I Have Learned My Lessons Well

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I wrote this story years ago, but it still has power. I still remember the refrain: “I have learned my lessons well: Good girls don’t remember. What they remember, they don’t tell.”

I am unlearning those lessons, and hopefully beginning to be the kind of person who is able to remember my past, and to speak about it. But it’s a long journey from here to there. People have told me the story is rather upsetting, so be careful as you read it. I don’t describe anything in detail, but apparently, quite a bit comes through anyways.

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The Rule of Silence/Story: Revenge

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We don’t talk about these things. If there was one rule obeyed in our family, it was the rule of silence. As adults, I think each of us has touched on speaking, and then backed away, putting up walls of denial between ourselves.

My sisters and I, between the four of us, probably show nearly every symptom of having been sexually abused as children. Physical problems, mental ones, emotional ones: the signs are there, but we don’t talk about it. My older sisters talk almost constantly about their various physical problems, but have never mentioned sexual abuse as a possible factor. My younger sister? Well, she’s the one who does the acting out, sleeping around, making really unwise choices, having brief intense affairs, and all of that.

Four or five years ago, she asked me whether I had ever wondered whether I’d been sexually abused. Her timing was bad: I was on the way out the door to the first meeting of a class, and our younger brother was visiting. I meant to get back to her on it, but… well, I didn’t.

Part of it is because it’s all tangled up in shame and guilt and denial. As much as things happened to us, there are the things we did to each other. And it becomes difficult to confront, because I don’t know how to approach one part without acknowledging the others. I remember the sheer mean-ness of how we—me, my older sisters, my mother—treated my little sister because we were jealous of how her father favored her over the rest of us. We teased her, a lot. And none of us protected her.

And there is the anger I hold towards my next-older sister, who even if she didn’t sexually abuse me (she may or may not have, I don’t remember clearly enough to say), definitely taught me that she had the right to touch my body whenever and however she chose, whether or not I wanted her to do so. It’s something I’m not entirely able to forgive, and as I grow older, I still hold her responsible for it. She may have been hurt herself, she may have been young, but I still believe she should have been old enough to know better.

I worry, sometimes, that part of why I am reluctant to get clear memories of my childhood is that I, too, did things to hurt my siblings. I don’t know, and I also have no idea what I would do with those memories if I had them. The rule against speaking holds strong, and words are a weak tool for making up for sins I committed a quarter of a century ago.

The rest of this post is a story I wrote quite a few years ago, pulling together some memories I had on this topic.

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