By Deb Avery
I remember the shame.
The feeling of confusion and fear. The feeling of free falling from an airplane without a parachute, knowing that if I lived through the impact I would never be the same.
I remember the way he insisted and how in my innocence and naivety, I did not know how to handle the situation, or this man/boy I had a crush on.
Did I love him, or he me?
I did not really understand that kind of love. I only knew the love for my family, for all beings.
There was pain. Both mentally and physically. My body was no more ready for this than was my mind. He said it was something everyone did. He said it was okay. But I didn’t like it. I pushed him away. He kept coming back. He told me he loved me.
I remember wondering if I should tell.
But surely the boy, the one who attends the same church as my family, surely he would not do things that were wrong. Everyone likes him. And besides, he is much older than me. He knows about these kind of things.
He is seventeen.
I am only eleven that summer—a quiet, shy, naive eleven. But I look older and I’ve crossed into womanhood with all these strange emotions and feelings that I really don’t understand.
I wish there was someone to talk to. But, there is no one. We just don’t talk about that kind of stuff in my family. I only have a couple of friends at school and they don’t know anymore than I do. Besides, it’s summer vacation and I won’t get to see them again until school begins in late August.
I know my parents did not expect this anymore than I did. I know it wasn’t their fault, anymore than mine, or the boy’s. I know they didn’t mean to make me fell so dirty and ashamed. It was just one of those things that happens sometimes. But sometimes I wish I knew why he was allowed to visit me—unchaperoned—just the two of us alone.
So much time alone.
I was just another casualty in the sheltered life of a female coming of age in the 70’s, in the rural, ultra-conservative South. A place and time where all local religions subjugated women and girls under the strict rule of their husbands, fathers, or ministers. A time when most subjects were taboo, where strict rules and love of religion ruled. A time when women were encouraged to marry early, have and raise children, and make their husbands happy.
Everyone talks about the “good ole days” as if all was right with the world. I know it may have seemed that way to some. But I promise, for a young girl coming of age and trying to reckon with new feelings, the winds of change, and something in her heart that told her, this is not the way it should be—it was a very difficult time.
And all was not right.
The closets of Mayberry were full of skeletons. And behind the happy masks that girls and women wore while trying to please their families, their husbands, they were crying inside for a better way, more respect and a recognition that they were more than just a “helper” for man.
As I look back, I try to do so with a gentle heart and understanding.
Yet this, and other situations in my childhood, have shaped so much of my view of life—especially the younger years. It has undermined my self-esteem caused much unhappiness and sabotaged relationships. It has taken years to learn to love myself and know that it wasn’t my fault.
Only after I learned to forgive—myself and everyone else—for the pain, humiliation and feelings of unworthiness, only then could I heal completely and learn to let it go.
Sometimes, the eleven year old inside me cries for innocence lost, the stern looks from others, the humiliation, and the disappointment in my parents faces.
I can’t take it back.
I didn’t mean to do anything wrong. Why didn’t they tell me this could happen? Why didn’t someone explain this to me? Why did I have to find out in this way?
I take the child that is me in my arms. I hold her close and tell her she is loved, she is worthy and everything is okay. No, it’s more than okay. Everything is fine. It wasn’t her fault.
It was never her fault.
Shhh, it’s okay, my sweet child. It’s okay. I won’t let anyone else hurt you. There now, it’s all in the past. You’ve learned to let it go. It can’t hurt you any longer.
Fear no more, my child. I will teach you everything you need to know. But most of all, I will teach you to love yourself as you so rightfully deserve.
Shhh…This time, everything is going to be fine.
Editor: Dana Gornall