Inglorious Touch 

Photo by Claudia Soraya on Unsplash

Photo by Claudia Soraya on Unsplash

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It happens when you are three. Your mother is hospitalized with tuberculosis. She contracts the disease right before your first brother is born. She gets sent away to one of those sanatoriums used for longterm illness. During her infirmity, you and your siblings are scattered about, staying with various relatives and family friends, while your mom grieves while she works on healing herself in that far off hospital for 18 long months. The trauma it causes paints permanent scars on your heart.

You get shipped off hundreds of miles away to your mom’s big sister — a reasonable place to go, where you curl on your cousin’s bed for three straight weeks. Crammed in a suffocating room, in their tiny row house in that army-barracked-village somewhere in the northeast part of Philly, you do little but cry, until the cousins can’t stand to feel it anymore. So they pack you up, stamp your head, and send you speedy delivery to your dad’s oldest brother, to live in the town where your father was born, where you hold on for six more months until tears sluice forth and they get sick of you too.

Your last placement, with the family caring for your sister, spawns your undoing. A lecherous man creeps around at night, lifting a nighty that should never be lifted, breeding confusion and fear into a tender psyche, lasting years.

You have no idea you were sexually abused until you stop drinking. Pulling the plug on the numbing forces you to look at your past, dealing with the knives you’ve been carting around, which are now being thrown at a rapid-fire rate.  

When your mom returns home and the family’s glued back together, you tape yourself to that mother of yours, never letting her out of sight. Your thumb becomes a constant companion, stuck inside your mouth, sucked until blue, removed only for the occasional meal. You often visit this family where the ick took place, your parents having lived with them during the war, the one to end all wars, as your mom liked to say, forming a bond those kinds of experiences tend to incur. You stow away in corners while back in their company, thumb properly in place, twisting your hair in the nooks where you hide. 

You stay clear of the balding man, a crown of graying strands encircling his head, who tries pulling you near with offers of treats and a smile that drips with slime. You snatch up a sweet and gallop away, hiding in a bathroom with no lock on its door. He calls out your name, getting louder the closer he gets. Finally, finding you, he leans against the door he closes behind him, your favorite Three Musketeers bar peeking out of his pocket. 

The smell of him turns your stomach inside out, something candy wants no part of, and can’t begin to heal. 

When cries of rudeness erupt, your parents claim it’s shyness, but know nothing of the why that has made you this way. And besides, would they ever believe this valiant friend of theirs, who housed them during difficult times, would ever do such a thing? Watching their affection for him makes you bury the sludge deep inside. 

Besides, you own no words that could possibly describe what’s taken place.

You’re six when your mother goes against doctor’s orders and grows another baby boy inside of her. Not too long after this one’s born, she’s hospitalized again, this time for nearly a year, with your father’s sister coming in to care for you and your sibs. One day, you find yourself back by the stream, rubbing body parts with a boy down the street from where you live. He has pulled down his pants, while you pulled down yours, and before you know it, friction begins. 

A re-enactment of sorts. Something that will keep repeating itself in various scenarios throughout your unsuspecting life.

Like playing doctor with some neighborhood kids. Hiding in closets with a few of the younger ones, you become the physician for this gang of patients, sticking bobby pins and other implements in all sorts of openings, just as yours were touched in the depth of night. The kids proceed to tell on you, and your mother gets a call from one of the moms, berating you for the shame that’s made mincemeat of your more than fragile self-esteem.  

And at the ripe age of seven, have you become a perpetrator yourself?

Your mom’s pointing finger seems to think that’s the case.

When sucking your thumb becomes a humiliation delivered by your teacher in third grade, you eventually turn to masturbation, an act which confuses your sullied spirit, as the Catholic Church that’s been raising you writhes each time you engage in this sinful act, along with all of your previous forms of degradation. Your savior will soon arrive on a black stallion, a bottle of Seagrams galloping over the hill, whipping you up to ride behind him, pouring you your very first drink.

