By all accounts, I had a happy, contented childhood. My parents (God bless them plenty) did their best to balance love and discipline in their efforts to bring up my siblings and I into grown-ups they could take pride in.
They say it takes a village to bring up a child. The villagers involved in my upbringing were well-intentioned people. The uncles who’d extend their homes as getaways from our home during holidays. The aunts who’d visit, full of gifts to reward us based on reports reaching them of our good behaviour. The older cousins who’d treat us to the occasional outing in the then-esteemed Mr. Biggs. The neighbours who we nicknamed Reporters’ Notebook because, well, they never failed to come knocking on our door at the end of the day to update our parents on all the ways we misbehaved when they weren’t home.
These were good, decent people, however conscientious or magnanimous their efforts were in being a part of my upbringing.
It wasn’t until I began to grow up, to read books, to have my eyes opened to the world beyond my nuclear environment, that I began to realize the horror in the truth that not everybody in the village bringing up a child are decent. That not all uncles just want to give you an allowance. That not all older cousins or family friends want to simply take you out for ice cream. That not every neighbour who asks you into their house wants to advise you not to play with the boys from the other street.
It wasn’t until I began to grow up that I came upon the horror that there are people, adult people, who’d touch, violate and rob a child of his/her innocence. I thought about myself as a child, about how I didn’t even come into my sexual awareness until I was 13; and then I thought about stories of children as young as 5, 6, 7 getting thrust into such sexual violation, and it made my insides churn with nausea.
However, even though I knew of this evil, the fact that they were incidences that were removed from me, unrelated, distant, helped cushion the effect knowing about it had on me.
That changed this year, when a close friend of mine said to me: “I just endured a visit from the man who molested me when I was 11.”
And he went on to open up long-suppressed pain, peeled back scabs over wounds that were still fresh and present, a story of horrors that filled me with mixed emotions of sadness, revulsion and anger.
With his story, this evil became personal to me. It came home to roost.
The evil got even closer when, days after my friend’s admission, another acquaintance, during a moment of vulnerability, opened up to me about his sexual confusion.
“I do not know if I’m a virgin,” he said to me.
“How come?” I asked, puzzled.
“Because I was consistently molested since I was 5,” he dropped.
(With his permission), these are his words: “It started with my much older female cousin when I was 5. Then there was the neighbour, and then the chemist whose shop was next door. Then the family friend who first touched me when I was six or seven years old, he was 20… I’m confused, I always have been… I have become too sensitive and hate being stared at because that was how he’d stare at me after taking the pillow away from my face, making me wonder what had just happened… I always disappeared under his mass, then and also at night when everyone was fast asleep, he would reach for me and try to kiss me. I didn’t understand why he always wanted his lips to touch mine. I never liked it but somehow he always succeeded in pushing his tongue into mine, saying I’ll like it. I never did… I began having esteem issues as I grew up and some days, I cried. I’m afraid of being single, afraid that something might happen to me. But then I feel I won’t last long in any relationship — if I ever get the chance to be in one… There were times I told myself that I don’t care, but that had never really been true. But it’s much easier to pretend, isn’t it?”
As he opened up to me, I felt a helplessness, that I had somehow failed this young man by not being present when he was 5 to protect him from these violations. An anger that made me recoil from any faith that would ask for these monsters to someday be forgiven for their trespasses. And a great sadness that in a world where admittedly, bad things happen to good people, why does there exist a cosmic energy that allows such monstrous things to happen to someone as good and untouched as a child.
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