*The following work contains mentions of sexual assault*
Was this me growing up?
Were the aches in my stomach, the pounding heart and the betrayal of someone who I trusted a part of that process? 11-year-old me didn't understand it back then, but I clearly recall these feelings as my uncle, whom I trusted and loved, pressed his lips against my neck. I stood there, unaware of what I was supposed to do. It just felt different from the cheek kisses I was accustomed to. Weird almost. I could feel his tongue brushing against my neck and the stress intensified. It all started with a hug. I simply wanted a hug from one of my favorite relatives.
My uncle lived abroad but visited our family once a year if he could. Back when I was much younger, we had amazing moments together; from playing in the yard, to puzzle games, to dancing to Mauritian music, the Sega, during family gatherings. He was one of those family members you looked forward to meeting whenever you heard they were visiting. How could we have gone from this to the objectifying gaze, the neck kisses and the “j’ai envie de te baiser”, meaning he wanted to fuck me. Fortunately, it didn’t go that far, but the kisses and those words causing chills down my spine went on.
Was it me growing up?
I felt I was still a child but I guess he saw something else. I kept it to myself for quite some time, convincing myself that I was exaggerating. That it couldn’t be that bad.
I fought against my own thoughts and even felt sad when he was leaving again. I was sad, or, perhaps, conflicted. Would others think I was crazy if I revealed what happened? Or would mom scold me for saying bizarre things about my uncle?
Even months later I wasn’t sure if what was happening was wrong or even real but I knew I didn’t feel okay. But I guess trying to push it to the back of my mind felt easier. Painful, yet easier. I knew something was odd but could not put a name to it. And I certainly didn’t want to experience this ever again so I did my very best to move on.
A year later, I seemed to have forgotten about it. It wasn’t until high school that the memories just came back, followed by that familiar and unforgettable stomach ache. I still cannot remember what triggered this at the time but all I knew was that all of a sudden my world came crashing down. The more I tried repressing those memories, they flashed back even brighter. I couldn’t escape them even with my eyes closed. That was when I began questioning.
I began asking my mom all sorts of questions out of the blue:
“Mom, am I pregnant?”
“When someone touches you…can you get pregnant?”
“What's it like when you get your period for the first time?”
"Can you get pregnant even without your period?”
I was scared of the possibility of becoming pregnant from neck kisses or some touching. My mind was making up different scenarios, trying to make sense of it all.
Weeks later, dizzy and looking a bit sweaty, I went to see my mom in her room. I sat on her bed and started swaying to and fro while those disturbing thoughts were still dancing in my mind. I finally let it all out. I literally blurted it out, without properly thinking of where to start and how it would end. It just had to get out. I felt as if my heart was about to explode right after I heard myself recounting this. It was a mixture of relief and fear.
At first, my mom didn’t think it was too serious. She thought I misinterpreted a few things. I then informed her of that day when my uncle, with his breath reeking of booze, said that he wanted to sleep with me. In the same nasty way he said it. She stopped blowdrying her hair, turned around and looked me straight in the eyes, startled. She was even more shocked after I asked her if it was possible to “suck this'', while pointing towards my private area, looking completely incredulous. He wanted to do this to me when I would come to visit him in France someday. There was no way a child could have made this up. My mom informed my aunt about this, thinking that she would maybe tell my Grandma about her son’s ways. But we never heard from her. They got on with life and it became history, buried. However, my mom believed and supported me. She also made sure to remind me to be careful whenever my uncle came back to visit and to never approach him.
Everything changed after that. I could not afford to be innocent and carefree around that man anymore. Or any man.
I should’ve ensured that my dress wasn’t too short while a male family member was nearby. Even my brother was disgusted when I told my mom I got my period and he was around. When my uncle came back, instead of going straight into his arms like I used to, I felt fear and never bothered to even say hi. He was living life, drinking heavily and speaking nastily to little girls, all the while I was hiding whenever he was near.
Growing up, I slowly learned that you cannot trust men all the time. Neither strangers nor those of your own blood. I became more aware of what I could wear and should avoid wearing while going out. I still dressed up the way I wanted to despite my mom looking at me in disbelief. Though, it was never without a feeling of uneasiness or having lecherous eyes on me.
I admire western women for their freedom as I see it on TV. For even being able to jog at night. If we did this here, our safety wouldn’t be guaranteed. Not that we could always be safer elsewhere but having experienced patriarchy here my whole life, seeing many women on the streets at night was quite rare. And if something unfortunate were to happen to us, the main reaction would be “What happened was tragic, but what was she doing there all alone at that time? She should have been more careful!” And never “What that bastard did was indecent, awful and against basic human rights. He should never get out of jail!” Well, there are different perceptions but since patriarchy prevails, the first reaction is more common.
Growing into a woman on a small island isn’t easy. But with the number of issues women face every day, from sexual harassment to rape and other horrendous situations, being a woman anywhere isn’t easy either. However, I firmly believe that we can accomplish amazing things, empower each other and fight for ourselves. With or without men’s approval.