Before the barrage of Tyler Perry movies that uncovered family secrets and before the Oscar nods for Monique’s depiction in “Precious” of the horrors of child abuse, I was 5. He was strong. There were no camera crews to capture my anguish, no protests in honor of my tears, and no advocates to collect my screams. I’d begin to learn that the law does little to protect you if your molester is in your immediate family.
Incest is not punishable in the state of New Jersey if both the perpetrator and the victim are over the age of 18. In fact, it’s perfectly legal. The law which fiercely penalizes rape and sexual assault coughs and turns its head when the perpetrator lives under your roof. The problem with New Jersey’s law is that many children are too scared and/or confused to prosecute or testify against someone so close. It’s a hurdle most us are terrified of attempting so we wait. We wait normally until adulthood when we can finally formulate the words to confront our captors and by then it’s too late to seek retribution because in New Jersey (and several other states) it’s legal. Some would say there are laws against molestation and abuse but proving them is difficult. In an article by Janice Friedman she sums up how I felt, “Imagine, if you aren’t marked up or if you’ve been drugged, you won’t be a victim, you’ll be an accuser.”
So I lived with him day after day caught in a suburban prison. I cooked breakfast every morning− scrambled eggs, fried potatoes with onions and cheddar cheese and poured him orange juice in an burgundy mug that ironically had a scripture about forgiveness on the front. If the butter happened to turn brown in the pan and tint his sunny scrambled eggs I could be sure that it would warrant punishment. Yet, the love of a child is unconditional and I grew to love him and justify his sordid ways as a coping mechanism. A child’s mind will justify heinous things the best way it knows how because a child cannot fathom that a person so close to them would ever intentionally hurt them. So sex is justified by statements like “he loves me the way he loves Mommy.” However, as I grew older the love I once felt turned into resentment and resentment turned to hate.
What price can be put on a stolen childhood? When people ask me why I look so young, I respond that I’d like to think God gave me the gift of youth because my childhood was taken from me. I never prosecuted the man who hurt me. I was 24 when I came forward and he was forced to confess. Some people ask “why did you wait so long?” “Why are you airing the dirty laundry now?” Fear crippled me. I knew a secret like that would tear our family apart. I knew it would make things difficult. There would be pain. There would be tears. So, I waited. Even now that he is no longer a part of my life; learning to forgive has been a difficult road for me. However, my pastor said that as long as I chose to hold onto anger, his power over me would remain just as strong as it was all of those years ago. I. Forgive. Him.
All of us carry pieces of our past into our future. Some of us are blessed enough to recover from tragic moments in our lives. However, there are those who cannot drown out the nightmares called memories. This…what I’m writing… is for them. It was in realizing that I am not a ‘victim’ but a survivor that I was able to overcome the past and forgive. Some of us have survived trauma that others would commit suicide over. This is the harsh reality of the disparity in our penal system. America obsesses over the trivial details of their lives and somewhere a little girl decides between cooking “him” breakfast and kingdom come.
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