The End of the Innocence
by: M. L. Dickson
“I not only have my secrets, I am my secrets. And you are your secrets. Our secrets are human secrets, and our trusting each other enough to share them with each other has much to do with the secret of what it is to be human.”
I came down from the shower with a towel wrapped around my head, t-shirt and gym shorts. I pulled a soda from the fridge and settled into the couch for a long night of television. Definitely no summer reading tonight, I would do that in the morning. My cheeks and shoulders were warm and pink from a long day at the pool without sunscreen. UV protection was not part of the 1984 tanning regimen. My brother, Beau, emerged form his room, freshly showered in a white knit polo shirt, khaki shorts, plaid belt and Gucci loafers with no socks. His hair was wet, brushed back slick on the top while the brown curls looped just above his collar.
“You look awfully nice for a guy who is not going anywhere tonight,” I said.
“I am not going anywhere. But plenty of my friends are coming here. I guess you can join us as long as you don’t tell Mom and Dad I am having a party,” he responded.
This put me in a tough spot. I was 15, a rising sophomore in high school and, awkward in my own skin. A complete goody-goody and totally unwilling to break my parents’ rules about having people over while they were out of town. Although, I was really excited about the prospect of being included in my brother’s college party. Beau shot me one of those, “well what’s it going to be looks” with his crooked grin. Not wanting to be perceived as any more of a geek than I already felt I said, “Sure, I won’t tell. Sounds like fun.”
That was it, end of the discussion. Fifteen minutes after my parents were out the door, Beau announced he was hosting a party and I agreed not to tell. For the first time in my life, my parents trusted my brother and me to be alone and be responsible, and within 15 minutes I had agreed to purposefully deceive them. It felt kind of nice to walk in my sneaky brother’s shoes.
I casually stood up and walked upstairs. If I was to be cool, I needed to dry my hair and dress better than a t-shirt and ripped gym shorts. Opening drawer after drawer, I pawed through my clothes trying to find something resembling, “college clothes.” What do girls wear in college? How was I to know, I wore a uniform 5 days a week during the school year and was forbidden to read supermarket tabloids. Fashion? I settled on a pair of madras patchwork shorts, flip flops and a white polo with a navy blue headband. Mascara and Bonny Bell lip gloss were my only make up. I had a tan, who needs more? Maybe I could pass for 17 tonight.
Beau’s friends started trickling in while I was eating dinner and watching the entertainment news shows Mother forbade me to see. First in were David, John and Michael, three of Beau’s childhood buddies I’d known forever. We said hello and I kept eating and watching the latest Hollywood gossip. The only difference between their entry tonight and every other time they’d been at our house since I was four was that each of them were carrying a case of beer. Beau was 20, I was 15–nobody in the house was of legal drinking age. But it was a college party and I was not stupid enough to think that my brother and his friends did not have numerous fake IDs.
By the time I finished my dinner, a dozen or more people arrived, girls and boys. All of the guys were carrying a case of beer and the girls just came with their smiles and tanned skin. Some of my classmates’ older sisters, freshly home from college, were there. I was happy to see them and chat about their college experiences. That was not strange for me—the main difference I noticed was that they were drinking beer and I was drinking diet soda. It really did not bother me since I’d never had a full beer– sure Dad had given me a sip from time to time, but that was it. Personally I thought beer tasted like old yeasty bread.
Just then, Beau yells over to me, “catch,” and throws me a beer. He and his buddies erupt with laughter. Another uncomfortable moment. Do I open the beer, drink it and look like a college kid? Or do I put it down and say no thank you because I really don’t like the taste? Beau and his buddies were looking at me, laughing. I smiled, opened the beer, took as sip and said, “Thanks” as I returned to my conversation. Their laughter quickly died down and my brother’s first attempt at humiliation failed.
The evening wore on, and I continued to nurse the same beer for over two hours. A college party was boring. All anyone did was talk, smoke and talk more. Where was the dancing? Where were the games? Where are the togas and the keg stands like in Animal House? If this was a real college party, my expectations were dashed and I was sadly disappointed. I was about to quietly exit the party and head to bed when Beau invited me into the kitchen for game of quarters. Finally, a game. I knew how to play quarters. One of my closest friends was the youngest of four. Her brother came home from college last year and taught her to play. She taught us. We would play with Sprite and see who could produce the largest burp or go the longest with out peeing in the toilet or in their pants. Quarters was fun and I was quite good at landing the quarter in the shot glass, especially on my mother’s fancy kitchen counters. I’d spent hours practicing on these very counters before many sleepovers. I had this one in the bag.
