To Eleven-Year-Olds With Secrets
My school district was supposed to give me my first (and only) sex-ed talk in fifth grade. Somehow, my class was skipped. My mother gave me her version of "the talk" multiple times growing up. But it was always her idea of what was age-appropriate to tell me. Metaphors about the birds and the bees, telling me how babies are born. Telling me to tell her before I decided to have sex for the first time. After all of that, I still had no idea what sex actually was. It wasn't until middle school (eleven/twelve years old) that my friends would start to make lewd jokes at the lunch table. Little suggestions started to clue me in. And the internet to hammer their lessons into something more concrete. I had the slow dawning realization of horror that I had sex at seven years old. At first, it had been by a girl probably a year older than me. She was the daughter of my dad's friend. I don't remember her name. I remember the purple velvet shirt that she wore though. She invited me down into her basement that smelled like mildew, and she taught me how to rub our crotches together while we laid on the couch. It was fun at the time. I didn't know what we were doing. It was a game. It didn't hurt at the time. I still hesitate to call it rape. I don't know how many times it happened. I still can't stand the smell of mildew, or the sight of purple velvet, or couch sex. I remember my younger cousin being invited to join us, and I thank everything that he said no. I hope that my cousin was too young to remember. Eventually, my dad stopped taking me to her house. I was sad but my dad never told me why he stopped going. And I'm too scared to ask him. Then at eight years old, after the girl whose name I have blocked from my memory disappeared from my life, I had another experience. My mom and step-dad fostered children. He was their third foster child. He was a few years older than me, maybe fourteen. He shared the name of a historical figure. I would go to his room to play, and one day he rubbed up against me in bed. And I froze. And while I can barely remember any of my childhood, I remember him saying the words "Do you know what that means?" before I went back to my own room. I didn't know what it meant. But something told me it was wrong. And later on, he would put his hamster in my pants, in my underwear. And that was a game too. That was fun at the time. I didn't know what it meant. I don't know how many times it happened. When my foster brother left, my parents claimed it was because he was too violent. He hurt the dog, and they were afraid he'd hurt my unborn baby brother too. He left his hamster to me, and I had it until it died from obesity. My parents never taught me how to care for a hamster. But I'm an adult now, and I still can't stand the mention of hamsters. I can't hold any small mammal without panicking. I can't handle the smell of woodchip bedding. I can't handle hearing the name of the historical figure that he shared a name with. And when I learned what sex was at eleven years old, I felt like my own childhood had betrayed me. I clung to innocence like a moth to the flame. I faked ignorance. I painted myself as a celibate saint. I wore naivety like a dollar-store Halloween costume. I felt crushing guilt- I was horrified. That my innocence was taken from me and I'd let it happen without a fight. And while I was dealing with all of this in my mind, I was being forced to grow up in other ways too. At eleven my dad abandoned me. I experienced death in the family for the first time. And I left the Mormon cult for agnosticism. After a few years my feelings of guilt stopped weighing me down so heavily, I started to feel a little angry. I felt like if society didn't say that children couldn't give consent, then I wouldn't have felt guilt. And maybe I still struggle to decide whether or not it was rape, even though it hurts so badly to think about. Even though it hurt me so badly even if it was just a game back then. Even though I feel like I died as a child. My retroactive trauma feels inseparable from myself. I was seventeen the first time I told somebody what had happened to me as a child. It was my two best friends at the time. Whispered as we all laid in my bedroom. I didn't tell them it was rape. And I was terrified that they would tell me that I shouldn't be feeling so much hurt from something I chose to do. But they just listened. I was eighteen when I told the next person. My girlfriend, who is now my wife. I told her as we drove down long country roads. And she didn't look at me with disgust like I expected. And she told me for the first time that it was okay to call what happened to me rape. It was only then that I felt like I could say that it wasn't my fault. And I tried to go to therapy for the first time at nineteen. I told the therapist everything, then I refused to go back. And the second time, I didn't run away purposefully, but I still feel shame about what I admitted when I see my old therapist around town. And now I struggle to decide whether I want to tell my mom what happened to me. Over a decade has passed since I was hurt, both retroactively and actually. I don't want my mom to think it was her fault for not telling me what sex actually is. I don't want her to feel guilt like I did. There is also a part of me that blames her and my father. That's angry at them. But I don't want them to feel guilt. ... Recently I've been playing a game online where you can chat with other players. And I met an eleven-year-old girl, so much like me at her age. She told me that she had been molested by a girl a year older than her. And previously by a boy a few years older. I encouraged her to tell her parents or her teachers, and she has refused. Again and again, she has refused. And I know what it is like to again and again refuse. I am also able to tell her everything that I wish somebody had told me at eleven. It wasn't our fault. What happened to us is horrible. We don't have to feel guilt. We should reach out to others. We should seek help. We should go to therapy. We can call it rape if we want to. And the other girls were hurt too. They didn't learn how to rape on their own. It isn't just our sake that we are telling for. I am grateful for the internet. For telling me what sex is, but also for educating me on what child-on-child sexual abuse is. For giving me the ability to share my story without feeling the need to cut the people that I tell out of my life. I am grateful that I got to meet this girl so much like I used to be. So that she doesn't have to keep it all inside herself a secret for years upon years. And I want to say that it's our choice who we tell our trauma to, but it feels like a great tragedy that I can't force this little girl to tell her parents what happened to her- both the little girl online and the little girl who I used to be.