Some Things You Can’t Forgive

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.

11 comments on “Some Things You Can’t Forgive

  1. I am so sorry that this happened to you. It is odd for me to realize to what a degree each person is living in their own bubble with their high school experience while it is happening. You spend so much time wrapped up in (and not telling anyone else) about your personal tortures.

    The best I have to offer is that all of our experiences (good and bad) have taken us on our path to be where we are now. Thank you for sharing this.

  2. Also, you can’t libel a dead man.

    But what a horrible thing to go through. I honestly think your parents’ reaction was as hurtful, if not moreso, than the actual attacks.

    It’s horrible enough to be attacked. You were too young to stop that. But to be told by your parents that it’s essentially your lot in life is just setting you up for more painful experiences.

    That said, I think you’re doing an incredible job of recovering. I know you said in the post that you’ve never recovered, but it’s not a static situation. You are building yourself up step by step and have been doing so as long as I’ve known you.

    Now you’ve got a great husband, a wonderful daughter and friends who love you. At heart, of course, each of us has to deal with these issues on our own, but friends and family make for a great railing to grab onto when you stumble.

    And you will stumble. And you will slide back at times. But the path you are on is the right one.

    Here’s wishing you a measure of peace.

    Have a great week.

  3. I wonder who else your uncle did this to? Like a cheater people that molest or abuse usually just don’t do it to one. Unfortunately your parents handled it incorrectly by putting the responsibility on you saying well your sexy! So does that mean men don’t have any self control and it’s expected???? That’s like tell a rape victim she deserved it for the way she dressed. As long as you now know it’s wasn’t you it was a dirty old man that had a lot of issues

  4. Kelly, I’m so happy you’re reading my blog! You know, I’ve often wondered who else my uncle molested. One cousin said that he never touched her, but my other cousin, his daughter, was about 5’1 and tipped the scales at about 275. I always thought it happened to her but when I confronted him, she took his side. Not that victims never side with the abuser but there are so many reasons she may have become an overeater. No one from my mother’s side of the family escaped unscathed so it could just be their natural craziness. Nevertheless, I will never know. We lived so far away that we’d never move in the same circles outside the family and I’ve just accounted for all of the girl cousins so I hope no one else suffered, but I would be willing to bet that there were many others who did.

  5. I was sexually molested for years and kidnapped,beaten, starved and humiliated. I forgave my dad after years of alcohol and anguish. When I found his grave I put a stone on his grave and I forgave him. That is what freed me. Unforgiveness keeps the victim in bondage and doesn’t hurt the abuser one bit. Unforgiveness is like taking poison and expecting the other person to die. Forgiveness is hard to do but it is necessary in order to get on with out lives and start to live. I wrote a book titled He Holds The Sparrow and it tells how I finally after years of self loathing, found freedom by forgivness. Good luck.

  6. I’ve been wanting to respond to your comment but was not sure how. First, let me say that you are a better person than I am just wanting to seek forgiveness, and when I hear of someone who’s been through so much, yet still maintains compassion for others, it just blows me away. I have a close friend who suffered horrific abuse yet she can still empathize with others whose experiences pale in comparison. I think the hardest part for me is to accept that God meant for this abuse to be part of my life. How do you reconcile such a thing?

  7. I am so sorry to hear of your horrible experiences with you Uncle and your parents looking the other way. I imagine you suffered from post traumatic stress for several years afterward and may be still suffering. I am 58 years old and still suffer from the memories of the physical abuse inflicted upon me when I was a child. I wish I could just turn it off but it stays with me. The video of the Judge beating his daughter with a belt and the mother standing by was pretty much how I was treated along with my siblings.
    When we were too old to physically abused, the emotional abuse started. My brother became addicted to drugs and committed suicide.
    Early childhood trauma does affect your whole life especially if you are a very sensitive person.
    I had to cut ties with both my parents in order to survive and lead a happy, healthy life.
    My mother recently died. I thought I would be finally free. There are 4 of us children left. Her final smack across the face was to leave her estate to the two younger siblings and leave me and my older sister (who is having financial problems and could really use it) out of the will. Her decision has further divided the siblings and caused a lot of bitterness.
    I don’t really need anything financially because I have a wonderful husband who adores me and we get by just fine. His childhood was very much like mine with the physical abuse. No wonder we were so attracted to each other. Plus we are both middle children.
    I hope you can try your best to put your nightmare behind you. I know it’s hard. I suffer from my own demons. Cherish the life you have with the people who truly love and care about you.
    There comes a time in life…when you walk away from all the drama and people who create it…you surround yourself with people who make you laugh…forget the bad and focus on the good. So love the people who treat you right…Pray for the ones who don’t. Life is too short to be anything but HAPPY. Falling down is part of LIFE…Getting back up is LIVING!

  8. Thanks for your kind words, Maureen. I am working on a new healing book right now, as a matter of fact. I’m definitely getting back up!

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