But this quarters game was different, we were playing with beer, not Sprite. I thought I could play a few rounds, sink a few shots to my brother and call it a night. David started explaining the rules to me. I just smiled and said, “Thanks I know how to play.” I took a practice shot, landed it in the beer and passed it over to David to drink. I looked like a pro. He was impressed and again, Beau’s smirk disappeared. Beau actually had a quizzical look on his face like, “maybe my little sister isn’t as much of a looser as I thought.”
My playing was hot for a while—I landed almost every shot and passed them around– but many shots came my way, too. I started feeling light headed and giggly. Everything anyone said was hysterically funny, and the only one funnier than my brothers’ friends in the room was me! Yes, I was cool. For the first time in my 15 years, I was cool, funny and my brother’s cute friends were actually holding conversations with me. Victory!
Then, my stomach cramped. I stood up quickly and felt the room tilt to the right, and began a slow decent into the floor. Oh no, what was wrong? David grabbed my right arm and straightened me up. He kept his hand on my elbow until I regained my balance. “Whooa girl, you OK,” he asked. “I ffffinnnkk so,” I slurred. The room was spinning and everyone’s head had a twin. Oh God, I thought, am I drunk? I looked up at the clock and worked to focus on the numbers. It was 11:15 pm. I then realized I had been sitting at the quarters table for two hours. Beau laughed hysterically and almost fell out of his chair he pointed to me and screamed, “She’s drunk.”
What an ass I thought to myself as I weaved out of the room towards the bathroom. I had to pee, I had to pee. I was afraid I was drunk but I knew more than anything I had to use the bathroom. Struggling with my ribbon belt, I finally sat down for the largest single pee of my life. When I washed my hands and looked into the mirror. I had 4 eyes, 2 mouths and 2 noses. I shook my head in disbelief, splashed cold water on my face and drank from the faucet. Oh, the water tasted good. I reached for a towel and without thinking I grabbed one of my mothers crisply pressed linen monogrammed hand towels, not the ratty terry cloth things she put out for the family to use. The pressed linen towels were strictly for company, not even my father was allowed to use them. Crap, I would have to wash and iron that thing before Mom and Dad got home tomorrow.
The gentle tug of my mother’s propriety brought me back to my senses. Oh no, we had a houseful of people over while my parents were out of town, strictly forbidden. Everyone was drinking alcohol and smoking, strictly forbidden. There was not one person in the house over 21. I was drunk. I had never been drunk before but I was pretty sure that drunk was the feeling I was experiencing. Again, strictly forbidden. My moment of clarity disappeared almost as quickly as it arrived when I opened the door and tried to walk out of the bathroom. I took a few steps and face-planted onto my mother’s expensive oriental. All this hype about drinking, I wasn’t sure it was worth the effort. I was a mess.
The sound of the crash brought a few of Beau’s friends out of the kitchen. They all chuckled and, frankly, I did too. Again, it was David to the rescue. He got me up and walked me a few yards to the base of the steps. “OK Gigi, this is the part where you go upstairs and call it a night.” I managed to produce a smile and say thank you, I am sure it came out something like, “Phank you,” –but he was kind and said, “you are welcome,” as he watched me lumber up the stairs to my room.
I have little recollection of getting undressed and into my nightgown, but I am sure that is what I did because I was awoken that way.
I was in a dream like state when I felt the presence of another person pull back the covers on the side of my bed and lie down. Was this a dream? What was happening to with my hand? The person in my bed gently took my left hand and moved it down his hairy stomach and onto his very hard erect penis. He wore no clothes. It was the middle of the night. His hand was on top of mine and he began to slowly move my hand up and down as I he pressed my fingers into his penis. I mumbled? “What is going on?”
The reply came from a voice I’d known my whole life, “Tonight I am going to teach you how to please a man. Gently hold me, like you are,” he said. He kept his hand on top of mine, guiding it up and down, and I tugged on his penis. “Move your hand up and down. Just like that.” He let out a sigh of pleasure.
It was my brother.
