I walked into his small one bedroom apartment, my nose turning just a little bit at the stench: old, used, darkness. Spray bottle in hand and rags at my side, I stared at the newspaper covering the walls around his bed. Drips of dried blood and flem mixed with spots of black. I was seventeen.
I stood there for a moment sighing at the work in front of me, forgetting the loaded revolver in the bedside table drawer and the one under the right pillow. He wasn’t there to threaten me with them this time anyway. Maybe that’s why I forgot.
Pulling on yellow rubber gloves still a bit too large for my fingers, I set to work peeling the blood filled faded newspapers off the wall. Taking the gloves off to dig my fingernails under the Scotch tape that held them there when needed and then quickly sliding the gloves back on as they ripped in vertical strips down the wall. Like wallpaper they stuck here and there as the fluid had soaked through the paper to the wall underneath forming glue.
Past the bathroom to the right and the stained plastic curtain now covered in orange mold. To the sink in the kitchen the overlooked the sidewalk outside. “Quiet,” he said, we need to make sure that we keep quiet. The neighbors don’t like noise. Lifting the lever to the faucet I slid the bucket underneath and waited for the hot water to come. The Pinesol making a swirl of white and releasing its scent of daycare and public bathrooms. I wait for it fill as I stare into space. Why am I here, I wonder but I am too removed to think much about that so instead I stare at the red table across the way with it’s plastic cherry lined chairs and 1950’s laminate top.
The smell of death overwhelms me as I choke it back and walk back to the bed.
It’s my job to clean the walls. I don’t know why it’s my job. I can only guess it’s because he’s an elderly man in need and that’s what Christians do. Sacrifice at their own expense, I’m told.
Dipping my gloved hand into the suds and pushing the water around the walls to loosen the bits of stuck paper I look out the sliding glass door to the lawn. The community garden is still there, standing between the apartments and my fathers gym. Bright purple balls of alium as big as my hand bloom there and I remember the day he showed them to me; the same day he showed me the paper matchbook that sprung a rubber penis when it opened. He showed me a lot of things on his mantle in the living room across from the bed. I wasn’t alone then, the kids from the gym were with me. We would spent a lot of time at his house taking turns sitting on his lap and grabbing up our candy prize in exchange.
Water sloshed down the wall and pooled onto the carpet below and Ii mopped it up. “Do a good job,” my Dad said. I wonder if he forgot. I was always a good girl. John told me so a lot.
The edge of the bed pushes against my back as I try to navigate around it, moving the unwashed blankets out of my way so I can perch precariously and reach the paper near the ceiling. I busy myself scrubbing and wonder where he is and if he put up this paper himself and why. I didn’t know he was sick and a smile curls up my lips as I think about it. Suds now flat and the water a mellow pink, I stare into conjuring images of him in pain, coughing, writhing, dying. I relish every one, turning it over and over in my mind and then let them go as guilt washes over me. It’s time to refill.
This time I fill my bucket in yellowing tub of the bathroom. That’s where he first touched me but I don’t remember that then. The experience of that night didn’t even enter my conscious thought as I cleaned his hell from the walls around his bed.
I’m 40 now.
I sit in my therapists office on the burgundy couch with its two pillows tucked neatly beside me and my Starbucks coffee. I’m there to talk about my divorce; about my repeated emotional affairs and the draw I have to finding comfort in the desire of men. He asks me how old I was when I was taken for the first time.
“Twelve” I say, “but I’ve worked through it.”
He asks how I’ve worked through it.
“Every way,” I say, “counseling for two years when I was 17. Consciously walking through the process of forgiveness in my 20’s. Spiritual exorcism in my 30’s.” Meeting with my parents separately at 37. Asking for their story, forgiving their ignorance. Watching my father sob at the realization of how those acts forever changed my life.
“I told my mother the day after it happened, ” I tell him, “I told her when I was 12, and I was never allowed to spend the night with him again. He was cut out from visiting my fathers gym.”
“How old were you when he died? When you cleaned his apartment?” he asks in reply.
“Seventeen,” I say.
“Why were you cleaning his apartment at 17 when you weren’t allowed to visit him after 12?”
Waves crash over my head and I am blank. My thoughts are gone, my coffee rattles in my cup as my body begins to convulse. Memories and emotions come…they come wildly over me like black night and suffocating darkness.
I am unprotected. Unclean. Unholy. Unwanted. Unworthy. Broken.
One in five girls and one in twenty boys are sexually abused before the age of 18. Sexual abuse is not something that goes away, it is a circumstance that can without being addressed, create life long trauma.
My story, is minimal compared with some, but it is the story I know. You are not alone. Rise above. #nomoreshame #chooselife #beautyfromashes
All My Love,
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