I used to hide as a child at a certain house. A house I was supposed to be safe inside. A house we went to almost weekly. The women were in the kitchen cooking and talking, the men were relaxing and watching some game, arguing amiably, the kids played in the basement until dinner.
I hid in the hall facing the basement door, my back pressed against the wall, trying to be invisible because inevitably my name would be called to take food to a certain elderly man. He had some form of dementia and I was a favorite.
He would pull me onto his lap, put his hand under my shirt and rub my back, a hand between my legs with fingers too close for me to breathe. Touching me.
I hated it. I felt paralyzed. I felt ashamed. I felt guilty. I felt trapped. I couldn’t speak. I had nightmares that I might be in some terrible danger and I would open my mouth and no sound would come out. I felt choked. My skin crawled. I was 5. And I was 6. And I was 7. And it felt like it would never stop.
When I would hide I was reprimanded for defying adults. I was sent anyway.
The last time it happened is crystal clear in my mind. I was pressed in fear and filled with panic against that wall, staring at the door to the basement where I wanted to be, afraid to be noticed crossing the floor.
The calling began. Over and over my name was called until an angry adult came to see why I refused to come when called.
I was chastised. My mother came to see what the problem was. She looked at my frightened face and could see me staring not at the person who was yelling at me, but in the direction of a certain room where he waited.
She looked back and forth between me, that room, and the angry adults then moved between me and the rest of the world. She grabbed my hand and said “Elizabeth isn’t going anywhere.” Then she kept me at her side.
She kept me with her after that. Every visit. She refused to justify it to anyone when they would try to send me. She would grip my hand, say no firmly, and stand her ground. My mom has an amazing voice. She saved my life that day. That’s what it felt like to me. Like being pulled out of something I was drowning in.
Nothing was ever spoken of.
That fear, shame, guilt, the nightmares, none of it could be spoken of because he was elderly and confused and sincerely loved me and I was a child who was too terrified to raise my voice. To speak my truth. I was so filled with guilt and shame and fear. And I was just a child.
So I have grown to use my voice, to tell my stories, to show the world my painful flaws and my beautiful mess in the hope that people reading these stories will feel me reaching out and feel empowered to use their own voice too.