Dark Hallways

That year we spent a lot of time over at my Nanny’s. We lived next door to her now, so why shouldn’t we? Our family was close and I guess the adults figured that it was good for us kids all to be close with one another. If only they knew how “close” Clay was getting to me.

After the lake incident, I tried to stay away from Clay as much as possible. I tried to make sure that there was always an adult around us, but it was of no use. My family trusted him. He was supposed to be one of my protectors. Someone who would never in a million years hurt his own family. But, how can you escape someone who lives next door to you and is part of your family?

That December of 1996 we spent our Christmas at my Nanny’s. Everyone was so happy and joyful. My parents had told my brother and me that we we’re going to be getting something very special from “Santa” that year. As we all opened up our presents and the holiday spirit filled the room, I momentarily found an escape from my own mind even though Clay was in the same room with me once again. He was to busy opening up his presents to care about messing with me at the time, or so that’s what I believed.

The time came for my parents to bring out “Santa’s” gift. They told my brother and I to both close our eyes, but before I had a chance to, Clay came up behind me and said, “no peaking,” as he put his hands over my eyes. A cold chill ran down my spine, knowing he was right behind me. So close that I could feel his breath on the back of my neck. None the less, I kept the smile on my face. I had to put up that front.

My parents, seeing how Clay was now “helping” me from peaking, instructed him to bring me to the front door. I felt my entire body tense up as we moved together. Still, I kept my smile.

“Okay kids, on the count of three, open your eyes. One, two, three!” As Clay removed his hands from my eyes, there before my brother and I was our very first bicycles. Mine was pink and white. The very one I had asked for the first time I had seen it. My brother had also gotten the bicycle he wanted. We both yelled with joy! We were so excited to have our own bicycles and were ready to test them out. I had all but forgotten that Clay had just put his hands on me once again.

When we asked our parents if we could go ahead and ride our new bikes, they were hesitate at first. It was cold outside and it was starting to get dark. Just when we thought they were going to say no, Clay popped up and said, “Ill stay out there with them and help them.”

Do you think it’s possible to love someone but hate them at the same time? I was starting to believe that this was true. I knew I was supposed to love my cousin, but I felt I was starting to hate him too. I knew that was wrong, but I also felt what had been happening was wrong too. He was my protector. He was supposed to love me and shelter me from anyone who would try and hurt me. He had been more like my older brother than anything.

So, I began thinking, is he really hurting me? Is this my fault? Am I doing something to provoke him to want to do these things that felt wrong to me? Was it a test of some sort? Was I just blowing things out of proportion?

I looked at my cousin as he helped push me down the road. He was smiling. The look that I would come to fear showed no trace on his face. Maybe, the lake had been an isolated incident I thought to myself. Maybe, for just a second, Clay made a mistake and it wouldn’t happen again. Or then again, maybe he just knew my parents were keeping a watchful eye over us from the driveway as we rode our bikes up and down the street that Christmas evening.

It felt like it had been hours when we finally returned inside. All of our cheeks were flushed red from the cold air as we had ridden our bikes up and down the street. The winter sun had set, and it was becoming a chilly Christmas night. The adults sat in the living room and warmed by the heater. Clay decided he wanted to play tag with me. Seemed harmless enough right? I mean, our family was right there in the living room.
My brother had passed out from all the days activities, but I was still wide awake. I should have followed suit with my brother and went to sleep, but I still had so much energy. The adults talked around the heater as Clay started to chase me through the house. I laughed as he tried to get me. Remember, my six year old brain had started to believe that he had made a mistake. He wasn’t going to hurt me. He was just my good ol’ cousin who wanted to play.

He rounded the corner of the entertainment room as you first entered the house and I jumped on his back from the step leading up to the kitchen. He caught me. I didn’t know it, but this was a mistake. He began to act like a horse and ran around the house with me on his back. The adults thought we were being to loud, so Clay decided to take me into the long dark hallway leading to his room.

Once right outside the door to his room, Clay pulled me around from his back and placed me on the floor. I was still laughing and giggling at this time. He began to tickle my sides and the smile was still across his face. I felt I had nothing to fear. He placed his hands on my sides and began to tickle me. He just tickled and tickled me until I felt I was about to wet myself. He looked back to the dimly lit living room. Then, his face changed. That look I keep telling you about. The look that over the years I would come to fear. I knew what that look meant.
He moved his hands down to the opening of my skirt, and moved my panties aside. He was still smiling, as I was still laughing, when I said out loud, “that tickles!” he placed a finger over his mouth with his other hand to tell me to be quiet. He whispered, “keep laughing, I know you like this.”

