To spoil is defined as “to diminish or destroy the value or quality of.” I remember both the day that I heard I had not been spoiled, and the day that I actually was.
As a little girl, I usually played by myself, unnoticed when I was in the room with people. I became a very good listener and observer. The need to be hyper aware of the energies of the people around me was a critical skill for me, and the ability to sit quietly and listen and observe.
One day, I was sitting very still, playing with my paper dolls, while my mother was on the phone with my grandma.My grandma and grandpa were usually living overseas when I was growing up, so I barely knew them. I just knew grandma didn’t really like me. My mother told me that often. Maybe because they were overseas, my grandma was talking very loudly, and I could hear her voice coming through the phone. My mother was telling her about things that Bruce did to me. I was used to that kind of talk. She talked about it all the time, in our house. I think it was the day before she took me to the police station to tell on him.
“Has he spoiled her?,” I heard my grandma shouting through the phone. “No,” my mother said, “he just puts his hands between her legs.” My mother didn’t know about the times he made me do things to him, so that was all she ever said about those things. Spoiled. That word ran through my mind, all that day, and for years after, in my grandma’s voice, and I had no idea what she meant, but I felt somehow redeemed in a way a seven year old can’t understand. I just knew that not having been spoiled made me a better little girl in some way.
I never heard that word, used in that way, until about a year later, when we were living in Ohio.
One late morning in the summer, I was playing quietly in my room. My mother was at work, and Bruce, who lost his job as a police officer, and was working for the phone company, was off that day. “Come over here, Shelli.” As always, my heart would start pounding and I would feel something like electric current go through my body, and the room would become dark around me, as I stood on shaky legs and walked over to the chair.
He smelled bad, and there was black under his fingernails. He grabbed me by the arms and pulled me onto his lap. At eight, I was still a little thing, but didn’t fit the same way on his lap as I grew, so he moved me around until he got me in just the right way. It hurt my arms and I always had bruises on them for days after.
He didn’t always do the same things. Sometimes he moved me around on his lap, or got it out and told me how to touch it. Sometimes he just did things to me. This time, he moved me around for a while, his hands digging into my arms, and dropped the cigarette he was holding on my leg. He picked it up and made me hold it then. I didn’t know why, but I just did it. I held it up in front of me, watching the smoke rise up.
His hand went under my panties and I felt something like relief. Of the things that he did to me, this hurt the least. He usually was more gentle when that was all he was doing, as my mother said all the time, “putting his hands between my legs.” Nobody seemed to think that was so bad, so…I actually was glad that that was all he was doing.
As I watched the cigarette in my hand burn, and smoke rise, I felt the familiar haze take over, and things became less focused, the room around me disappearing, as I fixed my gaze on the object in my hand. Then, I felt a pain between my legs I had never felt before. I jumped, falling off his lap,and dropping the cigarette on the floor. I scrambled to pick up the cigarette, and he grabbed it out of my hand, putting it in the ashtray next to the chair, still burning.
He pulled me back to the chair, and roughly pulled my panties off. Without knowing it, I had put my legs together tightly. I never did that, never struggled, but my legs were drawn together and no matter how much trouble I knew I was going to be in, something in my soul said, “don’t let him.” It did make him mad, and he forced my legs open, and held onto my right leg, pushing it against the arm of the chair, and started rubbing me hard down there with his fingers. I had nothing in front of me to focus on, and the hazy room came sharply into focus, and his awful fingers kept rubbing me raw. Then he stopped, let go of my leg, and used that hand to open me up more, and I felt a stabbing pain that made my whole body shake. He pulled me closer to his chest and I buried my head in his blue plaid robe, and held on to the edge of it tightly, as the pain rippled through my eight year old body. He held me around the waist while he moved his finger in and out of me, and I felt his jagged fingernails cutting into me as he plunged his finger in and out faster and harder.
I don’t remember him stopping or my getting off of him. The next thing I knew I was in my room, lying on my closet floor, my little dog next to me, and he came in. He knelt down next to me, and kissed me on my lips and said, “Did you like that?” I whispered, automatically, as always, “Yes, sir.” He smiled, and said, “You can do that to yourself now too; just don’t let your mother catch you.” There was blood on the washcloth when I cleaned myself up, and my skin was raw and burning. It hurt so badly to pee.
It was years later, when my mother told me I was lucky I hadn’t been spoiled, because nothing ever went “up there.” I never told her she was wrong.
As I walk down the corridor, I see an eight year old little girl in white in one of the rooms, and recognize just a tiny piece of the gold carpet of my closet. She cries my tears for me, and sits with her knees drawn tightly to her chest, in a long white dress. She won’t look up. She knows, without every having heard the explanation of spoiled, that she was.