I'm In Here
When I was thirteen, I pulled my mom aside and confessed how I had been feeling. There was a word for it- a medical one at that. Saying it aloud confirmed it for me: I was depressed. Unfortunately, she thought I was too young to experience depression. She chalked it up to being a teenager. Devastated, I never mentioned it again.
The thoughts persisted. They told me I couldn’t be pretty like my sisters. Even when I starved myself for months, my stomach remained the same- flabby for a pubescent child- despite what everyone else saw. I was a diluted copy of my older siblings, especially the smarter and more sociable ones. That’s why they had all these friends, while I sat at the swing sets alone.
From a young age, I heard these similar things from my family. Maybe they couldn’t tell it affected me. Maybe they thought I’d find it humorous. Their words chipped away at my self confidence. At some point, the voices in my head weren’t theirs, but mine. I still hear her, a young me, repeating it all.
My body was the easiest thing to insult about me, especially as a child. I enjoyed eating. I believed my mom was the best cook out there. Sure we often ate dishes consisting of beans, rice and tortillas, but it was filling.
My mom was adamant that we went to bed with full bellies. We were poor, a fact I became increasingly aware of, but she scrapped whatever she could to feed eight children. Expiration dates could be ignored. Canned food could be incorporated in plenty of meals. Most of the time, our parents got us fast food. It was cheap. They were landscapers. They worked long days. It was sensible.
It’s strange. Until my siblings noticed my weight, I wouldn’t look at my reflection much. It just didn’t occur to me. After the insults began, I stayed away from weight scales. If I stepped on one, I’d cry. When I would weigh myself, I made sure I was alone and unclothed. I’d eat in our bathroom, long after everyone had finished their dinner. It wasn’t until I began starving myself that the insults stopped. Then I became the smart, witty sister to them. No matter how many pounds I lost, how active I was, I saw a body I despised.
I was seventeen when I first thought about dying.
My siblings and I had a questionable relationship with our father. We didn’t love him. It was our mother we cared for. It wasn’t possible to love a man who beat your mother. Not really. You said you did because it was expected. You gave him hugs, when you preferred not to, and said I love you back because of your mother. If you weren’t careful, if you were too honest, your mother would suffer. He didn’t have to say that, but we knew. We had grown accustomed to his hands changing the color of our mother’s skin.
He abused us all. Sometimes with his fists. Mostly with his words.
There were times he seemed to care for us. When he was gentle, I hoped he’d stay that way. Moments like that, where he said kind things to us, made me think we could be a normal, happy family. It never lasted, though. Something, somehow, triggered him.
Mom protected us in her way. She picked on his moods before I could. If I cleaned well enough, I’d avoid his wrath. She learned how to block out his endless lectures and taught some of my siblings to do it. I tried. Instead, I became hyper aware of the vitriol he’d spit and those words joined in assaulting me.
I was the seventh out of eight children. My eldest sibling was ten when I was born. By the time I was a junior in high school, all who remained in that house fell from ten to four. I finally had a bedroom to myself. During all of this, I had begun to reexamine the delicate relationship I had with my father. I took it upon myself to repair what I could of it. I spent more and more of my time in my parents’ bedroom, watching the news and Spanish game shows with them. Oddly enough, I looked forward to this. My father didn’t seem as harsh then. I no longer was scared of him. In those moments, I was his daughter and he was my dad and I was okay with that.
I was used to my father laying his hands on me. He had punched me in the face before. He had struck my bare legs with cables, my palms with his belt. This, though, was different.
My dad had always asked for a goodnight kiss and hug. As a young child, he’d kiss my sisters and me on our lips. I didn’t like that. I could feel his stubble against my skin, so I began to turn my face away and pecked his cheek. So the goodnight kisses were no longer on the lips.
My little brother and Mom were upstairs, cleaning one of the bedrooms. I was in the room with my father. He asked me to lie beside him. I didn’t object. Their mattress was comfortable. Whenever he’d leave to gamble, I’d go to bed there with my mom. Well, I’d fall asleep while she stayed up and watched horror movies.
He asked for a hug. I have never enjoyed being touched. I only liked my mom hugging me. But when I was thirteen, I told him I didn’t like that and he was angry at everyone for a week. So I complied. And then he kissed me. Right on the mouth. I waited till he went to the bathroom to hide in my room.
Unfortunately, I was familiar with this, to a certain degree. I had a brother who spied on my sisters and me when we undressed, when we took showers. He hadn’t touched me, at least to my knowledge. Now I was being touched, but by my father.
