And It Was Wrong

It's important to be passive and polite

When I was young, maybe 11 years old, my aunt’s second husband used to touch me inappropriately.

Once, at a family gathering, while we were waiting for dinner to be served, he asked me if I wanted a back rub. Sure, why not? Who doesn’t want a back rub? So, in front of everyone, he rubbed my back. It was all very innocent.

It felt good. Still, I was slightly uneasy but he was always rubbing my aunt’s back, so it must be OK, right? But then it progressed, quite naturally, it seemed. Now at these functions he always seemed to end up next to me on the couch, or in the kitchen. Sometimes he would sit next to me on the piano bench while I was playing. He started rubbing my back even when I hadn’t requested it. It became awkward. I wasn’t sure how to get out of something to which I’d initially agreed. Then he always seemed to be sitting next to me at dinner, and he would rub my thigh under the table. He never pushed it past that point – he would just smile with his sleepy eyes and look quite innocent. I remember his look, and I remember the smell of his breath. I remember about ten years later I was taking a spinning class at the gym. The music started and we began our exercise, our heavy breathing. Then I realized that someone in the room had his same old man breath, and it was filling the air around me. It struck me as so repugnant that I had to get up and leave the class.

Sometime during these incidents, even though it was excruciating to bring it up, I told my mom. She reassured me, and said she’d talk to my aunt. I don’t know if she ever did, because my aunt never approached me, only seemed uncomfortable around me for a long time after that. And nothing changed. I might have complained a few more times to my mom but the blanket of imposed silence was heavy and stifling: don’t say anything to disturb the peace. I learned to dread those dinners – holidays, birthdays, occasional get-togethers – because they meant I’d have to kiss him hello and goodbye (to be polite) and I’d have to dance around to avoid his advances for the hours we were stuck together. I became really good at this. I learned to anticipate when he’d approach, when I could brightly ask to help in the kitchen, or jump up to adjust the TV volume.

Eventually, he stopped. Then a few years later he had a stroke, and was never really the same. For me that was a good thing, because now he was little more than a small child roaming around in a tall man’s body. And eventually, in my early 20s, he died of a brain aneurism.

Life goes on, right? Everything was fine. It was just an isolated period. No harm done. Everyone else forgot about it, why shouldn’t I? But my family had instilled in me an important lesson about how to handle these kinds of situations. They were embarrassing, so they were best not discussed. Nothing should be said out loud. We should just be silent, passive, and hope everything goes back to normal.

I was always a good student. I followed instructions. Apparently this extended into my dating life. When I was 18, I was raped for the first time. I was messing around with someone I had been seeing when he suddenly forced himself on top of me and penetrated me without my consent. I just looked at the ceiling and wished it would be over soon. And when it was, I didn’t do anything about it, because really, it was my fault for being alone with him. And if it was so wrong, I would have fought back. My inaction was proof of my guilt.

When little girls are taught that that being passive and polite are the most important traits they can possess, this it what happens. And it is wrong. My aunt’s husband took advantage of this and abused a little girl for his own power and pleasure. And it was wrong.

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