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alive.

alive.

I will be 35 on Sunday. Thirty. Five. 

I have been through some stuff. I was recently diagnosed with fairly severe postpartum depression and anxiety. One of my children has a surgery next week. I have to have a surgery in December. My thyroid feels off again and I feel awful all of the time. Honestly, life is kicking my ass right now.

There has been a lot swirling about in the media about girls and women, their sexuality, and how to treat them. I have seen a lot people defend the GOP presidential candidate with a meme that lays out the atrocities they believe Hillary Clinton has committed on one side; on the other, under Donald Trump, it says, "Said mean things." 

This trivializes sexual assault. It adds to the rape culture that says women are meant to be a "piece of ass" and it is acceptable for men to boast about their fraternizing with beautiful women, forced or consensual. 

The problem is, as atrocious as it is for a man to touch a grown woman without consent, this hypersexualization in our culture leads to a dirty underbelly of abused girls, confused children who are sexually awoken before their time. For many, it perpetuates cycles of abuse. 

It isn't funny. It isn't cute. It is SO much more than saying mean things. It is so much more than politics. 

I honestly do not care who you vote for. There are more than two candidates and you should vote your conscience. But I haven't been able to escape this fact: my 35th birthday marks 30 years to the day since I sat in my kitchen with a police officer and detailed my abuse. It commemorates 30 years of knowing something wrong happened to me, planting the seeds that there was something wrong with me. Seeds that would be watered throughout my life, growing weeds in my heart that are not easily uprooted. Some weeds have been removed and healthy, beautiful foliage took their place. Others remain. Some always will. 

For a long time I have been a firm believer that vulnerability from a raw and honest place is the most powerful form of story. Personal story, in turn, is the single best way to appeal to someone who doesn't see the world the way you do. It broadens their perspective of what the world is.

I am going to share my story with you; most names are changed. Most ages are the best I can remember. My childhood is far more holes than filled memories. The first example is based on something told to me; the rest are what I believe are memories.

One caveat: I am leaving out as much as I can about my mom and stepdad. I know some will read this and be very angry with them. I can only say that there has been some healing, particularly with my stepdad, and that they were broken people. If I wrote out for you just the parts of their stories that I know then it would rip you to shreds. I do not have anger or resentment toward them. The line between owning my own story and protecting them from their ugly parts in it is honestly more emotionally exhausting than the horrors inflicted on me by other men. Please respect my attempts in that regard.

This is my story.

***

I am a week old. My mom finds blood in my diaper. She asks Chuck, my father, if he noticed it. "I didn't fucking touch her if that is what you are asking!" he angrily yells at her.

She finds it odd but the doctor says it can happen so she writes it off. Later, she tells me hindsight reveals that it had already begun and she just didn't see it yet.

My mother and biological father with me at a week old.

My mother and biological father with me at a week old.

Me at 12 months

Me at 12 months

 

***

I am 2-3 years old. I am on my mom's side of the bed. Chuck is abusing me. It is light outside; this is all I can remember. 

This happens hundreds of times. All are conglomerated into one fuzzy memory. 

I hate his mustache.

It is my first memory of my existence.

***

I am almost 5 years old. Someone teaches about good touch / bad touch at my preschool. After, a teacher pulls my mom aside. "Tami kept trying to say something but would refuse when everyone would look at her. I think you need to talk to her." 

My mom is driving to an appointment and brings it up.

"Daddy touches me like the bad touch all of the time." 

She almost drives off the road.

***

I am 5 years old. It is my birthday. I am very proud that it is my birthday. I'm 5 now, and I will be in kindergarten next year, I tell the officer sitting with me at my kitchen table. He is the dad of one of the girls in my class. I sing him my ABC's. I'm very proud to know them and I am learning letters and how to read. 

He interviews me and asks me about what has happened with my dad. I tell him, and he jots notes as he records the conversation.

When I read the transcript some 20 years later, my heart breaks for the officer. He is clearly so uncomfortable, based on the pauses and awkwardness of his speech. I just keep thinking he had a daughter the same age as I was.

I don't know how to relate to the little girl.

Me, the day after my mom found out about the abuse

Me, the day after my mom found out about the abuse

 

***

I'm 5 years old. I am confused about why my daddy was taken away. I am whisked into rooms and given dolls by psychiatrists trying to make me comfortable. Can I show them how my daddy plays with me? 