In my mind I was screaming! “Somebody help! Somebody, just look down the hallway. Somebody, anybody?! Why is this happening to me?” But, the words never escaped my mouth. I kept laughing as my body betrayed me. As I began to feel warm all over. What was this feeling? What was happening to me? Why was I reacting this way?

After what felt like an eternity, movement from the living room made him stop. He put both hands on either side of me, leaned down, and kissed me on the cheek. “Now wasn’t that fun?” he whispered. He got to his feet and helped me up. I felt dirty as I walked back into the living room. What was happening to me?

After a few minutes, I told my mom and dad I was beginning to get tired. With my brother already passed out, my parents decided it was time to take us home. I laid in the bed that night wide awake. What was I supposed to do? Clay said this was my fault. I slowly drifted into a restless sleep that night, but I found no peace there. That’s when the nightmares began.

My life, my dreams, they had all became one giant nightmare.

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Murky Waters

According to the National Center for Victims of Crime, a child who is the victim of prolonged sexual abuse usually develops low self-esteem, a feeling of worthlessness, an an abnormal or distorted view of sex. The child may become withdrawn and mistrustful of adults, and can become suicidal. 1 in 5 girls and 1 in 20 boys will become a victim of child sexual abuse before the age of 8 and 90% of the time the perpetrator is someone the child knows! My God…… Look at those numbers! And that is ONLY statistics on the REPORTED cases!

Over the next year, as my family moved next door to my Nanny’s house, Clay continued to slowly “groom” me into what he wanted me to be. He already had my trust, love, and admiration. Now, he just needed to know that he could make me keep my mouth shut.

I had no peace anywhere I went. You would think school would have been an escape for me, but it wasn’t. It was just as bad as my home life was becoming. I was always taller, bigger, and different than everyone else. I had one friend throughout elementary school. Jennifer. She was the only person that was actually happy to see me. The other kids, but especially the girls, were ruthless in their bullying. I learned to put up a good front though. I would smile and laugh, no matter what the other kids said about me or did to me. But, when I got home, I would go to my daddy and just cry. “Why don’t they like me daddy? I just want to be their friend. I’m always nice to them, but they always call me names and are mean to me.” My daddy tried to make me feel better. He would tell me that those kids weren’t worth my tears. They weren’t worth my kindness. But, it was just the fuel Clay needed to get closer. A little girl who only had one friend in the entire world. I guess that’s why he felt I was easy pickings.

That summer my Nanny took my brother, Clay, and I to the lake to swim. What should have been an enjoyable experience turned yet in to another opportunity for Clay to test the limits because in those murky waters you can’t see anything. You never know what’s going on beneath the surface. Clay took advantage of this fact.

My brother was still too young to swim in the deep on his own, so my Nanny kept him in the shallows with her, while Clay took me out into the deep. I remember my Nanny yelling out to him not to go to far and to make sure he was careful with me. He knew I could swim but wasn’t the best at it, so that worked out to his advantage as well.

He began by playing a simple game with me. He was strong, and so he threw me up in the air as high as he could and would catch me. I enjoyed the game and laughed. Then….. Clay’s face changed again. That look.

“Ashley, do you want to play another game?”

I looked at him with curiosity, “What kind of game?” I asked.

“Well,” he said, “we’re gonna pretend that I’m a boat, and you’re the motor. So, I guess you can call it motorboat.” He smiled.

“How do you play it?” I asked, puzzled by this new game.

“Well the only way for the boat to run is if the motor runs, and the only way for the motor to run is if it is tickled.”

I smiled, thinking we we’re about to play a new FUN game together. “Okay, let’s play.” He smiled, having lured me into his trap. He began by tickling me behind my ears, which made me giggle.

“Oh, we need more power than that.” He said as he moved his hands to my sides and began to tickle me there. I let out loud laugh and began to squirm. He smiled again, stopped tickling me, pulled me in close to him, and whispered in my ear so no one else could hear, “I know something else that can make the motor run better.” He said smiling as he moved his hands inside my swimsuit bottoms.

I froze. He told me to stay quite and pretend to laugh as he did what he wanted to me. So, I did what I was told. I didn’t know what else to do. I didn’t know what this feeling was, or why this was happening. I just know, I didn’t like what was happening, but, I did what I was told. I smiled and laughed just like I did in school. Like I said, I learned to put up a pretty good front.