Burying the fear that scratches nightly at your door. A terror erased with each noxious slug. 
In high school, you hang out with a group of guys who seem to be friends, until a note delivered to your front door stating “suck my dick, you horny slut” reads quite differently, and phone calls repeating the same demeaning words pollute you with connotations you don’t understand. As far as you know, you’re still a virgin, as heavy petting is the furthest you let yourself go. 

The good-Catholic-girl you are forbids anything more. 
In college, you manage to save yourself from date rape long before the phrase squirmed its way into the Merriam-Webster, by a man nearly twice your age, a singer at a nightclub you frequented far too much, in an after-hours hookup that regretfully turns ugly. When you won’t do what he wants, you push him away with a knee, resulting in him calling you a cocktease again and again. Weeks later, he ups the ante of revenge for your sexual noncompliance with his microphone in hand, this time calling you a cock teaser in front of hundreds of revelers, warning men to stay away from your cock teasing self. 

Every time you return to the club, he does the same. Your negligible self-worth keeps bringing you back, taking another nose-dive with each insult that spews from his lips. 

You finally relinquish your virginity to your cousin’s cousin, a womanizing man who you’ve adored your whole life. The chemistry you have cannot be replicated in any lab. This man will break your heart, multiple times, but will also reveal his own sexual abuse as a boy scout, perpetrated by one of his counselors at a sleep-away camp. This attraction to victims like yourself creeps along with you on the tainted path you wander towards eventual healing.  

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Sex soon becomes a power tool, your body something that’s wanted, your abuse allying with the alcohol consumed disables your ability to choose. You race into your twenties, sleeping with every Tim, Rich, and Henry you meet, all in the name of women’s lib, though your reasoning goes deeper than that. You traipse through Europe, with a favorite cousin by your side, both of you determined to sleep with a different guy in every country you visit. It must be the Catholic upbringing that fuels this aspiration, or so you think, as its deeper meaning eludes you. It’s an obvious rebellion taking place after thirteen years of parochial schooling.

At one point, your psyche revolts in the form of a nervous breakdown, a year or so after a horrifying acid trip taken in the gut of New York City, while living with a herd of pot-smoking cousins on Long Island’s south shore. This leads you back home, to live with the parents who taught you to muffle pain with booze, bringing you to your first counselor, a psychiatrist of a man having no clue what’s up with you. He asks if you suffer from tititus, a word you’re sure he made up, as he wonders if you’ve ever worried about the size of your breasts, an insufferable question that’s repugnant to you. He prescribes drugs to help you sleep, as the anxiety that chases you and gets pushed aside with alcohol is screaming for attention, keeping you awake at night, pleading to be heard. 

You ignore the screams and move into Philly with that favorite cousin of yours, and get out your power tools and tear through the city, having sex with far too many strangers who buy you drinks. Your three-year-old self, banging her head against walls, wondering when you will stop this behavior. Never hearing the headbanging through all the desperation that prods you along.  

You finally meet a man you think may be the one, moving in with him while he’s still married to another, following a quick four-month, long-distance romance. He drinks as much as you and had his dad torn away from him with the same illness as your mom. That first night of glorious sex is unrepeatable. His constant seeking to replicate its glory eventually becomes disturbing and appalling to you. 

In the meantime, you marry him anyway, this man who reveals that his drunken mother would slip into bed with him at night, though he remembers little of what happened when she did.

Together, you drink away the pain that holds hands in your psyches. You soon get pregnant, finding it impossible to make it through the nine months with nothing to drink. You have a baby girl who cries through the night. You’re told drinking beer while nursing produces more milk, or so you want to believe, and that’s just what you do.

This child of yours pushes you closer to the healing you need — a child who comes to help get you sober.

You have no idea you were sexually abused until you stop drinking. Pulling the plug on the numbing forces you to look at your past, dealing with the knives you’ve been carting around, which are now being thrown at a rapid-fire rate.  

A red flag arises when your daughter turns three. The existence of this precious child you brought into the world becomes unbearable, tucking her into bed at night a chore that’s dreaded most of the day. 

Of course, you’re still drinking then. You have little clue about anything going on. Only the repulsion you feel being close to her. And the guilt that follows adds weight to your day.

