By Guest Contributor: Renee Ya (@dnldreams)
(Editor’s Note: Last week, survivors of sexual harassment and sexual assault took to social media to trend the #metoo hashtag with their stories. This is one of those stories.)
Is it fucked up that my #metoo story is also one of my earliest memories? In all, I can recall only about four memories from before I started kindergarten, most of them are relatively innocent.
In one memory, my father and I walk down the street of my childhood neighborhood. We were walking towards to the model homes. I was probably two years old.
In another, I run to the bathroom to grab my father some toilet paper. He had cut his finger making us food.
Then, there is the memory of me trying to drink water out of a chopstick. There is even a photo to substantiate my recollections of that moment. My babysitter, whom I love dearly, thinks it would be so funny if they switch out my straw for a chopstick. When I try to drink out of my straw-but-not-a-straw, nothing comes out. I start crying. I am maybe eight months old.
These are the innocent memories formed of a childhood that should have remained innocent.
But then, there is that last memory. It is night time. I don’t see any details of the faces of those crowded outside. I am locked in the cab of an old, beat-up, white pickup truck. Inside the truck, it is just me and my cousin, who is two months older than me.
Is it still sexual assault if no one touches you?
* * *
As is normal at Hmong family gatherings, the parents stay inside the house. The mothers and older girl cousins cook. The men drink and play card games or watch the fight on the TV. That leaves the children to run around outside, unoccupied and unsupervised.
I am younger than the rest of my cousins, but older than the babies. So, too, is my other cousin. The two of us want nothing more than to play with the older kids. So they tell us to get into the truck and they lock us in. They bang on the windows and scream. I am terrified. I want to get out. I don’t know how to make it stop.
“Take off your clothes!” they chant, shaking the truck until we relent.
“Now kiss his pee-pee!!”
“I don’t want to,” I cry out. My protests don’t matter.
“KISS IT! KISS IT! KISS IT!” Their chants grow aggressively louder.
At that moment, one of the older cousins emerges from the house to see what was going on.
“WHAT ARE YOU GUYS DOING!?” She screams as the kids scatter.
I am glad the assault is over. I quickly pull on my clothes, but all she sees are two nearly-naked kids in the cab of a white pick-up truck. Instead of figuring out what happened, she drags us before the parents for more humiliation and punishment. This cements my trauma.
I was four years old — almost five. I was the same age as my youngest daughter is now.
Now, I don’t trust kids to watch over each other.
* * *
A few years later, my parents send me to live away from them for almost a year.
I don’t have a kindergarten graduation. Instead, I am dropped off in Michigan to live with my grandma and grandpa, and eight of their other children whose ages range from being old enough for preschool to being old enough for high school.
I can’t fully recount every single event of that year. I won’t.
I endure eight months of hell that no six-year-old should ever have to.
Through it all, the most vivid memory of my repeated trauma is when I try to speak up. I try to tell the grown-ups that some of the older children (who include both my uncles and cousins) are touching me and the other girls inappropriately. I know I am articulate enough to say this.
They dismiss and silence me. They say, “go away.” They say that I am “being annoying to them.” They tell me: “shut up.”
I am only able to escape when my parents have my aunts ship me back to Fresno. The other younger children do not come back from Michigan with me.
I can’t go into basements anymore.
* * *
My experiences with sexual assault don’t end there; but this is where it began.
It began at home. It began in the driveway surrounded by my family. It began while cousins and uncles should have been watching the younger children play “hide and seek.” It began in the “safety” of people I should have been able to trust.
But I can’t. I won’t. I don’t.
When I look into my daughter’s eyes, I hope for a better life for them. I cuddle them as they sleep. I count each eyelash as a wish that they will never have to experience sexual abuse. I want their childhood to be everything mine was not.
I also look into my own eyes. I know I have nothing to hide.
I am a survivor.
Renee Ya is Hmong American and grew up in Fresno, CA. She spends her days vanquishing evil spirits in the name of the moon in the San Francisco Bay Area. When she’s not saving the world she’s a Product Manager in the video game industry by trade and mother to the next feisty generation of women warriors. Follow her on Twitter at @dnldreams.
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