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I always thought that my childhood was going to be about fun and games -- full of laughter -- but I was wrong. As I grew older, everything changed; I experienced things that I never expected to happen. Starting with my parents and then with a family member, I went through things I wish I could forget. The depression caused me to do many things I now regret. The memories that haunt me took me in the wrong direction. It is only now, as I write about my past, that I begin to realize how I cannot let what those people did to me ruin my whole life. I need to change.
One of my earliest memories is a scene in which the man I once called my “dad” took me over to his lover’s house. Even at four years old, I understood that he was cheating on my mom. He had sex with this woman in front of me, probably thinking I was too young to remember, but I was not. I continued playing with my dolls innocently, listening to the woman moaning in the background, wondering if my dad was hurting her. Now, whenever I see him, those flashbacks come back to me. I feel disgusted just looking at him.
Within a year, my mom had grown tired of my dad cheating on her, so she kicked him out of the house. When I was 7 and 8, I used to sleep with my mom in our room. There was a big closet and a queen-size bed with a lot of teddy bears on it. Next to the bed was a burgundy couch. We both shared the bed, but the part I hated the most was that my mom had a boyfriend and she would sneak him into our room while my aunt and sister were in the other room sleeping. When she would sneak him into the room, she would make me sleep on that hard, itchy couch; I didn’t like it. I was able to hear the loud cars in the street, the yelling of crazy crackheads and homeless people. Then all of a sudden, I would hear moaning and it was my mom having sex with her boyfriend. It was dark inside and I would keep my eyes shut tightly, trying to go to sleep, wishing that my sister or aunt would knock on the door and take me out of there... but it never happened.
When I was 9 years old, things got even worse. I moved into my sister and aunt’s room. One day, I came out of the shower, got dressed, and went to the living room. My sister was in the room with my aunt watching That 70’ Show. I heard my house phone ringing, so I ran to answer it quickly. It was my friend Sabrina from school.
“Hey, Paola, what are you doing?” she asked cheerfully.
I said, “Hey, Sabrina.”
Just then, my “uncle” knocked on the door and walked in. He’s not actually my uncle, but he’s a relative so we all just call him that. He was in his 40’s and he lived in the apartment under us. He came and sat down next to me on the couch. It was awkward to talk in front of him, so I told Sabrina I had to go. If only I hadn’t hung up the phone that day...
My uncle started talking to me, trying to get me to laugh by telling me Spanish riddles. After that, my childhood crashed -- all my dreams and imagination were smashed into little pieces and destroyed in a quick moment that changed my life.
I still ask myself, “Did that really happen? Was it my fault? How could he...?” Those questions remain unanswered throughout my whole life. I still remember his dirty hands touching my body, the strange grin on his face, his demonic eyes gazing at me as if he were to be possessed by the devil, his face full of pleasure and my mind confused and spinning.
I sat frozen the whole time, staring at the white door, wanting him to stop or for my sister or aunt to come running into the room to rescue me, but it didn’t happen. Lost, disoriented, my childhood innocence slipped away as his filthy hands left my body and he casually walked out the door. After that day, it continued for another whole year -- every day of the week he violated me. The only days I was safe were Saturdays and Sundays when my mom was home from work.
Every day now on my way to school and back home, I take the 16 bus. Every day, we pass by Loma’s Beauty Salon, one of the places where he molested me in his car in the parking lot as we waited for his wife. Every day my mind flashes back to his grin, his laughter, his sweaty hands. When I was 10 years old, he moved to Oklahoma and I was finally free, but by then, the damage was done. What he did to me changed my life and the way I was. I worry that he could be doing the same thing to my little cousins in Oklahoma -- destroying their lives for his own pleasure.
Over the past four years, I have done many things to try to stop the pain he caused me. One thing that many people don’t understand is that when the abuse ends, it still has its effects. Girls who have been sexually abused will live with that for the rest of their lives. I started using drugs at the age of 11. By trying to cover up the pain I felt inside, I ended up hurting myself and the people who cared about me.
In a downward spiral, I joined a crew at the age of 12; I felt like if they were a supportive family to me. They would listen to me, unlike my real family, who were hardly ever there for me. I’m still in the crew, which has now turned into a gang, but I want to get out. Since I am the youngest in the gang, I think they might give me a chance to leave. I have already stopped doing drugs and drinking alcohol, but I still need to fix some things in my life.
Even though I have messed up and made some wrong decisions, the good thing is that I am doing good in school right now. I already let my “uncle” destroy five years of my life -- I can’t let him ruin the rest of my life. He took control of me and left me powerless at that age, but now I am ready to speak out and take my power back. All that really matters now is my future. I can’t let this hold me down forever.
It was hard for me to open up and tell this story, but I had so much help and support from my friends, my therapist, and my school. Without them, I never would have broken this silence I have held inside me for so long. I still wish I could be closer with my family, especially my older sister. I hope that someday she and I can talk more because I need her in my life. For now, at least I have a close group of friends with me who have shown me that I don’t need to be afraid anymore and that I am not alone.