Incest Kinda Saved My Life

Thoughts of Suicide, detail, Pendragon, from the Witness series

Incest kinda saved my life and yet, it fucked me up so badly that I was unable to experience real loving in my life until I was in my 60s.

The problem was that it hadn’t been just incest, it was a love affair. I was seduced by my own father.

At first.

It wasn’t until after I was 13 or 14 or whenever it was that I got my period that lovemaking turned into rape and I realized that it had never been love… or maybe it had. When things get that fucked up, it’s hard to know almost anything.

Here’s what happened:

My maternal grandfather sexually trafficked myself and my closest sister when we were very young. If I had to guess I’d say I was 4 or 5 when it started for me and it went on until, I guess, I was maybe around 8 or 9 or maybe 10… again, it’s hard to say. I “left my body” with some regularity and managed to repress most of the nastiness of it all until I was in my mid-40s when it all came back like some waking nightmare in Technicolor along with expanded memories of the incest.

That was a red letter day.

Anyway, the trafficking thing was hell. It was hell six ways from Sunday and I’m not going to go into it here. My father may or may not have been aware that this was going on. I’m pretty sure my mother must have had some suspicions, but I’m not sure that he did. At any rate, his routine was that after he returned from his days work, he indulged in a kind of cocktail hour for himself in which he made a martini or two or more and sat in a large, comfortable, armchair listening to music from all over the world.

I loved music; loved to dance.

My mother was usually busy tending to things. She, too, was a professional person — a doctor, as he was — but he kept her pregnant more than not so there were children to check in on and housekeepers, and general domestic business. So there was a space to be filled in the room with the big chair, and I love music, so I went into that space. And I sat on his lap and jiggled and danced around to the music or leaned back into his arms and I was “his Princess.” There was one song, Daddy’s Little Girl, which he played regularly. I remember these words rather specifically, “You will reign all alone like a queen on the throne ’cause your daddy’s little girl.” And I was. I bought the whole thing, hook, line, and sinker.

I don’t remember when the sex started but I was pretty young. He was gentle and he took on the role of teacher, guiding me, schooling me in the arts of relaxation of various parts of my body as well as educating me in the arts of loving various parts of his. That didn’t happen at cocktail time; that happened after everyone went to bed and sometimes on week-ends when mom got called away. Arrangements were such that my availability, despite there being so many children, was ensured.

My mother gave me some books to teach me about sex. I made the mistake of taking them into school to show the other kids. I didn’t know! I had no idea this wasn’t happening everywhere. Needless to say I got in a boatload of trouble from the nuns at school but received only a very gentle talking-to at home.

That love I got from my father, a love that was discreetly and politely supported by my mother, for whatever reasons, sustained me from the inside out, in a way that nothing else in my life did. I needed it badly between the trafficking and being half white and half Latino and therefore bullied at school as well. It didn’t feel like life could get any worse and being with my father, having all his attention… and all those good feelings, made my life better for at least a little bit of the time. And, again, I didn’t know that it was bad or unusual in any way; it was just the norm at my house.

My mother was a remarkable woman but warm, she was not. The first time I can recall her hugging me was when I was on the way to dying at about the age of 46. It’s not that she didn’t take care of her children, she did. She gave them baths and bedtime snacks and read stories, she just didn’t know how to love them. And, considering what I knew about her father, that was no real surprise. It was difficult though and I relied on my father’s love to sustain me through the rigors of a childhood that I almost cannot find words to describe.

So when I hit 13ish and I got my period and I let my mother know that I’d gotten my period so that she could acquire the appropriate goods for me, her exact words were, “Thank God, I thought it would never come.”

Turns out that my parents had kind of a deal. He could have sex with me as long as there was no danger that I would get pregnant. There was no more listening to music in the bar, no more fondling under the covers, no more lessons in love. All there was, was him staying out late, often missing dinner, coming back drunk and raping me when I was half asleep.

I would wake in the morning, with semen encrusted on what little pubic hair I had. On weekends, I would lie for hours in one of those old-fashioned clawfoot bathtubs where you could fill it up to your neck and I would read. I had no friends to hang out with. All I had was me and my ruined life. I stopped, on purpose, in an attempt to keep my father away from me, brushing my teeth. They got kind of green and fuzzy and my breath was awful, hence the no friends thing. But even that didn’t keep him away. Worse yet, I still loved him.

I spent more time than I counted leaning over the Henry Avenue Bridge, admiring the rocky creek below, contemplating throwing myself over. But in the end, I always feared the worst, that I would just end up physically broken, unable to have any semblance of control over my life.

Had it not been for my father’s love and care though, as a young child, I strongly suspect that the treatment I received at the hands of my grandfather would have made me deranged. It certainly had no good effect on my sister. I got to keep my mind but I lost the ability to trust men in general and did what many young women do when they’ve been abused and are confused. I turned sex kitten.

There was no mistaking me as young college student for anything except a young woman who would probably have sex with you if you just asked nice. I had some pretty amazing outfits, none of which raised even the slightest comment from either parent. My grandfather, however, whom I was by that time no longer working for, actually installed hand-picked household staff to keep an eye on me and for some reason attempted to call me on my promiscuous behavior. That didn’t get very far.

I married the first man who asked me — and he asked me on our first date — after about the third time we’d had sex, while I was suspended between his kitchen counters. I wasn’t in love with him; I didn’t even know him. It didn’t matter to me. I had two children by him and managed to screw that up, lost them in a divorce 14 years later, married another guy I barely knew and managed to stay with him for 23 years, cheating on him only a couple times which amazing feat I was only able to manage by dressing like a street person most of the time. I did my best, what can I say?

But I wasn’t in love with him either. We had a lot in common philosophically, as had my first husband and I, but romantically there was nothing, there had never been anything, with anyone. He saw me through one of the worst times of my life, though, for which I will be eternally grateful but he knew, I am sure, that I was not in love with him which was probably why he would never let me out of his sight if at all possible. Eventually he began behaving badly and another divorce ensued.

Thanks to numerous therapists, a fatal illness that turned miracle, and all the lessons that turning into wood and then back again bought me — including a way to transform myself from the inside out — a method I now help other people to learn — I actually, eventually became a human being who was capable both of trusting another human being and of falling in love. I was in my early 60’s when it happened and it’s still gaining momentum. My 70’s look exceptionally promising.

Granted, I took the long way around, but I got there and that, as they say, is the important thing.