Things declined steadily for me from that first touch in the bedroom when I was six years old. Every day was bleaker, emptier, devoid of my mother’s attention and yet filled with only the most undesirable attentions from my stepfather. I was unhappy. I knew that, but at so young, I didn’t understand just how bad it was. My day would drag on without love or school or company, or often even food, and I would wait, knowing that as the day went on it only got worse, and when it got late Karl would come into my room, and repeat the same routine as he had started, but always a little rougher, always a little more uncomfortable. I told him I was unhappy, I tried to articulate that I didn’t like making him proud that way, and he told me not to be silly, told me everybody did it but nobody talked about it. He stroked me rougher, and as the months passed paid less attention to me, bothered less about the sweets and treats, stopped protecting me from my mother’s anger.
The first time he beat me I was seven. And that was when I decided he wasn’t a hero anymore. That’s when I decided I didn’t want to be like him. I didn’t realise just how wrong he was, or that what he was doing was illegal or particularly bad, but I instinctively knew that I didn’t want to be that. He wasn’t my hero if he hurt me, left me black and blue, and didn’t even buy me sweets anymore. He wasn’t my friend.
He had a dark leather belt, I can picture it as clear as anything. More often than not, I saw it at very close eye level, and if that wasn’t enough I could always recall the pattern from the welts it left on my back. I still can’t smell leather without freezing, eyes darting around the find the source of the smell before I can relax. I always expect him to be standing there, expectantly. It had a huge buckle, cheap, off some market stall; it was star edged, sharp. I sometimes wonder if he bought it with the skin of my back in mind.
I’m sure it was a fashionable thing, at some point. Especially in Texas. I’m sure it must have looked very good to some people. I don’t really remember the look of it on him though. When he was around me, it was usually in his hands. I became familiar with that belt. Fantasised about burning it, tearing it to shreds. Trembled at the sound of that buckle because I knew what was coming next.
But this was the first time, I had no idea how painful it would feel. I don’t even remember what I’d done to upset him, or if I’d done anything at all, I think he was drunk, but the memory is blurred and fractured. Our minds are very good at protecting us from the past, sometimes. Except that I remember the worst part. I remember he grabbed me around the waist and dragged me back towards him, I remember it was in the living room of our new shitty apartment, I remember my top being tugged off over my head and being thrown to the ground. I was a weak child, malnourished. I remember his boot on the small of my back and feeling like he was just going to crush me with that one foot, like I was as tiny and insignificant as a spider in his path. And then I remember the crack and the agony of that belt, the sharp edges of that star catching against my skin and tearing out again, and again, and again. Remember screaming and sobbing, and my mom watching my face and not saying a thing.
I cried and cried and cried, and hid in my room trembling, barely believing the pain, the way I couldn’t lie on my back and the sting and deep burn every time my t-shirt moved against the welts. The confusion was killing me. He had been so perfect, such a good friend and ally, and now this. I thought I must have done something very bad to make him hate me so much.
And at the same time that night as all the other nights, he came into my room and did what he always did, a fraction rougher once again. Things couldn’t get any worse. Surely, they couldn’t get any worse.
Just over a week later, he raped me for the first time.