My mother comes at me with the book spread open wide. She is pointing to a picture. She is yelling, face contorted by fear. Eyes wide. This is my introduction to the history of art, and it is my introduction to sex. I am six years old.
For many years I will regard this moment as traumatizing. I will tell myself that the event shouldn’t have happened. The story I tell myself about this event will shape my perspective of myself and my place in the world as a victim, because the stories we tell ourselves have so much power. Stories can traumatize; stories can transform; stories can heal.
And, as you may have gathered, the story my mother is telling me about sex is not your run-of-the-mill birds-and-bees kind of story. My mother, a lapsed catholic, ex-hippie, single mom working toward a degree in theater, never does anything run-of-the-mill. So her story is filled with all the vim and vigor of a Sunday morning sermon in a Pentecostal revival tent. It goes something like this:
“Did you see this??? This is a penis! A man has a penis and a woman has a vagina. But you are a little girl. If a man puts his penis inside your vagina, it can damage you. It’s too big for your little vagina. It can rip up your insides.”
She’s right, of course. I am, after all, only six-years-old when she drops this bomb on my innocence. Surely, the introduction of a penis into my little precious vagina would cause irreparable damage. But, at age six, it is the story that damages, or seems to. This story enters me like a missile – detonates- makes my insides feel shredded.
For 18 years, I try to forget this story. But when it pops up in my mind, as traumatic events do, I wonder: what is wrong with my mother? Why tell a six-year-old such a horrific story?
The answer lies in the concept of Divine intervention. When I learn about the all-too-common but new-to-me idea that things happen for a reason, the pieces of this puzzle I tried to forget fall into place. As the pieces fall into place, the story I tell myself changes. It shifts from a story of victimization to a story of triumph. Here’s what happened.
I’m six years old again. It’s morning but our apartment is dark, as always. Whatever sunlight is outside is overtaken by shadows from the porch overhang before entering our space. Mommy is out somewhere. My best friend Peter, also six, comes to the door, speaks through the screen. “Hey, Rebekah.”
I let him in.
“Wanna fuck?” he asks.
“Sure,” I say. I don’t know what that word means, but Peter’s my best friend and we always have a good time together, so I know fucking will be fun.
We leave the apartment. It’s a beautiful sunny day in Forest Park, the neighborhood for University of New Hampshire students with families. There’s a bridge with steps we like to ride our Big Wheels down. We’re drawn to it, naturally, but today instead of crossing over the bridge, Peter and I go under the bridge and look at rocks.
(I can only imagine that Peter has overheard his parents talking about fucking and getting their rocks off, so he must think that getting rocks under the bridge is actually fucking. I know I think it is.)
When I return from our adventure and enter the dark apartment, Mommy is there. “What did you do today, Sweetheart?”
“Peter and I fucked.”
Mommy goes into a panic like I have never seen. She whips her art history book from the shelf, points to the picture of Michelangelo’s sculpture of David and begins her inquisition.
Did you see one of these???
Now, we could leave the story here, because that’s why my mother thinks she’s frantically explaining the details of sexual organs and intercourse to her innocent little girl. But the story doesn’t end here. God, the Universe, Source energy, whatever you want to call it, has another, more important reason for sending Peter to ask me to fuck and for my mommy to mortify me with her too-real definition of the word.
Maybe a week, maybe a month later, Mommy and I are at a party with all her theater department friends. There’s only one other kid there — a professor’s daughter. Katie. Maybe five years old. Blonde. We’ve played together a few times before. She’s nice. Like me, she’s painfully shy, so our parents encourage us to play together. I ask if she wants to go to the playground. It’s not far. We can walk there. This is 1978, the pre-Oprah era, when parents push their kids out of the house with only two rules: “Be good!” and “Be home before dark.”
So we go to the playground alone. When we get there, we’re surprised there aren’t any other kids. We have the whole place to ourselves. I see the swing set and I’m eager to get to it, to swing as high as I can, jump when I’m at the highest point, and fly through the air. I head in that direction with Katie by my side.
But then a man comes over the crest of the hill. He’s tall, with a big bush of blonde curly hair. He’s wearing a denim jacket and jeans that look dirty. He probably has a t-shirt on, too, but I don’t remember that. And I don’t remember his face. I remember his penis sticking out of his pants. It’s very big.
He approaches us. “Hey girls.”
Do we say Hi? I don’t know. I feel Katie freeze beside me.
“Do you know what this is?” He points to the penis.
“Yes,” I say.
“Do you want to touch it?”
“Come on. Touch it. It tickles.”
I turn and whisper into Katie’s ear, “Run!”
But she doesn’t. She just stands there with her mouth open.
He’s getting closer.
“Come on. Touch it.”
“It’ll be fun.”
Katie is still frozen in place. I do the only thing I can think of. I grab Katie’s hand, pull as hard as I can and run. Now I can feel her moving beside me. I look straight ahead, legs pumping, arms pumping, flying across the grass. Not noticing whether I can breathe, not feeling anything but pure energy flowing through me. Katie and I make it back to safety, to the party, to our parents, and their friends, and they call the cops, and…
Decades later I recognize my mother was not the perpetrator in the story, but the mouthpiece of the Divine. And six-year-old Rebekah was not the victim in the story, but the hero. The facts are unchanged, but my power is in the way I choose to perceive them.
Through my stories, I have the power to heal.
Rebekah L. Fraser graduated from Yale with a degree in film studies/screenwriting and has written feature film scripts, short films, and short stories. She is currently developing her second novel while, as a journalist, she has contributed articles and personal essays to publications throughout North America, including Christian Science Monitor, Elephant Journal, MindBodyGreen.com, and The Writer.