Creative Nonfiction Coming of Age Sad

TW: abuse

Three cardinal rules were broken that day in my grandmother's playroom.


1.     It's only a game if everyone's having fun.

2.     It's only funny if everyone's laughing.

3.     Pick on someone your own size.


I was tried for my crimes in a kangaroo court. Everything the judge said was true, except when she said I was lying. I was not, though I was held in contempt for it, for shouting in protest that it wasn’t my fault.


My plea of self-defence was not accepted.


Blaming someone else, saying they provoked or incited you, didn’t cut it with her. Not if you were a girl, anyway. She had a Bible verse for that. She had a Bible verse for everything.


“The serpent beguiled me,” she ruled severely, “and I did eat.”


To call the boy a serpent was an insult to serpents, I thought.


At the time, it seemed best to keep this idea to myself.


In retrospect, however, I should have said it, said it with loud insolence, and run. Let her call my grandfather in. Told him what happened. He would have thrown out the case; I would not have been found guilty, sentenced to hard slaps with the flat of a rough hand, solitary isolation, hard labour. I would have learned a different lesson.


Hindsight is twenty-twenty.


I did not comment on how apt it was she had cited the Eve precedent, given that the boy was a venomous, cold-blooded creature who should be cursed to crawl on his belly and feel my children’s feet crush his head.


I said instead that I was sorry. This was my second lie of the day; the first was when I was summarily ordered to pay my reparations to the snivelling teenager.


“I didn’t mean it,” I said.


I didn’t mean it.




I served my time with the emotional anvil of injustice on my back, eyes tear-filled, nose running down my face, inhaling sobs for fear their irritating noise would attract further punishment. More where that came from.


My victim, from the backseat of his mother’s car, watched me with vindicated satisfaction as they drove away, schadenfreude dancing in his eyes.

I was glad to see him go.


“They won’t be back after that!” scolded my grandmother, furious.




If I could go back in time, I would give that little girl clearing away the dishes a high five, a hug, dry her tears, tell her that what happened to us was real, that we weren’t imagining things or bringing it on ourselves, no matter how many times these things happened to us. I would teach us to shout louder, to scream until someone listened, to fight back harder, so that maybe we could save her from the many future injustices she was otherwise doomed to face.


But I cannot, and there she remains, in my mind, crying quietly over the silverware, another freeze-frame of my former self in my thick mental dossier of abuse borne quietly, the textbook from which I learned to be everything I am today.


The visiting boy was no first-time offender. He had come before, with his mother and baby sister. He was a no-good child who found his enjoyment either in, or irrespective of, the misery of others, preferably those a little smaller than himself.


I wouldn’t let him hurt my baby brother, but I couldn’t stop him from hurting me.


He came toward me, laughing, bony hands outstretched, a shock of red hair protruding from his ugly teenage mug like the wig of a malevolent clown.


I made the same mistake I always did, the same mistake I had made with him and others, bigger and stronger, before, allowed the aggressor to back me into a corner or, in this case, a wardrobe. He followed me in, closed the door on us, hemmed me against the back wall, ran a hand under my shirt, used the same hand to pin me back while the other pulled at my underwear. I didn’t like it. I screamed. I made that noise, between crying and laughing, children make while trying to squirm away from rough tickling.


Nobody came. I guess they thought I was having fun, like last time.

I wasn’t.


They might have worked that out, had they listened to a word I was saying, words like stop, get off me, I don’t like it.


His thin spotty face looked evil, terrifying in the near dark. I was trying to get him off me, to get his fingers out of my knickers, trying not to pee my pants, calling for help which would not come. I could not escape. When I swiped at him, he held my arm. When I kicked him, he kicked me back. He kicked me in the stomach, grabbed my leg and knocked me over, laughed at me when he had me on the floor, fumbled at his zipper.


I guess he thought he had me then.


He didn’t.


I saw red. Bit him, gouged his eyes, kicked him hard in the groin until I felt him back up, felt a tear fall on me, and heard him yelp like the sorry mongrel he was, saw the door open as the blotchy-faced adolescent straightened himself up and ran away.


I stood frozen in silent disbelief, then, hearing him bawl, realised what he was about to do.


I ran, no, hobbled after him, half his age, half his size, half speed, a bump on my head, rising bruises on my body and legs, tears in my eyes, my blonde ponytail mussed and my clothing all askew. Surely, even if I reached my grandmother after him, she would see, this time, what he had done. She would call it out in front of his mother, take my side. His mother would make him apologise and, moreover, she would never ever leave her little girl alone with him, her eyes open to what the monster she had raised was capable of.


Childish idealism.


I stood on the threshold of the sitting-room, watched in disbelief as the boy who was fixing to rape me only a couple of minutes earlier blubbered on his mother’s lap.


He was only playing, he said.


I had attacked him for no reason, he said.


You poor thing, come here, they said.


I stood alone, made myself small. Nobody asked why my eyes were red, why I looked like I'd been roughed up. Instead they turned on me like scorpions: his mother with an unbreaking angry glare, my outraged grandmother with a tirade of upbraiding shrieks and murderous threats, of which all I recall now is the word bad, over and over. Bad for lying, bad for fighting, bad for ruining the game, bad for refusing to take the blame, a bad example for the little ones.


That day, I learnt the art of passivity, the inactive self-defence of lowering my mental carapace allowing my mind to dissociate and my body to limply accept what it had coming. I learnt that if I saved myself from trouble, trouble would still find me, that I would be branded a liar, beaten, and, if I cried, told there was more where that came from. On the rare occasions I found the courage to speak out, there was no sympathy, only cold advice. Dress differently. Keep your head down. Don’t stay alone with boys. From that, I learnt that being molested was something I brought on myself, because I was bad, bad, deserving of fear and hurt.


Hard-learnt lessons last longest.


Thirty years later, I am still unlearning what the wardrobe taught me.






July 12, 2021 17:21

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Masooma Shabbar
15:45 Jul 23, 2021

Your story was very gripping. I don't know if it's reality of fiction, but I hope you are healed soon.


Sorcha Wilde
16:46 Jul 23, 2021

Hi Masooma, Thank you so much for reading this and for your kind words, which are sincerely appreciated. It amazes me how kindness can have such magical healing properties :) Have a lovely weekend! Sorcha


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