( Warning: Mild depictions of sexual abuse)
Everybody has their demons. Mine is a man who is gentle and kind by day. He brushes his daughter’s tangled hair with painstaking care, dances in the rain with his smiling face lifted to the sky, and sings “Here Comes the Sun” in a voice like honey. My uncle was a good man. When you passed away, Mama, he and his wife took me in, and he held me in his arms while I cried for you. He comforted me, telling me that you were scattering lavender with the angels in heaven. He was a good man.
But by night, he is not my uncle. By night he is a fox, sly and cunning. His voice slurs and reeks of alcohol when he stumbles into my room.
When I was a little girl, who cared only for collecting pennies from the 1970s and making wishes on dandelions, I knew nothing of The Man who now creeps into my room when the house hushed and moonbeams illuminate the dust in the air.
My uncle taught me to play the piano. He would lay his warm hands on mine, guiding me to the right notes. When I stuck a sour chord, his breath tickled my ear as he laughed his throaty little laugh.
When I turned seven, he presented me with a shiny silver locket to wear around my neck, with a picture of my aunt and uncle inside. I put it on, and I could almost feel it’s little metal heartbeat against my chest. I treasured it and wore it every day for years to remind me of my uncle’s kindness. I was so proud to wear his picture around my neck, because he was the father I never got to have. I wanted to prove to the world that having an uncle as good as mine was better than any old father. He was everything an uncle should be.
Was, was, was.
Is it right that I should be scared of the world, Mama? Is it right that I should tremble when a man brushes against me in the street? Does it have to be this way? I don’t think the whole world is big enough for me to hide from him.
The memory of the first night my uncle came into my bedroom will never leave me. It is etched in my mind forever.
It was late, and I can’t say for sure what woke me up. Perhaps it was the creak of the door or the sound of his boots on the wooden floor. Blearily, I opened one eye, trying to figure out what woke me. A dark figure was illuminated by the dingy hallway light outside my door. Content, I closed my eye again and settled back into the soft pillows. It was only Uncle, come to say goodnight. I smiled to myself at the thought of his scratchy beard on my cheek.
He stumbled in and sat heavily at the foot of my bed. I froze under my covers. My eyelashes fluttered like a caged bird as I pretended to sleep. Something about his presence just didn’t feel right. I wanted him to laugh, tickle me under the chin, and sing me to back to sleep, like every other night.
He leaned closer, his eyes hungry, and in that moment, Mama, I knew that this was not the uncle I loved so dearly. My cozy bedroom was too small, the walls were closing in. I felt his calloused hands caress my trembling body and his ragged breath in my ear. ‘Are loving uncles allowed to touch their little girls like this?’ I wondered to myself. Is this fatherly love? I hated the feeling of his body pressed against mine. My eyes stung, and I choked back a sob. I just wanted to be far away from this man and his prying fingers. Yet I didn’t move. I was terrified.
In the morning, I crept out of my room slowly, my eyes red from crying myself to sleep. I felt dirty, as though my body was covered in insects. I ran to the bathroom to wash away the horrible feeling that lingered. But even as I rubbed my skin raw scrubbing and scrubbing, I still felt The Man’s handprints emblazoned on my skin like medals of shame. I couldn’t wash them away.
A sob burst from my throat, and I balled up the soaked washcloth and threw it at the bathroom mirror as hard as I could. I watched as the water the wet rag had left behind ran down the mirror in rivets, blurring the reflection of my tear-stained face. I missed you so much in that moment, Mama.
The next night, I couldn’t sleep, I was so scared that The Man would come to touch me again. Under the covers, my nightgown covered in little pink flowers twisted around my legs from all my tossing and turning. My eyes kept flitting back to the door, and my body was stiff, listening for footsteps in the hallway.
He didn’t come back that night, but that thought that he might was enough to keep me awake. I shivered anytime I remembered the way he had touched me. I was powerless to stop him.
It wasn’t long before he was back almost every night. It became expected, like how you wait in horrible anticipation for the doctor to stick a needle in your arm. I was tired, Mama. I was so tired of his dirty hands touching my body. Sick of scurrying from place to place to avoid seeing the man I once called Uncle. Disgusted with the fake sugar-spun smile he wore during the day. I was tired of living my life in fear.
One night after he had gone, my hands were balled and my lashes were wet with tears. I sat up in bed and looked around the room that had begun to feel like my prison. The four pale green walls had somehow stolen my voice from me. Why did pretend to be asleep when he touched me? Why did I not yell and pull away from his grabbing hands?
I bit my lip until it was white. Thinking of the way his eyes had greedily scanned my vulnerable body made me want to crawl into a hole and hide. Bile rose in my throat and a wave of red hot anger made my chest ache and throb. I scrabbled at my neck for the necklace that he had given me. It was nothing but a cruel reminder of who my uncle once was.
My ice-cold fingers closed tight around the thin chain. Fingers shaking, I gave a sharp tug. The locket snapped from my neck and fell to the carpet along with my trust. Broken, broken, broken.