COURTESY OF DIVA PAREKH
If you’re reading this, know before you even start, that you are about to learn one of my best-kept secrets. If you already knew this, know that this means I trust you beyond belief. If I already told you this, know that you mean the world to me. You listened, and you didn’t treat me any differently because of this. If you didn’t know, all I can hope for is that this doesn’t change the way you see me. I’m throwing it out in the open.
I was molested twice as a child. Once while I was eight and once while I was 13.
The first time, it was my friend’s grandfather. The second time, it was my parents’ personal trainer. I’m not going to get into the details of what actually happened. I don’t know if I even can, because to describe it, I’d have to remember it. To remember it, I’d have to endure the images flashing through my mind again, and I don’t know how to do that to myself, at least not yet.
The first time, I told my parents something felt strange in the way he interacted with me. I didn’t even know what it was. When my parents heard, though, they knew instantly, and something happened between him and my parents that I seem to have wiped from my mind. But after that day I told them, he never touched me again.
I still saw him, though. I lived on the fifth floor, and he lived on the fourth. I saw his name on the plaque next to the elevator. I didn’t take the stairs for years because I couldn’t handle passing his door on my way. When he saw me, he’d glare. It was this visceral stare that pierced me and left me shaking for hours. But nobody noticed because I’d become so good at hiding it.
The second time, I was older. I knew what was happening but couldn’t stop it until it was too late. When I did, a weird kind of physical strength overcame me that I didn’t know I had, and I pushed a man twice my size off me. I was afraid, this time, of telling my parents.
One of my mom’s closest friends had recommended him. I was afraid she’d feel guilty. I was afraid my parents would feel responsible for having me train with him during the summer.
So instead, I force-fed myself food I knew I was allergic to. Repeatedly. For a month. So I’d stay sick, so I’d have an excuse not to see him. He was still there every morning, though. Every morning until I was 17. He’d smile at me and I’d shrivel up, I’d turn back into a child. I’d throw tantrums about things so utterly ridiculous that my parents had no idea what was happening to me.
The whole time, I had no idea why I was reacting this way; My denial went too deep. Somewhere, at the back of my mind, there the images were, but I pushed them away. It worked. I functioned like a normal teenager, for a while.
Something I read online about child molestation when I was 17 brought the memories rushing back. That’s when I knew that I was too old for denial to still work. So I wrote it down, I sent it to someone I trusted. And I closed the word document. I went back into denial.
I didn’t last too long, though. My friend who I sent it to told me I had to do something, that it was dangerous for the trainer to be in my home. I didn’t listen.
Then a few months later, I was in an elevator with the trainer, and he smiled at me the way he did the entire way up. That’s when the nightmares began. I lost my grip on reality for about three weeks.
Part of it was just because I was too afraid of the nightmares to sleep, and part of it was because the nightmares weren’t specific. I was always being attacked in them, being chased. I’d hide, but they’d always find me. And when they found me, I’d realize that I knew and trusted them. I was afraid of everybody — male teachers, uncles and the worst of all, my dad.
I’d stay up for hours logically thinking through the nightmares. Analyzing each scene, picking it apart until I found something unrealistic that showed me it was a nightmare and not a memory. I told another friend. She sat next to me while I emailed that word document to my therapist.
Therapy, after everything that happened, was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I don’t remember a single session I didn’t cry. I still wasn’t strong enough to tell my parents, so she told them while I was in math class, and I came in after. My dad was crying; My mom didn’t speak. The weekend after that, my parents would just start crying at random times during the day because they blamed themselves.
That was exactly what I was afraid of; That’s what I didn’t want. I told them not to confront the trainer, to just send him a text saying they didn’t want to continue with him. And that was it. I never saw him again except in the images that flash through my head.
It’s hard to avoid things like this, though. In Bystander Intervention Training (BIT), they told me to write down a place where I felt completely safe on a piece of paper. Mine was blank. They told me to write the name of a person I trusted with my deepest secret and then crumple it, to prove some sort of point about how sexual assault stays with you forever, changing your relationships with those you trust. Like I didn’t already know that.
They always tell you to report. I was too scared to. And I was afraid that made me a bad person. What if the trainer did the same thing to another girl? What if I could have prevented it? That thought haunts me even now.
I’d lie in bed for hours just thinking, confused about why someone would do something like that. The grandfather with a granddaughter my age. The trainer with a three-year-old daughter.
I say “situation,” I say “what happened” instead of using the actual words to describe it. It’s because I still don’t want to accept it. I wrote this article knowing that by the end I’d have to accept it. And even in the process of writing it, I’m delaying that moment.
So I’m going to rip the bandage off; It’s the only way I can force myself to do this.
I identify as a victim of childhood sexual molestation.
There, I said it. It’s in writing. That’s how this process began, and that’s how it’s going to end. And believe me, I want this to end. I want the nightmares to end. I want to be able to study Lolita for my English class and still be able to fall asleep the next night. I want to be able to feel safe even when I’m not carrying pepper spray in my backpack.
The thing I have to accept, though, is that it isn’t going to end. It’s going to stay with me all my life, and that’s okay, because pain like this doesn’t just go away.