The dolls hug. "What else?" I know they want something, but I don't know what. Is hugging bad? What is worse? I don't like talking about what he does between my legs. 

Their effort to make me comfortable enough to talk about it makes me more uncomfortable. Already I am discerning what adults want and try to please them but feel I never can. 

***
I'm 5 years old. Chuck got a really good lawyer. I have to testify in court. The room is huge. It's very brown. I think I remember testifying, being asked by Chuck's attorney for details like what time it was when he allegedly abused me. I say it was light outside. 

Later, I'm told the reason the case was dismissed was that too many of my answers were, "My mommy says when he _____ it was wrong," or, "The doctors said this kind of touch was bad." The judge decides that my mom's secret bank account, where she was stashing money so she could leave Chuck for reasons related to their relationship deteriorating, is evidence that she planted the lies in my head and is a vindictive woman trying to ruin him.

***

I'm 6 or 7 years old. My mom tells me, again, how much she thought I was a boy and she wanted a boy and she was so disappointed when I wasn't. She always reminds me that Chuck wanted a little girl. He was so proud to have a girl, was so excited that I was a girl. 

"Now I know why," she says.

I realize that I was the other female in her marriage bed. 

I feel disgusting.

***

I'm 6 years old. Maybe 7? I'm on the bed at the back of Chuck's tiny trailer. When he tells my brother to watch TV or go outside I always know it's coming. I try to avoid, ask to go play, but it never works.

I'm outside of my body, above, looking everywhere but at the two people. His sheets are powder blue. I hate powder blue. 

"You need to be clean," he says. A dad's job is to keep his daughter clean. This time he uses baby wipes. 

"He is sick," I tell myself. "He would do this to someone. I am glad he is doing this to me because I will be ok." And then I go back to floating above until he is done.

I don't tell my mom. Somehow I know it will break her, so I keep it buried deep so I can protect her.

***
I'm 7 or 8 years old. We are at Chuck's sister's house in Wenatchee. She has black widow spiders in mason jars all over her living room. I hate her house. 

Her bedroom door is a sheet. Chuck takes me in to clean me. 

I think to myself that I know she can hear. Why doesn't she save me? Just this once, why can't he be stopped? 

Me around age 8

Me around age 8

***

I'm 7 or 8 years old.  It's summer and I feel happy and free riding my bike, away from my house with the anger and eggshells of my mom and stepdad, who is only 23 and has been there since about 5 months after the abuse was discovered.  

Some twenty- to forty-something year old Mexican immigrants are out on their porch around the corner from where I live. They call out to me, tell me how sexy I am and that I should come inside with them. 

I'm never able to walk past that house again without quickening my pace. I wonder if it makes me a racist.

My senior year of college, I live in a home where the homeowner's method of catching spiders in the basement is to place a strip of duct tape sticky side up. When a spider crawls across, its legs get stuck. Its dying aroma attracts other spiders who also slowly die. 

This memory, of the men calling out to me, washes over me. I'm the dying spider, attracting the other grotesque creatures with the stench that emanates from me. They can sense my vulnerability and come in for the kill. I never even had a chance to see the trap.

***

I'm 8 or 9 years old. I'm in the bath. I try to hurry. I'm not allowed to lock the door.  I beg beg beg silently that the door handle will not turn. 

It always does.

He sits and watches me. 

"Slow down," he says. 

I always have to be very clean.

***

I'm 8 or 9 years old. My parents--my mom and stepdad--are out at another party. Often they leave me alone to care for my little brother, but this time they left us with a babysitter. He's the 16 year old son of a friend my mom knows. I don't remember his name.

We aren't allowed to get food out of the kitchen. Ever. There is ice cream in the freezer. I realize that if I eat some, they'll think it was the babysitter.

He comes around the corner and catches me eating out of the container. He sees my fear. I don't want the beating, so I beg him not to tell my parents. 

"You have to touch my penis." I don't know if I try to change his mind. 

The scene changes. We are in my room. He unzips his pants. I close my eyes, stick out my hand. He takes it. I feel warm, taut skin. The memory ends there. 

