From ages four to nine I was sexually abused by my step-uncle “Reggie” who was seven years older. He paid me in quarters and record albums, including Cheech and Chong’s Big Bambu and Toys in the Attic by Aerosmith. I had no idea that the abuse was wrong and blocked the memory until I turned 18.
When I told my father and stepmother about the abuse, they said, “Why didn’t you tell us then?” I was four. And of course, my stepmother accused me of trying to get her brother Reggie in trouble and cause problems between her and my father.
(as if they didn’t have enough on their own) Now I know this response is typical of a family in denial.
I’ve spent decades in therapy working through the after effects of the abuse, which includes mistrust of men and authority figures, fear of commitment, control issues, and a penchant for the melodramatic. I have left good relationships for terrible ones, including my last marriage. I don’t want to be alone but keep making that happen. The truth is, I don’t know what the hell I’m doing.
In a poetry class years ago, I had a teacher who was a victim of childhood sexual abuse and not afraid to talk about it. He really understood the damage it causes to the human psyche. Through discussion, he helped me get my writing to a place where I could articulate what I wanted with the following poem. He read The Coin Collector and said, “You killed ‘im off, eh?” I didn’t mean to, but the poem took me there. And so be it.
The Coin Collector
You look tranquil in nickel-plate, uncle,
shark skin suit, black tie, eyeglasses.
They’ve done great work with your makeup,
brushed your hair back as you would
have worn for a wedding or wake. Your mother
offers kind words, says that as a child
you saved every penny you found. Your sister
talks about your thumbs, how they bent nearly
flat from the indent of so many coins.
I remember the Lincoln Cent collection book
you gave me, your taking me to antique shops
when I was thirteen, our private talks
of my high school lovers, all of which
you were dying to hear. These days, I carry
grief in my pockets like the coins you collected,
handled so often they’ve lost their brilliance.
I think of the young girl from a family
where no hands reached, how she welcomed
your affection year after year, afternoons
in your bedroom, a quarter a trip, your arms
linked through her legs, her fingers
tugging your blond hair, the pleasant ache
she felt between her legs then—and now—
when she hears them say your name, runs
her finger along the ribbed edge of a quarter,
sees the coffin close over your face.