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Untitled (I Did Not Fully Understand...)

~ Adeline Large

Warning - This article contains specific content that may be triggering for someone who has experienced assault.

                      This story is for my daughters and granddaughter. My hearts, my loves.

I did not fully understand what happened to me until I picked up a pamphlet in a treatment centre when I was 18 years old. I was a client going through what is called a “co-dependent relationship” and basically just trying to sort my life out with an alcoholic partner.

I was sitting in one of the session rooms waiting for people to arrive and picked up this pamphlet on Sexual Abuse. I remember it describing what perpetrators would do to lure or coerce their victims and this is where I found out what “grooming” meant. As I sat there, reading, feelings of repulsion and disgust overwhelmed me. I felt physically ill. Later, I spoke to one of the counselors about what happened to me when I was a little girl and what I read in the pamphlet. I was then, eight years after I was sexually assaulted, I realized what happened to me - I was groomed. 

I don’t remember when my mom started seeing the man. I was told it was when she left my dad, and I was 2 years old.

When I was old enough to understand, some of my older siblings told me that our dad would beat on our mom regularly and mom left him after 20 years of abuse.  She was forced to leave us kids as she had nothing – no home, no money, no job. Dad lacked parenting skills and a year later me and my three older sisters were apprehended and placed in foster care. My mom worked hard to get a job, get her own place, and then fought to get us back. After three hard months, she won that fight. We were placed in her care, and we lived in a small house in a small town. I have faint memories of that place. I also remember the man being there.

I come from a large family of twelve. I’m the last child and it was at this time our family bust apart. The family dynamic shifted from a house full of kids with two parents, to a single mother raising four girls on her own. My mom did her best to raise us girls. My sisters and I occasionally went to visit my father. I loved my father very much and still do despite his passing in 2001. He wasn’t perfect but no one really is. He was my teddy bear. I loved getting big bear hugs from him, giving him big smooches where he would make a funny face and I would say “Daddyyy, don’t do that!”. He would always make me laugh with his silliness and occasional prank. My sister, who was a year and half older than I, would fight over who would get the first hug, the first piece of candy or some other sweet, and who would get to sleep with Daddy that night. I don’t remember how my dad would settle those arguments but somehow, he always did. During these visits, my dad would lecture us about what is right and wrong, about the past like in the time of Treaty making, culture protocol and major events that happened to Our People. He would also play some old-time rock and roll on his big record playing stereo and dance with us in the living room. He would also play some old country music and taught us how to waltz and two-step. He also taught us how to red river jig and we would have a good time jigging in the kitchen because it would make the dishes bounce in the cupboards. He would take us to dances where we would take over the dance floor and show the moves he taught us. Those are my best memories of him. However, he did disappoint me every now and then when he said he would pick us up for a visit and wouldn’t show up, or mom would be dropping us off for a visit and he wasn’t home. When he made a promise, and he didn’t follow through on the promise. Like I mentioned, he wasn’t perfect.  Other than that, I trusted and loved my dad so much. He was and will always be my teddy bear. He passed away when I was 26 years old. 

I must explain the relationship I had with my father to understand my world at the time. I had a lot of trust in people, men in particular, because of my dad. I was a bit spoiled by him, my mother and a couple of my older sisters and a couple of my older brothers. On the other hand, my mother, and my oldest sister in the household were strict. I was a bit afraid of them and did things to stay on their good side. One of those things was always being good to that man. Everybody disliked him, my older sisters were mean to him, but it looked like my mom loved him. He was in my life since I was two years old and was never unkind to me and treated me well. He bought me candies, sweets, my tricycle, my first native designed silver belt to go with my fancy dance outfit. Over the years, whenever he came to visit my mom, he always brought me something. I would go running to him and give him hugs and he would give me piggybacks and I would look at my mom and she would be smiling. Sometimes he would take care of me while my mom would go play bingo. And that’s when it finally happened…

It was October 1985, I was ten years old, and I don’t remember much about that day but in the early evening, my mom dropped me and the man off at his house and she left to go play bingo. He fed me supper and then went to lay down on the couch to watch tv. After I finished my supper, I went to the living room and laid down with him on the couch. I thought nothing of this because I always laid down with my Daddy when I visited him, we would watch tv and when I fell asleep, he would carry me to the room and place me with my sisters. So, I thought nothing of it and started watching tv. His hands started moving over my body and he started touching me in my private area. I froze, shocked. He continued touching me. I started squirming to get up, but he restrained me. I started whimpering in fear and he jumped up, scooped me up and hauled me to the bedroom. I grabbed onto the door jam with both hands and did my best to hold on, but he jerked me so hard, it tore my nails and hurt my hands. He put me on the bed and used his weight to pin me down while he opened his pants. I looked at the wall and imagined myself in another place, at home, in my room, in my bed, safe, this isn’t happening. I was silently crying. 

