TRIGGER ALERT – CONTENT REFERENCING SEXUAL ASSAULT, CHILD SEX TRAFFICKING, PHYSICAL AND EMOTIONAL ABUSE.
April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. I don’t think it matters which month it is—when you feel called to share a portion of your story the calendar is irrelevant. In my case, the calendar serendipitously lined up with a surgery that occurred the same month. I had a full hysterectomy because of a large fibroid tumor in the wall of my uterus and multiple tumors in and on my ovaries. The tumors were located after an MRI and then a follow up CT because I was experiencing severe abdominal pain. Doctors could not verify that the pain was due to the tumors, but the tumors needed to come out regardless. My mom had passed away at age 60 from ovarian cancer. Her cancer wasn’t diagnosed until it was stage 4. Three months after her diagnosis, she passed away. I was managing a lot of emotions going into surgery.
Prior to my surgery, I had a few panic attacks about how this surgery was a culmination of the complete lack of power I’ve had over my body, most specifically, the parts of my body that men want to possess, use for their pleasure, or even damage—out of some warped psychological issue they might have.
I’m sharing this most recent turn of events in my journey to process it, or possibly reprocess it. I’ve shared parts before, and I imagine, at different times, I’ve needed to process different parts of my trauma history. I don’t know what will come of this latest information purge, but I feel deeply compelled to do it. I feel like having had this hysterectomy has been the ultimate surrender of my body for others to do as they see fit. And it’s not that I disagree with the path, but I wonder if I’d be in this situation if I could have had a safe, healthy, loving relationship with my body. I’ll never know. Instead, this surgery went wrong, and the surgeon accidentally punctured my colon. This had to be repaired in the middle of the hysterectomy. It meant I dId not have a laparoscopic surgery, that I was under anesthesia for over 5 hours, and my recovery time will be longer.
What I’m finding is that the abdominal pain, the pressure from the staples, the surprise pain when a staple breaks free from the skin it had adhered to, the physical healing, all of this is causing childhood memories to come pouring back. I’ve started waking up screaming at predators to “get out.” I’m crying in my sleep again. Earlier today, I dozed off and thought I was having a conversation with someone about the pedophile ring and how to escape, but as I started to wake up I realized that I was in my room alone with the TV on. I could have sworn the conversation was real.
At 5 years old, possibly 6, on my way to St. Helena’s Catholic School in South Minneapolis, I was wearing a green/navy plaid skirt and white button up top; my hair in long dark pony tails, and white knee high nylon socks with black patent shoes. A man came out of the parking lot, just past the corner on 34th Ave S. and 46th St. Most of the block was residential, but on that corner, there was a bar, with the word Sun in the name. I don’t recall the rest of the name. The guy asked me if I had lost my dog. He told me he had found it and he was keeping it safe on the broken down bus in the corner of the parking lot. I didn’t think my dog was lost, but I did have three dogs. So, I thought I’d better check. He also said he knew my dad and he knew the name of one of my dogs. I wasn’t supposed to talk to strangers, but it was pretty normal for me to talk to my dad’s friends.
He picked me up and carried me back to the bus and asked if I could see into the bus windows. I couldn’t. So, he boosted me up higher. Only now his hand was between my legs and he was no longer boosting me and definitely doing something else with his hand in my underwear. I tried to wiggle away, and he told me to stop wiggling. He told me that my dad told him to put “something” inside of me so that other men would know who I belonged to. I didn’t know what he was putting inside of me, but I was terrified. I told him to put me down or I would yell and my friend’s dad (my friends house was behind the parking lot where the bus was located) would hear me and he was a really big guy. The guy put me down but then said, “You can’t tell anyone, because you’ll never know who knows the secret and who doesn’t. If you tell the wrong person, you or your sister, or even your mom, someone will have to die.”
I’ve written about this incident before, and I find it interesting that I regress back to being that sexually traumatized 5 or 6 year old child who is describing these details. I end up rewriting it over and over, trying to find my adult voice, trying to reassure that 5 or 6 year old me, that she didn’t deserve this.
This wasn’t the first time someone had touched my private parts. But it was the first time it was a complete stranger. It was the first time it happened on my way to school, a part of my day where I felt safe. It was the first time someone threatened to kill me or someone in my family if I said or did the “wrong” thing. And I didn’t know what ”things” might be considered wrong.
I walked around the block after that, crying. I was supposed to meet with the twins, Joe and Earl, and walk the rest of the way to school with them. I didn’t go to school that day. Pat, Joe and Earl’s mom, called my mom and told her I was crying and she didn’t know why. She thought I should probably stay home. I don’t have any recollection of anyone else’s responses to me that day. I remember feeling so dirty, so ashamed, like I had been somehow marked and everyone knew.
I was afraid to go to the bathroom for a long time that day. I didn’t want anyone to see me go into the bathroom. I didn’t know if something was going to fall out of me, or if there was something awful I might see in the toilet. I didn’t understand the difference between vulva, vagina, urinary tract… private parts didn’t have names yet, they were just private. And my private parts were contaminated – and owned by other people.
Before the man behind bus contaminated me, there were games with my father’s pigeon friends. My father raised homing pigeons and he was part of a pigeon club. I met men from the club periodically, because they liked me. That’s what my dad told me. They wanted to spend time with me alone. Looking back, some part of the pigeon club was a cover for the sex trafficking ring, but I don’t know if it was a small group within the club, or a larger group. It’s something I’m trying to figure out now, another puzzle piece I feel like I need to find.
