My Telling: Nathalie
Young and Ashamed
“I cannot let anyone find these,” I can remember thinking as I sketched. I knew that something was wrong with these pictures, something that may cause alarm, or worse yet, shame. My 5 year-old brain couldn’t figure out why I was compelled to draw them. I was a great artist. Even the most discriminating critic could make out the womanly figures. They had beautiful faces but were plagued with grotesque bodily injuries; each with circular scars in places where the breast and vagina were designed to be. Every stroke of the red crayon, every drop of blood brought such a sense of relief to my little heart. But I hid them. Every now and then I would come back to their hiding spots and look at them. When I suspected that they might be discovered, I destroyed them. It usually didn’t take long for my artistic streak to return, though. So the cycle persisted and intensified.
As early as 7 and 8 years old I was mutilating myself; using hot curling irons, pens, and even knives for vaginal penetration. All of these behaviors were kept from my parents and siblings but, truthfully, it didn’t take much creativity to conceal anything from them. My life at the time was one of isolation and fear. For some reason, of my 4 siblings, I had proven to be my father’s nemesis; bearing the brunt of his aggression and intimidation. I remember days spent in the closet per my mom’s earnest pleas for me to hide from my father’s wrath. I couldn’t pinpoint the exact reasons for his hatred but supposed that part of it was a consequence of my “secret life.”
No one believed me
When my cousin inappropriately touched me, a war began in my heart. I wanted to scream and tell someone but I fought the urge. I figured with all that I’d done, I’d brought it on myself. After all, if I can’t help damage myself, others should not have been expected to resist either. Eventually I got up the courage to tell my mother. It was disastrous. The general consensus (she had invited my sisters and aunt-the mother of the offending cousin- into the conversation) was that it happens and I do not need to make a big deal about it. Lesson learned. That incident was closely followed by my first kiss (at the hands of my great uncle) and a few other incidents that were quickly compartmentalized into the “not a big deal” category.
My father’s death in 1996 was a relief to me as it related to the physical and emotional abuse at his hands, however it opened up the door for the most difficult lesson I’d learned from my mother. A few years after she became a widow she introduced a new man in her life. He seemed like a nice guy with a good sense of humor. He often joked openly about how curvy and sexy I was. Every once in a while he would corner me and rub up against me. He’d even crawled into my bed with me (while my mother and I were sharing the bed) and simulated intercourse with me. Again, it was no big deal. When I was sixteen, this same man, came into my room while I was asleep and my mother was in the adjoining kitchen and put his fingers in my underwear. By then I was older (and on my 3rd boyfriend). I left the house that next morning and called her from my boyfriend’s house. I told her that I was not coming back until her boyfriend was gone because of what he’d done. She told me I was lying and that I just (all of a sudden) didn’t want her to be happy. She recruited my siblings in the same refrain. Eventually my body came back to the house but my heart never returned.
The incident with my mother’s boyfriend solidified a theory that had been rolling around in my mind since before I began my drawings. I believed that there was this inherent sexual evil in me and that there was a “mark” or an aura that I gave off to men that drew them to me. I had surmised that I was the common denominator in every incident that had taken place. Maybe it was what brought on my father’s disdain. Perhaps it was the root of my promiscuity.
Reading this may make one wonder what happened in other areas of my life. Interestingly enough, I was a straight-A student, football MVP, working two jobs, full scholarship, summa cum laud , etc. I was my mom’s dependable errand runner, grocery shopper, chauffeur , phone call maker and, at times, even legal counsel. I juggled that with 4 or 5 boyfriends and sexual partners, pregnancy scares, date rape, married men, and covert operations- all before my high school graduation. I rode my full scholarship as far away from home as I could get, thinking that I could begin a new life and get away from those that had recognized my “mark”. That idea went out the window one day when i was riding the greyhound bus to visit a friend. I had fallen asleep and woke up to the man across the aisle from me rubbing my genitals. He pulled his hand away as I opened my eyes. I didn’t say anything. I didn’t scream or tell anyone. I was ashamed and could not find a voice, even at 22 years old.
In spite of that, I managed to survive pretty well through college. I met and married my husband right out of college thinking that marriage would be the cure for me. With one man who is entitled to all the sex he could have from me, all my problems would be solved and that mark would finally come in handy. Little did it know that marriage would amplify my dysfunction. I hated sex with my husband. He was so kind and affectionate that it made me sick. I pleaded for him to hurt me, stimulate rape, hit me, or do anything to punish the “bad girl” that I was-the evil child that I knew myself to be. His refusal and his pity sent me into fits of rage. Our marriage was crumbling quickly. The impending demise of our marriage is what pushed me to write into Reclaim. I wasn’t exactly sure if I qualified to participate. After all, the other women were true victims. They were innocent children preyed upon by evil men. I, on the other hand, was evil from the beginning, drawing otherwise good men into my web. I found myself making myself the exception to all of the truths proposed in the class. Reclaim forced me to really see myself as that little girl- to reach back to her and tell her that it wasn’t her fault and that she deserved better.