I was drunk but at that moment, my mind was clear and I knew what was going on was very, very wrong. Fear. What if I said no? I weighed 145 and he was over 200. He’d broken my fingers in a wrestling match a few years before. This whole situation was very new and very confusing. My only kiss was at a camp dance. I’d never French kissed a boy much less touched a penis. In a fit of trying to reason in an unreasonable situation, I passed out. Beau’s tone became harsh, “Wake up,” he said, “and keep holding on. I need you to learn how to please me. Keep going, faster and faster.” Oh my God. Help me. I was terrified and kept going for what seemed like an eternity until his whole body went stiff, he let out a primal grunt and then his penis and entire body went limp. I pulled my hand away and tried to get out of bed. My stomach was cramping and a wave of nausea overcame me. But as fast as I was moving to leave the bed, Beau’s enormous hands found my shoulders and pushed me back down. His breath smelled of cigarettes and beer.
“Now it is my turn to teach you how to feel good. You’re not going anywhere,” he said with a terrifying smile. My mind was reeling and before I knew what happened, his hands were pulling up my nightgown and down my panties. Then he raped me.
I lay as still as a stone as he had his way with me. I was unable to express my fear and terror that, if I fought back, he would hit me. So I just lay there and let him finish doing what ever it was he was doing and prayed he would go away and leave me alone. At some point Beau got up, brushed both hands through his curly hair and left my room as naked as he entered. I did not move. My nightgown was around my waist and my panties around one ankle. I held my breath until the sound of his footsteps disappeared towards the back of the house. It wasn’t until I was sure he was far away that I got up, pulled up my panties, closed my door and locked it. I checked the lock to make sure it was secure. There was a second door in my bathroom leading to the hall, and locked that one too.
The day was bright and sunny when I tried to open my eyes. My head hurt, my mouth was dry and I felt as if my brain was in a fog. What time was it? Did I have to be anywhere? What day was it? As I sat up in bed I noticed the covers on the left side were pulled back. I was not an active sleeper, so I only messed up the sheets where I slept. The other half of my bed was always perfect and did not require making up. The tossed sheets confused me. The fog cleared as the memories came rushing back.
The quarters game.
Falling in the hall and David shuttling me up the stairs.
Beau in my bed.
I ran for the bathroom as the bile rushed up my throat. I barely made it to the toilet where I vomited violently. Tears streamed down my cheeks, wailing sobs came from my mouth between the painful hurls as my body and my mind simultaneously rejected the evening’s events.
Dear god, I thought, I just got drunk and had the worst dream of my life. I splashed cold water on my face and looked in the mirror. My arms and chest were tan but my face lacked color and my eyes were red. Did last night really happen? Did Beau really come into my room? My brother? A flashback of his naked body, his hairy stomach and hard penis rushed into my mind. At that moment I felt pain in my groin and threw up again in the sink. I propped myself up against the sink and felt the cool porcelain calming the radiating heat of my palms.
I decided to check my door. If it was locked, my nightmare was a reality. If it was open, it was only an insane dream. I timidly walked over to the door and touched the knob. I was afraid to turn it. Taking a deep breath, I turned the knob but it didn’t move. It was locked.
I took a deep breath and looked at my bed. Yes, the left side was disturbed, a sure sign that my dream was not a dream, but a reality. I leaned back against the locked door and I slid to the floor, buried my head in my hands and cried silent tears of agony, terror and betrayal.
What was I to do? I had no idea what time it was. I had no idea when my parents were coming home, and I did not know if Beau was even home or awake. If I told my parents about what Beau did to me, would my they believe me? If I told them what happened I would also have to tell them that I drank beer and got drunk. Being 15, the wrongness of the drinking was easier to understand than being raped by my brother. Beau’s sexual crime was more than I could comprehend or thought my parents would believe.
A long hot shower called. I washed my hair many times. I scrubbed my body and personal areas over and over and over. When the water ran cold I knew my steamy escape was over. So I dried off, brushed my hair and got dressed. The next step was leaving, was leaving the now violated the safety of my room, and going downstairs. Glancing at the clock I couldn’t believe it was 11:15. No wonder it was bright outside, it was almost noon.
