I have come to understand that my mother knew and chose to do nothing.
When I was 18 or thereabouts, I wrote my mother a letter telling her what my father had done to me. That he’d raped me and sexually abused me, beginning when I was quite young and continuing for years.
To her credit, she said believed me immediately, that it was “something he would do”.
She told me afterward that she spend the next several months crying and hiding from my father at night by sleeping in their bedroom closet.
Women leave their husbands for a lot of reasons – alcoholism, physical abuse, cheating or because they just don’t love them any more. Not my mother. My father drank himself unconscious almost every night. He slapped her at least once, an action I heard from the next room, and which my brother witnessed. He raped me, beginning when I was five years old. Despite clearly being in distress, and showing no signs I could discern that she felt anything for my father but revulsion, she didn’t leave at any time during my childhood, or in the 14 years after that letter. I begged her several times to leave, told her her duty as a mother and a feminist demanded it, but she didn’t. She told me afterward it was because no-one would help her.
I’m not sure what kind of help she needed. She traveled regularly, visited her relatives, who seemed to care about her, and was in enough contact with feminists to have access to information about shelters and welfare. She never asked me for a plane ticket or a place to stay to help her leave, or anything else. Fourteen years later, she finally left, but not because of me. She told me that since I was no longer in danger, she could take her time and leave when the time was right. She said she’d finally left in order to have a relationship with her children, two of whom would no longer have contact with her.
During my childhood, my father was known to make inappropriate sexual comments to adult women, including my mothers brother’s wife, my aunt. The insult he paid her was so severe my uncle and aunt severed contact with my family over it, but no-one wondered, to my knowledge, whether his daughter was at risk.
Except perhaps my mother.
A couple of years after I wrote her the letter, my mother, trying to repair her relationship with me, attended a joint therapy session with herself, her therapist and I. During this session I asked her to do a basic listening exercise, where I said couple of sentences and she would repeat back what she heard. There, in a different city from my father, with her therapist present, rather than repeat a simple sentence, that my father had raped me over a period of about ten years, beginning when I was about five, my mother ran screaming to the bathroom. She could not do it.
When I was little and being raped, it was just down the hall from where my mother slept. My father would drink himself unconscious, then wake up a few hours later, dragging his clumsy hands along the hallway to the bathroom where if he intended to rape me, would go in and pee. He would then come out and enter my room, which was directly across from the main bathroom. If he intended to go to sleep, he would continue down the hallway to his bedroom and pee in the ensuite bathroom.
I believe she must have known, and that’s why she didn’t leave later on, that she’d already decided long before to stay, no matter what. If his drinking, hitting her, verbal abuse and the embarassment of his sexual sleaziness was not enough reason to leave, what was the rape of a daughter she could not have truly valued?
All of this, the hand dragging, the stumbling down the hallway, the peeing, the flushing in the middle of the night made some noise. I know I heard it. I’d lie awake waiting for the sounds that would indicate I was in danger or safe for the night. One night that I know of, that my mother admits, she intercepted him after he left the bathroom and was entering my room. She steered him down the hall to their bedroom. She claims she just didn’t imagine he’d abuse me.
Clearly I don’t get my imagination from her, since I am quite able to imagine abuse. However, perhaps that’s not fair. I didn’t need to imagine it.
So now that I stare all this in the face, waiting for my father to die, what do I say to my mother when she wants to get together for the holidays? How do I respond to her when she wants to hang out, have lunch and visit, when she’d like me to make a fuss over her for mothers day or visit her at her home? I can’t imagine it.
Note added May 2012: A few years later than this post, I found proof that my mother had known about the rapes, in the form of scars on my body from injuries she would not have been able to miss. Later posts in this blog describe that process of learning about the scars, as I was experiencing it. I have since severed all contact with my mother, who was a criminal accomplice to the rapes. These scars also validated several memories of the assaults.