Today is the 5th Day in our annual #WhyIRise Blog Series. Our post comes from advocate and V-Day Cast Member, Heang Ly. Heang Ly has worked in the non-profit sector for over 15 years, working to promote opportunities for young people. She is both passionate about youth and women's empowerment. Heang enjoys creative avenues for making change and believes in living outside the box of traditional cultural expectations. Her short story "the Lotus Gift" was recently published in Troubling Borders:An Anthology of Art and Literature by Southeast Asian Women in the Diaspora. She is also a Lion Dancer with Gund Kwok's Asian Women Lion and Dragon Dance Troupe.
Please note trigger warning regarding Sexual Abuse. The author asks readers to hold judgement against her parents. There are many cultural beliefs and values that dictated her parents reaction to the abuse. She and her parents have worked with each other through this experience towards understanding and forgiveness.
At 8, games of hopscotch, tag, and Chinese jump rope suddenly became interchanged with forced grown games that came without a name. From games played in schoolyards to games played in hidden room corners and hallways. He provided the instructions and rules. Rule 1,
“This is a game between only you and I.” Rule 2, “It’s normal for my hands to touch you down there.” Rule 3, “You cannot tell anyone.”
I rise for the violated 8 year old me.
At 10, phones calls became something beyond a means for saying “Hello”. One ring, that took only a second, defined the thousands of seconds of interrogation to follow. “Did he touch you?” They asked. “Did he touch you?” They asked again and again. Couldn’t they hear her heart beating the truth? “It’s alright, your cousin told us he touched her too, just tell us.” She thought, tell you? Tell that I kept going over his house? Tell that I felt tingles when he touched me? Tell that I was dirty? Tell that I was silent? Tell on my uncle?
I rise for the 10 year old me paralyzed with guilt and fear.
At 12, he didn’t physically violate her anymore. Yet, one physical move set in motion emotional violation to last a lifetime. “We are moving, yes next to him” they said. She froze. At this moment, he found accomplices to his crime in her own parents. “He’s family.” But you are the family I need to protect me, she thought. “Just avoid him.” How can a wall provide enough separation from her source of pain? Running from, not running to, should have been the right thing to do.
I rise for the confused 12 year old me.
At 15, sitting in the back of a car driven by the very man who mapped out the direction of her life to include wrong turns, dead ends, and dirt roads. Her eyes avoiding the reflection of his eyes in the rearview mirror as he asks about her day. There’s only one heavy heartbeat to accompany her one word answers. This daily routine, many days a week. From playing her abuser to playing her chauffeur to school.
I rise for the angry 15 year me.
At 18, an evacuation route was within reach. College. This time, she could choose to run from, not to. Miles away, she didn’t have to see him outside her window, in her driveway, in her living room. Miles away, she could forget his physical existence, until she’d return home for visits. His disappearance only temporary. When she would close her eyes, he still lived in her nightmares.
Her only choice to truly erase him was to permanently erase how he affected her.
I rise for the transitioning 18 year old me.
At 37, thousands of miles and nearly three decades away, her journey has moved through different terrains. Moving from positions of bended knees with tears to standing tall, empowered with courage. Telling her story, so others can move through, past, and forward. The very direction she’s taken. Yet, she finds herself still looking back at times.
I rise for the present me.
The present me who knows that the road to healing is paved with rocks and debris. Yet, you can still get to where you want to go. You can. You must.