Wholly Private, Wholly Mine, an Essay by Jamilla VanDyke-Bailey


 

At the age of four, I am pretty sure I was raped by my father’s nephew; which means that he had to be about six or seven at the time. I say pretty sure because there is no undeniable proof. There is no physical evidence; only shaky memories once swept under the rug, family secrets that blister in the sun, and my treatment resistant symptoms of mental illness. More importantly, there is no police report because apparently four-year-olds who are raped by their favorite male cousins don’t have the verbage or resolve to speak on their experiences.

However, I am still pretty sure the rape occurred for a few reasons:

          I. During an argument with me, my father’s niece, Monique, (a child from a
          different sibling) yelled at the top of her lungs, “That’s why Mummy told me she found
          ****** on top of you so who gives a fuck if I still pee the bed, you let your cousin fuck
          you. So you’re the one that’s nasty;”

          II. I was a very hypersexual child and used sex as a “getting to know you” icebreaker
          and negotiation tool to get men to tell me that they thought I was pretty; and

          III. This same father’s nephew tried to rape me in the middle of the night when I was
          in seventh grade, which would make me about thirteen years old and him – fifteen or
          sixteen years old.

The following is what I am pretty sure happened: I imagine being four or five. I was a short child with a growing potbelly, soft hair and burning caramel skin. I’m sure back then I knew how to laugh a real laugh that was careless and loud and suffocating; a laugh that took up all the air in the room.

I was probably on Monique’s twin-sized mattress and struggling to find sleep because her bed was usually saran-wrapped in thick plastic. The plastic stopped the urine from seeping through to rot the cheap wood beneath it all. The sheets, I imagine, were a dingy ode to The Little Mermaid, her favorite movie which I also pretended to like with as much love and dedication as her. I wanted a sister to like things with so badly. And throughout my life, Monique was that.

I wonder how ****** excused himself into a room alone with me. Did he know what he wanted to do when the lie began forming at the back of his throat? Or did the idea consume him when he walked into the room and realized he had exclusivity to a sleeping four year old, and my four year old pussy (it’s never called a vagina when someone’s penis is nipping at your insides)? Did the way I sweat in my sleep entice him so much that he stepped outside of himself for that one moment? When did he decide that I was no longer his cousin; and that I was all warm, wet, flesh for him to take when he wanted?

I wonder what I did and said when I woke up with him on top of me. Did I immediately disassociate and watch myself being pried open and pitted out from the muddy orange stucco ceiling? Did I ask what was going on? Did I even try to ask him to stop? Or did some ancestral part of me know and coach me into dormant submission that had become synonymous with black families. Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth. In through your nose and out through your mouth. Don’t make eye contact. Don’t smell his sweat. Don’t waste your tears on this. Just transport. Levitate. Do something and it will all be over soon.

Did he finish inside of me? Can children cum? Can six year old wee wee’s even get hard enough to violently penetrate? Did I bleed on Ariel’s face beneath me? Did Flounder drown in my tears or his semen? Or did Monique’s mother, my father’s sister, catch him before he could finish.

Monique’s mother. I wonder if she even bothered to clean me. Did she have to give me a warm bath and wash the blood and sweat from between my thighs? Or were my clothes simply swapped for clean ones in my overnight bag. How long did his hunger sit inside of me before I was wiped down and presented to my parents good as new? I mean, eventually I was returned home bruised and broken. So I am pretty sure that Monique’s mother never spoke about how ****** made a victim out of me. Or how there was the stink of a whore’s shame between my thighs and it was silently growing every day.

Sometimes when I am feeling a certain level of sorry for myself, I imagine what would have happened if someone put me first. If Monique’s mother told the truth about what happened to me. If my parents cared about me enough to pay attention. If I were smart enough to scream and yell and fight and scratch. Would I have mindlessly wandered into this 230 pound frame that I call self? Would I still have a body count akin to the first world war? So many sweaty bodies without names. Without faces. Without shadows. Would I know happiness doesn’t exist beneath a man? Would God know me?

          I. During an argument with me, my father’s niece, Monique, (a child from a different
          sibling) yelled at the top of her lungs, “That’s why Mummy told me she found ****** on top
          of you so who gives a fuck if I still pee the bed, you let your cousin fuck you. So you’re
          the one that’s nasty.”

