February 12, 2011

By the time I was finishing up high school, my brother was still living at home, not working and not going to school (he was in his early 20s). His routine was usually: wake up at about 5 p.m., go downstairs and eat some supper, return to his room to talk to his friends on the phone or watch TV, have a bath around 10 p.m., go out with his friends around midnight, return in the early morning and go to bed.

The only time our paths crossed regularly in this routine was when he was having his bath – it was the same time that I would be getting ready to go to bed.

My bedroom shared a wall with the bathroom, and every night while I lay in bed trying to sleep, my brother would be soaking in the tub just inches from me, on the other side of the wall. My brother would talk to me through the wall as I lay there in the dark quiet: “You’re a loooooooooser.” “You’re so ugly.” “No guy will ever want to date you.” He never grew tired of it.

Eventually, it wasn’t enough for him to taunt me just while I tried to fall asleep. While I was brushing my teeth or using the toilet before bed, he would press his lips up to the seam of the bathroom door: “Hey ugly!” “You’re such a fucking loser.” “Nobody likes you.”

He loved filling the time before his bath this way. While the tub was filling and once he slipped into it, the pleasure came not from getting clean, but from tormenting me. One night before bed, I was sitting on the toilet with his bath running beside me. I watched the water falling from the faucet while listening to my brother’s taunts on the other side of the door. I clenched my muscles, stopping my pee midstream, and picked up the jug he used to rinse the shampoo from his hair. I shuffled my bum forward on the toilet seat and finished peeing into the jug. Once my bladder was empty, I emptied the jug into the near-full bathtub.

That night, I lay in bed listening to him go through the usual rote: “You’re a loser.” “You’re ugly.” And I just grinned to myself in the dark and whispered, “You’re bathing in my pee.”

I did this every night for about a week until I walked into a conversation between my mother and my brother about sleep. When he saw me, he said with a nasty grin, “You have a hard time falling asleep too, don’t you?” My response: “I used to, until I started peeing in your bath every night. Now I sleep just fine.” That’s when the taunting stopped.


Sex Education

December 16, 2010

My family first connected to the internet in the mid nineties. I was finishing high school and would use the family computer for my assignments and to stay in touch with friends I met at summer camp. Once my mother found her way around the computer, she would spend most of the day when I was at school online in chat rooms. At first she was just chatting away with the 50+ crowd, but it soon became evident that she was into a bit more than that.

My mom and I used to fight over that computer all the time. If I was plugging away at a final paper that was due the next day, she’d tell me that my time was up and I had to get off the computer. I’d try to explain that what I was working on was pretty important, but she wouldn’t let up and told me that I would just have to get up early to finish it before school. “It’s my turn now.”

Our computer was in the tv room, and I would sit on the sofa behind her and switch on the television. But when I could, I’d sneak little peeks over her shoulder to see what she was chatting about.

“My daughter is sitting behind me.”


“I was working in my garden today. My two lips are opening.”

“LOL. I was out doing some sports today. I love to pole vault.” Etc etc.

They were throwing around cheap innuendos that for some reason my mother thought her teenage daughter wouldn’t understand. But I got it, I was getting thrown off the computer so my mom could have cyber sex.

One night during one of our regular tiffs about the computer, my mom tried to get my dad on her side. He came up to me at the computer and said, “Your mom said you’ve been on here long enough and that it’s time for you to go to bed.” I told him that if he knew what my mother was doing on the computer, that he wouldn’t be in such a rush to get me out of there. If I blamed myself, I’d say this was when my parents’ marriage crumbled. But I don’t blame myself. It turns out my mother was meeting men online, then meeting them in real life for sex – about six months later, my parents were separated.

To this day I don’t know what to make of some of this stuff. There was one night before my dad knew what was going on with my mom’s internet life when I read over my mom’s shoulder and the man she was chatting to asked if my dad chatted online. Her response was that he went into “Dads and daughters” chats. I suppose I’ll only know the truth if someday I gather the steel to ask about it, but either my mother knew that I was reading over her shoulder and wanted to say something that would profoundly disturb me, or my father was into incest chatting. Either way, no good. I have no recollection of my father ever abusing me and I have a great relationship with my dad now, but I still get a little uncomfortable when I remember what I read that night, about 15 years ago.

The Snuffer

November 16, 2010

My mother, father, uncle and I all celebrate our birthdays in the same week. Every year, my grandmother would make two cakes for our collective birthday party – usually chocolate cake, but always covered in this gooey, white marshmallow frosting that as an adult I’m embarrassed to say that I loved.

