About a month after my mother died, my father called. “Your uncle Gus died.” Hot Damn! I thought. “Do you want me to send a card in your name?” he asked. Do they make cards that say, “Glad you you’re dead, you son of a bitch”? HA! “No, Dad,” I said. Maybe he thought this was my opportunity to repair relations with that part of the family. Some things you just can’t forgive.
Everyone loved my uncle Gus. A born salesman, he told funny stories, jokes, drew funny pictures, flew airplanes, and drove a motorcycle. He attracted people like free samples at Costco.
We saw his family twice a year. Once they’d come to us and then we’d go to Pennsylvania to see them. I loved going to their house. My mother, her sister, my father and my uncle would talk for hours. I remember waking up, hearing the animated voices in the kitchen, and feeling happy and secure. I’d get to see my cousin, too. She was nine years older than me but she loved seeing me and I’d get a glimpse of a world years beyond my own.
We always had fun during those visits. My aunt and uncle would take us to Sea World, or Seven Springs Resort, or somewhere equally fabulous every time we’d visit. Their visits to New York weren’t so exciting. Lots more relatives to see, less time, and my parents didn’t have my aunt’s and uncle’s talents for hospitality.
I had fun until the year I went to visit them on my own. I was eleven and so psyched to make my own trip. They had just opened a business and they let me sit at reception. I felt very legitimate but I wondered what customers would think when they saw the braces on my teeth. Would they know I was too young? Looking back, the white overalls probably gave my age away.
I was sitting at the desk, and my uncle came by and said, “Come on, I’ll show you the rest of the building.” We got in the elevator and as it climbed, he reached over and grasped the clasp of my overalls, brushing my budding breast with his hand. “Nice,” he said. I felt uncomfortable but didn’t know what to do. Maybe it was a mistake. Maybe it wouldn’t happen again.
But it did. From then on, if nobody was looking or he could catch me in a room alone, my uncle Gus would grab at my breast or my crotch. He’d do it in his house. He’d do it in mine. Every time we saw them. Twice a year.
When I was sixteen, I told my parents. “GUS?” my mother exclaimed, “I can’t believe it!” and then, “Well, Honey, you ARE a very sexy girl.” They concluded that my uncle just couldn’t help himself, and I was to avoid him. They didn’t say anything to my aunt or uncle, because “It would kill her,” and the visits continued. My aunt and uncle’s family still stayed at my house when they visited. I was free to stay elsewhere.
All of the groping and my parents’ reaction sent the message that I was a sexual object, to be enjoyed and exploited by anyone who got the opportunity. Once I started having sex, I learned that sex gave me power. I never had much luck with boys, but once I learned I could give them what they wanted, I realized I could command a boy’s attention for however long it took for him to finish. I felt used and dirty afterwards, but I had the attention of a boy for a while and once he was done, I could get myself another one. And I did. I plowed my way through my small town in high school. I calmed down in college, but by then the destruction of my reputation and psyche was complete.
I never recovered. I’ve never felt like my body was my own and I still have flashbacks during intimacy. Shame eats at me like a parasite. When I visit my hometown, I relive all the memories and the suffering.
Before my first wedding, I sent my uncle a letter. It detailed every incident, every consequence, and said I never wanted to see him again. I lost my cousin and my aunt, but I had to take that chance. I had to confront him. I haven’t spoken to that part of the family in fourteen years.
So when I heard that my uncle died, I thought I’d finally be free. And in a sense, I am. I never have to worry about running into him at a family event. I don’t have to think about him living blissfully anymore while I suffer. But I’m not completely free. The damage that he started, and I perpetuated, is still with me. After years of work on those issues, I still can’t shake it. Everyone leaves a legacy, I guess. I just wish my destruction wasn’t his.
Author’s Note: I changed his name to protect my family. I don’t know why. It’s not libel if it’s true.