With my mom, brother, and stepdad around age 8 or 9

With my mom, brother, and stepdad around age 8 or 9

 

***

I'm 9 years old? I can't handle my home anymore. The abuse there is physical, psychological, emotional. I never know when it's coming or what I will do to bring it on myself. Sometimes it's as simple as breathing wrong.

I beg to live with Chuck. I hate what he does to me, but it is defined. There is a beginning, and there is an end. And his food isn't government issued, with its white labels and absence of flavor. He buys me Kid Cuisines. And when I am hungry I can just go to the fridge and get something to eat.

It seems like a fair trade. 

***
I'm 8 or 9 years old. I'm living with Chuck, a different tiny trailer. Tinier this time. It doesn't have a bathtub. This place has only a shower. I like that, because Chuck can't watch me bathe anymore.

One day after school the lower half of the shower curtain is missing. I ask why. I don't remember the lie. My body is showing from the waist down when I get in. I choke down the revulsion. 

I know why.

My eyes are squeezed shut as I rinse the shampoo from my hair. I have kind of a complex about soap getting in my eyes. From watching me bathe so much, Chuck knows this. 

As bubbles swirl about my feet, through my closed eyes I see a flash of light and hear a whirring sound.

"What was that?"

"The TV."

"I don't think that was the TV." 

"Just finish. Get clean." 

When I rinse the conditioner and it runs down my legs, I keep my eyes open. Same flash, same whirring sound. I know I didn't imagine it.

Almost 20 years later I am looking through old photos when I see one of me opening a Polaroid camera that I got for Christmas that year. It was new, yet the box was open. I also notice something I had never seen before--Chuck's leg in the background.

I realize with a sickening twist in my stomach that it is almost certainly the same camera he used to take the photos of me. I wonder if they are still out there somewhere. 

To this day I never close my eyes when I shower.

Me opening my new camera at Christmas

Me opening my new camera at Christmas

 

***

I'm 8 or 9 years old. I'm back with my mom and stepdad. As an adult, I cannot remember anything. I know that the abuse increased and worsened, but the details are a black hole in my memory. I simply know that I decided to go back. It wasn't worth it anymore.

***

I'm 8 years old. The teacher is talking about what the valedictorian is. I raise my hand. "I'm going to be valedictorian someday," I announce.

Everyone laughs. My family is as poor as the Mexicans. They hate me because I'm white trash. I'm the kid who only gets to bathe once a week, who wears hand me down clothes from their older siblings at the Food Bank. I'm too fat for the ones from kids my own age. 

Kids like me don't grow up to be valedictorian.

***

I'm 8 or 9 years old. I still have to go to Chuck's most weekends, but he comes over to my house all of the time. I feel like he's always watching me. But he brings weed, good weed that my parents can't afford, so they let him. 

When my stepdad is high he is nice. Fun. Loving. Generous. 

It seems like a fair trade.

I have never touched a drug in my life, but still today I find the smell of marijuana deeply comforting. 

***

I'm 8 or 9 years old. My best friend Amy is the daughter of my mom's best friend; they were pregnant together and we are a month, a week, and a day apart. I have known her my whole life. I started saying her name at 18 months old, asking to go to her house. I was a very early and accelerated talker.

Amy's gone. Her mom took her and her brothers and disappeared. They've been looking for months but don't know where they are. I have seen her nearly every day of my life and she's just gone. 

One day I walk to the store and I find a dime. It costs 25 cents at the payphone to make a call, but I decide to call my house and see what happens with only a dime. My mom answers. I'm yelling into the phone, but she keeps saying, "Hello?" and that it sounds like someone is there but they are far away. 

That is when the dreams start. It's always the same--Chuck has taken my brother and me. In the dreams my body hurts. I know he's hurting me worse than ever. He's free to do so because I can no longer threaten him with telling my mom to make him stop when it hurts. We're at a diner on a dusty road and there's a payphone. I try to call my mom. "We're in Kansas," I say, fervently. "Tami? Tami? Tami. I know it's you. TAMI WHERE ARE YOU?"

She's crying, screaming.

I know she is broken. I'm yelling as loud as I can, but she says I am too far away. Chuck appears and reaches out to grab me. 

This is always when I wake up.

