I can’t spell my life without his fingers in my story. For years this thought left me trembling, nails embedded in my palms. I was no more than the residual indignity of him beckoning to me, and me conceding like a child.
I was a child.
The abuse didn’t leave any blaring abrasion such as a bruise or a torn hymen. Instead it left hushed stains. Stains so silent you’d think they were being finger spelled.
Sentiments my three-year-old mind could not comprehend. Sentiments my three-year-old heart could surely feel. Shame upon my shoulders. Guilt soiling my palms. Weighted worthlessness drenching deeper than bone. And a befuddled hatred, reserved only for myself.
During our sessions I never spoke a word. The guilt in me wonders if I ever smiled for him, if I ever relayed any signal that I was enjoying his intrusion. Did I ever once give him a convicting answer to his signature phrase: “Like that? Feel good?” The bitterness in me knows that it doesn’t matter.
Whether I nodded or not, he would inevitably curl his finger, tilt his head, or take my hand, oftentimes leading me to the laundry room. His hand would guide mine as the washing machine trembled, masking his grunts as they both built a shuddering climax.
“Use two hands.” He’d say. His warm fingers were heavy on the back of my tiny neck. I thought I would choke.
At three years old, the physical representation of a penis had crossed my lips long before its phonetics. At five, my body had hosted countless parties during which his hands tore up the dance floor for hours, sans invitation. At six, I had my list. A mentally drafted a bill of particulars detailing specific triggers that make me weary to this day:
1. The slick, dark, stain of baby-oil soaked brick
2. Tropical punch Tampico
3. The vibration of a grown man’s whisper against my ear
4. The phrases “Like that?” and “Feel good?”
5. The heaviness of Heineken on a person’s breath
6. Red & green plaid
7. Shallow breaths pulsing through a goateed mouth
a. Goatees in general.
8. Being face to face with a man’s third eye on the brink of eruption.
9. The sun setting through a basement window.
No one ever saw the signs. I said nothing until seven years later, when I had outgrown putting things in my mouth that didn’t belong.
You can flip through the archives of my life and see my story. His fingers will undoubtedly be there, all in my chronicles, leaving bountiful wreckage in their wake.
You’ll find lessons like “little girls don’t say panties” and “you can’t beat a young man with your keys just because you didn’t want his hug.”
You’ll find P-A-I-N,
You’ll find failed relationships and an insufficient balance in my trust fund for males.
I’ll own all of that and more.
But I am not five years of sexual abuse. I am not fifteen years of silence. The beauty of my story is that he was not the only one to put his hands on me.
“I always see God’s hand in things,” my aunt said to me today over the phone, unknowingly planting a turning point for this piece. “Whatever happens, it’s the way God wants it to happen.”
And she’s right. God’s hands guide. He will bring forth the good and allow the bad in order to get you to who you need to be. I am made of all that has happened to me, a collective conglomerate of each hand that took part in molding me, the good and the bad. I’m my grandma’s wise words as she tickles the back of my knee. I am her shaking fist as she asks me if I want an ass whooping, deluxe. I am my uncle’s down-low-too-slow five. I am my cousin’s secret handshake. I am my mommy’s back pats. I am my father’s nose pinches. I am my sister’s applause. I am the kindergarten bully’s palms on my back as he pushes me down into the mulch, and I am my own palms pushing myself up again.
There are hands and fingers in all of our stories. Ones that touch us positively, ones that push us to the edge, ones that guide us to a breakthrough. (I can now hi-five Zane because, I too have found different ways around the word “penis,” a struggle I never knew until I made an attempt to tell my story.)
The hands that surround us leave deep impact, shaping and detailing our stories like clay. Some hands are there to dip a finger into your life and keep it moving. Others carry us in their palms like hand-blown glass. Some hands slap, pinch, and punch. Some hands meddle. Some hands speak to us, signing the way to go.
Recognize that we all, in having hands, have the opportunity—and the responsibility— to shape each other’s lives as diligently as we do our own. Recognize both the privilege and the duty. Affect someone else’s story on purpose. Use two hands. This is what sustains us as a people. This is what binds us together like the interlocked fingers of sisterhood.