Trigger warning: This article contains details about sexual assault and harassment which may be triggering to survivors.
I was five when you first abused me, violated my space and thought you could touch me in places you wouldn’t dare to around my parents. Being a trusted driver in our family for almost 25 years, no one questioned your integrity when it came to leaving me alone with you. You had my parents’ full trust as you were a 50-year-old man with three daughters. Watching my father give you respect – the way he did with my grandfather – I learned to respect you too.
As I was coming back from school one day, you gave me your phone to call my father – as he always called me after school to ensure that I was in the car and in safe hands. As I was scrolling, I found some videos where I couldn’t understand why the man and the girl were naked and making weird sounds. But something didn’t feel right. I was scarred, but I couldn’t put it into words – ‘porn’ was hardly a word that existed in my world at the time. You politely asked me to not tell my parents and bought me chocolates – we had a deal.
A few days later, as I was returning from my dance class, you thought it was okay – maybe you knew it wasn’t okay, having three daughters yourself – and you decided to feel me in a place which I didn’t know was any different from my face, hands or legs. It made me uncomfortable because no one else had ever touched me that way there – and just like people do when they get uncomfortable, I laughed.
You laughed too and said that this was something people did sometimes and did not tell their parents about it. You said, “You are five now, you are a grown up. This is a secret which grown ups have to keep.”
Having always wanted to grow up and be an adult, I finally felt like I had everything I wanted, all the validation of being an adult. But it didn’t feel right and I wasn’t ready to keep secrets from my mother, who always said she was my best friend.
You continued receiving respect and tips from my father to ensure my safety and Diwali bonuses for your hard work. After dance classes stopped at the age of 7, “our little secret” stopped too.
When I grew up some more, at the age of 15 I knew that what you did to me was labelled “abuse” – but I didn’t really know what to do about it. I let things stay in the past, but never told my parents.
One day as you were teaching me to drive at 6 am on the empty roads of Marine Drive, you thought it was okay to touch me again. I squirmed, but said to you in a firm voice, “Should I call my mother or father?”
You became dead quiet, produced tears and started apologising profusely. I knew what had scared you. I had learned to protect myself. Maybe this came as a shock to you.
I forgave you because I didn’t know any better. Having treated you like a grandfather, I decided to let it go because I knew this would be the final time.
And it was.
My father paid for your angioplasty recently as you lay beaten by your heart attack, trying to save your life. At the age of 21, I watched my parents weep in the hospital as you lay there because they felt like they were going to lose a “family member”. “He has taken care of you as a child, so we have to take care of him now”.
I cried too, not because I saw you in pain, but because I felt sorry for my parents who had gone the extra mile for you and treated you like family. I had made peace with my past, but watching my parents cry for you like that made me think that they deserved to know – I didn’t want them to cry over someone like you.
But telling them would cause too much pain and a feeling of betrayal – which I don’t want them to feel. There is nothing they can do to protect me now anyway, I have learned to protect myself. The abusive experience has scarred me and I have realised what I need to do if I ever go through something like that again.
Now, because of you, I hate it whenever someone uses the word “secret”. Some secrets destroy the secret keeper and some protect everyone else. I hope the secret destroys you from within too.
With this, I’m unleashing my secret – such secrets do not deserve to be kept. You’re 65 now, and may soon be gone from this world – but you will haunt me for a long time to come.
Featured image credit: Annie Spratt/Unsplash