Most of the pain of remembrance however, doesn’t circle anywhere near the art-gone-horribly-wrong of my tender years. It lands squarely on two incidents that were not my fault. I cannot remember so many of the details, the day of the week or how I got out of there, if I ran home or whether my mother was in the kitchen or doing laundry or what she might have said to me. I don’t remember dinner that night. But what is clear as sunlight are the details of what happened to me and the way I felt. It’s best to tell as I remember and let the reader understand why I waited so long to tell anyone.
I was ten, living in a nice middle-class neighborhood with my parents, my 8 yr old sister, and my baby brother who was a year old. I had a best friend who lived catty-corner across the street. We played together every day and walked to school together with two other friends. Her grandparents lived one house away, on the same property. Her grandmother had been my second grade teacher, beloved by me and our whole class. Sweet and loving. Her grandfather was, in contrast, a mean irrascible old man who yelled at us if we stepped onto his immaculate lawn or ventured into his garden where we like to play hide and seek in the corn stalks. What happened to me (and I guess probably to her too at some point or points) was horrible. I was ten. I barely knew my own body, much less the body of a man. It happened behind the bulkhead of his house, just out of eyeshot of my friend’s house or my beloved teacher’s ability to look out her kitchen window. He’d called to me and said he wanted to give me some corn to take to my mother for dinner. I was afraid of him, but that day his voice was softer than usual. I remember being able to see the garden just steps away, the corn stalks blowing in the breeze of that hot hot day.
I remember him asking me if I was wearing a bra yet. I was confused and said nothing. He said let me see and opened the buttons of my blouse. The buttons of his overalls were open too and there was something like a big snake coming out of the buttons. He pushed my head there onto the snake and held it down. I pulled away and then he bit me on the left breast, leaving a red mark. He told me to never tell anyone or he would hurt me worse. He said îf anyone asks, tell them you got stung by a bee. To this day I remember his shoes, the garden dirt on his shoes, and there is a faint metallic taste in my mouth when I remember. I remember thinking that if I told my father, he’d probably kill the man and then he’d go to jail. What would we do without Daddy? So I shut up. After that I walked the long way around when picking up my friend for the walk to school. I never went over there to play again. I always invited her to my house. She never asked why.
I also never wore that blouse again, though it had been a favorite: white with a palm tree embrodered on the left breast. To this day, I fear having my head touched or restrained, even by a hat. Blowing corn stalks can trigger the memories.
I’m pretty sure that my friend was one of his victims too, because she was obsessed with brushing her teeth and scrubbed her face nearly raw. She went away to boarding school at age 14, the year we were to have started high school together. I never asked her, never told anyone any part of it. In 1985 I wrote a poem about what happened. I didn’t show it to anyone, especially not to her. She died at a young age. Only then did I relase the poem. I still had not told anyone.
Here is the poem: