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4 - The things I learned when I was little



When I was little, I think about first or second grade, I came home from school and asked my mom and Gram what an ox was. Gram said "it's like a cow, but bigger." 


Mom asked "where did you hear that?"

"At school. There was a play."

"Was it Little House on the Prairie?"

"No, they're saying about good touch and bad touch and don't let nobody touch your privates and stuff like that."

"What does that have to do with an ox?"

"They said your privates is what's covered by your swimsuit. So they said to tell somebody if someone touches your privates or your butt-ox."

My mom laughed, she laughed and laughed and then made this little headshake like she thought I was dumb and just walked outside laughing at me. I was confused. What was funny? Did I say it wrong? Did I remember the word wrong? Did I do something wrong again?

I asked my Gram "what?" And she said "honey, that's just a doctor word for your butt. Like the doctors have special words for all of your bones and muscles. Special doctor words. And the muscle in your butt is called a buttox."

"Well, why didn't the play people just say butt then?"

"I don't know honey."


The next year there was another good touch/bad touch presentation at my elementary school. The play people had us line up and sit on the bleachers in the music room. It was a small school. K-6th was was probably 40 or 50 kids.

I remember walking past the students artwork pinned up on the wall in the hallway. Coolwhip fingerpaintings on large pieces of black construction paper. "Paint what the music feels like" was the guidance the music teacher gave before she started the record player and it belted out a happy upbeat orchestra piece. We did the same assignment in kindergarten, too. But now we were big kids. Old enough to go to the big kids presentation about touching.

I remember being told that sometimes the "bad guy" will trick you. Don't take any candy from strangers. Don't go with anyone you don't know. If someone tries to grab you when you are walking on a sidewalk, scream and run away. (That's easy, I live in the country. I live in the woods. There's no sidewalks here.) Sometimes the bad guy is someone you know. Sometimes the bad guy will ask you to keep a secret. Don't keep the bad guy's secret. Don't let nobody but a doctor or your parents touch your body. Someone raised their hand -"what about getting spanked?" A mixed confused look flashed on the presenter's faces. Spanking was ok, rubbing was not ok. Spanking-yes. Rubbing-no. Ok then...yup...that was perfectly clear.


My two cousins were taken away from my uncle because my uncle didn't take care of them right. For punishment he'd handcuff them overnight in their underwear to the bumper or side mirror of his truck to teach them to listen. The next day they were covered in mosquito bites that looked like a bad case of the chicken pox. So they told somebody at school and then some people from the state came and took them away to foster care. The thing is though, thatmy two cousins who were rescued had two little sisters. The sisters were allowed to stay. This one little fact wiggled its way down into the base of my brain. If I said something, if I told someone, someone might come get me and take me away from the groping hands of my dad and my mom's temper. Someone might save me from my life. The state people could come and swoop in and save me and take me somewhere else...but my siblings, what would happen to them?


Ls (little sis) and Lb (little bro) were sheltered from the worst of the sexual abuse. By sheltered I mean I was the shelter. I kept them safe. The physical and emotional abuse and manipulation came down like rain on all of us, though. I tried to shelter Ls from my dad's affections. My dad used my protective instinct against me. He would brush Ls's leg or arm. I would tell her to go out and play with Lb. Then I would stay inside with him. Sometimes he'd just threaten her in front of me. He did this to gain my compliance. He'd say "maybe RR should go outside with Lb." I knew what he meant. I'd whisper in her ear to go out and play in the treefort with Lb. "Don't come inside til I come get you."


Childhood sexual abuse hurts everybody. I was 19 and married and had moved a few thousand miles away from my hometown before I was able to admit to my husband what had happened to me. He was in the military and after a long day of training and drills would come home often very late and he liked to sleep spooned behind me with his left arm lying over my chest, his hand cupping my breast. He especially liked to fall asleep like this after we'd had sex. To me this position made me feel like I was going to barf. It was as if someone was taking sandpaper to the base of my brain stem. Like chewing on a fresh stick of chalk. I'd move his hand down to my stomach, turn over so I could be the big spoon, lay flat on my back, just get up and go to the bathroom, anything to get away from him. Anything to get out of that position.

Finally, one night he snapped at me to just let him hold me. I exploded. I furiously told him everything. Told him how much it made me want to scream when I was in that position. How it made my skin crawl. How I wanted to barf. He was in shock. He wanted to kill him. My husband was furious but it kinda seemed more like it was a personal insult to him that I'd been violated and an insult to him that it had taken me two years to finally tell him. He was pissed that I didn't trust him. He was pissed that he'd had the "guy talk" with my (step)dad and been given a lecture about how to treat me. He was insulted.


Childhood sexual abuse hurts everybody. When my sister was 18 she came to visit me. I used the opportunity to ask her a question I dreaded hearing the answer to. I was scared but I asked anyways. "Ls, did he ever touch you...like that?" She burst into tears. My heart sunk. How did I not protect her from this monster?? "You can tell me, it's ok."

Ls "No. You don't understand."

Me "Yea I do."

Ls "No you don't."

Me "Ok, then tell me..."

Ls "Whenever he would do that to you, I was so glad it wasn't me. Whenever he touched you, I was glad it wasn't me!" She is sobbing uncontrollably now. Crying so hard I can barely hear her words. "I was glad, I'm sorry, so so so sorry. I'm awful. I was happy it wasn't me."

Then I told her it wasn't her because I told her to go away. To go be safe. I looked at her and said "I'd take a bullet for you Ls. Dead fucking serious. I'd take a bullet for you."

Ls "I know. But do you forgive me? I'm so so sorry."


I was a horrible murderous person. In third or fourth grade we learned about the respiratory system. We learned not to go inside old refrigerators or freezers or whatever because there's not enough air in there and if you breathe up all the oxygen then your lungs can't get oxygen to your blood cells and you will die from not enough oxygen. The same kind of thing can happen in a fish house. If it's sealed up tight and you have a stove in there going too, you and the stove can breathe up all the oxygen and then you would die.

My teacher also taught us about heart rates, and how your muscles and your body use way more  oxygen when you are doing work then when you are "at rest." Your "resting respiration" does not demand much oxygen. Your "exercising respiration" demands a lot of oxygen. She talked about scuba divers having only so much air in the tank, this was a good example since they have to keep track of how hard they are swimming to not use too much air up or they will die.

Lightbulb moment.

I am little.

I am big for my age, tall and muscular, but compared to my dad I am little.

I will kill him.

Well, more accurately I will wait for him to kill himself. I tell nobody of my plan. When the ambulance people come to take his dead body away I will say nothing. I will wait for him to run out of air. There's only so much air in a room, right? I am little and I only need a little air. He is so big and breathing so fast. He is sweaty. He is snorting and out of breathe. I am looking at my mother's alarm clock. It is gold with two bells on top and a little gold hammer between them. It has an off-white face. It has gold Roman numerals around it. I think the Romans must have liked straight lines. Their numbers don't have curves and curls like our numbers do. No 6s, 3s, or 9s. Nope. Just straight lines. I and V and X. All lines. No curves.

I breathe in slowly and hold my breath. I hold it for a long time. Then exhale. Then do it all again. Inhale, the second hand reaches the 1, hold it til the 2, exhale slowly until the 3, inhale again. I count and count and count as the seconds tick by. Inhale slowly for 5, hold for 5, exhale slowly for 5, inhale for 5, hold for 5, exhale for five. Four breathes a minute. The second hand goes round and round and round the clock.

I am awful. I am a horrible hateful person. I am waiting for him to die. I am waiting, taking hummingbird sized sips of air, while he unknowingly, greedily sucks down big gulps of it. He is sweaty and breathing fast, and I am so little. He doesn't even know it. He doesn't see it coming. Soon there will be no more oxygen in this room for him. Soon he will breathe it all up and I am little and I do not need a lot of oxygen, and he will die and I will survive.


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