This New York Times article tells an incredible story of survival and strength – a child abuse victim shares her story in an effort to give others the courage to speak out against their abuser and protect themselves from the abuse they endure.EMILY ROSENBAUM
I was booked solid from 8:30 a.m. to 2:16 p.m., so as I trekked down the hallway to the next room where I’d be speaking, I ate a few bites of my apple. The health classes were 43 minutes long, 41 after a few kids wandered in late and the teacher reminded everyone to hand in their nutrition projects by Friday. This was the second year I’d volunteered as a guest speaker at this high school, and today they were making sure I reached every last senior.
I put my e-mail address on the board, and then I began the way I always do: “My name is Emily. I’m a writer and a mother of three more-or-less normal kids. I am also a survivor of child abuse.”
Forty-one minutes to tell my life story. By minute eight, I always cover my mother dying, my father marrying his mistress, and the other kids teasing me on the bus because I never took a bath. By halfway through the presentation, I tell them about being locked outside in freezing temperatures and the day my stepmother caught me watching television. By the time I’m 25 minutes in, I’ve told them how I tried to kill myself by jumping in front of cars, how I lived by a code of silence reinforced by fear, and how my stepmother made me eat my own vomit.
When there are 10 minutes left to go, I tell them how I got out: caring teachers and a remarkably brave sibling.
“I’m here today because I want you to know that it’s been almost three decades since I got out of my father’s house,” I always tell them. “I have built a life. I have a wonderful husband. Every day, I see my children grow and blossom. I even get published from time to time. I am not damaged goods; I’m changed by my childhood, but I am not broken.
“When I was 8, I couldn’t imagine ever getting out, ever being safe. If I had succeeded in killing myself then, I’d never have all the things I have today. Please, when you leave here today, I want you to remember that life is long. No matter what you think you can’t escape, no matter how bad things are, remember that life is long. If you know someone who needs help but is afraid to ask for it, share this message: life is long. And life can be wonderful.”
At the end, there are always a few minutes for questions. The 17-year-old boys are angry, wanting to go kick the stuffing out of my father for letting it all happen. Some of the girls are pissed off, too, but mostly they express sympathy and thank me for speaking out.
Today, a girl came up after fourth period. “I went through what you went through,” she told me.
“How long have you been out?”
“You’re safe now?”
“Yes. Yes, I’m safe now.”
“I’m glad to know that. I’m so glad you’re safe.”
She didn’t want to talk more, couldn’t even look me in the eye, but I hoped that over the months and years to come, she’d remember what I had said. I am not damaged goods. Life is long.
That’s why I keep speaking at schools or anywhere else they’ll have me, even though I don’t get paid. I never know which child in fourth period needs the strength to keep going. Lord knows I don’t need to relive my childhood seven times in one day before coming home to my children, but I never know which teenager in last period will remember what I said a decade from now and help rescue a child who isn’t able to protect herself. I never know which member of my community will face his own past because he hears about mine. So I keep speaking and I keep writing.
I cut seventh period short by three minutes so that I could get to my car before the parking lot swarmed with students. Our preschool gets out at 2:30, and I was 12 minutes away. A 12-minute drive back into the present tense.
I open the door to the preschool and there’s a flash of pink and yellow as my daughter runs towards me, arms akimbo, shouting, “Mama!” My younger son barrels out of the kindergarten room. Sixty-eight pounds of child converge upon me at once. I squeeze them both, breathe them in for a moment before they both begin telling me about their days at the same time.
By 2:36, we’re sitting outside the elementary school, waiting for their older brother. Lilah is already asleep in her car seat, and I’m reading Benjamin “The Road to Oz” from my iPhone.
Students often ask me when I’ll tell my own children my story. Someday, I answer. When they’re older. My oldest knows that my stepmother was unkind, and we’ll leave it at that for now. Some things little children shouldn’t know about.
*Original article from The New York Times
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