Renée asked to share this story. It is a fictionalized account of the abuse she experienced. Warning: It is disturbing and graphic. She includes an author’s note at the end.
Morning. Rivulets of light flow through the window. Rosie wakes, sits up in bed and looks out the window; sunshine as far as she can see. A whole brand new day of summer ahead of her. Particles of dust dance in the sunlight. Rosie takes a moment to try and capture some of them. To Rosie they are dancing and twirling fairies. That’s it! Today she’ll be a fairy! She will dance and twirl! She jumps out of bed, runs and begins digging through the clothes in her closet and dresser. Finally she emerges triumphant and disheveled with a little pink skirt, a white ruffled blouse, and a flowered scarf to wave in the wind. She’ll be a fairy princess… Now what is a good name? Rosie wonders. It has to be the name of a flower, but not Rose, that’s my name. Let’s see; Daffodil, Sunflower, Violet, Lily… yes, yes, that’s it! Her Royal Highness, Fairy Princess Lily.
Rosie dresses, then runs out of the room. Her clothes are left scattered. Where’s mama? There she is, sitting on the couch folding clothes. Rosie stops, touches mama’s big tummy lovingly–baby in there, maybe a baby sister. She kisses Mama’s tummy, puts her ear on it, and listens.
“Mama, is the baby gonna be born today?”
“I don’t know, sweetheart. Any day now.” Mama rubs her tummy. “Go eat breakfast. Gramma is fixing it for you.”
Rosie is already on her way. She smells bacon and pancakes. “Mama, is daddy already gone?”
“Yes, honey. He and grandpa are drilling a well today.” Darn, daddy is already gone. Maybe he’ll take her with him tomorrow. She runs to gramma and gives her a big hug. “I love you gramma!”
“I love you too, punkin, “says gramma. “Come sit down and eat. I’m gonna work in the garden today. I need a big helper. Is that you?”
“Well, maybe,” Rosie says hesitantly. Usually Rosie loves to work in the garden. But today she’s a fairy princess. A royal one. Do royal fairies work in gardens? She mulls the thought over for a minute, then forgets it as she digs into a plate of pancakes and crisp bacon. It’s morning, and night is already forgotten.
Morning. Sunday morning. Rosie sits in her Sunday School class. Today she is a lady. A real lady. She sits properly. She keeps her legs together. Mama said girls keep their legs together. Boys can have their legs apart, but not girls, mama told her so. Today Rosie is being as proper as she can. She has on a sky-blue dress with a white collar. She even has a new headband with a white daisy on it that mama bought her. Daddy said she looks pretty enough to eat. He took her picture. “Smile, Rosie, smile!”
Rosie keeps her hands folded in her lap. She has an embroidered white hanky in her purse and she’s singing her favorite hymn, “How Great Thou Art.” The Sunday School teacher holds up the words in a giant sing along book. It has pretty pictures that go along with the words. Rosie sings as loud as she can. She loves singing and she loves Sunday School. This is where they teach you about God. He lives in heaven, but he can live in your heart too, if you ask him. Then you have to be good. Rosie learns about hell too. She knows that is where you go if you are bad. Rosie doesn’t want to be bad. She doesn’t want to go to hell. She listens as hard as she can.
Later in church the congregation sings “Washed in the Blood.” Rosie’s never seen anyone washed in blood, but she’s seen people being baptized. That’s when they wash you in water. The preacher dunks you right under! Maybe washing in the blood comes later. She’ll have to remember to ask mama about that. When she gets older mama says she can be baptized. Rosie hopes that Rev. Jordan will let her hold her nose.
Nighttime. Rosie is sleeping. Gramma rubbed her back tonight, because sometimes at bedtime she is so afraid to sleep that she wants to cry. “Toughen up! There’s nothing to be afraid of,” daddy says. She knows that he would never lie to her. He says she is his best girl and because she wants to please him more than anything, she tries to toughens up. As gramma rubs her back, she says, “Take ten deep breaths,” and then recites the twenty-third Psalm, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside the still waters, for His name’s sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death…” Rosie sleeps; dreamlessly, heavily. The moon slips behind a cloud.