***

I'm 9 years old. Amy came back.  One night my family is 45 minutes from my hometown, helping my stepdad's grandma move maybe? For some reason, the entire house full of people leaves to go get Kentucky Fried Chicken for dinner and it's just me and my mom. TGIF's family line-up is on. The distance from Quincy makes me feel safe.

"What would you do if I told you Chuck was abusing me again?"

She tells me to tell someone at school. Tell a counselor or teacher, a mandatory reporter. Try not to mention her at all. She doesn't want it to slip through the legal system's holes this time.

***

I'm 9 or 10 years old. The police have a warrant for Chuck's arrest. When they show up, he's gone. 

They find him. Days later? Weeks? I'm not sure. He's at his dad's in Wenatchee. He says he has a bomb. There is an elementary school a few blocks away. The bomb scare makes the news on TV and in the newspaper. It's a big story, the talk of my tiny town. Everyone knows who the "nine year old girl" who leveraged allegations of third degree rape against him is. 

"Did you like it? Is that why you let him keep doing it for so long?" kids at school ask me as I'm playing four square. How do they know it went on for years? I realize that their parents must know, must talk about it. I know it isn't only the kids who think I must have let it go on because I liked it.

My fourth grade teacher tries to have a conference with me and my mom. "I was abused, too," he says. He keeps talking, trying to reassure me that I can get my shit together, but all I can think is how disgusted I am with him that now I have to know that about him and keep having him be my teacher every day.

I hate school. I hate home. I hate it all.

Me in third grade, before everyone knew

Me in third grade, before everyone knew

Me in fourth grade, after everyone knew

Me in fourth grade, after everyone knew

 

***
I'm 10 years old. A family friend is babysitting. He's older, maybe 60? He always tries to pull me on his lap. He's somewhere between 400-500 pounds, wheezes, and smells bad. He makes me incredibly uncomfortable. 

He's trying to get me to take my pants off. He wants to touch me, he says. Eventually, I propose that if he gives me $5 then he can open the door to the bathroom and I will be sitting there like I am peeing. That happens with my mom sometimes so it isn't that weird. 

He does it. I take the money and tell him I'm going to go spend it. I buy nachos that sometimes my parents buy and don't share. I eat the entire thing, stuffing down my feelings with food.

I spend the next 23 years thinking I was a manipulative little whore. He paid me

Then one day I realize how brilliant it was to get out of that situation without letting him touch me, spending the money an excuse to leave and get away from him. So young, forced to be so crafty. Self preservation.

***
I'm 10 years old. I write Eddie Rodriguez a note, asking him if he wants to go out with me. He is popular and athletic and gorgeous. Boys like him don't go out with girls like me, but I don't care. I make boxes for yes and no. He draws in a box that says maybe. He checks it, and writes next to it, "If you lose weight." 

I try. 

I don't.

*** 

I'm 9-11 years old. More attorneys and psychiatrists are trying to get every detail. 

"Did he ever put anything inside of you?"
"Yes."
"Where?"
"My vagina."
"Ok. And what did he put in you?"
"I don't know. A finger? Maybe a carrot?"
"You don't know? Was it warm? Was it cold?"
"I don't know. It was scratchy." 
"Scratchy?"
"Yes. Not soft. Look, I don't know, ok? I never looked down." 

I think to myself that they have clearly never been abused repeatedly. They do not understand the effort it takes to escape and disassociate. Already I know this word, disassociate.

"It's not your fault." - Doctors
"You did nothing to deserve this." - Psychiatrists
"Don't be a victim." - My mom

I have to go in for a gynecological exam so they can look for internal damage. Once again, I feel pity for the doctor who has to do this as part of their job. Sorrow for the adults around me is how I disassociate from the effects on my psyche.

***

I'm 11 years old. There are a few weeks left of fifth grade. It is June 1, 1993. My parents show up at the door to my classroom. "Empty out your desk and say goodbye to your friends. We are moving." 

"Where?"

"We can't say."

My mom has had a nervous breakdown. They got the welfare check that morning and decided we were going to start over somewhere new.

The town I have lived in my entire life, with everyone I have ever known, is gone.

That was that. 

***
I'm 11 years old. Chuck's finally going to trial. It's been revealed that he sodomized a toddler relative, and that testimony will be enough to put him in prison for at least 20 years. 

