color key — blue: mental health; red: assault. contrast of light and dark correlates with bright and somber tones of voice.
In my head, there are vague, mostly repressed memories that I have never let escape. I have called the event it recalls many things: experimentation between kids, love being shown in a different way, another thing to be dramatic and sensitive about.
But I have never called it trauma.
It has traumatized me, those moments. Those hands on parts of my body — parts that will not distinctly identify themselves in my memory but are not afraid to scream and cry if any other hands go near them. Those lips that would repeatedly force their way onto mine, rough and unwelcome. The memory of them does not allow me to kiss anyone now, not even on the cheek, even though my mind barely remembers the moments. My body will never forget, however, and I am reminded of that every time something touches certain parts of me, causing my heart to race and my arms to tense up at my sides as my mouth begs, “No.”
But it doesn’t matter. It’s not trauma.
I repressed the memories for years. In a way, I think I started repressing them as they were still happening. I was eight when it started, probably around nine when it ended. I was young and confused, and I didn’t like it. But I didn’t know it was wrong, so I just forgot about it and said nothing of it when I got home afterwards. Besides, what was I supposed to say: “Hey parents, you know that cousin you all admire, your son’s best friend? He shoves his tongue roughly down my throat and feels me up everytime I go to grandma’s house.”
I showed many signs, I know now, but my parents, always more concerned with perfection than emotions, never looked. And my dad is not a much better man, anyway. All I knew was that I hated it, my intimidating, older cousin’s lips and tongue violating mine as his hands roamed my stiff body. But I didn’t know what to do, and I never stopped him or fought back. I just let it happen.
But it’s not trauma, no. It’s not assault, and I have no right to talk about it, no right to bring it up when he’s stopped since and he’s a good guy and it was so long ago and I never stopped it and I get it. It’s not trauma.
Sure, maybe privately pulling an eight-year old girl into your bathroom as she simply stares at you, confused and scared, isn’t the best thing to do. And maybe forcing your mouth onto hers as she stands stiff with her hands glued to her sides isn’t alright either. Maybe touching her in unholy places as she tenses up even more isn’t what good guys do. Maybe he knew that. Do they know, at that age?
But it’s not trauma — and for these simple reasons: He was only a few years older than me...11, 12 at most. And, I don’t remember most of it anyway, so how it could be trauma? And of course, the most important reason, the one thing stopping me from telling anyone, from saying these exact words but with my name signed at the end: I never said no. I never fought back, never stopped him, never cried or spoke up.
So how could this be anyone’s fault but mine?