I am going to tell you a very personal story about sexual assault. You may not want to read this. I understand. I completely and utterly understand. I wish this was not my story to tell.
But it is.
And it’s a hard one.
In 1963, we moved to Hawaii where my father was stationed with the 25th Infantry Division. I was six years old and in the first-grade.
We never lived on base. We always lived in whatever community we were stationed at. Whatever we could afford on a GI’s salary.
In Hawaii, that was in a Filipino Village. It was a hard place, only one other white family there besides ours. The Appalachia of Oahu in many ways. These were rural people who raised chickens and gutted pigs in the backyard. People who went to the bathroom outside and used a water hose to wash off their asses.
Our backyard was a mini-jungle. Our fort, an abandoned chicken coop. We spent part of nearly every day at the beach. Sometimes, when I couldn’t get my stuff together fast enough for my mother she would leave me at home, alone.
In many ways, my mother was neglectful. I knew it even as a young child. She just didn’t know any better. She had been neglected by her own mother, who up and moved off to Oregon for a couple of years when my mama was only 14. Granny just left Mama with an older brother while she went to see the great Wild West.
People have been pretty bad parents for longer than many of us care to remember.
My mother was 19 when I was born. In many ways, she was not done growing up herself. It would take her a good long while.
Neglect is the primary form of child abuse in this country, even now.
In Hawaii, in that village, my brother and I would walk to and from school with the only other white kids in the neighborhood, another military family that my parents had befriended. We were supposed to stick to the paved road. I have no idea if the school was half-a-mile away or three blocks. I remember it being a far piece, but I was little and it was likely not more than a few blocks.
As brothers are prone to do, mine didn’t really want to walk with me. He was older and he was into playing marbles with all his friends. So sometimes, I would walk home alone.
On those occasions, I would not stick to the paved road. I would take the shortcut, which led through a jungle overgrowth, across a wooden plank and into the backside of the cul-de-sac where we lived.
The path cut through the yard of what I recognize now to be some sort of halfway house. Brown-skinned men lived there in that long building that looked like it belonged to the company of barracks. As the daughter of a soldier, I was continually exposed to men I didn’t know. I don’t remember being afraid of any of them
One afternoon as I was walking home alone, a brown skinned man waited for me by his open window. He called out to me as I walked past. I don’t recall being afraid or wary or anything like that. I must have walked over to the window. I remember he was flipping coins on a mattress without a sheet. He chatted with me awhile and then handed me a shiny quarter. That was a lot of money in those days.
I didn’t tell anyone about meeting this man because, well, I had taken the quarter. And besides, I didn’t have the knowledge I have now. It just never occurred to me.
Not even later, when he took me to the overgrowth jungle behind that place where he lived. He yanked my panties down around my ankles and, grinning all the while, began to molest me.
He said things to me I have never told anyone and I’m not going to tell you now. But I remember them. I have remembered them as if he were right here, right now, repeating them.
When he finished, he gave me another quarter and told me to come back again.
This went on for months.
He leading me into the overgrowth of banana trees, where he molested me time and time again. Each time he gave me a quarter.
I never told my mother. I never told anyone.
I didn’t know how. I didn’t have words for what he was doing to me.
And I felt guilty, you know. Because of the quarters. Because of the things he did to me. Because of the things he said to me.
I learned fear in that jungle.
I don’t recall fear ever being a part of my life until that move to Hawaii. It would take me decades to learn to be brave again, to learn to not be afraid all the time.
One night, just shortly before dusk, my mother handed me a couple of dollars and told me to run down the store and get her a coke and likely a pack of cigarettes. I argued with my mother because it was getting dark and by then, I had learned to fear the dark and brown-skinned men with white smiles.
I cried all the way to the store, paid the man behind the counter and was heading back home when another brown-skinned male, this one a teenager, asked me to hold his bike. He said he knew my brother and had a secret that he needed to tell me so I could tell my brother. I was afraid of him. I remember that. But there was no one else around to take refuge with.
It was full-on dark now. I just wanted to run but knew I couldn’t outrun a big kid on a bike. So I did as he asked and then he did the very thing that Donald Trump laughs about in that deplorable video conversation between him and Billy Bush. That kid put his hand up underneath my dress and grabbed hold of that previously violated place and began to molest me. He laughed loudly as he did those things to me.
I broke free and ran all the way home, with the molester’s laughter echoing behind me. When I busted through the back door, crying and out of breath, my mother thought I was crying about the dark. She mocked me. She called me a fraidy cat. Said I was afraid of my own shadow. She told my dad. He didn’t laugh. He chided her for sending me off alone.
I never told her about the man in the banana field or the boy on the bike.
When I was 19, I moved to Oregon. I found a Southern Baptist Church in Portland and started attending it because it was familiar to me, reminding me of the church I’d left behind in Georgia.
One day, while church was in session, I went to the bathroom downstairs. Waiting for me when I came out was our most senior deacon. A white man with white hair. He grabbed me, pulled me to him and kissed me, full on the mouth, all gross like. I pushed him back, stunned that a man I had respected would do such a thing. I ran back upstairs. Never told a soul, until years later.
The night before I married, I told my mother about these things. I was worried, you know, that I wouldn’t make a good lover because I had a difficult time getting those images of being sexually assaulted out of my mind. I had a difficult time not associating sex with guilt.
My mother, never much of one for conversation of any intimate level, told me and I’m quoting here: “These things happen to all girls.”
These things happen to all girls.
Get over it.
You know, because men are just that way and women, and little girls, just need to learn to put up with men sexually assaulting them.
I was quite frankly stunned by my mother’s dismissiveness. I thought at the time she must be telling me to get over it all so that she didn’t have to feel guilty for being a neglectful mother. I realize now that she probably didn’t feel any guilt about all that. She probably did believe that all girls should expect to be molested.
She never ever said she was sorry those things happened to me. Sorry that she hadn’t done better by me, hadn’t protected me from such nightmares.
Instead, my mother always referred to me as her hysterical child.
She meant that in a derogatory way. As if feeling shame and guilt and horror and violated was all my fault because I was just too hysterical.
I doubt it ever occurred to her that I felt things so deeply because I had been subjected to so many deep hurts at such a young age.
My mother grew up in a time in place where women were often raped by their husbands, their fathers. The stories I could tell you. But I’m sure you have stories of your own, heh?
We women, we know these stories because we have lived these stories.
Listening to Donald Trump and Billy Bush carrying on about sexually assaulting women in the most heinous of ways is very, very hurtful.
Knowing he has gotten away with something deranged and wicked only convinces Trump, the molester, that he’s smarter than everybody else. This is how he derives his sense of self, in hurting others, and then dismissing the damage he’s done as no big deal.
Listening to Christian and political leaders in this nation dismiss Donald Trump’s sex abuse as not important to this election guts me in ways I don’t even have words for. I feel violated just like that little girl standing mute in that jungle brush of so long ago, with her panties down around her ankles, her molester taunting her and smiling all the while.
Karen Spears Zacharias is author of BURDY (Mercer University Press).