I'm coming out of the bathroom at the courthouse when my mom screams, yanks me backwards and throws me to the floor. 

Chuck is right there, wrists cuffed in front of him. She tells me later she saw him see me, and get a look in his eye. I was close enough for him to grab and she believed he was going to grab me and then...who knows. 

He's wearing a powder blue suit. I think it's the same one he married my mom in.

That's the last time I ever see my biological father.

Me at 13

Me at 13

 

***
I'm 13-14 years old. I think I am in love with the oldest son of our family's closest friends. Our parents joke that we are like an old married couple. One day we're walking on the train tracks near my house and Chris kisses me. "I want to be your first kiss," he says. 

Nothing else really happens. But then one day he takes me into his dad's shop and puts in a porn tape. "Watch this with me." I can't remember if I watched or looked away. I just remember how he holds my hand, and I think maybe he loves me. 

Our families go camping. Chris and I are with our brothers in his family's camper while our parents drink around the fire. I am leaned against him, and he reaches his hand down my shirt and begins caressing my breast. But he has a girlfriend now. I freeze, and let him keep making conversation into the dark with our brothers as he touches me unbeknownst to them. Does he love me? I don't know. 

One night our parents are drunk. My mom is badgering me about my crush on Chris. "You couldn't get six inches!" she yells out. Everyone, including Chris, laughs. I don't know what this means.

I do think it means he doesn't love me. I wish someone would love me.

I gain 20-30 pounds over the next year.

***
I'm 14 years old. I'm staying the night at a friend's house. Her mom lets two boys come upstairs so we make out with them. I wish I was kissing the boy she kisses. 

She moves away. I find out in college that she had her first baby at 16 and lives off welfare. 

I know that is how I was supposed to end up. 

Me at 14

Me at 14

***
I'm 14 years old. I am going to kill myself. I plan out every step in my head. Each day after school I lie on my bed in the tiny closet sized room I share with my brother in my family's small rental trailer and I envision each step to the gun cabinet. It's only 18 steps. 

I will use my dad's 30 odd 6 and put it in my mouth like Kurt Cobain. Like him, I want to actually be dead. I'm not going to fuck around with a cry for help.

There's no one to help me.

***
I'm 15 years old. I still want to kill myself, but a friend keeps inviting me to church.

I go.

I find a reason to stay alive.

***
I'm 15 years old. I have a huge crush on a senior. Everyone knows, and he's way out of my league, super hot and athletic and popular. I am none of these things. Guys like him still don't go for girls like me. 

I am kind, I am friendly, and I am smart. Most kids, even upperclassmen, are nicest to me when they want to cheat off of me. I let the people I most want to like me copy my answers. My laugh is kind of legendary, though some people make sure I know it's too much. I'm trying too hard. But if I can just be really smart and really friendly and funny then maybe it will win over a popular guy like my big crushes always were.

As an adult I realize everyone could see my desperation to be loved. I really was too much. And my crushes on guys who I knew would never date me was a defense mechanism to not actually have a boyfriend who would want to touch me.

***

I'm 16 years old. Chuck is getting out of prison this year. The other relative was too scared to testify on the stand alone--laws have changed for children since then--and as such the prosecutor didn't have much of a case left.

All of the work to get out of me the details of what he has done wasn't enough. Chuck was able to leverage a plea deal that maintained his innocence against my testimony while admitting said testimony could get him convicted to a longer sentence. Had the other witness testified, this would not have been allowed because sodomy is worse than what he did to me. 

And so he gets out of prison having served roughly half of the number of years he abused me.

But really, what does it matter? What he did to the other relative was worse. 

I'm not allowed to be scared he'll come looking for me. Weak women, my mom says, live scared and blame things on everyone else and don't take responsibility.

Don't be a victim.

***

I'm 16 years old. A trusted male relative hugs me from behind. I relax into the the fatherly affection. He reaches down and begins caressing my breast, circling around and around. I freeze. I can feel his erection against my back. I grit my teeth and wait for it to be over. 

I cannot remember how I felt after.

I gain 70 pounds over the next year.

