SHYLEE: Searching

I was 13 years old the first time I was raped. Not to worry, this will not be a rant or a self-pity party. Just a story about overcoming evil who took the form of a ‘nice’ man everyone liked and respected.

The summer before my sophomore year, my mother thought it would be a good thing to get my teeth taken care of before I was sent away to school in the fall. Well-thought-of in the community, not overly expensive, doing good work, Dr. Rosen (close, but not his real name) was her choice.

Week One was all about x-rays and all that.

Week Two was “Nurse, would you please go get (some medical supply) for me?” as he then cheerfully placed his hand on my thigh, reassuring me that this was going to be a safe and easy procedure. Surely, with how gentle he was, he meant well. Right?

My family lived way out of town. Our nearest neighbors were half a mile away. I had zero street smarts. I had no clue what was going on.

Molestation is a sneaky, complex thing. No one talks about how thrilling it is for a young girl, just budding into her sexuality, to get the attention of an older, more mature man who seems like he likes her and wants to please her. So his hand on my thigh was exciting, breath-taking.

I went home that day all stirred up inside. I had no idea it was wrong of him to touch me. I had no idea it was what we’d call grooming, now. I just knew it had felt nice.

Week three, I made sure to wear my nice summer dress. It was easy for him to slide up closer to the Treasure. A longer stroke, a caress this time.

I look back and am astounded that Nursie didn’t catch on why this man kept forgetting important items she had to keep going out of the room to get. Then again, maybe she was part of his scheme.

Week Four, he invaded the Outer Limits of the Treasure Cave, his short stubby fingers pulling away my little-girl cotton undies to just barely graze the goods. My back arched involuntarily with surprise and pleasure. Nurse came back in earlier than expected, so he had to pull his hand away fast.

It was so exciting! I wanted him to touch me! And by then, I intuitively knew it was wrong, so it was a double-edge thrill. I knew my mother would shit bricks if she knew. But, guilty as I felt, I liked having such attention.

Week Five had Nurse away for a conference. “Mrs. B., would you wait out in the waiting room, please? I’m sure you don’t want to sit and watch a bunch of boring drilling and filling!” Ma went out to wait for me.

This time, there was no soft, gentle touch. The classic if you tell anyone message. The yanking down of innocent cotton panties, the pushing of a big thing where it certainly had no business being.

This time, it didn’t feel good. It wasn’t exciting. It was terrifying. And it hurt! A formerly mild, handsome man became a fiendish brute whose big hand shoved my mouth shut, ripped my bottom lip open as his other yanked down my panties. He climbed on top of me and desecrated the Treasure with his rapid, erratic, jolting, flailing, squirming, pushing hulk.

You can put a long, empty-feeling pause here.
The word shock will never suffice.

My mother was a woman who believed the best of everyone. I guess that’s where I got it, because I did, too. I actually still do, tending to assume innocence and to forgive, probably too quickly. I can’t stand the idea of hate, having been its brunt in school for many years.

I can’t stand the idea of bullying, either, having borne it at home for my entire childhood. Not mean, nasty, intentional outright bullying, but ‘cute’ bullying, ‘funny’ bullying – “Don’t you think you’re too fat for that dress? Better go change…ha ha ha,” like that. “Oh you don’t like being tickled till you pee? Too bad, ha ha ha.’

I had already expressed a desire to focus on art, but, “Too bad you’re just a girl, you’ll never be a successful artist. You’ll just get married and make babies and give it up.”

A constant erosion of self-worth by abrasive, well-hidden, supposedly funny, jokey-but-not-at-all comments and sharply barbed ‘fun.’

But my mother was no dummy. She knew something was Wrong. I was suddenly too quiet, letting my hair fall forward to hide, my face pallid with fear of people finding out.

Mind you, this was 1958, when you were called ‘slut’ and ‘hussy’ if anyone found out you were Done Wrong. “You should be ashamed of yourself, leading him on like that. What were you wearing…” “Who is he? You’ll marry him tomorrow!”

Week Six, I refused to go back to the dentist. My Treasure Cave itched like mad. I asked her to take me to the other kind of doctor. Who discovered I now had a kind of thrush only gotten through doing the dirty with someone infected.

I bless that fact, because otherwise, I’d have never told her what had happened. I was too shocked, betrayed, embarrassed and humiliated. Devastated.

I didn’t have those words to describe how I felt at the time. I just knew there must be something fundamentally Wrong with me that this had happened. But as much as I thought about it, I couldn’t figure it out. It must have been all my fault. I must have deserved to be hurt. I wasn’t a good person. And on and on like that.

My mother started asking the other mothers in the community. Is your daughter being shy all of a sudden? Angry? Withdrawn? Not as out-going or enthusiastic?

She found six other girls. The mothers got together and got the guy arrested and thrown in jail. Because it was such a shocking thing, we never told my father, who’d have killed him, for sure, and most likely with his bare hands.

Just one man’s arrogance caused decades of pain for so many people. Two of the girls went off the rails and suicided by age 19. One died of opiate overdose.

What makes men think it’s OK to shove hands, fingers, tongues and man-things where they don’t belong? What makes them so desperate for self-gratification that they run rough-shod all over a girl or woman – or a boy, for that matter – with not one whit of regard for the well-being of their hapless victim, on any level?

I was lucky. If not for that itch, I’d never have had any support from my mother. I’d have carried that incident around forever all by myself. I did carry guilt, shame and devastating self-blame around for 35 more years. I never told a single soul about that dentist. Not even well-meaning friends, counselors or therapists. I just wanted to die, so the pain would go away.

Isn’t it amazing that someone can endure such deep depression and the onslaught of constant, consistent destructive thinking every single day for so long, and not actually give in and do the ending deed? I think it is.

I bless the steady pull to make art as my first salvation. I know I wouldn’t have survived a single year without it.

And I bless the people who guided me out of that black hole of hell, every single day.

Most of all, I bless and am so grateful for the existence of a strong sense of Being within myself that refused to cave in. I don’t know how I have it, but I’m sure glad it’s there.

If you see someone who wears their hair like Shylee, know that they are struggling more within their being than you could ever imagine.

That they believe they are no good, and can’t even express how awful they feel. That they don’t think anyone gives a rat’s rear end about them, despite hearing I love you” from family and friends. It doesn’t sink in.

If you see someone who wears their hair like Shylee, know that they are struggling more within their being than you could ever imagine.

That they believe they are no good, and can’t even express how awful they feel. That they don’t think anyone gives a rat’s rear end about them, despite hearing I love you” from family and friends. It doesn’t sink in.

P.S. Please – I’m OK. I ask you to refrain from commenting that you’re so sorry this happened. I’m not. That 35-year struggle resulted in steel-strong sense of Right and Wrong and a Self that just won’t quit.

I believe that we are all here to love, be loved,and have experiences both joyous and not. That one, and its long effects, were not so joyous until I finally was about to accept that, no matter what, I’m OK. I’m at peace.

text & image
© Angela Treat Lyon 2021

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