When he was finished, he left the room and came back with a towel and told me to wipe myself. I was still crying. He left to the living room and when I was done, I went to him and told him that I wanted to see my mom. He said no she’s at bingo. I started crying harder telling him I wanted to go see my mom or I will start walking. He said let’s go. When we got into his truck, he said if you tell your mom, she will kill us both. He then repeated himself. We arrived at the bingo which was at the local arena, and we found my mom at one of the tables. I just sat by her with my head down. I don’t remember when we left the bingo, but I do remember being at home later and taking a hot scalding bath, washing myself until my skin turned red. Sitting in that hot bath, hugging my knees, rocking back and forth, and trying not to cry loud so no one can hear me.

After that, I didn’t want to be around him anymore. He would still buy me stuff, but I would throw them away when he left. One time, he wanted to give me a piggyback ride and I didn’t want to. He kept pressuring me, acting in a fun manner and my mom was encouraging me. Then he just grabbed me and swung me onto his back and started fondling my private area. I was struggling to get down, he just hung onto me tightly and did this to me right in front of my mom. I finally yelled at him to put me down and so he did, I ran from him to my room. He and my mom were laughing in the kitchen. My mom had no idea he did that to me right in plain sight of her without her knowing. Abusers are highly skilled at their craft.

In August 1986, we moved to Calgary. I don’t remember the man being there. That late spring in 1987, some people from the Rape Crisis Centre in Calgary came to our school and talked to our class. I was in grade 6 and 11 years old by then. They spoke to us about good touch and bad touch. At the end of it, they handed out cards with phone numbers and made themselves available in another room if any student wanted to talk to them privately. After a while, I asked my teacher if I could use the washroom and went to look for the room where these people said they were. I stopped when I saw there was a line-up of students outside the door to the room. I turned around and went back to the classroom. I went to my friend’s house for lunch and used the phone there to call the number on the card that those people gave us. I spoke to a kind lady on the phone and told her what happened to me. She listened, comforted me, and encouraged me to talk to my mom. That evening when my mom was taking a nap in her room, I quietly knocked on her door and asked if I can talk to her about something important. She told me to come in. I entered the room and went to kneel beside her bed and started talking. I told her what the man did to me that night and as I talked, I started crying and was talking between sobs. She was quietly listening and at the end, she said “It isn’t your fault. It has never been and never will be your fault.” I kept crying. My sister, who is one and half years older than me, then came into the room and was crying. I yelled at her that this was private and none of her business and went to our room that we shared, threw myself on my bed and continued crying. My mom and my sister later told me that she was sexually molested by the man too. Sigh.  Over the years, to this day, we never talked about it ever again.

When I was fourteen years old, one of my sisters approached me and asked if I wanted to press charges against the man. I was hesitant at first and then I agreed. My mom, two of my sisters and I went to the local police station, and I made my statement. I was crying as I was talking because I never spoke about it in the past 3 years. A few months later, at the courthouse, my sister and I (she pressed charges too for the sexual molestation) met his other victims. There were 6 of us in total. That we know of. When it was my turn to take the stand, I had to go into specific details, literally name the body parts, and as I was talking, I was shaking so hard that I had a hard time standing, I was crying so hard they had to give me a moment while I crouched down in the witness box and struggled to calm down. The man was sitting with his lawyer about 6 feet away from me. He was right there. I looked at my mom and she had her head down, crying and I started whispering mom mom, I wanted to hug her and tell her to not cry. When I was finally allowed off the stand, I ran as fast as I could towards the doors, to run and keep running from the pain and hurt. As I burst through the doors, someone grabbed me and held onto me. I tried fighting them to let me go but they were stronger. Suddenly my mom was there (apparently, she ran after me) and she was holding onto me too with this person. I held onto my mom as I cried and cried. I later found out the person who grabbed me was a native youth liaison worker who was there with a couple of the other victims. She was going into the courtroom as I was running out and she grabbed me, held, and comforted me with my mom. This was one of the hardest days of my young life. I found out months later he was found guilty, and he ended up in a mental institution for the rest of his life. 

As I write this, I feel sorrow for the little me as the man is just one of the men who hurt me when I was little. Just one story. Over the years since I was fourteen, I’ve told my story several times in sharing circles, healing circles and sweats. I knew for a long time; it wasn’t my fault. I think I knew when my mother said those words to me when I was 11 years old. In just those few words, she took a huge weight off my shoulders because before that, I did think it was my fault. I’m grateful to this day she said it to me.

There is one thing I do know: I wasn’t alone in my healing. I had my mom and my sisters. They have been my strength, especially my mom as she is the rock in our family. I also had my dad. He still treated me like his baby up until he passed away. He was one of a kind and irreplaceable. 

I hope that others who’ve gone through sexual abuse, rape, and/or sexual molestation have people in their lives who help them survive and heal. I don’t know what or where I would be if I didn’t have these special people in my life. I have been through therapy and counselling; my ties to my native culture helped in my healing. When I attended university, I took courses in family therapy and psychology to help me in understanding why people do things that they do, and what happened to them and how it affected them and others. This part helped me heal too.

 I can write about this today because I have come far from that scared little girl. I worked hard to be who I am today. It wasn’t an easy journey, but I did it, and continue forward on my journey. I needed to because I had daughters to think about and now, I have granddaughters. I would like them to know mom/kokum is strong, brave, and courageous and that they will never be alone.