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Afraid to Let Them See Me Cry

I am remembering very little pain, except at school. Then it was shame because I didn't know what I was supposed to know, or because I didn't have enough money. I was a head taller than everyone else until I was about 10 years old. Menses started at 10, and by 13, I was fully developed, and not able to handle the attention. Shy for several years by now, I became even more withdrawn. I slouched to hide my large and still developing bust, walked with my eyes fixed on the floor, and avoided men completely. I had been invisible for several years by then, and I didn't like being seen.

Mom sent me to my Aunt Ruth?s house "for the summer" and I was extremely afraid of her husband, Uncle Mark. Mom didn?t come get me when she said she was going to, and I started school there. I stayed all through the winter, with no coat, having to start school there with no clothes again, except for one pair of purple jeans with red pockets. They were ugly and very noticeable. The roof leaked and every morning Ruth Ann and I would end up mopping the living room of the basement apartment we were living in because it would flood when it rained or when the snow melted. We washed our clothes in the washer but didn't have a dryer, so we hung them up in the living room. Sometimes they didn't always dry. And it was so cold. I didn?t own any socks, and had to scavenge daily around the house for some. I was always so afraid I'd have to go without socks. I don't think I ever did, but it worried me. They were often dirty and mismatched.

I stayed home one day, don't remember why. But I thought every one was gone. I wanted to surprise Aunt Ruth?s and Uncle Mark by doing something nice, so I decided to mop the kitchen floor. I remember thinking that they would be happy, and that made me happy.

Wham! Out of nowhere, I found myself flying across the room with my arms barely having time to break my fall, to keep my head from hitting the refrigerator on the way down to the floor. Uncle Mark had walked up behind me, and hit me so hard he knocked me to the floor. I don?t remember where he hit me; I think it was my back. It didn't knock the wind out of me, but I was so shocked, I almost cried. I caught myself in time before he saw me.

I just scrambled to my feet as fast as I could, and tried to figure out if he was going to hit me again. I was very afraid he was going to beat me like so many men had beaten my mother. He was angry, and started screaming at me, because I was bare foot on a wet floor and he didn't have the money to take me to the doctor if I "got myself sick." I just said over and over again that I was sorry, how stupid it was of me, and that I'd never do it again.

I lived with my Aunt Ruth?s family several different times in my life. This time I was about 13 or so. I was very close to my cousin, Ruth Ann. Uncle Mark couldn't get me to show fear, so he told me he would "beat" Ruth Ann if I disobeyed him. I hated him, but I never deliberately disobeyed him. Once I missed the bus because it was the middle of winter in Virginia, and I didn't have a coat; snow all around. He said he would "break me", and that he would beat me until I cried.

It sounds bizarre to me now, but I think he would have had to seriously injure me to make me cry. I lived in constant fear that he or his older son (Thomas) would sexually assault me. So far I'd been spared that from them, which left me some shreds of dignity, and I refused to cry, in front of him anyway. I guess he took that as a challenge. I stood there in silent defiance as he hit me with that leather belt over and over and over again. I don?t know how long he hit me, but from the shock of everyone in the family it was several minutes. It could have been 10 minutes, it could have been 30. I just don?t know, but it felt like forever. I thought I would collapse against the wall I held on to as he hit me, and kept telling me to cry and he would stop. I said nothing. I just stood there and braced myself for another slap of that belt. He had his shirt off, and hit his bare back, each time he hit me.

I don't remember him making me take my pants off; part of me thinks he had me put on shorts, but I just don't remember. I may have been wearing those ugly purple jeans with the red pockets. I don't know. I remember that it still hurt pretty badly. He had Thomas in there watching to make sure he didn't "lose control." He said if he could take it, he knew I could. That's how he "knew" he wasn't abusing me. I'm sure he wasn't hitting himself as hard as he was hitting me, because the downward stroke is so much stronger that a backwards fling of the belt.

But thankfully, either his arm wore out, or he decided that missing the school bus wasn't worth sending a 13 year old girl to the hospital. So he stopped hitting me. I remember looking up at him, with as much dignity as I could muster, and I said "thank you, no one else has ever cared enough about me to do that for me." That story got passed around my family for years, with folks thinking I liked to be hit and adding "she's got real" problems." I didn't mean it, but I didn't want him to see that I was afraid of him. I didn't want him to know that my heart raced and my stomach clutched at the sound of his voice. My ability to mask fear was already very well developed at that time. My motto was "never let them see you cry."

I was like a toy poodle taking on a pit bull. I felt that if he was certain of my fear he'd lose what little respect he had for me, and he might beat me with his fists, and that "would" have made me cry. I knew I couldn't match him physically, but I thought I had a chance in a battle of wills. I think he admired my defiance; respected me a little bit. I don't know, but I never missed the bus again, and he didn't hit me anymore after that. Ruth Ann told me I'd been stupid, and that if I would have just cried, he'd have stopped hitting me. I said "never" and went to bed, barely able to move, and cried silently in my pillow.

Funny, but he still thinks highly of me, and I've forgiven him, though I've divorced him from my life and heart. He and his daughter can't get along. I don't think she was as lucky as I was in the sexual abuse department during that year. She now says that Thomas forced her into an incestuous relationship that still haunts her. She's attempted suicide, and she really hates her family. And Uncle Mark thinks she's "weak". I think it?s sad that a 13 year old girl has got to prove she's more of a "man" than her uncle to win his respect, to keep from getting hurt. And it?s even sadder that because his 14 year old daughter couldn't stand up to him, that he never has respected her. Women should not have to compete with men like that, and kids certainly shouldn't have to, but I feel like I always have. It was a very sad way to grow up.
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