As I unlocked the door, panic hit me. Not just the panic of seeing Beau, but the panic of cleaning up the party mess. Even in my inebriated state, I remember the house being littered with pizza boxes, beer cans and cigarette butts. My mother was many things: social climber, manners Nazi, and type-A control freak, but the thing she obsessed over more than anything was the cleanliness of the house. She would know there was a party and somehow I knew Beau would turn the tables on me and the party would be my friends, my beer, my fault. The house was quiet and seemed like it did before Mom and Dad left, but even more clean and perfect. I was confused. I know there was a party last night and I know I got drunk because my head was killing me and I was dying of thirst. As I walked from the hall into the kitchen I looked up. Beau was drinking a coke and leaning against the sink. The kitchen was spotless, the floors still damp from a recent mop. He was freshly showered and looking ready to play a round golf at the Club.
“Morning,” he said with his slight twang. I quietly replied, “morning,” and made my way to the fridge.
Beau opened the refrigerator before I could get there, pulled out a very cold can of Coke, opened it and handed it to me. “Here you go. It will help your head.”
“Thanks.” I said taking the drink and backing away from him. I didn’t know what to say or think. I was terrified to be in the same room with Beau much less carry on this shallow conversation.
I took a few sips. It was sweet and cold. The familiar taste relieved my dry throat and eased my upset stomach. I was standing on one side of the kitchen and Beau was on the other. The distance and mass of counter between us gave me a false sense of security. In the midst of my second sip Beau cleared his throat. OK I thought—this is good—he is going to explain what happened last night and apologize. My youthful Sagittarian optimism was dashed as quickly as it came. Instead Beau stared at me sternly, intimidatingly. His arms were crossed tightly across his chest and his eyes bore a hole through my soul. “About last night and the party,” he said with all the force his cigarette-parched throat could muster. I stared at my soda can. I was terribly ashamed that I got drunk and I felt worse for what Beau had done to me. I never looked up until my brother said, “Last night never happened.”
My eyes must of doubled in size as I slowly took my gaze away from the Coke can and lifted my eyes to my brother’s. “What?” I said with total disbelief.
“You heard me. Nothing about last night ever happened. Do you understand me? Nothing. If you ever tell Mom or Dad or one of your stupid little friends I will kill you. Do you understand? I will kill you.” The only thing I could see was the can of soda. My mind was racing. I did not even notice Beau walking across the kitchen. Suddenly, I felt his presence and looked up to see him staring at me, only inches away. I jerked back. He moved towards me again. We were nose to nose. He snarled at me and repeated his words, “If you ever tell anyone, I will kill you, get it, kill you.” He held his stare a bit too long then turned around, walked outside and lit a cigarette. My hands shook so hard, I spilled the Coke all over my shirt and the floor. Oh my God. It was all true. Everything. It was not a dream. My nightmare was a real.
How was this possible? I was an upper middle-class teenage white girl, from a “lovely” as my mother would say, family. My father ran a successful business, my mother was an accomplished socialite and homemaker. I attended a private girls school, my brother graduated from a tony New York prep school. We were the perfect Christmas card family. The real family though, was full of failures, cruelties and terrible transgressions.
Postscript: After my brother raped me, like many victims, I chose to maintain my silence. I found his death threats credible so for me, silence was the only option. Had my family been healthier, I would of realized I had other choices.
Three years before the rape my father had a deep love affair and asked my mother for a divorce. She responded by suffering a complete mental break down and spending six weeks in a mental institution. Being the youngest, our family’s problems ran down hill, and all I could do was sit helplessly in the dirty river of their transgressions. I did the best I could under the circumstances, but failing to seek professional, or any help, was my greatest mistake. Instead I internalized my traumas. I lost 15 pounds in 5 weeks. Sleep became the enemy. I was always afraid Beau would re-enter my room and rape me if I slept. I began stealing bourbon from my father to facilitate sleep. First just a little in a glass of orange juice. Then I needed more, and more and more until I became dependent on booze to fall asleep and stay asleep. When the booze failed to calm my nerves, I found Valium in my parents’ medicine cabinet and combined it with the bourbon. My grades fell my sophomore year and still, my parents remained all consumed in their own lives. They failed to notice the drastic changes in my personality and grades. I considered suicide. I was fairly certain, if I were to die, no one would notice or even miss me.