Several times I caught my uncle running his finger around the base of the cake, then picking up a knife to smooth down the bald spots he left.

When it came time to blow out candles – of course I was first because I was the youngest – Grandma would carry the cake to the big oak table in the dining room and put it down in front of me. Yellow, pink, blue and white candles were placed around the cake, each one flickering away in a mismatched plastic holder so wax wouldn’t drip onto the perfect white frosting.

As a kid, this is one of the best moments of the year: all the attention is on you, you’re being sung to, you get to make an outlandish wish and blow out your candles in one long breath. But not with this side of the family. Instead, Grandma passed me a brass snuffer that she kept in the china cabinet. I held it tightly by its twisted metal handle and one by one lowered over it the candles, slowly extinguishing each little light. When I was done the candles were re-lit and the cake passed to my uncle. Then my mother. Then my father. Each time repeating the same routine: sing, snuff, relight, pass.

I have to admit, that I will likely become a collector of beautiful candle snuffers when I’m an old woman. I’ve only got one now, but every time I see one I get pulled in by this memory.

It’s just pretend

October 21, 2010

When my brother was old enough, my parents started leaving me with him as my babysitter. And obviously, this is when a lot of the abuse occurred.

It always began with a game. Usually it was something like passing a ball back and forth, and if you dropped it, the other person would get points. After so many points, you could redeem them for sex acts. Sometimes I would win, but I never wanted sex, then he’d get mad at me. So I tried to lose.

There were different levels of points. You could earn oral sex, what was referred to as ‘double love’ (69), ‘skin-on-skin’, or slave. There were probably more, I don’t really remember. At that point, the abuse had been going on for awhile and there were some things that I thought felt nice. But I was only 8 or 9, and I didn’t want to feel that way with my brother.

At the time, Who’s the Boss was a huge show, and my brother was crazy about Alyssa Milano. He used to beg, pester and harass me to pretend that I was her, jogging in the park. I refused for ages, but he was relentless.

One day when he won ‘slave’, he made me take my shirt off and jog around his room pretending to be the actress while he hid in the closet and watched. Then he jumped out of his closet, threw me down onto his bed, ripped the rest of my clothes off and groped me.

I was young. I didn’t know what all of this meant, but I hated it.

My other responsibilites

October 12, 2010

It was a Saturday night when I woke up to the usual sound outside my bedroom. I was about 17, and at that time the rest of my family was consumed – my father with his work, my brother with depression and my mother with alcohol. My parents fought constantly, but tried at least once a week to go out together and have a good time.

On most of those evenings, I was woken up by quiet sniffling outside my door. At first I would open the door to find my mother sitting on the floor in the hall, crying. She would crawl into my room, pull me down to the floor with her, wrap her arms around me and bury her face in my neck. She smelled of saliva – the same odor I remembered from when she’d wipe my face with a licked finger when I was a kid – and alcohol. She cried to me about everything – her relationship with my father, that they no longer had sex, that my brother was ruining her life, that she had an affair – until I started ignoring the quiet sniffling outside my door.

On the nights when she camped outside my bedroom door I’d try to ignore my mother for as long as I could, checking the clock to see just how many hours of sleep I had until I had to be at school, work, or church. But the sniffling would become crying – then moaning – then weeping – until one night, screaming.

I rushed to the door, expecting to hear that there had been an accident and someone was dead. My mother was curled up on the floor outside my bedroom door, red-faced, snot coming down from her nose, and clothes disheveled. She told me that they had an argument while driving on the highway. My father was so enraged that he pulled over on the side of the highway and demanded that my mother get out and walk home. (My father says she was trying to open the door to get out while he was driving – both were drunk, I still don’t know who to believe.)

My mother walked along the shoulder, probably about a two-hour walk from home, until a limousine pulled over and asked her if she needed a lift somewhere. She said yes and got in the car. The driver then took her to an industrial area on the edge of town where he sexually assaulted her and dumped her in the parking lot.

In the hallway, she pulled down her blouse to show me bite marks all over her neck and breasts. She said the man didn’t rape her, but had obviously hurt her. I told her to change into clean clothes, then I called the police and drove her to the hospital.

The next time my parents got in a fight in the car, my father was the one who got out on the side of the road to walk. My mother took the wheel and drove the car right into a ditch.