in my twenties and was able to unravel all of the trauma that caused me to be avoidant. I realized that my biggest issue was feeling like my mom did not protect me. What Ken and his sons did to me wasn’t even what hurt me the most; it was the fact that my mom let it happen and did nothing to prevent it. In effort to salvage my relationship with my mom, I had the conversation with her and set some boundaries. I told her these people have abused me, and I cannot be in her life if she will continue to have them in her life, especially now that I had a daughter of my own. She agreed and agreed to un-follow them on social media.
I relocated to Idaho in effort to continue rebuilding my relationship with her.
Fast forward to present day, the day before my sister’s wedding. I found out my sister had invited Ken and his family to the wedding. That same feeling of dread, vulnerability, and betrayal swept over me. I texted her that I was not comfortable with this as these people abused us. “He has done a lot for me, Rory,” she replied. I decided at the time I would just try and put my feelings aside and be there for my sister. I spoke with my mom and expressed to her that I was very uncomfortable that my abusers were going to be there.
“Oh Rory, that was 100 years ago, you need to let that stuff go. There was a lot going on at the time that you don’t know.”
I was paralyzed. I could not believe after all these years my mom is still making excuses for the perpetrators. Once again, she didn’t have my back. “They ABUSED us,” I snapped back.
As she began making more excuses, trying to minimize what they’d done, I hung up. I stood in the same exact position for at least five minutes; I was literally in shock. I was standing next to my daughter and just looked at her innocently playing with her toys. I thought about her and realized that if this had happened to her, there is no way in hell I would ever in a million years be around the person again.
The night before the wedding I cried my eyes out and didn’t sleep at all. What if this man tried to talk to me? What if he tried to talk to my daughter?
We arrived and my mom attempted to talk to me as if everything was fine and dandy. I told her I was not speaking with her, and she made some snide comment and walked away, as if I was the one causing drama. I sat through the entire wedding watching my “family” hug and greet this man. My stomach dropped and I felt at my lowest. Suddenly, I felt like I couldn’t breathe, and I ran to restroom with my eyes filling with tears. Taking several deep breaths, I composed myself and went back to the wedding. It felt like a dream. Why was nobody else livid, why was nobody addressing the giant elephant in the room, the fact that this family abused us? With each family member who greeted him, I felt another stab in my chest, and once again, I was 12 years old. I watched as my mom, my brother, my sister hugged him with joy, and with each hug, I made mental notes in my head of who I could truly trust.
In the media, when you see someone take a stand against the popular opinion, it always seems so powerful, and strong. Like Emma Sulkowicz, dragging her mattress across Columbia University to take a stand against her abuse, or Gloria Steinem speaking up about reproductive rights, in spite of all the opposition and hate she received. They seem so brave to be able to stand against grain, to speak their truth. Yet, all I felt was alone and worthless. I felt like not a single person in my family valued my feelings over preserving their relationship with this family. The worst part of this whole thing is not the abuse; it’s that my family didn’t stand up for me. Not only did they not have my back, they resented me for standing up for myself. My taking a stand for myself was too inconvenient for them, and they’d prefer to continue the cycle of violence, as long is it meant they could keep their friendships. But I refuse to silence my truth. This experience is not limited to me, and I hope that my words can help other young girls feel brave enough to speak their truth, even though it feels completely isolating. Sometimes the right path is the hardest.
I tolerated their presence for as long as I could, but after the cake cutting, I left with my family. Expectedly, I got tons of backlash and was accused of being selfish and rude for not having a party with my abuser.
“That stuff happened more than a decade ago, today isn’t about you, it’s about your sister,” my mom and brother said to me. “He was there for your sister when she needed help, so consider that.” Later, I came to find out he gave her money when she needed it.
Apparently, I was the problem because I made such a big deal of something that happened “ages ago.” I showed up to the wedding, spent many hours and money to create the centerpieces, got there early to decorate, brought a cash gift for the couple, didn’t say a word to the man, and left after the cake cutting yet I was the one who caused drama.
If only they knew what I really wanted to do was smash the champagne glass over his head and give him a piece of my mind. I wish I could tell him to leave and stay away from my family. I wish my mom would say she chooses me, her daughter, over her friendship with him. But the reality is, she didn’t. I’m 29, but this experience made me feel like a vulnerable 12-year old girl again. My mom still isn’t choosing me, but this time, I can choose myself.
Rory holds a bachelors in Women’s Studies and is pursuing her law degree. She is passionate about women’s issues including violence again women. She hopes to use her legal education to make a social justice change and to help young girls know their value. She enjoys writing about her experiences as a means of finding truth. She enjoys spending time with her daughter, husband and two cats.