I have always been better with written words than with spoken ones. As a young gymnast, I never confided in my coaches when I felt scared or uncomfortable with a new, risky skill, and instead always performed it exactly as I had been instructed for fear of disappointing them. At age seven, when my mother chose not to attend my first gymnastics competition, I did not say a peep, even though I was a little upset because all the other girls had brought their mothers along.
I may not have said much -- or anything at all, really -- but I wrote and wrote and wrote. I have a stack of journals filled with nearly incomprehensible scribbles to prove it.
And so naturally, when my mother’s physical therapist and friend molested me at age 14, I did not utter a word -- or the right ones, at least. I tried to tell my dad; I truly did. But can a 14-year-old really make an adult -- her father, of all people -- comprehend the incomprehensible?
So I never said much, but this time was different. What had happened to me was so unfathomable, so utterly terrifying and confusing, that I never even wrote about it until last year -- not even in my private journals. I was too ashamed to tell my friends.
The thing is, when you have trouble expressing that you have been sexually abused, it is hard for the people around you to understand that something truly terrible has happened to you. And personally, I have never found anything more alienating than this.
But I am writing about it now, and it all went something like this:
At age five, after watching the 1996 Olympics on television (doing a headstand, of all things. That’s right -- I watched the 1996 Olympics from a headstand, supporting myself against my parents’ bed. It is one of my most vivid memories), I begged my parents to let me enroll in a gymnastics class. Two years later, when I was seven years old, I joined a competitive gymnastics team, and that was it -- I was immediately hooked. I lived, breathed, ate, and slept gymnastics. I subscribed to International Gymnast magazine. I plastered posters of famous gymnasts on my walls. And whenever I wasn’t at practice, I forced my little sister to play “the gymnastics game” with me (I was the United States. She was China. I was also the judge and the coach. Basically, I always won. My poor sister).
As I got older and stronger, my skills became riskier, my training more intense. At one point, my coaches hired a physical therapist, “C,” from their native country, Cuba, to help with the team’s various ailments. A few months later, he mysteriously stopped showing up; evidently, he had been fired, but no one really knew what had happened. At age twelve, I injured my back, and surprise, surprise, I had trouble expressing to my parents and coaches just how badly it hurt.
My mother, a long-time tennis player, had kept in contact with C. Every week (sometimes even twice a week), she drove to his house (something that I didn’t think much of at the time, but that I now find odd), claiming that he helped relieve her pain. After months of training in nearly unbearable pain, my mother insisted that I go see C, too.
C and I never got along. He mocked me constantly, but I rarely retaliated. One time, I fell asleep on his massage table. When I woke up, he imitated my face, running his index finger from his mouth to his chin, indicating that I had drooled. My mother sat beside me and laughed along.
And then one afternoon, while my mother was in the bathroom, the molestation happened.