I’ve stripped myself. I am now naked, embarrassed. Gone is the formerly fun, noisy, and bubbly Effe. How can I bring myself back? I will never again be looked at the same way. I will forever be labeled as someone who was abused.
It’s been two weeks since I published my #metoo story, and I still do not know how to face people. I shy away from social media. I avoided Facebook specifically. My inbox was flooded with messages minutes after posting. I did not open it ‘til the next day and I still do not have the courage to respond. I pulled myself away from any contact. I needed space to reflect on my decision to reveal my secret.
I received various messages of comfort from friends and relatives, especially from my younger cousins. Many were in disbelief, shocked and confused. Some were really worried; my teacher in high school reached out to me and begged me to respond just to assure her that I was ok. A new friend from my hiking group sent me a card with a very long and touching handwritten card told me how much she appreciates my bravery. My father’s brother and sister also sent me messages. I shed a bucket of tears when I read it and as I write this piece I cannot keep myself from crying.
I know it is unfair to not to respond. But I needed to be alone with my thoughts so I could regain strength, and be able to answer all of your questions, and I hope, be the old Effe again.
This is the first time I have fully examined my dark childhood memories and written about them. I am afraid to do this. In fact, it took me a while to do a follow up post because I was worried that as a budding journalist, it might affect my future employers.
Whenever I have been reminded of the past, I have avoided the idea of walking down that road. I have always ignored those memories and replaced them with happy thoughts. That’s how I’ve rolled for the past 35 years.
This was not a one time event. It began when I was 5 or 6 years old until I was a teenager. I can no longer remember how or exactly when it started. My memory is hazy now. But what he did to me is still vividly clear.
In the 80’s we lived on a small island near my hometown of Surigao City in the Philippines, where my father was assigned as a Protestant minister. My parents were both busy with church ministry and they were often not home as they were also finishing their studies in the city. They had to cross a dangerous strait to get to school and come home on weekends. I was left in the care of my mother’s sister, but not for long because my aunt married and moved to another town. So I was left with my mother’s brother in the hope that I would be well cared for. He was, after all, her brother – right?
In the island, I used to run and play around the backyard of the church on Sunday afternoons. I played “balay-balay” (playhouse) with my manong (older brother) and when we got tired our kuya (older brother) would order us to take a nap. Sometimes I would nap alone in our bedroom or inside the church. On those Sunday afternoons when I was resting in one of the pews he would casually sit next to me and I can remember exactly how each of his fingers would penetrate my very young and fragile hymen. He would even go down on me as he covered my mouth with his hand to shush me.
This went on for several years. I can no longer remember how often this happened but I do know this did not stop even when we moved to the city. After the 1986 Revolution, the nickel mining refinery on the island was closed. My father was assigned as an interim pastor of a small provincial town and we moved with him.
At this time I was 9 years old, and as I was growing up the routine of molestation continued. I can still clearly remember how he forced himself inside me and whispered “nisulod na?” (is it inside?). I struggled to push him away, but what can a 9 year old do? How will I push him? Unlike when I was younger, I was aware of what was going on. In my mind I had a desire to let my parents know what was happening, but HOW exactly and WHERE would I start my story?
Later, my father was reassigned again, this time to the large church in the city. I was a teenager, and had just turned 11 when I had my first menstrual period. The molestation went on until I was 14 years old. He continued his routine of visiting me in my bedroom. He would molest me in the morning, before heading back to school after lunch, and at night before I went to sleep. He would do this when I was alone, but sometimes even when my manong was in the room sleeping nearby on the other bed.
My high school sweetheart recently asked me after my post why I did not share any of this with him. I can’t remember now if we were already lovers then, or if the molestation had stopped when I met him. In any case, I do not think I had the courage to tell him back then, even if I had wanted to. I walked my entire life alone, I never told anyone about my secret. No one had ever stood up for or defended me, even when I had an ex convict stalker when I was in high school. I always had to take care of myself.
Mom and dad never knew what was going on. Both were busy, especially my dad. My manong was just a year older and kuya was in college in Cebu City. None of my family members knew what happened to me until 5 years ago, when both my brothers visited me here in the U.S. At my ex-husband’s insistence, I revealed the secret to them.
My kuya, who is now a minister, cried and blamed himself for not being able to be there for me. My manong, who is now an attorney, told me that he would do whatever I asked him to do, and he would do it for me just to give me peace of mind. I told him I did not want to do anything. I just wanted to leave it as it is because, after all, I somehow managed to be okay.
I was happy because my brothers were so supportive when I told them my secret. They gave me their unqualified support right away. And so I thought, now I had allies, and I was no longer walking alone.
