Child Sexual Abuse: ‘You Can’t Hide From Me’

Trigger warning: This article contains details about sexual assault and harassment which may be triggering to survivors.

We used to play hide and seek, he and I.

I was always the one who hid. He was better at searching for me, he said.

“You can’t hide from me.”

So we played. We played in the dark. I clambered onto the bed, onto the windowsill, and wrapped the curtains around me. When the lights go off, everything disappears. I was invisible. I was safe.

But he found me. He lifted me up, off the windowsill, and lay me down. He didn’t turn the lights back on.

“You can’t hide from me.”

I squealed and kicked him off. He stopped tickling me. Why didn’t I kick again when he proceeded to touch me, I wonder. (Uncomprehending?)

The next time, I did kick. He pinned me down. So I screamed, and he clamped a hand over my mouth. Why didn’t I cry that day, I wonder. (Numb?)

The next time, I did cry. He stopped. “Was it that easy?,” I thought. He stopped for a moment. He wiped my tears and stroked my hair. But he didn’t take his hand away from my mouth. Or from between my legs. (So no. It wasn’t that easy.)

So I kept crying, I kept kicking, I kept screaming. But I was invisible. (Not safe.)

I don’t remember exactly when or why it stopped. Maybe my sobs finally became insistent enough? Or maybe I’d “served my purpose”? I’ll never know.

But I was free, finally. (Am I, really?)

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I didn’t tell anyone. Maybe seven-year-old me didn’t understand that none of it was her fault. (Shame? Betrayal?)

Years later, someone asked me when my first kiss was. I lied. (I named my first boyfriend. A fond memory, that.)

But here’s the truth now – my first kiss was when he told me that if I didn’t give it to him whenever he asked, he’d hurt me worse the next time. But I don’t count those, you see. Kisses shouldn’t defile you. That one did. (I scrubbed my mouth that night till my lips bled, did I mention that?)

Amma told me once, in a rare moment of affection years later, looking up from gory newspaper headlines, that at least when I was in the house, she knew I was safe. I nodded. (Too late?)

But Amma, the walls of your house weren’t high enough to keep him out, and the walls of your heart too high to let me in. Why couldn’t I tell you? Did I try to show you? Did you look away? (Things get blurry when they’re too close, did you know that? Was he too close to home to fear? Easier to look for monsters under your bed than to look for them in the people right there around you.)

He’s far away, now. Enough that he can never touch me again. But he’s still there. He’s in the fragrance of jasmine that I once loved but which makes my stomach turn now, for it puts me back in his house, where the smell of jasmine incense permeated the air, mingling with my silent cries.

He’s in the nightmares that wake me in the middle of the night, trembling and nauseated, which make me take a shower at 3 am just so I can perhaps feel less polluted.

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He’s in my inability to be comfortable with people, in the feeling of being violated that floods my mind at the slightest of touches. He’s in the discomfort I still have with long hair – maybe if I keep it short, nobody will drag me by it ever again.

He’s in my incapability to trust people, even the ones I’ve been told I can place blind faith in – you see, all the warnings are about the proverbial stranger in a dark alley, warnings are deemed unnecessary for those linked by blood. He’s in the scars scattered in a labyrinth on my thighs (did I subconsciously draw the blade across the places his vile fingers touched?) and the ones in the recesses of my mind.

I call myself a poet, a writer. But this is where my mind runs out of ink. This is where my throat goes dry and even all the vocabulary in my head isn’t capable of looping the words into extravagant metaphors for pain. There aren’t words. There simply aren’t any words. But this is a start, I suppose.

We used to play hide and seek, he and I. And now, this time, I’m the one searching. For the little girl I once knew, from whose eyes he stole the light.

But I’m still hiding, too. From him, from memories, and most of all, from myself.

“You can’t hide from me.”

For Sunidhi Arakere, words are her escape from this dystopian universe of ours, and words are what keep her bound to it.

Featured image credit: Pariplab Chakraborty