Darker nighttime. Darkest nighttime. Rosie awakens to the sound of male voices whispering, daddy and grandpa. She keeps her eyes closed, tight. She knows she should breathe deeply like gramma says, but she can hardly breathe at all. She is picked up and carried down the stairs into the basement. Relax, Rosie, relax. She whimpers…
“Be quiet!” Daddy growls under his breath. Grandpa has a flashlight, and points it between her legs as he pulls her panties down. Daddy says, “Be still! Obey daddy! Obey daddy!” Obey daddy. Searing pain in her bottom. Rosie goes to nowhere. Back in her bed later daddy says, “Rosie be a good girl. Don’t tell. If you tell, they will know you are bad. They will take you away and you’ll never see any of us again. Obey daddy.”
Morning. Rivulets of light stream through Rosie’s window.
“Wake up, Rosie, wake-up!” Mama comes home from the hospital today with your new baby sister, ‘Angel’,” Gramma chirps. Rosie gets up quickly. She can’t wait to see her new baby sister.
Every day Rosie helps with Angel. She has fallen in love. She spends hours staring at Angel’s miniature sleeping face and gently stroking her velvet skin.
“Can I hold her, Mama? Can I? Please? Can I take her for a ride in the stroller? Can I?” Rosie helps with many things, even changing diapers. One thing she can’t do is feed Angel. Mama does that with her breasts. Angel loves to nurse. Mama’s breasts are sore at first, but she uses a special cream to help them heal. Gramma says that breast milk is the best thing for babies. Rosie hopes that one day she will have milk in her breasts too, but gramma says she is too little now.
“When you are grown up, you can do all kinds of things you can’t do now,” gramma says.
“How will I know when I’m grown up?” Rosie asks. But gramma doesn’t seem to hear.
Daddy is proud of Angel too, except sometimes when she won’t stop crying, and he yells at mama, “Shut that baby up! I can’t get any damn sleep!”
Nighttime. Rosie wakes up with tears running down her face. Something bad happened in a dream, but she can’t remember what. She must have done something wrong and must be punished. She is scared. She starts to get up, but it seems that there are snakes all over the floor around her bed. She wants to scream but can’t. She has no voice. The words won’t come. She looks at the floor again, are the snakes are gone? Did she just imagine them? Were they only shadows? Where did they go? She hears the T.V. and Angel crying. Mama must be up, but might be mad if Rosie gets out of bed. Tears roll down Rosie’s cheeks. Mama! She loves Mama so much. Mama is so good. There is something she wants to tell mama; but what is it? She can’t remember, but feels guilty, ashamed. She wishes she could be a good girl like mama.
Rosie creeps out of bed looking fearfully around for the snakes and runs across the floor. She goes into the living room. Mama is in the rocking chair nursing Angel and daddy is sleeping on the couch. Mama is watching a movie scene in which a woman is crying. She opens a bathroom cabinet and removes something. Rosie watches tears stream down the woman’s face. She lies down in the bathtub and runs something sharp over her wrist. Blood comes out. In the next scene they are burying the woman.
Mamma turns and says sharply, “Rosie! What are you doing out of bed? How long have you been there? Tom! Tom! Take Rosie back to bed, please!”
Daddy opens his eyes. “Get back in bed, Rosie.” He picks her up and Rosie snuggles into his strong arms. She feels safe.
“I love you, Rosie,” daddy says.
“I love you, too, daddy.”
“Go to sleep now. Remember, you’re my best girl.” He leaves the room. Rosie looks at the floor. The snakes are nowhere in sight. Perhaps they’ve moved back under the bed. Rosie obeys daddy and goes to sleep, but there are no dreams.
In the morning mama tells her she has shadows under her eyes. “You never look like you sleep well. Do you sleep well? Why did you get up last night? Did something scare you? You always look a little pale.”
