Monday, January 19, 2015

My Fifth Memory (Was Being Sexually Abused at Age Four)

I have four memories before I was sexually abused at age four during the summer of 1963.

My very first memory took place when I was about 17 months old.  I remember standing by my Dad’s plant building where my family first lived when we came to Colusa County, California, in 1960.  I remember the white painted siding of the building and the outfit I was wearing, probably a hand-me-down from my brother -- greyish baggy pants and greyish baby t-shirt.  There is nothing more to the memory.  I have no idea why I remember such a dull and minor incident, but I do.

My next memory was much more upsetting.  It took place the following October.  My heavily pregnant mother was walking from the house to the garage by the plant building near our rural home.    It was raining and the the dirt road that led from the house to the garage was pockmarked with rained filled potholes.  I had trouble walking around these holes and felt abandoned.  I wanted and needed help that never came.  I started to cry.  Looking back I guess my mother had carried me up from house to car up until then and then stopped because it was too challenging to carry a toddler while 8 months pregnant.

My little brother was born a few weeks later.  I don’t remember that, but I do remember the present I received for Christmas that year -- 1961.  It was a Jack-N-the-Box.  I remember winding the Jack-N-the-Box up and the music the box produced and then the clown springing out.  I loved winding up the box and watching the clown spring out.  I pushed him back in the box over and over and over and watched him spring out over and over and over.

My fourth memory is a happy memory of a grim time.  I remember the visit we made to a San Francisco bay tidal model after visiting my Mom at a Langley Porter psychiatric hospital.  I don’t remember visiting my Mom at the hospital at all.  I only remember the visit to the tidal model.  It showed the physical relief San Francisco Bay.  The model would flood with water and the water would then drain away in the direction of the tidal and river currents.

My fifth memory was of the time two teenaged boys from my neighborhood took me into the basement and sexually abused me.  I remember how they had these stick like things growing from their groins and how they held me for each other to abuse.

I did not understand what was happening to me, but I knew it was wrong.  My parents had told me that these were my private parts and that no one was to touch them.  And here were these boys trying to put their sticks in my privates.

I didn’t tell anyone about what happened for two years.  My mother was still having emotional struggles that resulted in more hospitalizations.  Finally her psychiatrist placed her in Sonoma State Mental Hospital that was an unpleasant place to be.  My mother had liked Langley Porter and wanted to stay there.  She hated Sonoma State, and after her stay there resolved to hold herself together enough to stay out of psychiatric hospitals.  At least that is what she told me years later.

I don’t know why I remained silent about the abuse.  The boys did not threaten me if I talked about what happened.  I think I remained silent because my family was too troubled for me to feel able to talk.  My father, who was extremely intelligent, related to my brother and me better when we got older.  I don’t think he knew very well how to talk to and care for small children.  And then he was trying to run a business was well.  When my mother first went away, he had us spend overnights with our day babysitter for weeks on end until he prevailed on my great aunt to come care for us.  My great aunt stayed for a month or so, and then my mother returned home just before I entered kindergarten.  My great aunt was very loving, and I was happy when she came to care for us, but the months we were with our day babysitter I felt unloved.  I did not understand why my parents did not want me.  That two boys had placed their sticks in my privates one time was the least of my troubles.

But eventually I did talk about what those boys did to me..

I told my mother what happened two summers after the incident.  We were on a camping trip at Salmon Creek in the Sierra Nevada Mountains.  I loved the mountains and the creek.  I was happy and having fun and feeling loved and maybe I felt able to share what happened.

My mother responded, “That’s where babies come from.”

She said and did nothing more.  I don’t blame her.  Years later I heard from a relative that she, too, had been sexually abused by someone in the neighborhood as a child.  Looking back I now understand her hospitalizations for depression and her addictions to alcohol and cigarettes that ended her life at age 67 despite the fact that both her parents had lived to age 80.

Perhaps to my mother what happened to me seemed normal because something similar had happened to her.  Nobody had done anything about what happened to her so there was nothing to do about what happened to me.

Unfortunately my mother’s nonchalant response to my abuse left me with the message that my experiences were not significant.  Forty-two years passed before I began to examine what happened that summer day in 1963 -- the summer day two teenaged boys lured me into a basement.

The event that caused me to finally start speaking about what happened to me was the removal from my parish in Oregon of the priest who baptized my children and me Catholic.  Actually that removal and its aftermath only got me started thinking more consequentially about what had happened to me as a child and as a young adult.  It took me another three years before I fully came to terms with my abuse in 1963, and a date rape I suffered as a young adult in 1981.

A note to the reader:  I did not write down the events surrounding my abuse as a child until 2005, when I came to terms with the abuse I endured as a child and the date rape I endured as a young adult.  My diaries record the latter experience in much detail.  The former experience I never forgot but it exists on the edge of my memories.  My story is more memoir rather than autobiography in part because some of it is based on old memories and, in part, because I have changed some names and places and circumstances to protect both the innocent and the guilty.  My goal is to educate and inform as well as entertain rather than to inflict vengeance on those who hurt me.  I seek a change in culture and attitude in society.  We can only do this by talking about abuse and how it harms individuals and families and affects the community.  Keep reading my blog and, as time permits, I will share more of my story with you.

(c) 2015 Virginia Pickles Jones

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