Time’s Up
Time’s Up

Vodka Yonic features a rotating cast of female writers from around the world sharing stories that are alternately humorous, sobering, intellectual, erotic, religious or painfully personal. You never know what you’ll find here each week, but we hope this potent mix of stories encourages conversation.

I was 16. He was old. He was a relative, although not blood-related. I don’t know why I feel like I have to clarify that. 

I was really confused by what happened, and right away I started thinking about what I had done, or not done, to make him think it was OK for him to do what he did. Memories of our time together throughout my entire life suddenly morphed into warnings, but too late, of course. 

I kicked myself, hard. Why had I gone with him when he wanted to take walks in our neighborhood? When he asked me if I’d had sex with any of my boyfriends, I had laughed. Why did I laugh? When he’d mentioned — with a sly look — that my body was developing nicely, why had I thanked him? What must he have gleaned about me from those secret meetings? Wouldn’t anyone else have seen this coming and headed it off sooner? This was my fault, and I was humiliated. 

Over time I began to convince myself that what had happened wasn’t such a big deal. He was family, after all, and maybe that was his idea of affection. He’d never had children of his own; maybe he just didn’t know better. Yes, that must be it. But my humiliation ate away at me day after day, and I kept the incident to myself. I decided to just stay away from him, which worked until the next family holiday. 

The next time it happened, Christmas lights twinkled and Bing Crosby crooned in the background. I was trying to get away, but he was holding me. He was standing on my fuzzy slipper, and it ripped, and I ran down the hall to my room. I locked the door and stood there terrified, my heart pounding in my chest, the blood thundering in my ears. A thousand questions wormed their way into my brain again. What had I done? How had I let him think he could do this to me? How had I let this happen again? I could hear my mom calling us for dinner. I started putting on all the clothing I could find — two bras, every clean shirt, a sweater. 

Shame engulfed me like a shroud. I went over it again and again, driving myself crazy with guilt and fear. I felt that all of my body parts had betrayed me by enticing this man. 

Finally, I told my little sister, out of fear of the same happening to her. I told her to stay away from him. I did not tell my parents. Telling your parents would accomplish nothing, I told myself. They’d be so mad at you. And you’d ruin this family. You’d never get to be together with the people you love at any holiday ever again — or worse, you would, and he’d know you told your parents. Just shut up unless you want everyone to hate you.

My story remained a secret until I was a married young adult and finally realized what had happened wasn’t my fault. Coming forward with it did tear my family apart, as I feared, but not in the way I thought it would. I’d never imagined that he would lie, that he would deny everything and cast doubt on my character. He claimed my story was ridiculous, just fictional accounts from an overly dramatic child, now an adult.

But I’m one of the lucky ones. My parents did believe me. They didn’t understand why I hadn’t told them when I was 16, and I didn’t have an answer for that. Now, as I scroll through Facebook posts, I’m beginning to understand. Every woman I know has a story, even the ones who aren’t ready to write “#MeToo” on social media. Our stories are tales of humiliation, degradation, powerlessness and fear. People often want to know why we didn’t come forward right away, and I have an answer for them. 

It’s because society has convinced us that no matter what happened to us, we were asking for it. It’s because standing up and speaking out means reliving horrors that we have tried to forget. It’s because telling someone puts us at risk of losing our jobs, our families, our friends. Coming forward is painful, and it takes every ounce of strength and courage we women possess. And all the perpetrator has to do is deny it ever happened, and suddenly the world doubts us, questions our motives or claims we’re on a “witch hunt.”

What happened to me never should have happened. I was only a child, but even if I had been an adult, it wasn’t my responsibility to come forward — it was his responsibility not to hurt me. But I did come forward, and countless other women are doing the same now. 

So listen up, world, because we are brave and strong, and we have realized that it was not our fault. We will not be blamed anymore. Time’s up for the offenders who lie and deny — they will only make us bolder and louder. 

Email arts@nashvillescene.com

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