Looking back, there were no signs or indications to tell us my dad’s desire was unraveling inside him, dragging him away from my mother, toward me. For a long time after we stood on the log across Fishhook Creek, he didn’t touch me. But at age 12, as I began to climb the wave of puberty, he came back.
At first, he really was tucking me in—just thoroughly. But later, he let his hands wander. Sometimes, he watched me undress through the blinds he half-opened after dinner, when he went outside to smoke. When I sensed him in the backyard pretending to rake the grass, I would crouch and freeze, like a deer that tries to become invisible in broad daylight. Night after night, he ranged across my body, exploring this place and that. And sometimes he sat in a corner shining his flashlight on my exposed abdomen and thighs. The effect was so bewildering, I stopped knowing what to think.
For the growing-up victims of sexual abuse, every day becomes a test of personal perception. According to Darkness to Light, an international non-profit dedicated to child sexual-abuse awareness and prevention, one in four girls and one in six boys are sexually abused in the United States annually, and only 30 percent of all cases are reported. Most girls are molested by their fathers or stepfathers, and almost always inside the family home.
Even if my dad had stopped molesting me after that first night in the trailer, I would still carry wounds. Incest victims suffer from a wide range of maladjustments, including alcoholism, drug addiction, and promiscuity. Some experts believe that a child’s emotional growth is stunted at the age of the first attack, and that he or she will not begin to recover until adulthood, if ever. As adults, many survivors (or “thrivers,” as they’re now being called) find themselves unable to trust. They suffer from low or non-existent self-esteem. And they almost always have deeply conflicted feelings about sex.
As my dad frequented my bedroom, a creeping disintegration set in. It attacked my self-image, then spread, disease-like, to my sense of morality, ambition, and trust. I now think my entire family felt ill, though no one acknowledged why. We stopped camping, drew the curtains, and hardly ventured outside. Any connection I may have felt—to the mountains, my own potential, the world—began to erode.
Stacey, Tina, and I are speeding down Highway 75, passing a giant bottle of peach wine cooler between us and cranking Depeche Mode. I’m the only one old enough to drive. As we pass the turnoff for Fairfield and 70-mph wind rips through our hair, I turn to Tina and say, “Who’re you gonna screw tonight?”
It’s early fall. We take acid and smoke cigarettes. We lie to our parents and drive to Ketchum, across the Perrine Bridge, away from the dairy farms of Twin Falls, to a place where nobody knows us, except for the guys who’ve heard.
We wait outside a gas station begging people to buy us beer. In a couple of hours, we’ll go to a guy’s house whose name I don’t know, but who we met the last time we were here. I’ll stand outside on the porch, smoking a Camel Straight. Someone named Sam will walk out the door, push me against the wall, and smash his mouth against mine. By the end of the night, I will have consented to a certain kind of rape.