Recently, however, after visiting my ailing mother, I was told that one of my brothers had been seen socializing with the molester. At the reception for a cousin’s wedding, not only were they seated next to each other but afterward had even, with other family and friends, gone to lunch together, apparently having a good time and laughing together. I can’t explain how that feels. The pain I felt was excruciating. It was worse than being molested.
I was expecting this to happen. In fact, I was reluctant to hear about my cousin’s wedding because I was afraid to hear any news about him. After confirming, I could no longer contain myself. I broke down, cried, and sobbed uncontrollably. Even my ex husband could not console me. He told my brother by text how hurt I was – my brother responded that it was an impossible situation as I had refused to reveal the molestation publicly and that man was his uncle and was attending the wedding. My husband then insisted I reveal the secret, because if my family would have to socialize with that man, then it would be easier for them once I revealed what had happened to me.
So finally, the secret is out. Coming out itself was not that hard. I had already thought about it for a long time, so I was ready. My dilemma was my worry about what effect the revelation would have on my mother. However, given the recent events I felt it was the right time.
I still can’t speak his name. I still can’t talk about his relationship with me, nor use the word ‘raped.’ I don’t know how to answer questions about him, so please do not ask me anymore because there are so many things that I cannot answer. I just know I still cringe, and it gives me chills at the thought that this had happened to me.
Since I am the youngest and only girl in our family, during family gatherings I was often the center of attention, and would often hear my mother’s litany reminding me to take care of her brother when he grew old to pay him back for taking care of me. My usual response was to say nothing and I would just walk away, but deep inside I wanted to scream and tell my mother, “YOUR BROTHER MOLESTED ME!”
So, how did I do it? How did I survive? I don’t know, I just did. I had no special recipe other than my inner strength and my positive outlook. What would crying do for me? Would it have helped me if I had told anyone when I was younger?
I was always afraid of being accused of making up stories and I knew there would be repercussions if I revealed the molestation – I would be labelled as a “rape victim”. Young as I was, I was determined to continue my life without telling anyone. I wanted to have a normal life. I wanted to finish school, go to college, become a journalist, get married, have a family and live happily ever after.
Somehow it all happened, right? I got a degree from one of the top universities in the Philippines and took journalism at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA). And, though we are now divorced, I was married to a wonderful man who until this day supports me in all aspects of my life. I could not have made it without him. From the very first he learned about my story he wanted me to at least humiliate the guy, if not prosecute him. He was also the one who pushed me to divulge everything to my brothers. It took me years to follow his suggestion because of my fear of the effect on my mother.
Finally, I got a job at a small television company in Los Angeles. I had my own show, I made a decent amount of money, and I was able to buy the things that I wanted. But somehow almost all my relationships did not end up well. A few years ago I was told by someone dear to me that I should not worry about it because I am the one creating my own story, not that man. I have heard stories of abused women who do not end up with good relationships. I would be lying if I told you that did not scare me. But I have always felt that my father was guiding me and that I would find the right man.
Ever since I was little I was an achiever. Ambitious, and a go getter. I had consistently good grades in school and received many awards. However, despite achievements and compliments, I have never been contented. Nothing is enough for me. I always feel the need to chase after more because I need to keep succeeding. That is how I combat defeat. I have always had the thought that this dark memory cannot weaken or defeat me if I keep succeeding.
There were many times that I wanted to tell someone. In fact, while my father was dying and I was outside his room at the hospital I wanted to run inside and tell him, but I didn’t.
After the revelation, I do not know what happened to my family and my relatives. I avoided talking to anyone other than a cousin who cares for my mother. I have to prepare myself in case nothing changes, which would only mean it wasn’t important to them, or worse, they don’t believe me.
If I have to sum it up I want to say, “I was just a child.” I did not know anything. I did not know the difference between good and bad. Whether it was right or wrong I only followed the orders of my elders and I know my parents entrusted me to that person. Sometimes, I even blamed myself, and asked if I invited him to molest me? Perhaps gave him the motive? “Basin sala nako?” (maybe it’s my fault?). But then remind myself, “I was just a child.”
So, am I happy now that I came out? I am deeply embarrassed. I am still in the process of healing. I am just trying to get by day by day. I can’t even post a happy photograph of myself. For the past 3 decades of my life I wore that “happy mask” and I was happy wearing it. It was a decision I made to be happy despite the pain inside.
I may never again be looked at the same way. I may be always be labeled as someone who was abused, but does that matter? We are all temporarily traveling through this world, and one day I will be gone and no one will even remember that I existed. So, no, it does not matter. What matters to me now is the story that I will create for myself, without worrying about my past. There is a reason why it’s called the past – because that’s where it belongs.
I never imagined that this would all come out when I was forty. It seems the saying is true – life does begin at forty.