At age 12, in 1963, my father was named Consul General for the Dominican Republic assigned to Miami, Florida. We lived in the Dominican Consulate on Brickell Avenue, a few blocks from downtown. As a Dominican girl from the 50s, I was raised with no knowledge at all of how to defend myself and what was out there because I was always protected by a chaperon. I also grew up in the outskirts of Santo Domingo in a very rural area, in a house with 9 foot fence and huge gates, and killer dogs in the yard. No one came in or went out without permission, since the failed attempt to kidnap my brother in 1957. There were, of course, a lot of other very traumatic events in my life caused by political unrest and life under a dictatorship. We thought we had left all that behind. Unfortunately, in Miami we were now out of our culture and family and we were in a culture that forced you to be on your own more than we were accustomed to. Nothing had prepared us for city living and the American way of life. My mother who was used to many servants, had four children in school, a baby and my father who, being a Latin husband, did absolutely no housework at all. Back in the DR, at least my dad was the handyman who maintained our house in great shape. But in the states, he didn't really have a defined role in the house. So, to say that my mother was overwhelmed is an understatement. Because I was a girl, I got to work and help my mother with all the house chores and taking care of my sister and my brothers. But on school mornings, I got dressed and ready for school and sat on a small fence out front of the consulate to wait for my school bus while my mother got my brothers ready for their school. I went to a private school in Coral Gables so I had to be picked up by the school bus. They went to a public school a block away.
One morning, when I was waiting for the bus in my usual spot, an older man, balding, very thin, very sickly looking, very white and probably in his 60’s, came up and engaged me in chit chat. Something inside me made me fear this man and I started moving away. That is when he sat next to me and tried to touch me in the crotch with his trembling hands while he said “give it to me”. I said no and ran to the house. At this age, I had never seen a naked man, didn’t know anything about sex, still played with my Barbie dolls, and really had no way to defend myself nor understand his actions. But I knew this guy was a creep and I had to get away from him.
What happened next is what haunted me for years. I didn’t run upstairs to tell my parents. I sat at the bottom of the stairs crying and shaking with fear, anger, indignation and shame. Unfortunately, instead of feeling that I could go to my parents and get their support and protection, I felt that I would get yelled at and that somehow it was my fault. So I kept it to myself until a few years ago. I never spoke about it, but obviously it had a HUGE impact on my life. In a split moment, an act that lasted about 15 seconds changed the course of my life forever.
I went from being a shy but happy child, to never leaving my house and being frightened of men for the rest of my life. By the time I was 16, I would shake with fear if a boy even looked at me in school. Forget having anyone touch me or have any kind of relationship. I questioned every sign of affection a man might have towards me. It became so bad that I would go to school every day because my mother made me go. I would not have anything to do with anyone there. I only spoke if I was spoken to. I am a relatively smart person and yet, no one would ever know it because, if the teacher called on me to read or answer any question, which I might even know, I would pee my pants and start crying so I couldn’t see the book and my mind went blank. This went on through all of high school. I was a mess. I tried to cover it up by acting dumb, but it only made things worse.
I would get home from school in the afternoons and go to my bedroom. I would close the door and start my daily “Mia Culpa” ritual. I would start crying because I was stupid and ugly. It didn’t help that I was 5’ 6” and weighed 94 pounds and had braces to correct the buck teeth left from years of sucking my thumb. It was an unimaginable mental torture. Sometimes my mother would come in and catch me crying. She would ask why I was crying and I honestly didn’t have an answer for her. How do you explain that you are worth nothing. That you don’t want to come out of your room because you don’t think you can deal with what is outside and yet what is inside is worse. So, I spent most of my time in my room reading, painting and listening to music by myself.
It wasn’t until I had my daughter at age 29 that I started to become stronger and independent. But it would still be years before I could have a somewhat normal life. I have never been able to have a normal relationship with anyone. By age 39 I gave up trying. I have been on a spiritual quest for most of my adult life. I have come a long way since that frightened child crying at the bottom of the stairs. I am strong, independent and at peace. But, I have paid a very high price to reach this stage... living alone and distanced from everyone. I totally understand nuns and convents. It is only in this separations and isolation that you can work on your self without distractions and reach the ultimate goal of peace within. When I was young I hated that isolation. I wanted so much to belong. Now I have embraced my isolation. It is who I am. I am not like other people. I am me. Whether the creep had a “hand” in this or it was my nature anyhow... I am a loner... have always been... will always be. I try to be sociable, but at the end of the day, I am alone.
In this day of the Internet and media, you hear everyday about another child that got abducted or molested. Or about women who got raped. Almost every woman I have ever known that I have asked has been sexually abused... some by a family friend, a relative or even a parent.
1 in 6 women and 1 in 33 men will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime. In 2006 there were 272,350 victims of sexual assault. 80% of sexual assaults are not reported to the police.
It is an outrage that this can happen so easily in this society. What is it that causes people to become so dysfunctional and become predators?
If there is a good that came out of this story, it is the fact that, because this happened to me, I swore that it would never happen to my daughter. I started preparing her and teaching her what was inappropriate behavior from the age of three. I made sure she understood I would always be there for her. And that if she felt that something wasn’t right, I didn’t care who she offended, she needed to call me and let me know right away so I could deal with it. I enrolled her in Karate classes at age 11 to further ensure she could defend herself. Apparently, she offended Tommy's boss when she was around 13 because he said something to her that she didn't think was appropriate and she gave it right back to him. In his world, women didn't talk back. I congratulated her on having done that. There isn't any reason that any woman has to take any kind of abuse from any man. My daughter has grown up to be an amazing woman.
When I wrote this article, Tommy and I were still divorced and he was still married to his ex-wife Linda. Since then, they got divorced and a few years later Tommy and I remarried. For the first time in my life I have a "normal" life and I feel at peace.