“In the fairy tales about father–daughter incest—‘The Girl Without Hands,’ ‘Thousand Furs,’ the original ‘Cinderella,’ ‘Donkey Skin,’ and the stories of Saint Dymphna, patron saint of incest survivors—the daughters are all as you would expect them to be: horrified by their father’s sexual advances. They do everything in their power to escape. But I didn’t. A child can’t escape. And later, when I could, it was too late.”
Throughout her childhood and adolescence, the anonymous author of The Incest Diary was raped by her father. Beneath a veneer of normal family life, she grew up in and around this all-encompassing secret. Her sexual relationship with her father lasted, off and on, into her twenties. It formed her world, and it formed her deepest fears and desires. Even after she broke away—even as she grew into an independent and adventurous young woman—she continued to seek out new versions of the violence, submission, and secrecy she had struggled to leave behind.
In this graphic and harrowing memoir, the author revisits her early traumas and their aftermath—not from a clinical distance, but from deep within—to explore the ways in which her father’s abuse shaped her, and still does. As a matter of psychic survival, she became both a sexual object and a detached observer, a dutiful daughter and the protector of a dirty secret. And then, years later, she made herself write it down.
With lyric concision, in vignettes of almost unbearable intensity, this writer tells a story that is shocking but that will ring true to many other survivors of abuse. It has never been faced so directly on the page.
|Publisher:||Farrar, Straus and Giroux|
|File size:||269 KB|
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One of the therapists I lied to was a beautiful woman whose father had studied with Freud. I liked her until we got closer to the incest. When I was in college, I went to see her on Thursday afternoons. We circled around my family and I lied about my relationship with my father. One day she told me that she was concerned about me being at risk for self-harm. She wanted me to see a psychiatrist she worked with who would give me medication. I walked out of her office and never saw her again. She left me several voice mails over the following weeks wanting to know if I was all right. I never called her back.
* * *
In the fairy tales about father-daughter incest — "The Girl Without Hands," "Thousand Furs," the original "Cinderella," "Donkey Skin," and the stories of Saint Dymphna, patron saint of incest survivors — the daughters are all as you would expect them to be: horrified by their fathers' sexual advances. They do everything in their power to escape. But I didn't. A child can't escape. And later, when I could, it was too late. My father controlled my mind, my body, my desire. I wanted him. I went home. I went back for more.
* * *
The last time I had sex with my father was at the beach house on the island when I was twenty-one. I spent a week there with my father and my brother, who had just turned nineteen. The three of us hadn't spent a week together in many years; I hadn't spent much time with my father since I left home at seventeen. I hadn't been to the family beach house for several years. The gray shingled house with many porches and white shutters next to the water. With the American flag on the old pole near the white front gate.
That week with my father and brother, I wore a blue bikini top. The bottoms were bright red. My father wanted me. I felt his eyes on my shoulders and neck, on my legs, my breasts, and my hips. I held my body differently when I knew he was looking. I wanted to be sexy. I walked differently when I knew he was watching me from behind. Watching me as I walked back and forth from the house to the shore. Watching me take off the white shirt I wore over my bathing suit when I sat to read before I swam. I wanted him, too. I wasn't a child anymore. I wasn't even a teenager. I was a grown-up. My body was a woman's body.
We played bridge with some of the neighbors in the house just up the road. They told me stories about myself as a little girl playing on the beach — how much I loved the big waves — and stories about my grandparents, around the time when they bought the house in the 1960s. We played pinochle with my brother. We drank gin and tonics on the east porch.
I spent my childhood summers in that house, and as a little girl I slept in that same upstairs bedroom. Many of my few happy childhood memories are from that place.
The first two nights I couldn't stop masturbating, thinking about my father being so close. At the other end of the house, alone, sleeping in the bed with the walnut headboard. I couldn't help it. I wanted and I didn't want him to come in and fuck me. On the third night he did.
I remember my father opening the old, heavy door to my bedroom. I wanted my father to open the door. I wanted him to come in. I wanted to hear him come in to the bedroom with the yellow-and-blue bedspread and the bookcases built into the walls holding my grandfather's complete Sir Walter Scott. Into the room with the curtains patterned with red sailboats on white fabric and the bird's-eye-maple-framed mirror and the closet with yellow raincoats and army-green galoshes and the large wool flannel shirts hanging on wooden hangers inside. The closet with a plaid umbrella and spare flip-flops.
My father pulled off the bedspread and saw my twenty-one-year-old body. I was naked and I was wet. I wanted his big hard cock deep inside me. I was very wet. I wanted him inside me all the way up. I had never felt sexier. My body was pure sex. My father had made himself a sexual object for me, too. I objectified him as I objectified myself for him. I had an orgasm bigger than any single one I had in my subsequent twelve-year marriage. We didn't say anything. Not one word. Then he got out of my bed, went out of the room and down the hall and back into his bed. Not one word ever about that night.
