NOTE: If you haven’t read the other posts related to this series, please read my other submissions “Sixteen isn’t an Ideal age to Have a Baby” and then “The Monkey Bars Mid-Dangle.

My sister experienced her childhood at home much differently than I did.

Six months ago my sister dropped an emotional nuclear bomb on me. For a brief moment, every feeling I had was vaporized in the explosion that blasted out of her. A veridical confession where I learned I was accountable for what happened to her.

I’ll get to her confessional in a moment, but let me provide you with a little more back story on how her experience in our house was so drastically different than mine.

Jumping forward in time to February 2019, I asked my sister the moment she realized our upbringing was different than other children of our age.

“Probably kindergarten,” she said. “I remember there being a mountain lion being spotted on the school property. The parents were called to pick up their children and the school couldn’t track down mom and dad. I was the last kid to be picked up and I felt this feeling of not being loved.”

Her reaction seemed a bit strong to me. I chalked it up to a child simply not understanding how family logistics work. Mobile phones didn’t exist back then meaning the instantaneous communication we are accustomed to today wasn’t possible. I couldn’t connect not being available when the phone rings to not being loved.

An exhale and she continued “Dad was pissed at me for being scared when I was left alone at school so he pulled my pants down spanked me. I remember I couldn’t sit on a chair or the toilet afterward.”

I understood her response more clearly. She was scared and she was punished for being scared instead of reassured that she was safe. That may seem trivial to some, but getting smacked was always the first option and a warm hug was never on offer. Her feeling of not being loved at that moment was easy to identify with.

Our mother would offer genuine affection so long as it wasn’t in front of my father, such affection made him upset. When affection equates to violence it messes a kid up.

My sister lingered on the tougher memories she has and which ones continue to affect her. She tells me she doesn’t remember being happy. It’s not that she was a sad and depressed child, she instead felt the constant pang of being worried which constantly gnawed at her happiness.

I’d like to toss a quick aside in here: I’ve always viewed my sister to be about as joyful as a person can be, but maybe I am biased so I contacted some of my sister’s friends and asked them to describe my sister to me.

Bubbly, kind, hilarious, always smiling… Impressive stats to be known for.

So to hear that growing up she was always teetering on a tightrope made of paranoia was jarring to me because I too view her the same way her friends do.

As a female, my sister endured a form of abuse I never knew. My Father slut-shamed her. I recall witnessing my father explaining at length to her all the reasons she was a whore. She was around 12 years old. He did it while smiling; he was just ribbing her he insisted.

I have to say upon reflection I don’t recall my father ever calling my sister by her given name. Hippo Hips, Buffalo Butt, or Thunder Thighs is how he’d call for her to get her attention. He would switch it up every so often and call her “Bucky” on account of a severe overbite she had prior to getting braces.

The mid-’80s was the era of supermodels. Impossibly thin, supernatural beauties who already made most teen girls feel inferior about their looks were plastered everywhere for all to see. My sister grew up very tall and skinny. The words he used to describe her had no purpose other than to demean her.

Nonchalantly calling your daughter a slut while laughing never had the effect on us as it did for him.

I struck up a conversation with my father one day after I watched my sister walk away from him hunched over with slumped shoulders. I asked why he uses those names toward his daughter.

He spat out the words “Because it’s true“, and finished the statement off with a laugh. I am certain what he was trying to convey was that to him, in his own mind, it was a harmless term of endearment — fun pet names for him to use as a silly way to bond with his daughter.

Because he never intended such silly names to mean harm, then to him there could be no harm done. Empathy wasn’t a strong point for my Father.

The sister excited to receive a water bed for Christmas 1985-ish

I never had to endure being called a fat slut by my father, and in hindsight, I can see just how strong my sister was to not let her stepfather see that this would never get to her — that he couldn’t have that power over her. She cried sometimes when she wasn’t in sight of him, I saw it, but she would never give him that acknowledgment; a clever bit of power she held over him without him ever knowing. We learned very young never to take away power from a narcissist.

That nuclear blast of a secret my sister told me recently — the one where the fallout in my sister’s mind holds me responsible for all these years? It happened 3 decades ago while my sister and I slept in our separate rooms in a rented row house.

This rental was our first house with stairs in it. I remember feeling very regal in this new place because we had two floors like my friends’ houses did. It also separated us from my parent’s parties for the first time. The parties would happen downstairs and we would be one floor up in our own safe spaces. The rhythmic thumping of 70’s fuzz-rock reverberating into my room lulled me to sleep every time.

One evening during a typical booze and drug-fueled party my parents were hosting, a man opened my sister’s door looking for the bathroom. Instead of a bathroom. he found a little girl alone in a bed. He raped her.

Cue the devastating nuclear explosion.

I pressed her asking who it was. We grew up in a very isolated town with a population of 2000 or so people. Everyone knew everyone so it seemed reasonable that I’d know who it was.

“I don’t remember. All I could tell in the dark was he was a man with big lips.” She sounded exhausted after unpacking such a heavy sentence and dumping it out for me to pick up.

A man with big lips raped a 7-year-old girl in her bed that night while she was alone in her safe space. While he returned to the party acting as though nothing happened my sister lay in her bed so much more alone than she was minutes before. Her thoughts screaming inside of her head wondering why I did nothing about it.

My sister never told my parents about her assault fearing she would be the one to get into trouble. During our conversation that day she confessed she was angry with me for many years because I didn’t save her. I was 5 years old at the time; I couldn’t have known.

For nearly 40 years she wasn’t able to rationalize that I wasn’t able to save her from the man with big lips. I was hers to blame; the face of her agony.

For the lucky, with time, comes peace. Over time she came to realize her anger was misdirected when aimed toward me. She apologized to me for something I had no idea took place. I accepted her apology for her sake. I had no right to accept such an apology. My only job at that moment was to ensure her voice was heard.

It may be no surprise to you that at 14 years old my sister ran away from the only life she knew. She left town one morning hitchhiking with her then boyfriend and she never returned home.

Street living and couch surfing in far away cities offered her more comfort instead of staying at her family home. She was never harmed on the streets and she never turned to drugs. She chose the correct paths despite being 14 and homeless.

Back at home, my father’s wrath intensified toward my mother and me after he realized that his daughter had duped him and had run away. The wrath wasn’t physical, it was mental. Her running away wasn’t his problem at all, and according to him she was just a slut (she was still a virgin when she left home) and he wandered around muttering she’ll be back soon (she never came back).

I got grounded because she ran away. I never minded the groundings — they didn’t hurt.

Let's start a discussion about how abuse affects a person long after it has stopped. I'll share my story, then you share yours. Let's work on this together.

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