In the middle of a teenager hormonal fight, Monique stated my rape to my face as fact. Somehow she knew more about me and the state of my body than I did. Somehow she was let in on the little joke. Either way, her words let me know that I wasn’t born with the devil in me; but that someone had let him inside when I wasn’t looking. I was a teenager by that point and I never told anyone what Monique had told me. I knew that if I spoke about it, then others could speak out on me; and I didn’t know what to do with that shame I held inside of me.

          II. I was a very hypersexual child and used sex as a “getting to know you” icebreaker and
          negotiation tool to get men to tell me that they thought I was pretty;

I remember knowing how to give blowjobs before I knew what they were. I would get near a male being – any male being – and my body would light on fire. It would be this harsh fire that singed every fiber of my being and somehow my hands and mouth and pussy (because girls who acted like whores didn’t have vaginas) would know exactly what to do. So I would do it. In a trance, I would eagerly auction off parts of my body to the males around me. Sometimes, anyone around me. I didn’t care. I had a fire and I needed it to get off of me, get it out of my flesh, and set me free. But every time I fucked someone, from the single digit age until recently, I felt weaker and weaker. I felt less alive and more dead. I felt embarrassed and worthless and the weight of the shame made me want to kill myself.

I have always felt that after the rape I became to others what ****** was to me. Without thinking, I would be engaging in sexual acts with anyone that was a round. And who is often left around kids but other kids? However, my therapist disagreed and urged me to be more compassionate with myself. In his eyes, my past as a sexually abused child exploring their sexuality was not in spite of others but with them. And with that stated, I do not remember thinking. I do not remember planning anything out, or forcing anyone into “exploration” with me. One moment I would be a normal child, but once the crickets began chirping in the middle of the night, my flesh would start burning inside of itself and I would need someone, anyone, everyone to cool me down.

I hate ****** for what he did to me because it made me hurt other people. I added to the problem, to the cycle with unwatched children and prying hands when all I wanted to do was feel what my body told me it needed. I hate ****** and I hate myself for not keeping our weakness, our suffering, our confusion to ourselves. We should have just let the fire burn us away without a scream, and without a victim to hold on to.

Fast forward years, and somehow I wound up here. Still broken but a little better. Working on undoing what comes so naturally to me. For me, breathing is a lot like fucking and fucking is a lot like breathing. I have to do it, and not doing it makes me think about how much I want to do it over and over again. To be honest, I have no idea how I got here. I can’t remember the names of the men that I let fuck me, or where I let them fuck me. I don’t know if we used protection or not, or if I even had their cellphone number. I am pretty sure most of them did not know my name, or care about why I was so eager to let them into me.

Oddly enough, I don’t think it ever crossed my parents mind how hypersexual I was. I think that since I have always been fat and not the prettiest one in the family they never thought that someone would actually want to have sex with me. I’m not Monique, who never had to be called smart or funny because they were always called beautiful. No one suspects the girls like me. Who would want someone like me? I wasn’t the pretty one, or the skinny one who talked in a light hearted sing-song voice. I was the chubby, loudmouth who openly refused to be happy. And therefore, my parents felt that they didn’t need to worry about me. And so they never did.

For me, part of the reason I continued to be hypersexual because I knew no one suspected that I could be wanted by the opposite sex. I also knew I couldn’t be wanted by men on my own merit. The white boys at school wouldn’t talk to me in public, let alone date me. And the black boys saw me as less than nothing. So, I was delighted to be wanted by someone. Anyone. And I didn’t care where they wanted me, or if they knew my name, or if at the end of the night that they would slit my throat and throw me in a ditch. I wanted to be wanted. I wanted someone to take my body in their hands because to me I felt weightless. It felt like flying. Their desire made me feel like I was worthy even though I knew deep down that I wasn’t.

And once it was over the euphoria evaporated and I was nothing again. I needed another fix; another hand around my waist; another man kissing me on my neck. I needed another fuck to make me feel like someone, anyone could ever want me.

At four, ****** stole my vagina and handed me back a pussy that taught me how to fuck to feel.

          III. This same father’s nephew tried to rape me in the middle of the night when I was in
          seventh grade, which would make me about thirteen years old and him – fifteen or sixteen
          years old.

I have always found it easier to tell strangers that I was sexually assaulted by my father’s nephew because strangers, unlike family members, do not have a preconceived definition of who I am. I had been writing about the trauma I faced for years, afraid that it would get back to my parents and simultaneously wanting it to get back to my parents. For an undergraduate writing class at UMass Boston, Dr. Duncan Nelson convinced me to write a realistic account about something that happened to me. He told me to be raw, and gritty; to stick to the facts as I remembered; and to write without fear of judgment. As we edited the work together, he refused to flinch at the words on the page, and constantly showered me with praise, not for “surviving” an attack, but for writing a strong piece of prose. I, was so desperate to get a secret out from under my skin that I wrote about the time ****** came back when I was thirteen.

