Barney Rubble shouldn’t be touching little girls. Even at 5 years old I knew that was “icky” and just plain wrong. That minuscule little voice that spoke to me from somewhere between my head and my chest, said to get away from this icky man and his fat fingers, his gaping, stupid smile.
(Trigger warning, this post details an incident of child sexual molestation via a poem I wrote about the incident. )
He followed me around the laundry mat where my baby brother sat in a carrier and my mother folded mounds of laundry. I came to stand very close and clingy to my mother’s leg. He hovered. She brushed him off. Ignored him. Told me to go and sit with my brother.
“Have you ever seen an orange pencil?” he asked my mother, holding up the stub of a pencil. She didn’t seem to want him talking to her, I noticed. I went to sit with my brother in this row of metal chairs all connected to the wall, in front of wide widows that spanned the wall all the way to the door. We were only a few chairs away from that door, and this bothered me but I didn’t understand why until much later in life.
This Barney Rubble man came to sit next to me.
He whispered to me, grinning. He leaned so close to me. I felt very small. Confused. Nervous.
When I was in college, I took a poetry class. I have had a deep love of poetry since my introduction to Edge by Sylvia Plath. I began writing poetry in high school, and now in my 40s, it is my favorite form of expression. I have been relatively successful on my blog Fiddleheads & Floss and have been published in several literary magazine, and even my local newspaper. While in this college poetry class I was given a tough assignment: write a poem from the perspective of someone you dislike or hate. I knew who I would write about instantly.
Writing from the perspective of this child molester was one of the more difficult things I have ever written. And it required me to talk to my mother about my experience with a man who tried to convince me to “be his friend” and go with him. To this day I am aware that not only did I narrowly escape a kidnapping that day, but that man most likely went on to molest other children, maybe even worse. It is a terrible guilt I have carried. I did talk to my mother, and watched her eyes change as the pieces fell into place. Understanding. She was empathetic and loving. Hearing what had happened to me, so quickly, so easily even with people around…explained why I at that age changed so dramatically that she quit her job and took me out of daycare. She knew something was wrong with me, but thought I wasn’t adjusting well to daycare.
At the age of five (maybe 4, I am not sure, but I was not yet in school. My little brother was 2 years younger and he was a baby at the time.) I was introduced to feelings I had no way to understand and learned to feel fear. The confusion a child feels inside when they are touched inappropriately by an adult is carried with them FOREVER.
Sexual abuse, at any level, changes you. It teaches you things about yourself that aren’t true. It was as if I carried a sign on my forehead from that day forward:
“Victimize me, I am weak. I will not say no. This is my purpose.”
Years ago I heard Oprah Winfrey make a statement when speaking about sexual abuse that has truly stuck with me, “The shame is the same.” She was making the point that no matter how extensive the abuse, from groping to rape and every horrific thing in between, abuse victims carry shame and that shame is universal.
I did write the poem. I actually like the poem. But it is very hard to share. If I have learned anything at all about being a poet, it is that there is nothing too personal, or too “off limits” when it comes to our craft. So, I invite you to read:
She is the tiniest little girl I have ever seen,
arms resting like delicate ribbon
unrolled carefully and placed in her lap,
veil of brown curls caressing her ears and neck.
She sits sweetly by the smeared glass wall
swinging her legs back and forth
jeans tucked under, bulky at the ankles,
pink sneakers strapped on.
She sings about Lucy in the sky.
I glance over at her mother, busied
at the folding table
her neat stacks gathering
in baskets by her feet.
The little girl does not notice me until
my shadow passes over the
speckled floor and climbs her legs
to rest in her lap.
She looks up, her freckled nose
lifting with her smile.
I feel enormous as I sit next to her
letting my leg spill over into her chair.
She scoots away.
I ask her doesn’t she like me?
Want to be my friend?
A washer shakes loudly.
I lift a thick hand, pinch her tiny
nipple between my fingers,
a shudder rises in my spine.
She wraps her arms around her middle, folding up,
a sweet lily sinking under.
If you would like to share your thoughts, I welcome them. Thank you for reading.