Some days I sit and think about all of the sexist, thoughtless (or thoughtful), misogynistic, shit I’ve been exposed to in my life. I don’t know why I do this. I suppose to remind myself what I’m up against, what women are up against, everyday. To remind myself what is not acceptable after being raised and living in a world that says it is. To help myself clearly distinguish between a man and a monster so as to not crucify good men, or excuse the monsters. I don’t hate men. I have an incredible partner, amazing friends, and a few great relatives. I hate pigs, perverts, rapists, egomaniacs, womanizers, pedophiles, monsters. Hate is a strong word. But a monster who beats his wife, raises his daughter that she is less important, to be seen and not heard, and who grabs his secretary’s ass, is not a man to me. A monster who touches little kids, or anyone else for that matter, against their will, is not a man to me. A monster who ignores that fact that NO means NO the first time, is not a man to me.
Do you remember that phrase “We all know monsters live inside of men“? It’s always sent chills up and down my spine. Why? Because, from a young age I knew all too well just how true that could be. I saw what some “really great men” were like once no one was watching and it was just them and a young girl. I saw how teachers, cops, foster parents, step dads, mom’s boyfriends, and my peers could act once we were behind closed doors or out of plain sight. Not all of these situations ended in a traumatic story or something that I could’ve pressed charges for. But they’re all sick in their own way. They thought no one could see them. Well, I could. And contrary to what my piece of shit step father once told me, I am not here to be seen and not heard. My voice does matter. I will use this voice, a gift that was stolen from me for many years, to take the sick secrets these men hold and expose them to the light of day.
I remember being 5 years old and seeing my little sister’s father close the blinds and the bedroom door so no one could see in. I knew what was to come next. If you could imagine being trapped in a cage full of pit vipers and someone moving a boulder in front of your only way out, that is how I felt at that exact moment. I don’t think the image of those blinds closing will ever be anything but crystal clear in my memory. They were green and it was a sunny day. Them closing was my cue to shut down, separate brain from body, block it out. And I did. So well in fact that it took me being sexually active for 4-5 years before I could actually feel what that person I was consensually involved with was doing. Not because I didn’t feel safe with them, not because I didn’t want to be there; I did. But because I learned the unforgettable lesson that I could not control what happened to my own body at a very young age. However, my brain could control how much of it I physically felt and how much I remembered. This defense mechanism didn’t go away once it was my choice though. See I’m a prime example of just how well our minds can protect us from trauma. The memories I do have are enough to scar a professional psychiatrist and my foster mom for life but they’re also only a piece of what happened to me. The rest has been locked away in some deep, dark cave in the corners of my mind along with the pit vipers and feelings of dread. My brain learned to protect my mind because it and I both knew there was no hope for my body. How incredible is it that the human brain can do that? I remember when I told my mom she didn’t know whether or not to believe me. She said I was always making stories up. What 5 year old isn’t? It’s called an imagination. But I don’t fault her for that. Turns out when your 5 year old tells you what semen looks like, you start to believe them.
I remember my sister and I going to maybe 4 or 5 different depositions, each time unable to give our account of the events. We were so young and scared. If one didn’t want to do it, the other was out too. Finally, we did it. I remember there was only 2 women at a table of at least 10. I was 6 and when one of the men asked me what semen looked like I felt dirty all over again. It was grueling, to say the least. But I did it. I remember having to get a rape kit done, at 5. I remember wondering why my mom wasn’t there and this strange women from (I assume) social services was. I think someone might’ve told me she couldn’t handle it. I felt betrayed, abandoned. I remember how badly it hurt and the doctor saying she was almost done. I cried and cried. And felt traumatized all over again. I remember some undisclosed amount of time later having to go to the doctor because after the abuse I was getting recurrent bladder infections. The doctor was male and told me to “take my panties off and I’ll be right back”. I was maybe 6-7? He left the room and I jumped behind the examining table and hid in the tiny triangle space that was made by the top of the table meeting the corner of the wall. No one could physically get me out of that corner. I fought like hell, cried, and refused to come out. I didn’t know what he wanted to do but I knew in my little 6 year old brain that it was going to hurt and I was not going to go quietly. In the end I agreed to come out only to leave and only if the doctor was nowhere in sight. I was in a constant state of hyper vigilance but I didn’t know it at the time. This was just my normal.
I remember when I was 8 we would get letters from the courts all the time saying the court date had been moved yet again. My mom always put them on the fridge and I could never walk by them without staring for a moment. I knew it was coming. I knew I would have to face him. At 8 years old I was sworn in and put on the stand as a witness for the prosecution (1998 State of Florida vs. David Wells Holmes) . The list of what they were charging him with was too long to remember. He refused to plead guilty, like he should have. Because god forbid he not expose the child he had abused to a grueling court process. I was questioned, cross examined, the whole 9 yards. I remember that baby fucker staring me right in the eyes and smiling the entire time I was testifying. I was crying and I remember holding tissues in my hands and I ripped them up so badly that when I was dismissed there was a pile of shreds all around my chair and I cried and scrambled to clean them up. The judge very kindly told me he would clean it and it was okay to go. I remember pointing to the privates on dolls in court and a few months prior while talking to a child psychologist. Her doll was a Minnie Mouse, the court’s was a plain old baby doll. I hated those fucking dolls. I remember when he was found guilty of 2 counts of lewd, lascivious acts on a child under 16 and 2 counts of sexual battery on a child under 12. He was sentenced to and is serving 2 25 year sentences and 2 life sentences, concurrently. He will rot in that prison, and he should.