First line crossed

As a parent you want to believe that your children are safe. You think of all the horrors that can happen to them in the world. So, you try to protect them. You warn them about strange people that might come up to them and offer them candy, to pet their puppy, or just ask if they want to see something cool. Your basic stranger danger type scenarios. But, what if a person you trusted the most, even someone in your own family, was the one who ended up hurting your babies?

It was a nice day in Texas sometime in the spring on 1996. My family on my father’s side had all come to my Nanny’s house. She was my daddy’s mother who hated to be called grandma because it made her feel to old. Haha. Us kids, my brother who was four, Clay’s sister who was thirteen, Clay who was fifteen, and I, who was six at this time, were all outside playing as our family watched. We were running around my Nanny’s yard, looking at the blossoming flowers, swinging on her porch swing, and playing in the sprinkler. My Aunt and Uncle we’re living with my Nanny at this time and so, we were all there to catch up and spend time together.

I don’t remember how it happened or why, but Clay and I ended up alone inside my Nanny’s house. Our family was outside, within ear shot. How could anything have happened, I will never know.

We we’re playing a game of tag inside the house. The sun outside was beginning to set and I am assuming the rest of my family stayed outside to enjoy the cool spring breeze. I crawled under my Nanny’s dinning room table and just giggled and laughed as Clay continued to try and get me. All of a sudden, his face changed and he asked me, “Ashley, do you want to see something cool?” Clay had never offered to show me something “cool” before, so how could my six year old mind refuse?

I remember being so close to Clay and his sister. His sister taught me how to rollerblade and would pick me up if I fell. Over that next year she would babysit us for my parents on occasion because we ended up moving into the house beside them. Clay would ride his dirt bike in the empty lot across the street from my Nanny’s, and my little brother and I wanted with all our hearts to be just like him…… Fearless, fun, and unfazed by danger. He was more like a big brother to us than our cousin. He taught me how to tie my shoes and was always there. He was always there…….

He made his way over to the VCR and TV, put a tape in, and pressed play. I waited for a second until there before me was my very first viewing of a pornographic film. I really don’t remember much of it, but I do remember asking Clay why all the people were naked and making weird noises. He smiled at me, “They are making love to one another.” I cocked my head to one side in confusion. He went on to explain, “this is what people do with each other when they love one another. They give each other “special hugs” and sometimes make babies.” Make babies? I wondered to myself.

The door to the outside began to open and Clay quickly turned off the movie. I thought this odd, but didn’t question it at the time. The person who had come into the house was my little brother. He wanted to join our game of tag. Clay then suggested that we play hide and seek instead, to which my brother joyfully agreed. Clay closed his eyes and pretended to count as my brother scurried off to find the perfect hiding spot. With my brother out of the room, Clay grabbed my arm, pulled me close, and said to me, “Now Ashley, this has to be our little secret. You don’t want to get us into trouble do you?” I shook my head no. After he made it abundantly clear that what had just taken place was something bad and my fault just as much as his, he yelled out, “ready or not, here I come.” And went in search of my brother. My six year old mind didn’t understand it at the time, but Clay had started to groom me.

He had much, much, much more things in store for me.

The beginning

When something good happens in your life, you tend to remember it for a short period of time. It brings you joy and happiness, but in the end, that feeling fades. It’s not until something good happens to you again that you feel that same joy and happiness once more, and the cycle repeats itself over and over again.

On the other hand, if something horrible happens to you, be it your own doing or someone else’s, we as humans beings tend to hold on to it until it consumes us. You have nightmares about it, worry about, and dread the thought of it happening again. You get this sick feeling in the pit of your stomach every time something in your day to day life reminds you of it. Panic attacks, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, and night terrors, to name a few, are things that happen to people that have been through traumatic events in their lives. I should know. I was one of these people. But, let me start from the beginning.

A month after my second birthday party, my brother was born. Even though I don’t remember much of his early life, my parents have told me that when I first saw him I asked them if they could take him back. I laugh at this now, because I couldn’t imagine life without my little “big” brother in it. I do know though, that I didn’t like him. Haha. My little two year old brain just couldn’t comprehend why everyone’s attention that had all been focused on me, had suddenly been shifted to this new, noisy, smelly, pooping machine. What was the big deal?

My poor baby brother, he didn’t know what I had in store for him. I felt like he had taken what was rightfully mine. I mean, I was there first after all. I just simply didn’t like him and he would know it soon enough. I can remember laying on my parents bed with my brother next to me as an infant and I would take his pacifier, watch until he would start to whine, and then put it back in his mouth. I might not have liked him much then, but I didn’t like seeing him cry. Maybe he was starting to grow on me.