“Maybe she is anemic,” gramma offers. Maybe we should take her to the doctor.” Rosie wants to speak, but feels like her mouth is stuck shut with peanut butter. She finally opens it, but like a newborn chick only a little peep comes out. She didn’t know she looks bad. Maybe she is sick. Is she going to die? Rosie is never taken to the doctor. Daddy says doctors are quacks and just want your money. Grandpa agrees.
Morning. Sunday morning. Daddy is leading the singing for the Sunday School. I have the most handsome daddy, Rosie thinks proudly. Not every daddy knows how to lead the singing. All the children are singing, and daddy has taught them to sing “Jesus Loves the Little Children” in Spanish. Rosie knows it by heart. Later when Rev. Jordan preaches, Rosie sits between mama and daddy. Daddy yawns and looks bored. He takes out his clippers and starts clipping his fingernails. Clip, clip, clip, the nails tips fall onto his lap, and then he brushes them onto the floor.
Rosie listens hard to Rev. Jordan. She doesn’t want to miss a thing. She knows he is very smart because he is the boss of the church, maybe he is even God. He is good too, like mama and daddy. Rosie wants to be good like them. Rev. Jordan says that Jesus died for her. He died for her because she is bad. Rosie hears that Jesus gave his life for her because He loves her so much. Rev. Jordan says that Jesus shed his blood for her. (That must be the blood they wash you in, Rosie thinks, remembering the movie with the woman in the bathtub with the blood draining out of her arm.) Rosie doesn’t like blood, but Jesus does. Jesus wants people to drink his blood and wash in it.
Rosie listens harder to Rev. Jordan. He’s done talking about blood. Now she hears him say that Jesus will help her be good. If she is good, good things will happen to her. If she is bad, bad things will happen. Rosie decided she will try harder to be good. When she is finally good, the bad things will not happen anymore. Rosie feels happy. She smiles, and looks up at daddy. Daddy flips the last couple of fingernail clippings onto the floor.
Morning. Rainy day. Rosie feels crabby. Mama is mad at Rosie because she found a pair of crumpled, damp underwear under her bed. “Rosie, I wish you would stop wetting your pants at night. At least put them in the laundry. They stink to high heaven!” Even gramma seems cranky and stays in her room because her arthritis is bothering her. Rosie goes to her room too and stares out the window. The whole world seems dark and drowning. Maybe God is crying. Or maybe God is too tough to cry. Toughen up, God. Toughen up. Rosie hears Mama call her. “Time to go to the dentist!” Daddy takes her.
The dentist gives Rosie a shot in the mouth that makes tears come to her eyes. She wants to cry out loud, but she remembers that daddy says to be tough because big girls don’t cry. He says she will get a treat if she is a good girl. Rosie doesn’t cry. Loud noises, icky taste in her mouth. Soon it is over. Her face feels like part of it fell off.
“Brush your teeth better,” Rosie, the dentist says. “Then you won’t get any more cavities.”
Rosie’s lips feel puffy. She tries to smile and say she’ll be good, but her voice is muffled as if something thick has been crammed down her throat.
In the car Rosie feels relief. The dentist is over and daddy promised her ice cream afterwards. Wait a minute–daddy passes the ice-cream parlor. “Where are we going, daddy? You missed the ice-cream place.” What is daddy doing? He turns into a dead-end alley.
“Can we go home, daddy? I want to go home…”
“Get in the back seat Rosie.”
“Please daddy, no daddy…”
“Get in the back seat!”
“I want ice-cream daddy! I won’t get any more cavities, daddy. I’ll be good. I don’t need ice cream daddy please daddy, no daddy…”
It is useless to fight daddy. Daddy gets what daddy wants. To fight is to get hurt worse. To fight is to feel even more helpless and cause herself more pain. She might as well be one of the spiders daddy likes to crush with his foot.
