I went to Costa Rica when I was 14 years old with my parents, brother, and the ski team. The ski team was hired to put on a waterski show and we were to stay in a resort on a mountain. I remember the plane ride there. I remember the bus ride to the resort. It was rocky all the way around, the plane and the bus. We got to a gate where a gatekeeper opened the gate for us and we went to this beautiful resort. I call it a resort because that is what my 14 year old mind remembers it being. It could have been a 2 story house in reality! We were told to not drink the water anywhere else, but that the water where we were staying was all boiled and safe. There were many rooms, a fire place, an upstairs loft and much more. I remember the size of the kitchen and even some of the food I ate there. This time in my life, though, I remember life as a dream. I remember it as I was watching myself. In that time of my life I rarely knew how it felt to be fully me, in my body, and OK there.
The city was so full of people, and colors. There were streets lined with vendors selling their goods. My mother bought me a hand made dress that was crocheted on the top and the bottom. I loved that dress. It was white and had a lining sewn in. It had pink flowers along the neckline and hem. The moment I saw it I never wanted anything more. My parents also bought a hammock that we later hung at our lake house. I think I have a picture somewhere of my husband sleeping in it holding our daughter. I loved the hammock and the fact that I met the man who made it by hand. And I loved the dress and the fact that I met the woman who made it by hand too. I wish I knew what happened to the dress.I remember vividly wearing it and feeling special and beautiful, something I was not used to feeling.
We ate at a restaurant that scraped the food off the plates into the water below. The water we would be later skiing in. I watched this in complete dismay and as I looked around I noticed this was common place and I was the only one appalled. Early in the morning we would ride horses in the mountains. I can still remember the mist and the fog and the steam that came from the horses nostrils as they breathed heavily so high in the altitude. It was a breathtaking and beautiful place.
One night I went out dancing in my dress. There I met a man named Juan who taught me dances that I wish I could still remember. He spun me around and we danced into the night. He patiently taught me steps to different dances. He was a perfect gentleman. Years later Juan found me in the United States and came to visit me. It wasn’t so magical having a man in my own home, realizing how much older he was than I, and being still a teenager myself, as it was dancing with him under the stars in his own country. I wonder what happened to Juan. Months after he left, years after, I still had my dress. I looked at it and I remembered the feeling I had when I wore it.
While I was in Costa Rica, we went out on boats in the most beautiful waters. I saw a picture a number of years ago that I had sent to a friend , of me holding the mast of a sail boat, looking like I was in my mid 20’s and not merely 14 years old. I was smiling and looked so happy. I hope in that moment I was but I have a dark feeling that it was only a momentary, fleeting, emotion.
That trip was tainted for me. It was one of the first times I noticed how alone I felt. I was very aware of being alone in my own head with my own thoughts. I was aware of the feeling I had when I was able to be me and when I was forced to be someone I was not. I had many out of body experiences where I did not know who I was. It was a confusing time, and one that I remember well. It was a time that I heard my own inner voice and lost it all at the same time.
I was there with the ski team and one of the men who targeted me for repeated abuse. I was there with other men who knew this was happening and although did not abuse me as well, pushed the limits of what I would say appropriate male behavior was in the presence of a child. I was afraid there. I knew at any moment I could be trapped with an abuser and most of those there would turn a blind eye. There was so much space, too many people, and not the right protective eyes on me. Just the eyes of pedophiles.
I walked up to the loft area and either a man was there or he came shortly after. He was the boyfriend of one of the waterski members who was there with us. He asked me to unzip his pants. That was the second time I realized during this trip that I could be there on the surface but not in real time. I could watch myself like I were someone else. I could go through the motions,emotionless. There was an emptiness that happened and I felt it very exaggerated in that moment. I had felt it a hundred times before at home being abused but this was my first real awareness of what happened in my mind/body/spirit. I unzipped his pants and then he told me to reach in and pull it out. I did. I always did as I was told. I had no idea what to do with it but he seemed to think I did. He seemed disappointed at my lack of knowing what to do with this thing in my hand. I wish I knew the person who came upstairs at that moment, but I can’t remember who it was. I just heard a voice and the sound of foot steps coming up the stairs,when he then told me to put it back in and zip up his pants. He never even raised his hands or touched me in any way. The next day someone took a picture of us standing next to the fireplace. I looked at that picture many times. I thought, he liked me, I was happy in that moment because I felt that, in my immature innocent mind, he had chosen me over his girlfriend. He had a goofy grin and I had a happy smile. He then proceeded to act as if I didnt exist. This left me confused and feeling as if I were to be ashamed. I felt ashamed. That picture, It was put in my mother’s scrap book of that vacation. A scrap book she asked me about many times as it had disappeared years later. I burned all of the pictures in that scrap book. The ones of the horses in the mist and the skiing with our beautiful costumes and the people. I burned it all in the parking lot of my apartment when I was 20 years old. I burned them all when I realized the gravity of what had been done to me and the people who had allowed it to happen.
I didn’t know then what I know now. That these episodes I experienced were dissociative states that my own brain had created to protect me. I spent a lot of time in those states. When I was not in a dissociative state I was often just alone, in my own mind, trying to figure out who I was and what my role or purpose was in this life. Abuse separates. Abuse torments. Abuse confuses. Abuse makes one lose oneself. I was lost for so long. If I picture that me in my mind I recognize her. I know it is me. It was me. I know who I am. I embrace the thought of her and wish I could tell her that she’d grow up and get away, and be finally safe. So I remind myself that she is me and I wrap my arms around myself in the silent victory that has become my journey to find myself.
I didn’t know who me was back then. Too much of the me I knew had been stripped down and I was floating lost. I knew that I ONLY felt like a person, a human being, a pretty girl, a girl full of adventure and joy and future, when I had on that crocheted dress. I often went in my closet and put it on. I ran my fingers over the stitching and spun around in my room. That dress made me feel like the me I was supposed to be. Unaltered, unaffected, unscathed, untouched by men. I could just be a 14 year old girl and I LOVED my dress for that.
I don’t need a dress or a reminder of who I am anymore. I am grounded in my truth and I know the me that has been here all along. I am nolonger lost. I am nolonger in bits and pieces scattered around by the scavengers of my youth. It took a long time to get to where I am now. I may not be recognizable to the people who are used to seeing me in the parts of my life where I didn’t know how to live for myself, where I was only living to please them. I may be unrecognizable to some because I have learned to say no and I have learned to set boundaries. But I am the same me. I am the same girl who twirled around in the white crocheted dress. I am that girl, just wiser, and stronger, and grounded in my sense of self.