By Sierra Brown
Childhood is really something: a brief but magical window of time. Living in the present comes easier at that age. I speed through the rest of my life, never realizing how vulnerable my early years left me. Molested at 10 by a 20something family member, I tucked the moment away in the darkest corner of my mind. As I write, I open old wounds that never healed. I pray my negligence didn’t cause a fatal affliction.
Now 23 and a little wiser, I realize the importance of analyzing my childhood, for it holds the secret code for adult survival. I left that 10-year-old girl in the dust, thinking that if I run fast enough, she’ll never catch up to me. But she chases me down and now, on this page, we stand face-to-face.
A fifth-grader, no longer looking up to the older kids—the older kid at last—still obsessed with being older. I wanted love and to be loved like the adults did. Movies like Pocahontas and Mulan were some of the pillars of my childhood, and each woman, though strong and independent thinkers and warriors for what they believed in, always had a man by their side at the end of the story. So obsessed with boys I became.
The boys stood taller, their voices on the cusp of being knocked down a few octaves. Saucy with their tall t-shirts, Air Force Ones, and peach fuzz. They matched the swag of the other fifth-grade girls, sporting Juicy Couture velour tracksuits, Filas, and hoop earrings, some even wearing mascara and lip gloss. Compared to them, I thought myself to be “Black and ugly,” tall and lanky. No booty, no tits. I wanted to be them. I wouldn’t call my family poor, but my mom didn’t believe in buying name brands at the mall on any given Saturday.
But I still made friends. I made them at church, Turner Chapel AME. The arts, creativity, performing is in my DNA. I danced at church and spent time writing. I moved from my childhood home in Marietta, GA, a diverse city outside Atlanta to Dallas, GA, a desolate town infested with racial tensions, I didn’t want to leave my friends and start over. I gave away my dog and left that part of my childhood behind, filled with memories of my home and neighborhood.
My adored aunt and her four sons, who lived in the Midwest, paid us a visit one summer for a family reunion. I bathed in the bliss of being around family, soaking up the good times and the positive energy. My favorite family member, a him, spoiled me with attention and showered me with kisses. I found it cute at the age of four—not so much by 10, and the years in between.
The butterflies of excitement had turned to bouts of uneasiness. Confused by the shift, I ignored it. They lived far away, so I didn’t see them often. No big deal, I thought to myself. That 10th year of my life my mom, dad, little brother and I found ourselves in the Midwest that Thanksgiving and everything came to a head. My mom took my brother and me to my aunt’s house. Granny cooked a lavish feast, but we still had to make our rounds, bopping from one house to the next. That was fine by me because Granny didn’t have a computer, so outside of eating and playing Crash Bandicoot on PlayStation, I was bored out of my mind. Our bellies full, we wobbled to the car to make our last stop.
Auntie, a hardworking, single mother with four boys, didn’t take no shit—and I admired her for that. She worked in a salon as a hair stylist, so her hair was always laid. Her voice, raspy from smoking cigarettes, commanded attention. She knew how to cuss, giving emotion to consonants; when she said “muhfucka,” I could really feel it. When gracing family functions with her presence, she wore the cutest outfits. She called me “chocolate” or “my chocolate SiSi,” and she showed me love. Going to her house as the last stop that Thanksgiving evening seemed like dessert, and I couldn’t wait.
We pulled into the driveway of her cozy, suburban home just as the Thanksgiving Day turned into night. The houses in the neighborhood were stacked close together, leaving minimal space for the grass to grow. The driveway left room for cars lined up bumper to bumper. We hopped out of the car, past the toys my cousins left in the yard, up the short stairway, through the screen door.