Daddy grabs her jaw and squeezes hard, ”Open your mouth, Rosie! Now.” Something thick and hard is stuffed down her throat. She wretches and struggles to breathe. She is suffocating. I’m going to die, I’m going to die! Then a sing-song chant runs through her mind, “In and out and in and out and in and out I’m full of holes, I’m full of holes if there is a hole he’ll find it, in and out and inandoutitsover. Rosie gags and spits.
“Don’t tell anyone, Rosie. They’ll take you away. They’ll lock you up… you’ll never get out, never get away… they’ll know you are a bad girl, bad girl, time for ice cream.”
In the parlor Rosie gets her favorite chocolate fudge ice cream. Daddy hugs her.
“You’re my best girl, Rosie. Daddy’s favorite. Do you l love daddy?” Rosie nods but looks down. It’s a horrible thing to love someone that causes you so much pain.
Back at home Rosie runs to mama in the kitchen. She fights back a flood of hot tears. “Bad time at the dentist?” Mama asks daddy. “What took you so long?”
“Yeah, kinda bad,” he says. “You should make sure she brushes better. I don’t need to pay for more fillings.”
Afternoon. Hot afternoon. Rosie plays in the shade of the tall Sycamore tree in the backyard. It’s her favorite place to play. She tips her head back and tries to see the top of the tree. She tried to climb it once but daddy yelled at her. He says she is too small to climb it. Rosie is determined that when she gets older she’ll find the top. Is there something daddy doesn’t want her to see? Someday I’m going to find out, she thinks defiantly. Rosie reaches into the knothole she has cleaned out so that fairies can live there. She lines it with moss and leaves to make it nice and soft. This is where they will sleep. She puts a couple of green grapes and some cookie crumbs into the hole from her snack. At the bottom of the tree she makes a small pool of water in a hollow by a root, stacking pebbles and smooth stones around it, and “planting” some of gramma’s holly-hock blossoms for a flower garden. It looks just right. Tonight she’ll peek out her window when it gets dark. If she’s lucky she might see the tiny people swimming in the pond. Rosie hears a car drive up. Daddy is home. Rosie finishes the note she is writing with a crayon and pushes it into the knothole for the fairies to find, “i hop u lik ur hous luv rosie”.
Rosie runs inside to see daddy. She hears him in the nursery, playing with Angel. She sees him hold Angel up in the air as Angel giggles and gurgles happily. The sun shines through the window and dances in her golden hair. She looks just like an angel. Rosie hears daddy say, “You’re my best girl, Angel. Daddy’s favorite. Be a good girl. Obey daddy.”
That night in the dark, Rosie peeks out her bedroom window. The moon is absent, and the Sycamore tree looks like a dark, hard shadow. Rosie listens carefully, and decides that she hears a tiny splash of water. Yes! The fairies are swimming. She squints hard, imagining a small dark-haired fairy fluttering sitting on one of the higher branches. “What do you see up there?” Rosie whispers. The fairy doesn’t speak, but her eyes look infinitely sad.
Early morning. Rosie slides out of bed quietly not wanting to wake anyone. Mama and daddy sleep late on Saturdays. Rosie tiptoes into Angel’s room where Angel is sleeping peacefully in her crib. Rosie gazes lovingly at her little sister lying there all alone. Tears begin to run down Rosie’s cheeks. How can she save Angel? How can she protect her? What if daddy and grandpa do those things to Angel? It hurts, hurts so bad. Sometimes there is blood and the yucky, sticky white stuff. Sometimes it makes her throw up. Rosie wants to wash and wash and wash because she never feels clean. She can’t let it happen to Angel. Angel has never hurt anyone. She doesn’t deserve the punishment. I can’t tell, Rosie thinks. I can’t tell. They will take me away and lock me up so I will never see mama again or Angel or daddy again. Angel, Rosie sobs, I love you so much. I will find a way to save you. She climbs into the crib and tenderly wraps her arms around Angel, snuggling close to the little downy head, and kissing her gently. The two little girls sleep entwined, their heads pressed close together, their small chests moving as if in a quiet drumbeat. They are one.
