The second leg of my Epic Adventure brought me to Brampton. What I thought would be an easy and uneventful segment turned into a difficult, life changing one.
I stand with my hands resting on the counter, staring at myself in the mirror. I look worn, like an eraser that has tried to rub out too many mistakes. In five seconds I’m going to have to go down stairs and tell my Aunty Ruth the truth. I’m not looking forward to it.
When families feud children can be subjected to the most elaborate lies. When I was a child I was lead to believe my Aunty Ruth didn’t like me because of what I’d done. It seemed like a reasonable claim. I’d encountered many skeptics in my young life.
I was picked on by children at school. They would over hear their parents discussing my situation at night. I never knew when an insult would be hurled my way. I felt like Super Mario. One minute I’d be walking in a world full of magic and wonder and then a Koopa would come flying out of nowhere, causing me to flee or fight.
That morning, in my aunt’s living room, I ran into Bowser. Flipping through her wedding album I found him there, staring back at me through his aviator glasses.
“Who’s this,” I asked, though I knew the answer.
“That’s Beau,” my Aunty Ruth replied.
My heart began to race. It was difficult to breath.
“What wrong,” she asked.
“Nothing,” I lied. “I’m going to go up and take a shower now. I’ll be back in a while.”
Crying in front of the bathroom mirror, I’m furious with myself. I don’t have time for this. Not at the beginning of my two week odyssey.
“You stop crying,” I tell myself. “In two hours you’re going to leave for your Aunt Debbie’s house and you cannot arrive looking like some messed up, blotchy little creature. Further, did you come to Ontario in the name of truth or are you here to be a pansy ass? You go down there and tell your aunt what happened.”
I decide to pack my bags first. My Aunty Ruth has always been good to me but I’m not sure how she’ll react to the news. I want to be ready in case she wants me to leave.
My Nanny was married to Beau for a number of years. He wasn’t my mother’s biological father but she called him Dad and I called him Poppy. He was well loved by the family. When he and my Nanny divorced in the late eighties many were devastated by the news.
Walking down the stair toward the living room I think of the lyrics to an Ani Difranco song.
everything I do is judged
and they mostly get it wrong
but oh well
‘cuz the bathroom mirror has not budged
and the woman who lives there can tell
the truth from the stuff that they say
and she looks me in the eye
and says would you prefer the easy way?
no, well o.k. then
The issue had been biting me in the ass for years. In 2006 a college boyfriend used it against me. He said I had a choice. I could get back together with him or he’d tell my secret to the entire campus community. Holding my friend Dani’s hand in my room on a Saturday afternoon, I decided to take the hard road.
That night one of his friends approached me at the campus bar.
“I’ve been told you don’t like it in the ass,” he sneered. He was just a boy. I wondered if he understood he was using my sexual abuse to blackmail me back into an abusive relationship with my ex boyfriend.
The weight of his words made me weak in the knees. I didn’t expect such a malicious attack. I grabbed on to the bar to keep myself up, trying to show strength. My friend Dani flung a string of expletives at the boy then helped me outside. Sitting down on the stairs of the Arts and Administration Building, she handed me my first cigarette.
“This always calms me down but don’t get addicted.”
We stared up at the moon in silence. I broke into a coughing fit a moment later and decided cigarettes were not for me.
“Do you suppose the sexual abuse will always be something someone can use against me?” I asked.
“I want to believe the world is a better place than that,” she said. “But perhaps you can get help so you never have to tell another man that story.”
I agreed with her. I hated doing it. But when my relationships progressed to love I had to tell my boyfriends what they were up against. I never imagined one would use the information as a sword to cut me.
Sitting next to my Aunty Ruth in her home in Brampton I decide to take a stand. I open the wedding album and point to the picture of Beau.
“Can I tell you something?” I ask.
“You can tell me anything,” she says.
“This man here? This is a very, very bad man.”
Tears stream down my face despite my desire to remain calm and confident. I tell her what he did to me before the age of five. I tell her he’s a pedophile.
We sit in silence for a few minutes. Aunty Ruth looks as though the wind has been nocked out of her. Turning to her album, she pulls the picture out and tears it in half. She places the half containing her image back into the album and tears the rest of the picture into tiny pieces. As she tears Beau apart, little pieces of me fused back together.
“I believe you Sweet Pea,” she says. “And I am so sorry that happened to you.”
She has no idea how long I’ve waited to hear those words.
When I was ten years old I confessed to what Beau had done. Other girls came forward too. We gave our testimonies and Beau was sentences to two and a half years in jail. I didn’t know my Ontario family at the time but I was told they weren’t happy with me for what I’d done to their friend.
When I met up with my mother’s side of the family at my Great Grand Daddy’s funeral many years later I didn’t know if I’d be welcome. I was shocked by the number of hugs I received and taken aback by the kindness. My family didn’t seem angry with me which was confusing and unsettling.
That’s when I understood I’d need to return to Ontario one day to address the issue.
Sitting with my Aunty Ruth, my pedophile resting in a tiny pile of defeat on the couch, I cried tears of relief. My inner child, who endured years of torture at the hands of a beast was finally free. I confessed and was met with love and acceptance. One of the big issues I hoped to address over the course of my trip had been seen to.
A few years ago Oprah had a group of pedophiles on her show. She wanted them to explain themselves. During the interview one said something that angered me to my core. He said he killed the person his victim could have become. He damaged her in ways she’d never come back from.
“Don’t flatter yourself asshole!” I screamed at the television. Shaking with anger, I sat down and composed the following poem:
You Cannot Have Me
Insecurities of the highest order
You cannot have me
I am bigger than you
And stronger than you expected
Despite your best attempts
To defeat me
And I will be what I was to be
What I am
Before hands touched me
Before words cut me
Before everything was taken
And nothing was left
Sturdy as though everything was solid
Complete as if nothing were broken
Pure, free, and vivacious
As the day I was born
I am not defaced
I am not tarnished
You have not killed
Anyone I am or should have been
I am who I am
Who I was always meant to be
And you cannot have me
My name is Terra Bruhm. I was sexually abused when I was a child and I am no longer afraid to tell you that.