It started out innocent enough. I was on my way to visit my cousins, whom for easy identification I shall call sister Olga (she is like a sister to me) and brother Kirill (we spent a lot of time together as kids, growing up, and I always considered him a brother). I was excited. I haven't seen them for three years. And I was also worried. I dreaded the talk to turn to my father, and them avoiding it, as since I confronted my father about sexually abusing me when I was a child, about seven years ago, my close family has ostracized me, and it's only my cousins who stayed in touch with me at first, before my sister Nastya surfaced (she had a lot going on in her life back then), and then my mother and stepmother, my other cousin and my aunt. But it was Olga who fully supported me. Kirill never quite believed me and always shrugged it off as "the business between you two," meaning me and my father.
As soon as I got out of the elevator, I saw Kirill smoking, and I rushed to him to hug him. He hugged me back, we walked to Olga's apartment where she was cooking and Kirill's wife Natasha was with the kids. After he closed the door and we got done with the greetings, I started taking off my coat (everyone was already undressed, waiting for me). I took off my bag, my scarf, and handed them to someone, can't remember who, because at that moment Kirill exclaimed, "Well, look at you! Let me squeeze you!" And then he groped me. He grabbed my ass and squeezed it. Then my waist. Then my boobs. I was shocked. I COULDN'T BELIEVE IT WAS HAPPENING. He kept saying something, but I'd didn't hear him. I stared at him. He looked so much like my father. And the thought that went through my head was, "Not again." I was in the middle of my worst nightmare. Then I unfroze and slapped him, but not hard, playfully, as though it was funny, following the same pattern I've followed for years—normalizing abuse and laughing it off—my survival mechanism. After that I looked at Olga and Natasha watching it happen and laughing too, like it was no big deal. I realized they probably didn't even perceive it as wrong. Did they? I hope I'll get a chance to ask them, talk to them. Were they hiding their reactions just like I was? Were they used to it just like I was? To this kind of behavior that was normal in our family?
That was when I knew without a doubt that my father sexually abused me. I always doubted myself, having only hazy memories of the incidents, as my body desperately tried to get to me to listen to it, screaming its pain.
Today this doubt has vanished, replaced by cold certainty.
My father didn't want daughters. He wanted a son, and he doted on Kirill. I assume Kirill has absorbed his behaviors. After all, it was perceived as a norm, a sign of affection, even. So I resolved to talk to him. But my ordeal wasn't over yet. After I slapped him, he groped me AGAIN. I nearly screamed. I wanted to grab his balls and twist them, and I even made the gesture and came close, but I simply couldn't make myself do it. I felt disgusted. So I tried slapping him again, but he stepped out of my reach. I was shaking. I was dizzy. Everyone went to the kitchen to eat, and I went with them, reeling like a drunk. Kirill sat close to me as there isn't much space in the kitchen, and I wanted to holler, "Move away!" I have mechanically talked and eaten for the next hour or so, the words pounding in my head: "Never again. I will never be silent about this again. I will never endure this again. Never again. NEVER AGAIN." I made up my mind to confront him and fight him if I had to, though he's much bigger than me.
When he rose to go for another smoke, I said, "I'm coming with you." His eyebrows went up. "You smoke?" "No," I said, "we just need to have a little chat." He shrugged, and we went out on the stairs. My heart was pounding so loud in my ears, I couldn't hear my steps. This wasn't happening. It simply wasn't happening. But it was. We got to the landing, he turned around, put a cigarette in his mouth, and lit it. "Take it out," I said. He looked puzzled. "What?" "Your cigarette. Take it out." He did, and I raised my arm to hit him hard across the face. He must've seen something in my eyes, because his eyes rounded and he ducked. "What is it?" he asked. I said, "Do you realize what you did? I touched me. You touched my body. You groped it. My ass! My boobs! It's my body! What right do you think you have to do this?" He looked horrified. "Oh God, I'm so sorry. It wasn't sexual. Not at all. It was just like always." I choked on words. "Exactly. Just like always. This is what my father did to me. Do you understand? He always squeezed me or groped me or painfully spanked me on the butt, as he did my sister. He just had a "temper," we women just had to "live with it" and work hard at not irritating him. In our family women were handled like sexual gratification objects, and it was perceived as normal. It isn't normal. Do you understand it?" I was shaking so hard by now, I could hardly speak, swallowing words. But he got it. His face changed. And in that moment I knew he believed me. "I didn't mean anything. I'm so sorry I did this." I tried really hard not to cry. There, in front of me, was the validation from my family that I was looking for, for so long.