His advances became unavoidable. I liked getting up early in the mornings, especially for school. We had one bathroom. One day, I had to pee. When I came out, I went to wash my hands in the kitchen sink. Behind me stood my dad. He grabbed my hand and forced it on his pants. He rubbed until I clearly felt something, moaning all along. My dad became more confident and began to wait for me outside the bathroom. Every time he did this, my body would freeze. He made me pleasure him, while I couldn’t muster anything in me to push him off me.
To avoid this, I stayed in my room. When I went to bed, I pushed a dresser I had in front of my doorway. I loved my mother, but I hadn’t told her about what was going on. My sisters and I had talked to Mom about what our brother had done to us and she didn’t believe us. Maybe that was why I hadn’t told anyone. I didn’t say anything till it was too late.
A few of us went to a casino for vacation. My siblings and I liked going for the buffets, the indoor swimming pools and hotel rooms nicer than our home. My dad wanted us to go in two groups, that way he could get away with having five people in one bedroom. So one of us had to go with him to the room, and then my mom and everyone else would follow shortly after. My sister didn’t want to go with Dad. Mom didn’t want Dad getting pissed. I was begging to go with my mom, but everyone picked me. They said I was his favorite.
My dad used the card to open our door. He had me go in first and then locked it. Once he did, he turned around and put his hands on me. I froze again. My body betrayed me at a crucial time. Powerless, I stood there as he kissed me on the lips, on the neck talking about the perfume I had put on that morning. He grabbed my butt. I was his daughter, but it didn’t matter to him.
Someone was talking in the hallway. My dad let go of me and cracked open the door. A housekeeper was with my mom and siblings. They were asking her if they had seen anyone who looked like me and my dad. Apparently he neglected to tell them what floor our room was on. My little brother had pressed a random floor number in the elevator and somehow, they found me. My dad looked at me before he stepped in the hallway.
“Don’t tell your mom.”
That whole day, all I could do was shake. I didn’t know what to do. My dad had tried to rape me. My own dad took advantage of me. He molested his daughter.
My best friend was my sister. It took hours, and I waited till we were alone, but I told her. She spoke to my mom and sister about it. My eldest sister had me move in with her.
I hated how he treated me the months after the event. My school uniform consisted of skirts and he would always comment on my legs. In one of his endless morning lectures, he said daughters should lose their virginity to their fathers. He kept looking at my lips. He asked me if I loved him, if I found him attractive.
I hated him. It wasn’t possible to love a man who molested his children.
The trauma caught up to me, the one I repressed by distracting myself with studies and work. I was nineteen. I had graduated high school. I was in college. I had two jobs.
For four months, all I could do was get up for work and school. I lied in bed, unable to do anything else. I often took multiple showers a day and had to be reminded by my sisters that I already took one. I forgot to brush my teeth, comb my hair. I couldn’t keep up with my online courses. For the first time in my life, I failed a class. Not one, but two of them. Most nights, I sobbed. I was utterly convinced that my depression was going to kill me. It felt like it was suffocating me.
That Christmas Eve, I decided I’d snap out of it. It had consumed my life for months. I didn’t want to feel this way every day. I wanted to live. I was tired of wanting to die.
I was in high school, when I almost killed myself. I had grabbed a shard of broken glass and held it up against my wrist. I was fed up with my father’s abuse. He had such a grip on my siblings, mother and me. He didn’t let us go anywhere, aside from school. He spoke against making any friends. He distrusted other Latinos and black people, and tried to make us feel the same way. He ruined birthdays and holidays. It was complete bullshit that he was my father. I knew people who loved their fathers and whose fathers loved them. Why did mine say he would have abandoned us? Why did mine abuse us? Why did mine abuse my mother? Why did mine touch me?
I thought of my mother. She was the strongest person I knew. She protected me, while I did what I could to protect her. I couldn’t do it. Not to her. I had made a silent promise to be there for her.
There are days I think about it, when it seems exceptionally hard, and I entertain the tendencies. Thankfully I’ve gotten better at pushing them aside. I have a husband who helps me with it. He’s loving, patient and kind. I have three dogs and two cats that I adore. I’m on medication for my anxiety and depression. I’m going to a therapist, something I was terrified of for years.
I wrote this. I wrote about my trauma. Since I went through my depression when I was nineteen, I hadn’t written anything in almost three years. I used to write all the time. I sat myself in front of my laptop and typed for hours. I finished something.
I’m making progress. I’m proud of myself.
The only tattoo I have is in Latin. It’s on my left collarbone. Veni, vidi, amavi. It translates to I came, I saw, I loved. It was my philosophy toward humankind: to be a good and loving person to others. I’ve decided to direct some of that goodness and love to myself.