Auntie immediately greeted me as emerged from the kitchen, as her laugh bellowed throughout the whole house. “Come say hi to yo cousins,” she said to my two older cousins. “Jeremiah is gone, but Travis is upstairs.” I made a beeline to the computer and called dibs. I would be damned if my little brother got there before me. I fought off my closer-in-age cousins to get to the computer, too. I rushed past Auntie and the living room right to the computer on the main floor , took my well-earned place in front of the screen, and tap-tap-clicked away. My brother played with my two older cousins, my mom and aunt migrated from the dining room to the kitchen, and I was finally left alone to play.
After sitting for hours at the desk I needed to pee—but something didn’t feel right. The uneasy feeling that I ignored came back. I didn’t want to go upstairs to the only bathroom. I would have to pass Travis’ room to get there. I held my pee for as long as my bladder would allow, but it started screaming at me and I either had to pee on myself or go upstairs.
I paused my video game and sprinted up the steps. The bathroom led into the hallway, making it a straight shot … I thought. If I ran fast enough, I wouldn’t be noticed. My intuition told me something, but I instinctively brushed it off. Dashing up the stairs, I fled past the rooms on both sides of the hallway and into the bathroom. I made it, or so I thought. After washing my hands, I tried to leave the same way that I got there, back down the stairs—but I heard my name called, asking me to “come here” in a tone resembling a frustrated parent. Fearful that I would get in trouble if I rejected his summons, I walked back up the stairs with trepidation, and into my favorite cousin’s room.
He motioned for me to sit on his lap. I obliged, stunned. I was caught.
“Why were you running up the stairs?”
“Because I was scared?”
“What are you afraid of?”
“You’re not afraid of me, are you?”
In silence, I shook my no.
He leaned toward me while lifting up my shirt, feeling my budding boobs. He kissed me, his mouth open, tongue hanging out. I felt it swirling around my pursed lips. What is going on? It was confusing, it didn’t feel right.
I pushed him off and jumped up. He stood as I backed up, and ran out the door and down the stairs in tears. I went right to the screen door, closing the actual door so I could hide. My mom and auntie rushed out of the kitchen to see what was going on. Travis followed behind me and ended up in the living room. My mom asked me what was wrong. Tearfully I answered, “He touched me.”
Everything happened in a blur. I don’t know what happened exactly, but my mom scooped me and my brother up and we went to the police precinct with me riding in the driver’s seat. My brother didn’t understand what happened, and I didn’t know why we went to the police.
Mom told me that we needed make a statement. I sat down with two police officers and I wrote down what happened, my last recollection of law enforcement involved in the situation. I don’t know if my mom and dad pressed charges.
We stayed for the remainder of our trip, but we never went back to my auntie’s house. Trapped in the 12-hour car ride back to Georgia, I sat quietly. From then on, I never thought about that incident, locking it away. My family never talked about it since then either, with the exception of overheard conversations saying I wasn’t the first girl in the family he touched.
I only saw him once again at another family reunion several years later. After finding out he would be there, I strategically stayed out of sight, fearful of being blasted back into the past, back to that room.
Recently, I decided to share my story with strangers in a group forum. Prior to that I only told it to close family and friends. Even more recently, allegations of sexual assault and harassment has been circulating the news cycle nonstop. Reading these women’s stories have left me disturbed and uncomfortably raw. The mental band-aid I hastily placed on my own wound has been ripped off.
In that room with strangers, and weeks after reading copious accounts of sexual abuse stories told by women in the entertainment industry, one popping up after the other, I realized I’m not alone. There were other women who experienced the same thing, some violated in ways I can’t describe. Almost as if sexual abuse and assault is some sort of sick rite of passage into womanhood.
In that room with strangers I felt love and acceptance. It gave me the courage to speak up. I felt my story was being heard by people who understood because they went through it too, no doubts or second guessing. No asking what I was wearing when it happened. No asking if I was sure it happened that way, after all it was a long time ago. No asking what I did to lead him on into thinking I wanted it. No asking how did I carry myself, like a lady or a hoe.
Sharing my story, in a public forum and on this page, made me realize I have to heal. No more hiding, I must come forward and set myself free. I wrote this for me. This is my first step to healing.