I remember when I entered middle school, I was living with my foster mother and through her nurturing spirit regained my ability to feel. I remember this sent my PTSD into hyper drive. I remember vivid flashbacks in the middle of my school hallways and my friends having to lead me to the bathrooms because I literally couldn’t see what was happening around me. I remember waking up from nightmares drenched in sweat desperately needing to touch back with reality and notice where I was and that I was safe. I remember consensual encounters being laced with images of the abuse and having to fight them to be a part of my own life. I remember feeling like I would never feel anything but the body memories ever again. I remember disassociating any time something triggered me. I remember that all of this was only from the things I could remember. I remember having to read my deposition because as a teenager memories started coming back to me and I wasn’t sure if they were real or not. I remember questioning my own sanity. I remember pushy guys trying to sleep with me and feeling like I didn’t have the right to say no, like I had no voice, and if I did manage to object in any way feeling deeply guilty and wrong for it. I remember one boy respecting all of these things so much that he taught me that I was allowed to say no. He taught me how to set boundaries with him. He taught me that my voice mattered. And to this day I don’t think he even knows he did this. But he did. And I will forever hold him in my heart and be grateful for that.
I remember when for some fucking reason my biological mother started writing my abuser letters when I was 21-22. She said she had to make amends to him as part of her AA process. I only found out because I visited her and she brought it up after the fact like it was my grandmother sending her a postcard. She just dropped it on me like a bomb. She told me he was happy I had found a good man (my ex) and loved tattooing. I remember the red hot rage that tore through my body as I realized she had told my abuser personal information about me. In my opinion, she should’ve told me she was even considering talking to him and she should not have told him anything about me without my direct, expressed consent. Instead she caught up with him like it was for “old time’s sake”, as if I don’t still have PTSD, flashbacks, memory problems, and damage because of this man. As if I haven’t ended up in other horrible situations because the damage he caused had left me broken. He asked me and my sister to write him. We refused. My mom continued to talk to him. A few months later I walked into her house again; this time to find more letters on her table from him. I’ll never be able to describe the sickness that ran through my body at that moment. This wasn’t a single amends letter. This was ongoing communication, a friendship. She told me that he had asked if I, my sister, or both of us would come to his next parole hearing and say it didn’t happen so he could have a chance of getting out before he died. I said absolutely not. At which point the woman who gave birth to me looked at me and guilt tripped me. She told me he had gotten 3 kinds of cancer, one of which was jaw, and they had to remove part of his jaw bone because of it. I remember finding that fitting seeing as he did so much damage with his mouth. She said he had been really sick and couldn’t get proper care in jail. She looked me in the eyes and said “15 years is a really long time for anyone to spend in jail Ashley.” That’s what happens when you fuck kids, mom.
I wish I had screamed at her. I wish I had told her that she had just betrayed every connection that a mother and daughter are supposed to have. I wish I could’ve expressed how disgusted I was that she had just put the pain of her high school sweetheart before that of her first born daughter. I wish I had given her the dirty, grimy, uncensored details that I had always protected her from, so as to make her understand what she just asked me to deny. I wish I had told the truth. Told her how I felt. But I couldn’t. She had just traumatized me so badly that it seemed like I stood there in silence for an hour. But I didn’t. I went into survival mode, shut down, and said “He expects me to get him out when he never even had the common decency to plead guilty? I don’t think so.” Those were the only words I could manage and I hate that I couldn’t come up with more. Shock is a bitch. I didn’t agree to recant because I would not lie to sooth my mom’s sick sense of guilt at locking up a man who fucking destroyed her children. I would not recant because I suffered greatly to tell the truth in the first place. I told the truth and my mom supported me, then. She had said, “If you do this, he’ll never be able to hurt anyone ever again.” I guess that fades when you don’t have to live with the vivid memories everyday of your life. But I do. And when the one person who was supposed to protect me looked me in the eye and asked me to lie to get that monster out of jail I knew our relationship would never be the same again. I knew that after all the relapses, disappearing acts, years of pain, and heartache she had caused that she had finally succeeded in finding the one thing I could never forgive her for. I knew I would never see her the same again.
I’m now 25. I have healthy relationships. I have a man who I adore, respect, and trust. I have a voice. I don’t accept less than I deserve. I have suffered so much to get where I am today. I chose to write this piece because maybe someone will read it, in all it’s massive entirety, and maybe it will help them in any way. I chose to write this because like I sometimes still do, I woke up this morning covered in sweat after a nightmare that violated my sleep. I wrote this because maybe if I do then this nightmare won’t trigger more weeks of nightmares simply because I’m afraid another one’s going to happen. I wrote this because even though what happened to me is far from anyone’s thoughts and happened 20 years ago, I still live with it everyday. I still think about it though everyone else has long forgotten. I still feel that sickness in the pit of my stomach that reminds me that this isn’t all just a bad dream; it happened and it will always be a part of my story. But today I have the power to tell that story, to heal, and to not let it define me.
Save A Child, Shoot Your Local Pedophile.
by Ashley Hebner
© All Rights Reserved 2016
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