Knowing deep inside that what I was doing and feeling was wrong, I reached out to a close friend, Lindsey. By all accounts, Lindsey’s family was as messed up as mine—but everyone knew they were a mess. I told Lindsey what Beau had done, about my drinking, drugs and thoughts of suicide. She was a child of two addicts, a member of al anon, Narcotics Anonymous and other support groups for children of addictive families. She talked me off the edge, supported my quest to stop drinking, blanketed me with AA literature, begged me to tell my parents what Beau had done and to seek professional help.
I stopped drinking but I could not fulfill Lindsey’s other requests. While I was literally afraid for my life, I was desperate to preserve the illusion of our perfect family. I also felt a need to protect my mother from my brother’s heinous acts. I was terrified that if I told her what Beau had done she would return to the mental institution. Out of concern for my well-being, Lindsey told her mother about the rape. Like so many parents of that day, and sadly, parents of today, Lindsey’s mother chose not to become involved. She chose not to tell my parents, not to stick her neck into another family’s business and blow the whistle on my brother. My life would be so different today had she told my parents, but it didn’t happen.
Lindsey and one other friend were the only people who knew my secret until I was 24 years old and engaged to be married. I told my fiancé, now husband of 16 years, what Beau had done to me at 15. I perceived myself as damaged goods and wanted to give my fiancé the option to end our engagement if he thought I’d been compromised. Being the good man he was, he only cried with me and told me he loved me. He said he loved me all the more for being honest. After the sorrow and hurt passed, his next emotions were rage and disgust. My fiancé was a good Alabama boy so his natural instincts were to grab his gun and lodge a bullet in Beau’s head. In retrospect, I should of let him confront my brother. Instead, I begged him to keep silent, not to act differently towards my brother and to not to tell my parents. He complied with my requests, but his silence came with a price for both of us.
Fifteen years of marriage, three kids, six houses, five moves to five different cities including one international move, left us exhausted. The secret of the rape, the lies, the relentless charade of my “perfect family” became too much when my beloved father became terminally ill. After months of depression and martial strife, I decided I had a choice to make. I could face my demons, or I could watch my marriage end as I continued the decades-long “perfect family” façade. My husband was done with the lies I asked him to keep and the lies I had told myself. Another factor that drove me to honesty was that my oldest child, a girl, was almost 12—the age I was when my family began to fall apart and a few years before I was raped. According to my therapist, it’s very common for adults to confront their childhood traumas when their children reach a similar age. I suppose this is due to our infinite quest as humans to try and do better for our children than we had as youth.
Making the choice to confront my demons was simple, but living it has been hard work. I began intense therapy and finally came to terms with the fact that when I was a young teen my older brother raped me. For years I had tried to look at my brother’s transgressions as, “a wildly inappropriate educational session, followed by a death threat,” or any other stupid idea not to see it as it was—incapacitated, incestuous rape against a minor by a perpetrator of majority age. A felony.
Another set-back in confronting the rape was my mother. While she acknowledges the rape, “could of happened” she has squarely aligned herself against me with my brother. The reality that her son raped her daughter is a truth she is unwilling to accept. The years I spent protecting her from the rape were in vain. As soon as I disclosed the rape to my family, she lashed out against me as if I was the rapist and Beau the victim. Not only did my mother turn against me, she even bribed me with an enormous amount of money to keep silent. The money was meant to protect Beau and his wife, an elected official, and primarily to protect my mother’s delusions and inability to accept the truth. For my own mental health and the well being of my husband and children, I rejected her hush money. It is very difficult learning to live without her, but being honest with myself about the realities of our family is infinitely more important than maintaining her lies and charade for the sake of appearances. I can only hope that one day she will accept the truth and we can move forward, together.
My journey into reality, self-discovery and truth has been painful and at times traumatic, but also enlightening, deeply spiritual and in the end, a blessing. I have new sense of calm since I began sharing my story and no longer live the lie that my family was “perfect.” No one has a perfect childhood, perfect life or perfect family. The sooner we are able to discuss these truths—as my hero Frederick Buechner says, “ and do a little tongue wagging”—the sooner we will be able to break the cycle of dysfunction. It is only by breaking the destructive cycle that we are able to do better for our children and future generations.
“I can speak with some assurance only of how God was present in the dark time for me in the sense that I was not destroyed by it but came out of it with scars that I bear to this day, to be sure, but also somehow wiser and the stronger for it.”
*The names in the story were altered for the privacy of the participants. The facts are real. The story is true.