There were other father’s in the pigeon club who had daughters. Were those girls being shuffled off to other men’s houses too? If they were, I didn’t see the transfers occur, or I didn’t recognize the movements of the girls as transfers. But, I didn’t realize how bizarre any of this behavior was back then, so I wouldn’t have been looking. As I’ve been putting these pieces of my life into some type of order, the sex trafficking for me occurred between 1972/3 – 1978/9, I think. There were streaks where it occurred frequently, and then lapses where it was infrequent, then it would start up again. I’m guessing there was some schedule for racing pigeons, and that had something to do with the convenience of transfers.
Homing pigeons needed to be trained, for races. And if your going to groom a child to perform sexual acts with adult men, you groom them too. My dad would load pigeons into crates, put them into the back of his truck and then we’d drive a few hundred miles away to meet another one of the pigeon guys. After letting all the pigeons go, we’d usually have breakfast with the other guy, and sometimes I’d ride home with the other guy so I could go see his pigeons – at least that’s what I was told, or other people were told, if anyone asked.
I’d usually end up falling asleep on the long drive back to the guy’s house, and he’d be rubbing my hair, butt, and legs. I’d wake up when the car stopped. I hated not knowing where I was. There was always some part of me that was afraid, but that was also afraid to show fear. It was as if by the time I was aware that I was going to a strangers house I had already been conditioned to pretend that I was enjoying myself. There was always some kind of game set up that we were going to play that day when I got there.
I didn’t realize why I should be afraid. I didn’t even realize what was happening until I got older. One of the games that several of the men liked to play was “guess what this is.” I would be blindfolded and my hands tied together or to the chair, while I was sitting at the kitchen table. Then the pigeon guy would give me things to taste or eat and have me guess what it was. If I guessed wrong a certain number of times then he got to spank my bare bottom. He would never tell me what it was. He thought it was super funny that I couldn’t guess and he loved making a big deal about spanking me. He didn’t usually hit hard, not at first anyway. That didn’t happen until I got older. When the games first started, I was usually tasting cookies, soda, a pickle, I’d still get things wrong, and I’d still get spanked, but I didn’t have any idea what this game was leading to…. Eventually I was tasting his privates, or his fingers after he touched his privates. There were other times, I’d wake up after playing this game, with no recollection of going to lay down. I was just told that I got tired and wanted to take a nap.
There are so many “little” stories like this. Different men. Hand-offs at restaurants on highway pass-overs, or in some big field at the pigeon drop. One time, a pigeon guy picked me up on the road while I was walking home from Brownies, (kind of like Girl Scouts, but for younger girls). I didn’t recognize him at all. I truly thought I was being abducted. When I got dropped off at home several hours later, my mom called the police because I was so freaked out. My dad had to explain that it was one of his pigeon buddies and I must have forgotten that he (dad’s pigeon friend) was picking me up that day. My dad told the police officer that I had a wild imagination. That was the day I realized I could never tell the police —or anyone —anything, because NO MATTER what happened to me, my dad had planned it. Some guy could pick me up at any time, from any place, do whatever they wanted to me, and that was okay.
I started memorizing license plates, colors of cars, road names, directions, everything. I started getting stomach aches, and headaches. I was getting rashes on my arms and started having issues with allergies, particularly allergies to pigeons. I was 7 by this time, and I was starting to understand that I was in danger all the time.
What I did not realize…. That at age 53…. Having a hysterectomy was both, is both, hugely traumatizing. And possibly, for the very first time, and again, I’m still processing this, but possibly, the most freeing thing I’ve ever done in my life. It’s a loss—but it’s a freedom. I’m not owned anymore. Could that possibly be true?
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Thank you so much for sharing your story. I admire your ability to survive and practice self care. Years ago I worked as a health educator in the area of women’s health and uterine fibroids. At that time the consensus was that there was possibly some genetic connection but that the cause of symptomatic fibroids was unknown. Around 2010, the data began to emerge showing the correlation between childhood trauma and the development of fibroids. I suffered from fibroids myself and I was excited by this information. Strangely, the physicians I worked with showed zero interest in this emerging data. The medical model creates a myopic view of the body and mind. Another observation that I had from speaking with many women suffering from fibroids is that women could often identify a severely stressful time that occurred prior to their symptoms worsening to the point of seeking treatment. The data is really just catching up to the inner narrative that many women are in contact with but rarely speak out loud.
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Leisa, that was horrific and cruel what your dad intentionally put you through. You are so brave and beautiful to tell your story in defiance to him and all those who stood by complicit and silent. Thank you for sharing, for your honesty about how triggers still arise unexpectedly while moments of healing continue in the midst of your journey.
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Sexual predators are well schooled in how to manipulate their young victims. In my case I was sexually molested by my babysitters husband who both worked me by molesting his children in my presence. When I finally talked about my molestation to my mother and her sister they went to the local police. I vividly remember being questioned in intimate detail by the detectives who advised her not to press charges due to my age, 7, and they would handle it. I still suffer from what happened today, 60 years latter
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Leisa, I so admire your courage and vulnerably in sharing your healing journey. Your candid writing enables us to look at our experiences honestly. I wish you the best.
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