It is called, “Please, please go away” and it reads:

          At the sound of the closet door creaking, my eyes pop open. I see the white moon against the dark sky through the torn shades in the corner window. By the light of the moon I look around the room, but I saw no one and heard nothing and went back to sleep.

          I heard the floorboards rattling in a wave from the closet to the bed. This
couldn’t be a cat; there was someone in the closet, watching me. I turned my head
away and I squeezed my eyes shut.
          I could hear someone moving.
          I squeezed my eyes tighter.
          I could hear someone taking a step forward, and then pausing.
          I squeezed my eyes even tighter, until my eyelids started aching.
          I could hear someone take another step, more deliberate than the first.
          Please go away. I kept thinking to myself. Please, please go away.
          That someone took another step, and with that step they were beside the bed
kneeling down next to me. I could sense their eyes looking at me. I could hear them
breathing over me.
          It was ******. I felt it in my heart.
          He placed his left hand on my butt and moaned. I squirmed. I wanted to run but my body wouldn’t move.
          He pulled down my pink Rocawear sweatpants. He began rubbing me between my legs and then he hoisted himself on top of me, lowering his stomach onto my back. He was breathing heavily, and his sweat dripped down the back of my neck. I laid perfectly still. He started fumbling and then I could feel something hard brushing against my pink “Wednesday” underwear. When he tried to force himself inside of me, my body tensed. He tried again, grinding against me once more.
          “STOP!” I told him, “GET OFF OF ME! I’M GONNA TELL!”
          “You better not,” he said and ran out of the room.

There are two things that didn’t make the final draft. After ****** tried to rape me I crawled into bed with Monique, who was sleeping next door. I woke her up out of her sleep to tell her what had just happened, but she didn’t seem shocked and she didn’t ask any questions. The next morning when we returned to the room I had slept in, we saw the jar of vaseline beside the bed and Monique instinctively kicked it underneath the bottom bunk. I could have protested, but I didn’t. Instead, I let her do it without a comment and I never told anyone what had happened.

I do not know if he was prepared the first time he raped me when I was four, but that second time he was definitely ready. He had been camping out in that closet, waiting for the house to go silent. Waiting for me to fall into deep sleep. He brought a cheap lube just in case I couldn’t get wet for him. He knew exactly what he wanted to do to me.

These are when the questions came stomping around once again. Had he been thinking about raping me for a while and realized he had the perfect moment when I suddenly decided to stay the night at my grandmother’s’ house? Or did some incredible urge wake him in the middle of the night? How many times had he raped me over the years without me being able to associate? Why was my four year old pussy not enough for him? And why me? Monique was in the room right next to me, and although I do not wish that on anyone, what was the difference between us? Are we not both just pussy? What was it about me that made me so easy to be ripped apart? Is it because he, ever the predator, could smell the decay he left inside of me? Or, is it because he knew that Monique was far too strong to be victimized?

At around nineteen years old, Morgan Jerkins speaks on her experience during a labiaplasty consultation with a male surgeon. During her experience, from the examination table to the doctor’s office to talk about next step, Jerkins talks about how she felt that her body was out of her control. She writes, “My vagina was wholly private, wholly mine, which made me feel all the more vulnerable about this process” (Jerkins, 132).

I never really had a vagina. At the age of four, my body was no longer private, and it was no longer mine. Someone ran away with an integral part of me and I had no words to tell anyone what was missing, let alone who took it. At the age of four, I was no longer a virgin; no longer a child; no longer alive. I did not know what it was like to be a little girl, and I never grew into a young woman. I was always a whore, but no one really knew because I was so damn good at hiding it. I’m 25 right now, and I don’t want to turn 26 and still have a pussy instead a vagina. So this is my first step towards that freedom. I’m speaking up to myself, so that when I do find my vagina again, it will be, wholly private and wholly mine.

 

Works Cited

Jerkins, Morgan. This Will Be My Undoing: Living at the Intersection of Black, Female, and Feminist in (White) American

 

Jamilla VanDyke-Bailey is a recent graduate of the University of Massachusetts in Boston and the author of Black Girls Burn Blue

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