Article by Jessica Conway | Photography by Eric Walther | Owl Staff
There was a time in my life when all it took was one look between him and me. One look to know that tonight would be one of those nights.
It started when I was four years old. It’s the kind of memory that makes you feel as though you can’t get enough air, so you squirm in your seat in the middle of class; a memory that has your mind reeling from the silence because it’s too quiet and there’s nothing to distract you; one that can bruise the mind enough that it can trick you into reinventing a factual event into one that is 10 times worse.
The abuse made me different than my classmates. I knew things I wasn’t supposed to, and this made me grow up faster. It was only after our elementary school showed us a video on “swimsuit zones” and “no-no places” that I realized my situation.
It was a couple of days after the video was shown that I became bold enough, or foolish enough, to threaten to tell someone in order to make him stop. “I’ll tell,” I said. “I’ll tell Mommy everything. I don’t want to do it anymore.”
“Yeah, do it. I’ll kill her. I’ll kill her and your grandmother. Who’s going to love you then?” he said. That was the moment I learned to choose between what I wanted and what I needed.
What I wanted was to stop, but I needed my family, so it continued to happen, in the basement on the cold concrete; in the dark downstairs bathroom on the toilet; in his bedroom on his twin-sized bed, watching videos that were not meant for children.
As I write all of this down on a piece of notebook paper, the hand I write with is shaking and my body wants to stop, get up and walk away. But I won’t. In this case, walking away would only lead me into another cage, but facing it this way is freedom.
For me, this is the best way I can stand up to my past. He never hurt me physically as far as I can remember. I used to wish that he had hurt me; at least then I wouldn’t have had to question myself constantly, or I wouldn’t have felt so repulsive.
When I was young, I didn’t understand what was happening to me. The abuse felt like tickling. When I discovered what it truly was, however, I just felt dirty and wrong. My abuser was never punished for what he did. A month or two after I had confronted him, he ran away
I can’t remember for how long, but during that time my mother confronted me. I told her what was happening, she had me checked out by a doctor, and that was that. By the time we got home, he was gone, and we didn’t know where he was. The only evidence was that I had been sexually active, but that doesn’t prove anything.
He returned one night and when I saw him, I remember the feeling of my cheeks sagging as my smile was wiped away. I went straight to my room and locked my door. The next morning, I sat at the top of the stairs and listened to the mumbling behind my parents’ bedroom doors. He sat next to me and said he was sorry.
Then he left.
I’ve never wanted to have him arrested though my mother asked me many times. For this I feel guilty because I don’t know if he has done this to other girls.
I may not have been brave enough to stop more victims at his hands, but maybe I can help people like me. I aim to make an example of myself here and I can only hope you’ll understand. I can only hope my mother, family, friends and teachers will understand that I am not afraid of myself anymore.
There was a time when I was sure I was a monster. There was a time when I was sure boys didn’t like me because they could smell it on me, the smell of rotten fruit and used goods. A time when I was sure people could never truly accept me as I am because I exuded pain and they didn’t want to “catch” whatever it was I had.
But now, I understand the world better, and I understand the girl I was during that time. I need to speak to people like me, people who had it worse than me, people who endured pain in silence, people who know a child in a similar position now.
I need to let them know that no matter what you did, what you had to do or what you wanted to do, you are not a monster. You are not disgusting, and you are not weak.
My name is Jessica Aliya Conway. I am not a monster. I have no more secrets. And I’m ok.