Morning. Another morning at Sunday School. Rosie walks up to the bulletin board. Two pictures are posted there. One is of Jesus on the cross. “He died for YOU,” the words say. Rosie looks at Jesus’ face. It is sad, full of pain. Blood runs down his hands and feet and side. Rosie stares. He died for me, she thinks. She looks at the next picture. Jesus is sitting on a cloud going up to heaven. He looks happy. The pain is gone from his face. The blood is gone. He looks straight into Rosie’s eyes. He looks kind and gentle. Rosie is not afraid.
Darkest night. The pain again, the horror. How long will she be punished? What bad has she done? She tried to be good. She did everything she knows, but still she is punished. She must be evil. She must be doing something wrong, but no one tells her what to do. She pushes her face into the pillow to stifle her sobs and push down the scream threatening to rip through her, shoving her fist into her mouth so daddy won’t hit her. She must not wake mama. This night the deep sleep will not come. This night she can’t go to no-where. The pushing, the shoving, the pain THE PAIN. Daddy seemed angry tonight, but still he liked it. He and grandpa like these things they do to her. Sometimes they laugh together, as if she is some kind of joke. Rosie cries until there are no tears left to cry, and there is only Angel to think about. When daddy leaves after kissing her good night, she slips her panties off and drops them by the bed, stained with red.
It will be dawn soon. The barest light is beginning to slip through the window. Rosie doesn’t notice it as she kisses Angel’s dimpled baby hand. I love you, Angel. I love you. She brushes the baby’s cheek with her fingertips. You will be saved, Angel. You will be saved. She leaves the note in Angel’s crib, tucked under the blanket, against Angel’s heart. She knows mama will find the note. It’s Saturday morning and daddy doesn’t get out of bed until breakfast is ready.
Rosie goes into the bathroom. In the mirror she looks strangely like a grown woman, and her face is grave, even peaceful. She opens the cabinet and takes out daddy’s razor, lying down in the bathtub. Rosie draws the razor blade across the delicate skin of her wrist. She pushes it hard, and it hurts bad, but Rosie is used to pain and knows how to bury screams deep in her stomach. She feels as if she is looking down from the ceiling as the blood drains out in a continuous river. She smiles weakly, thinking of Angel. Beautiful Angel. You will be saved.
Rosie grows pale, paler. The dawn grows brighter as light flows through the window. Rosie’s blood, deep red, covers the white porcelain of her skin, the white porcelain of the bathtub. Rosie is washed in the blood.
Morning, Angel awakens. Screaming.
“Rosie” is a story I wrote in the 1990’s when I was able to face my childhood sexual abuse. I wanted to depict, from a child’s point of view, the confusion, pain and agony that can accompany childhood abuse. But I needed to distance myself from the all too real events I’d experienced, so I gave the child a different name, and added small elements of fiction—usually symbolic. In this way I also hoped to universalize the story, though I don’t claim to speak for every abused child or adult.
I changed the number of siblings, I have five, Rosie only has one. I didn’t try to commit suicide, but Rosie definitely makes an attempt, and seems to die. However, is she possibly saved by Angel’s screaming? Angel seems to have the voice Rosie learned to stifle. An example of a symbolism is the sycamore tree Rosie wants to climb. There was such a tree in my childhood, but it wasn’t a sycamore. The story of Zacheus in Luke 19 in the New Testament, tells of a tax collector who climbed a sycamore tree in order to see Jesus. Rosie’s desire to climb the tree is symbolic of her desire, even as a child, to know the truth and understand her contorted, violated world. Of course her father stops her.
Finally, my grandpa died before I could confront him for his abuse, and my father denies my accusations. However, there are others in the family and outside of it that also claim he sexually abused them.
I’ve come a long ways since the near despair of my childhood and early adulthood, but there is healing for all who turn to Christ; no one is too sinful or damaged.
All my gratitude goes to the God of my life.