I was nine the first time he made me uncomfortable. He and I were alone. I guess he wanted to make me happy. He hoisted me up on his shoulders, making sure to place his head between my legs. I stared down at the nappy knots that stuck out from his scalp when he waited too long between cuts. I wanted to scream. Kick. Tell him to put me down. I wanted to tell him that this wasn’t okay for him to do. Doubt and Fear whispered in my ear:  “You’re  overreacting. Dads do this all the time.” But, he wasn’t my dad. He was my stepdad; the gnawing in my stomach soured. It seemed innocent enough on the surface but there was something more sinister we both felt. I’ll never forget that day.

That was the day I began to hate him. The day he stole my innocence by opening my eyes to the ugliness of this world.

I was 14 the first time he offered me money to see my body. One hundred dollars just to look at my breasts. I made him promise that he would stay at least 20 feet away from me for the entire minute I had agreed upon. I looked at my breasts in the mirror every day and couldn’t understand what the excitement was about. They looked nothing Iike the girls in the movies, but that much money was too good to pass up.

He was my first teacher. He taught me that if a man liked me enough, he would show it financially. He taught me that I could get whatever I wanted if I was willing to negotiate. He taught me that everything and everyone had a price.

I awakened to a rhythm of deep inhales and exhales. There was a man in my bed. It was him. He had gotten drunk and let himself into our apartment and into my bedroom, somehow forgetting that my mother slept on the couch. I screamed for him to get out. My mother woke up. Finally, she would see him for the monster that he was. She would break up with him and never let him come near me again. She would save me from myself. She didn’t. I was devastated. If she wouldn’t see it that night, then she never would.

The sensation of being fondled jerked me from sleep. I saw his ugly face hovering over me. I had fallen asleep after school in the recliner and one of my breasts had come out of my camisole. He had come home and found me and decided to help himself. I hurled insults at him, but he denied it. This was the same time I began abusing codeine and Nyquil.  I loved the momentary escape it gave me.

I quietly slipped away and left the world for hours without anyone ever raising an eyebrow.

I don’t really know why I never told my mother. I remember looking at him one day and feeling nothing but intense pity for him. He had been abused as a child. I’m not sure to what extent, but I remember my mother recounting various stories of his childhood and none of them were pleasant. He was also illiterate but had somehow managed to become successful as a chef. I remember when my mother purchased him the entire “Hooked on Phonics” set in a poor attempt to help him learn to read. When he would make me angry I would find satisfaction in knowing that I was more intelligent than he. I felt superior in a way, not only because I could read and he couldn’t, but because I had beat him at his own game. I had learned how to get what I wanted from him by giving up only a small part of myself. I had resolved that he would never get all of what he desired.

One day I needed money (for something trivial, I’m sure), so I asked him for $100. I thought it would be easy. All I would have to do is pull up my shirt and close my eyes. “Nah, it ain’t that easy”, he answered. “You gone have to do more than that.”

Worry enveloped the cool confidence I usually portrayed when I wanted to show that I was in control.

“What do you want?” I asked. Inside, I screamed. 

“I want to suck on your breasts”.

The thought of his mouth on me made me want to vomit. I peered between his two big lips, black on the edges and burned pink in the inside from drinking too much, according to my mother. I could feel the stickiness of his saliva.

Why do you want to do this to me? the little girl inside me questioned. 

I thought about the $100 and decided that it was worth it. So, I set the terms. I needed to regain some semblance of power. “One minute. No hands. Use only your mouth. Do not touch me.” He agreed. And it was done. When the one minute expired, I shoved his head away from me and jerked my clothes back in place, extending my hand to receive payment.

“It’s gonna happen,” he sneered, placing the money in my hand.

“What?” I asked. 

“We’re going to have sex eventually, so you might as well accept it.” he shot back. 

I don’t know what I bought with that $100, but I know it brought very little pleasure. His last comment drained every ounce of satisfaction I had achieved. He had finally said it. His plan was to have sex with me. Only God knows how long he had secretly fantasized about being between my legs, but now he had let me in on his secret. The heaviness of his words sat on me as I walked the 30 feet from his apartment to mine. The game was over. He was in control and had made that clear. I knew that if I continued to play this game, he would win more than I was willing to lose.

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