Bottom right is me at 16; bottom left is me at 17

Bottom right is me at 16; bottom left is me at 17

Me at 18

Me at 18

***

I'm 18 years old. My youth group does a week long day camp with impoverished kids in Seattle. I fall completely in love with a little Chinese girl, 5 or 6 years old. On the last day she takes my face in her hands and says, "If you were skinny, you would be perfect." 

***
I'm 18 years old. It's Memorial Day, just before I am to graduate high school. My mom's whole family gathers. I tell everyone that I am valedictorian and have great scholarships to a really good private school in Spokane. I want them all to be so proud of me. My uncle is disappointed that with my math and science proclivities I am not going to UDub to be an engineer like he did. I bury the hot guilt of disappointing him.

Later, the whole family is in a circle talking. I say some joke, hoping to feel accepted and loved by their laughter. A cousin cracks off, "Ok, bubble butt and thunder thighs." Everyone--EV. ER. Y. ONE--laughs so hard. Tami is so fat. My grandma tells stories about what a little piggie I was when I was 8.

I pretend I don't care. 

At the first opportunity to get away unnoticed I go into the bathroom and sob.

***

I'm 18 years old. I'm a freshman in college. I'm homesick and sit in my dorm room alone on AOL messenger to chat with friends from back home instead of meeting people. One night my (step)dad's stepfather, a man who has been my grandfather for 13 years, messages me. He asks how college is, I say I am ok and I like my classes. "Well I wish you'd come home," he says. "Thanks, though I do really love college," I tell him. 

"If you came home to my bed I would give you the best sex of your life and never let you leave. You would keep my bed warm forever." 

I close the conversation and block him.

When I tell my mom, I am afraid she'll tell my dad and he'll go to prison for blowing the man's face off. Instead, she laughs. "Oh, you know he says crazy shit he doesn't mean." 

I decide I'm never going to tell her anything hard again.

I gain 110 pounds over the next four years.

***

I'm 19 years old. I develop a crush on a junior in high school. His dad is a pastor at my hyper-religious church. The family seems so perfect and happy. Pastors have to obey God, I think. Their family is good. They are safe. They will love me. So I pray I will marry him. Sometimes I try to say hi to him or be in the same room.

One day I forget a bag with supplies for a class project; I call the church until someone answers. It's my crush; he was there cleaning. I ask if he can bring me the bag. He says yes. We meet out at the front entrance to my college by the sign. I say thanks and he leaves as I walk back across campus to my dorm.

His mom and the lead pastor's wife pull me into a surprise meeting. For 45 minutes they berate me about being a seductress and trying to molest the nearly 17 year old boy. The mom, whom I had been developing a relationship with as a mentor, tells me to stay away from her and her family.

I go home and cry into my carpet for 4 hours. Why am I so unlovable?

It's a decade before I realize I never had a single sexual thought about the guy, though my crush lasted for three years.

He marries one of my best college friends, someone the same age as me.

***

I'm 21. I'm working with the youth in our church. I joke about farting and the middle and high school boys AND girls think I am hilarious. The high school girls I teach say I am their favorite teacher. I hope that my ability to joke but also know when to be serious will impress the youth pastor on staff.

Suddenly I am no longer needed. 

Eventually I am told by my college pastor's wife that the lead pastor and his wife know my past, that I was sexually abused, and they think I am a danger to the youth of the church, including their 14 year old son.

I'm not allowed to work with youth anymore.

And I know the dead spider in me is real. God showed it to pastors so they can protect other people from being touched by it.

***

I'm 23 years old. I graduate from college with a history degree, secondary teaching certification, and a social studies endorsement--I have almost 30 credits more than is required to graduate. My GPA is a 3.9.

I am accepted into Teach For America. I have lived in Washington State my entire life. When I list my top three choices for placement, all three are on the eastern seaboard.

I need a new life. So I go to North Carolina and start one.

***

I'm 24. I meet a guy. He talks about sex all of the time, tells me that the worst part of becoming a Christian is not being able to do the thing he's best at because it's sin now. He tells me there are three ways to make me have an amazing orgasm and he can't wait until he can do that to me once we're married. 

We've only been talking for about a month at this point.

He starts telling me that if we ever have sex before marriage he'll never be able to look me in the eye again. He tells me that I am so sexy it's all he wants. 

