Before I found the basement though, I had my bedroom. My bedroom was small, barely big enough to fit a desk, some shelves, a dresser, and my bed, but it was mine. My sanctuary. My steel box.
For Christmas or my birthday (I can’t remember which,) I received my own little record player. At first, I used it to listen to books on record, then I would play my mom’s old 45s (small records with one song cut into each side, for those too young to remember vinyl.)
Whenever I felt particularly low, I would get out my exercise records (videotape wasn’t mainstream yet.) I had two and I don’t recall exactly who gave them to me, but I assume it was my parents. The first one I ever owned was by Cathy Rigby (a famous American Olympic gymnast before Mary Lou Retton knocked her out of the spotlight.) The other was Richard Simmons’ “Reach.” I remember following along with the exercises, checking the handy-dandy poster that was included to make sure I had the correct form, trying not to make a lot of noise. I would use my bed for an exercise mat for the floor exercises and then, exercise in place for the aerobic parts.
I particularly liked Cathy Rigby because, well, she was a girl. But also because I wanted to be a gymnast, just like her. I wanted to be like Nadia Comaneci and win an Olympic medal. I also dreamed of being the next Dorothy Hamil. A worthy goal. Impossible for me, however, as I had never taken lessons for either gymnastics or ice skating. I hoped and dreamed of the day when the Olympic Committee created Figure Rollerskating as an event. I would practice on the double car-width concrete driveway for hours over summer vacation, trying to figure out how to do jumps on my pair of skates that fit over my sneakers and had no toe pick or stopper.
But like many creative people, I bore easily when results are not forthcoming. It wasn’t long before I focused my attention onto something else. Periodically, I went back to the dream of being an athlete of some kind or other. However, “Calamity Jeanne” (another one of my mom’s nicknames for me) was never destined to be famous for her athletic prowess. Perhaps the allure was because I was not encouraged? Tell me I can’t do something and I’ll work thrice as hard to prove that I can.
Every chance I had, which was most weekend afternoons, I would head into the basement and pretend that I was in the Olympics. I’d perform my gymnastic routine on the cold tiles of the basement floor. At the time, I was under five feet tall so I didn’t need a lot of room for a cartwheel or a roundoff. Of course, in my world, I always received a 9.9.
I had a lot of other imaginary worlds as a child. The world changed with my latest interest, of course, be it book or movie or television show. In my world, I was the adopted sister of Laura Ingalls Wilder or Brandon and Brenda’s cousin from Buffalo who had come to live with them in Beverly Hills. I could enter and win the Miss West Seneca beauty pageant (back when they were still called beauty pageants.) In my world, I could live in a boarding school and be friends with movie stars.
The one theme in all these worlds was that I was loved and cared for. If I got hurt in my world (which I often pretended,) my friends and family would rally around to help me. They wouldn’t take my insistence that “I’m fine” and would help me to accept their help. In my world, people showed their love in overt ways.
And the funny thing was, I thought I’d be comfortable with the displays of affection.
It was around my pre-teen years that I started to become body conscious. In fifth grade, I started to hang out at the local malls with my friends. I wanted to wear clogs and look grown-up. It was also around this time that my brother started to notice me.
I don’t really remember this time in my life very well – it’s just a series of blips in my memory. An image of me at the computer in the nook in one wall of the den. My brother in the shower. The water turns off, I continue playing whatever game I had been playing. I hear his voice from the doorway, “What does a camera do?”
I turn as I say, “What?”
“Flash!” he exclaims as he opens his brown plaid bathrobe and exposes his naked body for a brief second.
Disgusted, I close my eyes and turn away, and yet, I wasn’t only disgusted. I was interested. Excited. For a girl who was raised Catholic, seeing a naked body, any naked body was titillating, even if it was your brother.
I learned about sex from my friends. (At the time, TV was fairly innocuous – Little House on the Prairie, Family Ties, Growing Pains, and the like. Even the daytime soap operas afforded me little information in the moments after kissing and before sleep.)
I remember a book at my best friend’s house that we snuck peeks at during a slumber party. But that was a cartoon book on reproduction, not exactly the best how-to book around. To say that I was naïve would be the understatement of the century.
So, when I recall another blip – one where I am stretched out on the den’s dark beige rug with just my underwear under my bathrobe with my brother in his plaid bathrobe beside me – I’m confused. I still feel the warmth from my brother’s “middle” against my leg. I still hear his panting, feel and smell his breath against my face. Like a ghost, the sticky warm liquid on my thigh haunts me to this day.
Could this really have happened?
If it did, it would explain a lot - my revulsion with the messiness of sex, most notably, my disgust for the penis being another.
What I remember is feeling a combination of fear and excitement whenever my brother and I were alone together in the house. I remember almost wanting it to happen again. I craved the thrill of being shown attention. I just wanted to be loved and wanted. My brother, the one who always pushed me away, wanted me. At that point in my life, someone wanting me for any reason was the same as being loved. I wanted that. I needed that.
But, somewhere deep inside, I also knew that it wasn’t right. I remember hearing about incest with the disgust attached to it and thinking, Is it really that wrong?
After years of suppressing these memories, I finally let them out and realized that it wasn’t wrong for me to want to be wanted and loved, but it was wrong for my brother to take advantage of my innocence and ignorance.
He used me.
I was abused.
Wow. There’s a statement I never thought I’d make.
I was abused.
Not only verbally, but sexually.
Okay, so maybe sexually abused is a bit strong, but I was definitely molested.
And not only by my brother.
When I was fifteen, my cousin hugged me from behind for an unusually long period of time. So long, that I felt something press against my butt. I was uncomfortable, and yet again, I felt wanted and didn’t want that feeling to end. I understand now that my cousin had gotten a hard-on by holding me. I hadn’t a clue what was happening back then. I just knew that my cousin, the one who barely told me the time of day, had noticed me, had wanted me for something. I felt special, in a creepy sort of way.
Incidentally, I wrote about this event in my diary. Interestingly enough, the next day I noted that I started a diet and exercise regimen.