As the early years went on, I constantly got into trouble for being “mean” to my brother. He would take one of my toys, and I would want it, but when I took it, I was the one being mean and had to give it back! But it was MY TOY! Those bright brown eyes didn’t fool me like the rest of my family. We fought over the silliest things. Food, drinks, toys, covers, movies, games. Whatever he wanted, I wanted and whatever I wanted, he wanted. It really was a constant struggle between us.

The reason I tell you all this, about my little “big” brother, is so that you can see, that even though I didn’t like him very much, I still loved him with all my heart. I still do. I have told him before in the past, I would cross the depths of hell and back to protect him and bring him back from whatever things might await him. He never knew how true that statement was until we became teenagers. Not until my family finally knew the truth of what our cousin, Clayton or “Clay” is what we called him, had done to me. What he had done to our family. But I, a six year old innocent little girl, was about to find out.

Happy Memories

It’s funny what the human mind can and can’t remember. We all have these wonderful things happen to us as children, but for some reason or another we seem to forget these memories the older we get. But, not me. For some odd reason, I seem to remember things from long ago, even though now I know it’s ancient history. For example, my second birthday party, (yes, my second year of life), I can remember vividly. It was a cool March afternoon in Texas. Not too hot, not too cold. My family had all loaded up and drove the five mile drive to the park in the middle of town. My mom and granny (my great-grandmother) had made me the best cake ever! Michelangelo’s face from the teenage mutant Ninja turtles cartoon that I had watched religiously. My mom, being eight months pregnant with my soon to be little brother, looked like she was about to pop. I can specifically recall asking her several times why she was starting to waddle like a duck. None the less, she still did everything she could to make her little girl happy.

My entire family had shown up to celebrate my second year into this world. My aunt’s, my uncle’s, my grandparents, my great-grandparents, my cousins……. Yes, they were all there. They all wanted to play with the baby of the family, who was full of energy and always had a smile on her face.

My cousin Heather, who is fifteen years older than me, had taken me on the swing set. I remember yelling with fright and wanting her to put me down. I think that was the very first time I realized I was afraid of heights. After a few attempts at getting me to like the swing set, she finally gave up and put me down to run free again.

My cousins spent turns chasing after me. I was care free and couldn’t be happier. I was running around the grassy field by the park, but didn’t realize I had wondered off far too close to the highway. I could hear my family yelling my name, I turned my head to look at them, but my little feet were still moving towards the highway. I must have thought we were playing a game of tag as I watched my family members run after me. I began to giggle.

Out of no where, I felt a pair of hands grab me, pick me up, and twirl me around. It was my daddy. Oh, how I remember giggling into his arms and him worriedly getting on to me for running to close to the highway. He made his way back so that we were closer to my family and the park equipment before he put me down and told me to not go by the highway again. I smiled and kissed his cheek as he hugged me. He then left me to rejoin my mom with my other family members, leaving me at the hands of my cousins once more……….. And this, ladies and gentlemen, may be the only happy memory I have of my cousin Clayton, who is nine years older than me.

He had grabbed my hand and excitedly told me, “Come on Ashley. Lets go down the slide.” I smiled happily and ran with him, hand in hand, towards the metal slide. I remember the first time I tried to climb up on it, my fear of heights must have kicked in again because I had tried to climb back down. But, Clayton was behind me. He picked me up, hoisted me up on to his lap as we reached the top of the dreadful slide, I can remember my other family members yelling out to him to be careful with me, and after reassuring them that we were fine, down we went. It was such a rush. The wind through my hair, my heart beating fast from the adrenaline of conquering my fear of heights and going down the slide. After that, I was no longer afraid. I went back to the top of the slide and went down it again, but this time by myself, with Clayton right behind me. This went on for what seemed like an eternity. I smiled at Clayton and I remember thinking my cousin loves and protects me…………

The rest of the day was filled with cake smashing, present opening, and energy. When the party was finally over, my family began to leave one by one. I remember not wanting any of them to leave, but I was beginning to feel exhausted myself. My sugar rush had done its purpose, but now I was crashing and needed to take a nap. My daddy picked me up and put me into my car seat as I drifted off to sleep while they loaded up the vehicle with the treasures I had acquired that day. My favorite in particular was the jar of peanuts my great-great uncle George had gotten me. I was a happy little tot, without a care in the world. My life was perfect.

How could things have gone so wrong?