At first I am flattered that he wants me even though I am fat. It must be my amazing personality and brilliant mind. But after a weekend together, with some kissing but nothing more, he ramps up the talk about how much he will hate me if we end up having sex. He cancels plans and then tries to make me feel guilty that he feels bad. I see clearly that he plays mind games, gaslights, and manipulates my emotions. 

I am hyper sensitive to those things due to similar behaviors growing up from all three of my parents and so I tell him we need to break up. 

At first he says if I meet someone else to send them his way so he can teach them all the ways to sexually please me. He tries to keep talking to me. I tell him it needs to be completely done.

He yells at me that I am a Jezebel sent by Satan to tempt him away from God's plans for his life. 

***

I'm 25. I'm back in Washington and doing premarital counseling with a cool pastor transplanted in the Seattle suburbs by way of Texas. I want him to like me and Jason, my fiance. Pastors are safe. Maybe we can be close friends. We talk about my love of the Seahawks.

Jason and I go from skirting the line to full fledged sex. I am the sexual aggressor. He feels ashamed. Later in our marriage, he will confess that he blamed me and it made it easier to deal with his own guilt and failure "as the man". But on the day we confess in counseling that we had sex, the pastor congratulates Jason. 

"You have a woman who likes football and sex? My wife barely lets me enjoy my Cowboys games," he says. The rest is implied.

Jason and me on our wedding day

Jason and me on our wedding day

 

***

I'm 27. I'm in counseling in another hyper-religious church that we found after feeling like the last one wasn't serious abut sin. I tell the pastor that when I talk about my abuse I feel like I am describing opening the fridge and choosing whether to drink milk or orange juice. There is no emotional connection.

***

I'm 28. Same zealous church with even more zealous me. I tell a pastor's wife that I remembered what happened to me as a little girl, that first memory of my life, and without realizing it I covered my eyes with my hand. I felt shame. I felt connected to her.

I feel like this is progress.

"'There is therefore no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus!'" she proclaims. She tells me that if I feel shame I need to question if I have allowed Jesus in.

*** 

I'm 28. Same church, same me. Some people have decided I'm a gifted writer and ask me to write blogs for the church website. I'm asked to write about something that I haven't overcome but I see Jesus working. I'm supposed to be real. I decide to share the story with the cut off shower curtain. I clean it way up--I'm afraid people will think I am gross if they know too much. Hide the spider.

A pastor's wife tells me I need to change things. "It just really seems like you are trying to shock people and get attention," she says.

So I sanitize it.

Nice and clean.

***

I'm 27. I take a job as a nanny. I love that little boy with my whole soul.

I hate baby wipes. 

***

I'm around 27 years old. My brother tells me he ran into Chuck in Spokane. He says he asked, "Did you do those things Tami said you did?"

Chuck told him no, I was a liar and I made it all up.

***
I'm 27. I mention at Overzealous Church that I haven't seen the father who abused me since I was 11 years old.

I am told I need to track him down. If I don't find him and tell him about Jesus then my salvation is going to waste. God must have saved me for a purpose such as this.

***

I'm 27 years old. I'm happily married don't want to be fat or worry about men anymore. But now I can't lose weight. I pursue weight loss surgery. 

Nine months later I get pregnant. I start having issues with my thyroid.

Me at 27 and almost 400 pounds

Me at 27 and almost 400 pounds

***

I'm 29. I have my first baby, a son.

Despite doing everything right, eating well and running, I can't get the baby weight off. At 9 months postpartum I get pregnant again.

I am a natural mom. Empathetic and loving and patient. I feel like I found my purpose. I stay home with him and I am so blissfully happy.

I still hate baby wipes.

***
I'm 30. I have a daughter.

I'm scared I will resent her and treat her like competition the way my mom treated me. Instead, I feel fiercely connected to her and determined to show her how beautiful it can be to be a woman. 

Somewhere around a week old I am changing her diaper and realize that I was this small, this innocent, this needing of protection and love, when the awareness of how awful the resentment of my mother and the perversion of my father were toward infant me grips my entire being. 

I slowly spiral into deep depression. The baby screams all of the time and I never sleep, which doesn't help. I fantasize about killing myself and wish I had the courage to do it. My family would be better off without me.

Months later I am diagnosed with postpartum depression. Medication saves my life. 