* * *
He fucked me and he made me come. We never kissed. We didn't kiss that night, and we didn't kiss when I was a teenager, and we didn't kiss when I was eleven or ten or nine or eight or seven or six or five or four or three.
He never put his tongue inside my mouth.
* * *
That week on the island, I told Katherine Huntington, a family friend and neighbor, the truth about my father having sex with me. I told her what happened when I was a young child. I did not dare tell her about the night that had just passed — but I did confide in her about my childhood. I wasn't the only one who thought she was a remarkable woman. She was the opposite of my mother — she was extraordinarily capable, warm, independent. People adored her. I looked up to her and wanted to grow up to be like her. When I was little, she made me feel special. She would ask my opinion on things and squat down to listen to me. When I was a teenager, she told me that I was clever and courageous.
I always thought she was beautiful, strong, and brave. She loved to sail by herself. She could read, write, and speak Mandarin. She and her second husband spent a year driving across Africa. She was a volunteer firefighter in the little beach community. The only time she didn't wear heels was when she drove the fire truck. She would cook dinner by herself for dozens of people and her house was always full of guests. She had a greenhouse behind the main house where she grew gardenias and plumerias. Once, she found a baby bobcat by her greenhouse door. She gave it a bowl of milk and hoped it would reunite with its mother. But another neighbor told her that he had seen a dead bobcat in the road down by the market. Katherine took in the baby bobcat and gave it all the maternal love she had given her children. She gave it lamb for supper, with a dish of whipped cream afterward.
My grandparents had been close friends of her parents. I was close to two of her children and a niece and a nephew. I felt happy being around her family. I wished she would take me in.
The week that I was at the beach with my father and brother, Katherine and her husband asked me over for dinner. I asked Katherine if we could speak in private. She said of course, and took me upstairs to her bedroom. We sat on her enormous white bed with its dozens of soft linen-cased pillows. I held one of the pillows close to my chest while I told her that my father had raped me when I was a little girl. I told her that I felt like I was going crazy and I didn't know what to do. She leaned over to me and I thought she was going to embrace me, but she put her hand over my mouth. "Get over it," she said. "Don't talk about it. Forget it, and get over it." She then told me that she had been molested when she was a child. She said her parents knew and didn't do anything about it. "But these are things to forget and get over," she said. She told me to go home to my father and not to talk about it anymore. She was never the same with me again. She wasn't friendly anymore and she avoided me the rest of that trip.
* * *
One afternoon, a year or so after that week on the island, I confronted my father about our incestuous relationship. He and my brother had been playing tennis. We left my brother and went for a walk in the suburban neighborhood where my father lived. My father told me that I had seduced him when I was a little girl. I reminded him that I was just a toddler when it began. He replied that I was such a smart, precocious child, so curious about everything, and I wanted him to touch me; I had asked him to feel how soft it was. He was so lonely in those days because my mother was sick, in the worst of her depression, and he said that she was cold and cruel to him. All she was interested in was steeplechasing and horses; she never asked him questions about his life, his interests. She belittled him — the job he had, the clothes he wore. She wanted more money, she wanted him to make her happy, and he was working so hard and never made enough money. He told me that, during those years, he was so tired and I was his shining light of joy. He said he was sorry. He clenched his jaw and opened his eyes wide while he looked down at the pavement where we walked and repeated that he was sorry.
A day after that conversation, he told me again that he was sorry for all he'd done. He cried and said he was sorry for getting what he needed from my mother from me instead. A day after that, he called and asked me to come and talk to him. He said that if I was going to persist in my allegations about him having raped me, then I was no longer his daughter. He told me that I was dead to him. I can only assume that he'd spoken with a lawyer, and that this is why he started using the word allegations, and why he no longer admitted to our incest, but denied it. He told our family about my allegations. My grandfather tried to have me committed to a mental hospital, but there were no grounds. My aunt called me in the early hours of my birthday morning to tell me that she was on my father's side. That was when my brother dropped out of college. My brother had always played violin, he was a serious violinist, but he stopped playing. He locked himself in his bedroom for days at a time. He cried and said that he didn't know whom to believe. One night he told me that he had considered suicide because of what had happened to our family.
My father told his friends, too. One of my father's friends called and asked me to coffee. He told me that he was there for me, that he understood my pain. He cried and told me about being molested when he was a boy. We went from drinking coffee to drinking wine. He told me about his pain, his silence, how it fucked him up.