At this point in your marriage, you recoil from your husband too, as sex can only be performed with a goodly amount to drink. You turn him down incessantly. Sex with this man you think you love repulses you.

Loud, angry voices rumble through the night, replicating the marriages of both your alcoholic parents, something you swore you’d never do. 

You finally get sober on an unsuspicious New Year’s, your five-year-old daughter a good reason for you to get clean. Those twelve long years of knowing about this life-altering problem comes to an end. Four months later, on the day we celebrate mothers, your husband decides to leave, as your fear screams like a pressure cooker ready to explode. Though he sets up house in the next town over, his high and dry exit simmers bitter resentment on the back burner of your soul.

Still, the two of you try doing therapy together, where far too much blaming fills up the room, while you squirm on the love seat in the corner office where she counsels you. At your therapist’s suggestion, you make plans for a romantic getaway and try having sex one more time — the first time without booze egging you on, as that three-year-old inside of you screeches through it all, and beats at your chest, begging it to end. You drive away from that night, with awkward silences accompanying the ride home, both of you sensing, this isn’t going to work. 

It’s your therapy alone with her that finally uncovers the mystery clutching at your neck, strangling your spirit with each tightening grip.  

You explain to her your recent fascination with articles about pedophiles. Picking up the newspaper, you scan the headlines, directing eyes to stories about men who molest little kids. You get obsessed with these repulsive tales. The more you read, the bigger your obsession becomes, finding these stories hidden in the dark crevices of the paper. Never occurring to you why these articles hold such an appeal. 

The final tip-off comes during a practicum attached to a course you’re taking in grad school, observing a preschool class of three and four-year-olds at a town close by. Every time you report there to watch these children at play, the bile in your stomach rises in rebellion, launching up your esophagus, ready to erupt in your mouth. Your hands clam up, balling into fists you long to use. Each week that you have to go and observe them, you sleep fitfully the night before. You don’t make the connection until you speak about your daughter to your therapist, how you hated that age range the most with her, how you cringed at the thought of playing with her, how you drank more than ever at that precious time of her life.

You give it little thought until you add this all up, the link in these observations too obvious to ignore.  

Driving home from this therapy session, you blurt out something that nearly veers you off the road. Mommy, I need you, he’s hurting me skids sideways through your lips. You have no control over what you say. It’s both terrifying and liberating, all at the same time. 

At your next appointment, you share this incident with your therapist. She gazes compassionately at you from her rocking chair, her brow furrowing a bit, and that upside down smile she gets when she’s feeling bad for you appears, before asking you what you think all this might mean. 

You tell her it happened during that last placement of yours, this deed that’s too foggy to consider nailing down, at the friends of your parents whom they lived with before then. Your sister had been staying there for much of your mom’s illness. You missed her mightily when you were separated from her. The only takeaway you have is being touched in a way you sensed was wrong, its icky-ness oozing from memories too far away to grasp, the perpetrator of this deed muddled in your whimpering mind.

You’re not sure what to do with this mass of information, this bucket of slime that’s been poured on your lap, but you know when you get back home, when your precious daughter is in the house, you’ll need to lock your bedroom door to let off the steam this disturbing revelation is beginning to produce. 

You’ll soon figure out who did what to you.

It’s no wonder the recent love-making with your husband went so badly — that you drank so much through all those other nights of sex. This stuff’s been wheedling its way to the surface, ready to break out of its shell and knock the shit out of anyone who lays their dirty hands on this precious body of yours. The fact you played out the abuse much of your life was lost to you. Perpetually seeking out the thing you thought was love.

That’s when you start to think; you may never want to have sex ever again.

As it turns out, you start writing instead and join a group of writers — all of you sexually abused in your younger years. You speak of it from time to time, staring at the floor when you do, scribbling on the pages you take critique notes on, fingers getting sore from the pressure placed on the pens, surprised when the pages don’t catch on fire or rip spontaneously to shreds.

Instead, you help each other to mend providing that safety net none of you got as kids. Planting the seeds of healing that just might take a lifetime to bloom.


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