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I was fifteen, motherless...

October 15, 2018

Content warning: suicide, rape

 

“My suicide, as a gift to my Dad. I was fifteen, motherless (she died of cancer,) and raised by an upstanding, beleaguered, and loving Catholic Dad. At a beach party a guy "friend" dragged me behind a dune and raped me. I see that now, as an adult. Back then I thought I was imprudent. Too flirty, and culpable.

 

Two weeks later I was vomiting in the bushes on my way to babysit for a neighbor when it occurred to me that I was pregnant. My stomach sank with the only thought I had room for: that my poor Dad would be so deeply ashamed of me. In a fleeting moment I knew what I had to do: kill myself, because therein lay a path to my father's safety from this shame. Never once did it occur to me that my Dad would have fought for me, protected me, even perhaps, against his faith, allowed me to be reprieved by surgery. I also had no idea that there would have been an autopsy that would have revealed my pregnancy, sparing no one. I began to lay out my steps. I gave away beloved possessions, fabricated diary entries, made false confession seeking to store up absolution, and plodded onward toward my gift of my death, ready to "free" my Dad from the worst.

 

When I gave my Mom's cameo ring to my neighbor's teenage daughter, she caught on. Also Catholic, and herself raised in a cycle of shame and redemption, she connected my greenish countenance, maudlin worldview, and sudden generosity together, and she nailed me into a chair. Within minutes she had me sobbing and revealing my plot, that I would protect my father from the deepest shame by simply dying and going away. She was the first person who got me to realize that the pain I would cause my father was orders of magnitude larger than what I wanted to protect him from.

 

She was the first person who explained, slowly and clearly, that I was loved for myself and could not be replaced, and that my value lay in far more than the pride or shame I could bring upon my father. There in her kitchen she picked up the phone and called Planned Parenthood. She drove me there to talk to a counselor, and she held my hand as the story came out. She offered to take me to the police, but I had so deeply assumed my own culpability that I said no.

 

She left me every option, and I came to the idea of an abortion with a wave of gratitude and relief. She paid for the procedure, made my excuses, kept me in her home to recuperate, and gently and relentlessly insisted that I absolve myself. She called this my gift to my father: that I would spare his daughter and allow her to survive, for him, and for raped girls everywhere.

 

Thirty-five years later I understand the gift she gave not only to me but to my father, who died never knowing what I went through. But as an adult I now think he would have responded far differently than I feared, and I know that he valued me much more than anyone else's idea of his honor, certainly, more than the idea of his honor held by a fifteen-year-old motherless girl abused by a twenty year old man at a beach party.

 

I think our culture lacks an important term, one for the relationship between a very young woman and the one whose kids she watches, ostensibly the babysitter, but really she's there for the mentoring, the love, and the connection with an older woman whom she needs desperately in order to navigate the formidable world in front of her. That woman saved my life.”   —Erin

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