Kirill truly loves me. He and Olga are the only people who call me, ask me how I am. Nobody else does it (though lately my mother started calling me, and I revel in it). I'm the one who always calls the rest of my relatives. My father called me once in the whole of the eighteen years that I was in America. So I knew I had won at last. Kirill was stunned by the understanding that he violated me, thinking it was normal, because my father always did it, and not a single woman ever told him it was wrong. He kept apologizing. Then he asked me if it was okay to hug me, as he was afraid to touch me and hurt me more. I thanked him for asking and said it was okay. He held me. Stumbling over words, I explained to him the things my father did. I reminded him of our common memories. And he listened. For the first time, he listened. We talked about my father. I explained that he took out his hate for my mother on me, but really it was the hate toward his own domineering mother with whom he lived with until her death (she wouldn't allow him to bring women home, cooked him meals, and washed his socks until the day she died). My father hated women. My brother understood. Then he told me my father has seen his brother last month—my uncle, Kirill's father—for the first time in seven years. "Some black cat had ran between them," he said when I asked why they stopped talking to one another seven years ago. Then I wondered. Seven years ago was when I confronted my father about the abuse. Could it be that my uncle knew something? Could it be that he didn't want to speak to his brother because he hurt his own daughter? Hope flooded me. I think I'm going to call him and maybe see him while I'm here (I wasn't planning on it).
"The next time I see my father, he'll probably be in a casket," I told my brother. "Do you know how much it hurts when your own family turns their backs on you and calls you crazy, and the violent tyrant who abused me continues to be respected like he did nothing wrong? It fucking hurts like hell! Did you know I wanted to kill myself? I wanted to die. I didn't want to live. My father used to stick his finger into my butt, between my buttocks, when I would walk by, and twist it (he called it "gorshenya" in Russian). And when I cried out, he laughed, "What's wrong with you? Can't you take a joke?" Kirill looked horrified. "I didn't know about that." I said, "Well, now you do." I told him more. He listened. Then he said, "You probably won't even see him in a casket." "What do you mean?" I said. He said, "He's alone. He's no longer with his wife (the woman he married after my stepmom—though I have no idea if they actually married or simply lived together). "He'll probably die alone, and my dad would rush to his place when we gets a call," Kirill said and chuckled. It sounded bitter.
So my father did it at last. He alienated every family member and is now as miserable as he could be, not seeing his grandchildren (my children—though I don't think he even cares), living alone in the apartment with the ghost of his mother (she died there in her sleep). Which is an assumption as I have no idea where he lives right now. Well, he deserves it. I told my brother as much, but I also told him I'm happy my father and his brother are talking now. Who knows, maybe one day we will all get reunited again.
We walked back to the apartment. Nobody noticed anything, and we all ate and talked for the rest of the evening. Then Kirill drove me to the metro station, his wife and kids in the back, and me in the front, and once there he exited the car and apologized again. "Ksen', please forgive me. I didn't mean to hurt you. I didn't want to. I'm sorry." "Of course. It's okay. Don't worry about it," I said, and I felt such relief, such profound elation. We decided we'll see each other again before I leave Moscow on February 15th.
I was holding myself together on the way back to Vera's house where I'm staying. I was okay when she opened the door. I was okay when she took my bag with groceries. Then her husband came out of the room where he put the baby to sleep. He said hello and reached out for a hug, and I came unglued. I started crying. They both held me. I don't know how long we stood there by the door. Then they listened to my story and pulled me through it. I felt better. I talked it all out. Truly, Vera, Ariel, I don't know what I would've done without you. When I walked from the metro to the house, I thought I was going to throw up, but somehow I didn't. And you know what? I won. I FUCKING WON. Three victories at once.
- My brother believes me now.
- The last of my doubts regarding my father's sexual abuse have vanished.
- My father is alone. Very alone. Let him feel the impact of that.
There is a favorite quote by Winston Churchill that I tell myself when things get tough. "If you're going through hell, keep going." Well, today I went through hell. And I came out the other side. And I won.