A month after I confronted him, my father quit his job and he traveled. I didn't hear from him for months, until he sent me a card from Australia. On the front of the card was a baby rabbit in a field of wildflowers. Inside he'd written: Get well soon.
* * *
I felt completely responsible for my brother's breakdown. I couldn't stand it; from week to week he seemed more depressed and anxious. I was afraid he would kill himself. So I told him not to worry, that it didn't happen. I told him it must have been someone else who raped me. My brother started to get better. He and I have never spoken about it since.
When our father came back, I took him out to dinner at a place I liked and we ate a beet and arugula salad for an appetizer. I told my father that someone else must have raped me, and from then on I wasn't going to talk about the past. I told him that it didn't matter anymore. My father didn't say anything. Then he asked me if I would like to go see a movie in a couple of weeks. I said sure, even though I didn't want to, but I felt relieved that the family was getting back to normal.
The world is full of work to do A little rest and then The world is full of work to do Sing hushabye loo, low loo, low lan Hushabye loo, low loo
This is the song my mother sang me to sleep. Then later my father would come into my room. Sometimes he would penetrate me, sometimes he would masturbate onto my body. He said he couldn't help it. He told me it was my fault. It must have been my fault. He said that he couldn't help it because I was so beautiful and it felt so good. He said he was a sick man. A weak victim of his desire. And I, too, felt desire; I felt my wildness. Sometimes I rubbed myself on his hairy thigh. I did it because it felt good.
* * *
Strawberry was my father's favorite kind of jam. One morning when I was five or six, he put strawberry jam on his penis and asked me to lick it off. I remember the sweet and the slime of the fruit combining with the sweet and the slime of the man.
* * *
I abused my dolls. Ken didn't have a penis, so my Barbie got fucked by my brother's dinosaurs. The horns of the pentaceratops went up and down hard on her plastic crotch. I cut off her hair. I dyed it green and red with food coloring. I beheaded her by pulling off her head. I hated her. She embarrassed me; she was disgusting.
* * *
I had a book about how babies are made. There were anatomical drawings of a man and a woman. I remember wondering why they didn't also have a drawing of a little girl when they explained how the penis goes into the vagina.
* * *
Sometimes fucking me made my father very happy. And sometimes it made him very angry. When I remember the day in the bathtub, I can only see it either from above, watching the two of us, or from my father's perspective. I see the terrified girl. She's moving in the bathwater to get away from him. But there is nowhere to go. The tub is so slippery it is hard to move, and the water sloshes about when she does. He is furious and he is lunging down at her while she cries and sloshes around in the bathwater. The water is full of blood. She is in a bath of blood. Her own blood. He did it again to her, went up into her too far, fucked her too hard and made her bleed. It made him angry. I will kill you if you tell anyone. I will kill you I will kill you I will kill you.
* * *
My mother had art books in the bookcase in the living room. I spent a lot of time looking through them. In Jacques-Louis David's The Death of Marat, Marat was killed in the bath. I was almost killed in the bath but I wasn't. I could look at his murdered body in the bath and still be alive.
* * *
For my eighteenth birthday, my mother sent me nine drawings in a manila envelope. They were copies of self-portraits she had done when she was pregnant with me — one for each month. Included with the drawings was a copy of a journal entry from my father dated two days after I was born. The copy was on pink paper and the entry was three paragraphs long. He wrote about the cold, the spring, the way the moon hung the night I was born. My father wrote about being so happy to have a child. The entry ends, Some day this kid's gonna fuck.
* * *
My father wanted to fuck me, and sometimes he wanted to kill me. Sometimes it was both. I don't know how many times he cut me with a knife. Sometimes he was threatening to kill me with it, other times he cut inside my pussy. Was he trying to circumcise me? Maybe he was trying to cut my pleasure out, to remove his pleasure.
* * *
When I was two and a half years old, my brother was born. It was a complicated birth. My mother was never quite the same after, my father said. She also suffered what might have been postpartum depression, but was never diagnosed. She stopped producing milk after only a few months of breastfeeding my baby brother, probably because she barely ate. She preferred to be alone, or, when she felt well enough, with her horses. We didn't make her happy. She cried a lot, and her sadness was bottomless. Sometimes she was vicious to us, sometimes she was sweet. I only remember her happy around her horses or when preparing for Christmas.
* * *
My father looked at me with hunger. He looked at my mother with disdain. He thought I was born for him. And I thought my brother was born for me. Who did my mother belong to and who was born for her? No one. Except her horses. She laughed once telling a friend that she dreamed of horses almost every night, but never dreamed about us. The love of her life was steeplechasing. She boarded her horses, Hookah and Stradivarius — one a beautiful buckskin and the other a chestnut — at her friend's small horse farm.
Excerpted from "The Incest Diary"
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