When our first daughter was 9 days old

When our first daughter was 9 days old

 

***
I'm 32 years old. I write a blog post on my personal site about how amazing it is that I ended up the way I did. I'm not supposed to be educated or well adjusted or happy. I talk mostly about having been sexually abused but mention growing up in poverty. 

My brother angrily messages me that our parents did everything they could for me. I'm an entitled bitch who expects everything handed to me on a silver platter. What is a college degree worth if I am a stay at home mom anyway? Plenty of smart people like him and my mom never go to college and they have more common sense and street smarts than idiots educated by books. 

I hear my mother's voice. His words, her voice. 

"Besides," he says, "You were only molested. It's not like you were raped. Get the fuck over yourself."

We haven't spoken since.

***
I'm 33 years old. I am diagnosed with autoimmune hypothyroid disorder. I am told it will be nearly impossible to lose weight and that, while it may happen, I need to accept that I will work harder than anyone around me with minimal results. 

People in public just see a lazy fat chick. Sometimes I wish I had a flashing sign on my forehead. I doubt they'd believe me anyway.

***

I'm 33 years old. The Josh Duggar molestation of his sisters story breaks. Close friends from church post #IStandWithTheDuggars. They say pastors should handle these issues, not law enforcement or the justice system. Even after the ways the courts failed me, I am horrified. I write a blog about my own sexual abuse and how I want the victims silenced by the church, their pain squashed down with guilt-forced "forgiveness", to know that I stand with them on the side of the oppressed. I believe this is where Jesus stands, so I want to be where he is.

My pastor from yet another new hyper-religious church comes over. First, he condescends to me how amazing it is that I write so clearly and that something so long was both able to hold his attention and flows and transitions so well.

Then, he tells me that I am crying out for attention and I need to tell the wife of the man who abused me at 16 what happened so that I will no longer feel the need to try and get pity for it; that one incident and me never telling is why I shared any of my story. Obviously.

And finally, he tells me that by telling other abuse victims I care and stand with them, I am exhibiting a savior complex and I want them to need me, not Jesus. 

Two years later, I no longer go to hyper-religious churches. I struggle with going to church at all.

I know Jesus loves me. I know it is finished. I don't know much else.

***

I'm 34 years old. I have another daughter. The same realizations about how I was treated wash over me. I determine to never let my daughters doubt their dignity nor their worth. I will teach my son consent and that sex is beautiful and amazing but it isn't the reason women exist. My daughters will know over and over and over that they are so much more than a body.

Our family when our youngest daughter was 4 days old

Our family when our youngest daughter was 4 days old

***
I'm 34 years old. My older daughter is 3. She's being potty trained at autism therapy. One of her behavioral therapists is a 25ish year old male. He's friendly and has kind eyes and is professional but I think about how easy it would be for him to access her in a bathroom...

I tell myself he seems safe, and feel guilty for wondering if I will offend him if I ask his boss about protocol for males doing potty training with girls. I am scared of looking paranoid or pathetic.

One day, a few weeks into her potty training, I am peeing when I realize I can hear him with my daughter in the bathroom next door. His voice and what he says and how he talks to her makes me realize he is completely trustworthy for this. 

I marvel that there are men other than my husband out there who are safe.

***

I'm 34 years old. My baby is four months old and once again despite every effort I cannot make enough breastmilk for her. I stop nursing and my hormones go insane.

I realize I am starting to wish I could die again. Certain memories hit me at random and I can't breathe.

***

I'm almost 35 years old. One day I am holding my 6 month old daughter and she begins mouthing and pressing her tongue against my arm. The flashback is so severe that I nearly drop her.

I am diagnosed with postpartum depression and anxiety. I begin medication. 

I have no doubt that once again it will save my life.

***
I'm almost 35 years old.

People say that bragging about sexual assault is empty boys-will-be-boys banter. I think about all the times I almost took my own life and how many more times I wanted to. I see this attitude from people and I wonder if I want to be here anymore. 

But I look at my daughters. My son. My husband. My friends.

I have chosen life and love and empathy and vulnerability again and again. I have never regretted it. I will not stop now.

***

I'll be 35 on Sunday.

I am alive.

This is for HER

This is for HER

LOVE THE BODY YOU LIVE IN

LOVE THE BODY YOU LIVE IN