Innocent. Untainted. Pure. Untarnished. Delicate. Undamaged. New. Happy. Free. Whole. Intact. Unsullied.
A random list of words, strewn together with no apparent meaning. The only commonality between them being the fact that most of them are synonyms for each other, or otherwise positive and good. So what does this list stand for? Why did I write it? Because this list is everything I think of when I see a young child. My boyfriend and I were talking about his daughter recently. He was expressing all the ways in which he is willing and plans to protect her. He said, “She’s a clean slate, she deserves only the best”. I asked him what he meant by “a clean slate”. He said that she was innocent and pure and he wanted to keep her that way for as long as possible. It stopped me dead in my tracks.
After the initial shock of it wore off I instantly thought to myself, “Wow, that one’s gonna fuck me up.” I stood there in silence staring at this man whom I love dearly, wishing somewhere deep within me that I had ever had a father who protected me half as well as he protects his daughter. I’m a survivor of childhood sexual abuse. One day, I will have very high standards for who will be allowed around my children and the highest of standards for who I have them with. Not many people could truly understand the weight of this next sentence, but I wouldn’t hesitate to have children with this man. I would trust him to protect and defend my babies with the same ferocity that I would.
All of this ran through my mind as we continued on in our conversation about protecting his daughter. But I wasn’t completely there. That line, “a clean slate”, just kept playing through my head, over and over again. Eventually I expressed as much to him and he asked why. I had to ask myself the same question. Why couldn’t I get that line out of my head? Why did it feel like it cut straight through to my core when he said it? Well because, if I’m being honest, I don’t feel like I was ever a clean slate. I don’t have a single memory of pure, unadulterated, childhood innocence. I’ve seen the way other people talk about childhood memories. Their eyes kind of glaze over and I can almost see that glint of pure innocence and joy. I don’t look or feel like that when I talk about my childhood. I was 5 when the abuse began; it is my first memory as a child, and the only memories I have until I turned 8 years old.
I’ve periodically wondered what it’s like to grow up and have to awkwardly learn what a blowjob or sex is. I know that may sound really crude; but for me, that’s what it’s like to live inside the mind of a childhood sexual abuse survivor. You wonder things that you’ll never ask because you know people won’t get it. You don’t want to seem like a pervert or a freak because you have questions other kids your age don’t know enough to even ask. Among those questions listed above were ones about what sex or intimate things are supposed to be like. Everyone tells you it’s not your fault and that what happened is wrong; but in an effort to protect you, they don’t tell you what it is supposed to be. I have since learned this, but not because anybody sat down with me and taught me the things I deserved to know after living through so much trauma. No. I had to figure it out on my own; experiencing even more pain along the way.
I remember when my little sister came home at 9 years old and said she had learned what it meant to “get your cherry popped” while on the bus that day. I remember getting really angry that someone told her that at such a young age and thinking how stupid and inappropriate they must be. Then it dawned on me that I already knew that and as far as I could remember, I always had. I remember when she came home a year or two later and proudly announced that she knew “what BJ means and what it is”. Again, I noticed I had always known this. This made me curious of what other things I knew that my peers didn’t; but again, I never dared ask. I knew for a fact that I knew things they didn’t. I knew I would continue to for a few years until they caught up with me in middle and high school. I remember even then, I hated that. I wanted to feel like them, I wanted to be like them, I wanted to be in anyone’s mind but my own.
Now I am 25 years old. Everyone my age knows what I know. But they are still different than me. They still have a kind of childhood that I will never have. They can remember an innocence that I was robbed of far too young. They get that joyous glint of innocence in their eyes when they recall a favorite childhood memory. They were all clean slates, once upon a time. I wasn’t. Obviously I realize that I was born innocent, untainted. But how much is that worth if I can’t remember any of it? I remember my mother telling me stories of how her and my grandmother would lie me between them on my grandmother’s bed and just watch me sleep for hours as they talked about me, my mother’s first born. She gets this look in her eyes whenever she brings it up; and in those moments, I can see the innocence she saw in me through her eyes. Yet I will never truly feel it. That is why this line stuck to me so much. I have never and will never feel like a clean slate. I don’t think I necessarily feel “dirty” anymore, but I also don’t relate myself to anything innocent, clean, untainted, undamaged, or pure.
There’s one more phrase that’s been running through my mind the last 2 days. It was in Season 16, Episode 10 of Law & Order: SVU, titled “Forgiving Rollins”. In the episode a female officer is raped by her superior. A superior who raped Rollins in the past when she was still a detective down in Georgia. After everyone finds out what had happened to Rollins and the court proceedings end, Olivia Benson calls Rollins into her office. She tries to convince Rollins to get therapy and Rollins says she’s “already gone through it”. Olivia tries convincing her and then asks her if she can look back at the woman she was then and “have compassion for her”. That part, right there, did me in. In my own head it translated into “Can I look back, at the child I was then, and have compassion for her?” It’s not that I think I caused what happened, but my adult mind can’t help but think I should’ve done something to stop it or maybe told somebody sooner. I’ve blamed myself for not stopping what happened to my sister as well. At most, it was just another thing that little girl survived. I respect this younger version of myself for that. But I’ve never been able to see myself as the child I was then and have compassion for her. I’ve never been able to forgive myself for not doing something, anything. In turn meaning, I’ve never forgiven her. I don’t know what it is to have compassion for myself. Do “normal” people? Am I thinking I’m missing something that other people don’t experience either?
Another question that I will probably never ask another human being. Your mind is full of them when you’ve lived a life like mine. Everyone has questions. However, I’m not sure that most people have questions like mine. Maybe I’ll never know. What I do know is that I will do everything in my power to ensure that my children will never have to experience this pain or feel this feeling of being “damaged goods”. Hopefully, they will never have to wonder what sickness the people around them are hiding just under the surface on a daily basis. They won’t have to survive the people I expose them to. They will never know what it is to feel like their mother treated and saw them as a commodity. They will be protected to the best of my ability, nurtured and loved, and taught how to have that love and compassion for themselves. They will have a true childhood and a mother who values and protects their innocence; for she knows all too well what it’s like to grow up without it.
The cycle WILL end with me.
by Ashley Hebner
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