Saturday 22 February 2020

The Hands

I was reading an article a few days ago in a Brazilian publication, dated Wednesday, January 29, 2020, that forced me to think about a topic I haven't reflected on for quite some time. The title was "Brazilian gov't promotes chastity to teens with 'I choose to wait' program." The subtitle read. "Abortion proponents not surprisingly object to sex education that doesn't promote artificial contraception."

Keeping children safe from experiences that could damage the rest of their lives is an issue close to my heart, so I was anxious to read what it said. Damares Alves, Brazil's Minister for Women, Family and Human Rights was asking parents to simply consider telling their teenagers to wait until adulthood before having sex. That idea unleashed a rampage of negative comments from many factions who believe that contraceptives and abortions are the only way to to stop the epidemic of teenage pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. But that isn't what stunned me into almost disbelief. The statement that brought tears to my eyes, and a great deal of pain and renewed suffering said that there was a bill before Brazil's congress that would lower the age of consensual sex to twelve. She believes that would only legalize pedophilia, and I completely agree.

Engaging in, or being forced into, acts that are not understood destroys not only the moral fabric of a victim's life but tarnishes every relationship that might be entered into later on. While I know not everyone will agree with my sentiments, I speak from personal experience as to what being sexually molested did to me. I was ten and eleven when my violin teacher began touching me inappropriately. I knew something wasn't right. The nausea in my stomach and the sickness in my heart were telling me that. But when I finally got the courage to tell my mother what was happening, her reply was not something a child is likely to hear today. This was before children had any rights, and  parents ruled with what seemed like an iron fist. She told me that he had never done that to her, so he couldn't possibly be doing it to me. I was just using it as an excuse so I wouldn't have to practice.

I was forced to continue with my lessons until I was so torn up inside that every time I picked up my bow I began pulling out my eye lashes and eye brows. I don't know what finally made my mother reconsider. Maybe it was the haunted look in my eyes. I see pictures that were taken of me around that time and find it hard to believe they're even real. I was just glad to have the horror stop. Eventually, I was able to keep it from invading my every waking thought, but it was still corroding my spirit. I started to cry and became physically ill the first time a boy asked me out on a date. And no matter how hard I tried, I couldn't let any boy get close to me - not even ones I really liked.

I wanted to date and have fun like all the other girls, but there was something inside holding me back. Even when I was in college and dating dozens of different guys, I never felt like I could really connect with any of them. I just drifted from guy to guy hoping that someday I would meet someone who could make me feel alive. I even fell in love a couple of times, but the relationships never went anywhere. And if a guy's hands looked a certain way, I couldn't bear to have him touch me. I eventually married  a man I wasn't really attracted to because I was twenty-three, and he kept insisting that he needed me. It was a disastrous mistake, and one I have paid for ever since making it. I was a vulnerable virgin with no one to guide or protect me.

Being a dutiful, submissive wife was easy because that's the way I had been raised, but whatever was going on inside of me continued to fester until my body started to shut down.  The doctor finally told me that I would be dead in six months if I didn't do something to stop it. After a great deal of soul-searching I walked out the door and never looked back. I wish I could say there was a miraculous flood of light that let me know what had been going on inside of me all those years, but that's not what happened. It was another decade before I almost had a complete nervous breakdown, and the therapist asked if I was aware of all the abuse I had suffered throughout most of my life.

I really had no idea what she was talking about. I had always considered myself just a weak person who hadn't earned the right to be loved. (Maybe I'll talk more about that in another post.) But right now, I want to share with you something I learned in the few weeks of therapy I had with her before she succumbed to breast cancer. It's all about self-reflection and being strong enough to reach inside to the damaged child that will always be a part of who I am. That little girl told me about the hands and what they had done to wreck havoc with both of our lives. Perhaps reading what I wrote will give someone the chance to better understand his or her own experience. I still cry whenever I read it, but the realization I gained has made me a better person and a more dedicated defender of children. Childhood and youth should be cherished and protected, not ruled by laws that are created by adults with agendas of their own.

Old man with puffy face, puffy body, puffy hands

and fine, thinning hair, brushed neatly back.
You took my childhood! My youth!
My life! My reason for being!

Your hands played soothing melodies on the violin,
touched my knees, my arms, and traveled slowly up and down.
They made the bile rise to my throat, my skin crawl. 
Your hands have never been forgotten.

I am left with an obsession about men’s hands.
Soft, fleshy, pale, girlie hands can never touch me.
Hands in general cannot touch me.
I don’t trust their motives.

They arouse feelings of fear, isolation and disgust.
They move where they should not go.
They invade my privacy, my inner parts,
make me numb with terror I do not understand.

My mother knows about the hands.
She is the one who should have protected me.
But she thinks I’m making up stories.
You were her teacher once and never touched her.

I’m ashamed. I’m silenced.
I bear my burden by pretending nothing happened.
I half-believe I am crazy, pulling out eyelashes 
and eyebrows each time I pick up my bow. 

Your eyes stare at my breasts,
daring me to move or say something.
I look down at the carpet lying neatly on the floor.
If I do not make contact with them you cannot see me.

I will never make eye contact with men,
then they will not be able to see me or 
my curving breasts and try to touch them.
I am invisible even though my heart is racing.

What are you doing to me? I don’t understand.
My stomach lurches as my hands move
spasmodically back and forth around each other 
trying to make sense of what is happening.

Why won’t anyone listen to me?
Where is the name for what I am feeling?
I am not telling lies; it hurts too badly for that.
I want the feelings, the shame to go away.

I hate you standing behind me where 
I cannot see what you are going to do.
I abhor the feeling of your fingers closing over mine,
the softness of your body brushing against me.

I want to be sick, to scream and push you away,
to stay safe in my room with my dolls and my books.
where windows to the outside world do not exist,
and no one can approach me unnoticed.

You touched me in ways a man should never touch a child.
You looked at me with eyes that stripped away my innocence.
I didn’t know what you were doing, but you did?
Arousing sick passions by looking at and touching me.

You justified your behavior because you never penetrated,
but my spirit understood the evil even if I could not define it.
You took my trust, my ability to know intimacy, 
my self-respect, that special, woman part of me.

I am still a frightened little girl in a woman’s body,
a woman who has never felt safe with a man.
One who has never believed anyone could love her,
anyone, except a disgusting old man.

Yes, you stole my life, all I had to give,
leaving me nothing but a nightmare too horrid to consider
until the darkness crowded out the light, and I was left
with nothing but anger I could not express, even at you.

But you are a monster, the worst kind of criminal.
You deserve castration, public hanging,
branding with the physical mark of child molester.
How can you face the eyes looking back in the mirror?

How many people suspected what you but said nothing?

                                            ~ Jan Hill (aka: JS Ririe)


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