Only a Childhood Game
My father has a hernia and wears an orthopedic support called a truss. This is a stiff leather belt that wraps around his hips and groin. At both ends bulge oblong shapes covered with soft fabric. Each of these is placed under his testicles to protect him against strain near his genitals. How do I know? Because I watch him and help him put it on. I feel nausea and sexual arousal now as I visualize this. This truss is an object so highly charged with my Dad’s sexual energy that at the time I equate it with love, affection, and connection.
He has the “habit” of taking his truss off at night and misplacing it. He loses it by leaving it wherever he is when he first gets home from work. This practice evolves into the game “Who can find my truss?” I am his favorite player. Each morning I search in earnest, asking Dad and other family members for clues. My two older sisters don’t compete with me for the role.They are occupied with getting themselves dressed and have already headed downstairs for breakfast, uninterested in the “game” with Daddy.
The thrill of finding the truss and presenting it to him is the equivalent of winning an Academy Award. Daddy, I found it! I yell in triumph, running into his bedroom and holding up the object that signifies a trophy of my love rather than a homely medical apparatus. I feel so proud for being the one to find it. So privileged to be invited into the intimacy of his dressing chamber to watch him and assist him in putting it on.
As I enter the long dressing closet, I find Daddy wearing only his tight briefs, sitting on the low, carved stool with the crimson, velvet-covered seat. To his right are built-in drawers where his jazzy, patterned bowtie collection, printed silk scarves, underwear, and socks live. His top drawer showcases exotic objects, including an Egyptian scarab, tie clips, jewelry, holy cards and medals, rosary beads, and a shoehorn. I have explored these drawers alone, absorbed in private reverie, when he is away at work. His extensive hanging wardrobe of designer shirts, jackets, and trousers lines the length of the closet wall. I run my hand along the legs and sleeves, enjoying the sensation of the fabrics. My eyes are drawn between his legs, magnetized by the bulging shape pressing from within the fabric. I feel the hot sensation between my own legs and the tingling excitement running rampant through my body.
As I approach him, I see the scar from his appendectomy up close on his abdomen, a faded line indenting his soft and passive-looking belly. It both intrigues and gives me a creepy feeling. I want to touch it. Then the feeling changes when I hand him the truss trophy. He grasps it in his hands and straps the leather belt around his waist. I kneel in front of him. Together we tuck the stuffed ends of the truss between his legs, under the soft sacks of skin that hang down beneath his long “thing.” My hands and his hands work together to arrange it so it sits just right and he is comfortable and supported, ready to go to work.
He leaps up and continues his dressing ritual, choosing his outfit for the work day. Daddy always finishes off with a flourish, choosing just the perfect bowtie.
Late one evening my sister Clare has her friend Sharon Cauflin over. They are dancing to a Cream album in the living room. I am pissed at my sister for letting Sharon wear one of my favorite shirts without asking me, the one with the 1930’s periwinkle, polka-dot pattern from Purple Heart Veterans Thrift Store. And Sharon has already left her really stinky armpit BO as a memento. I can smell it as I move in closer from the front hallway. They are smoking pot together and laughing, growing wilder and louder. I hover in the archway, not quite in the room with them, watching and longing to join in, but not sure what they are laughing so hard about or how to be included. Sharon has a reputation for being a loose, horny slut at St. Andrew’s High, where I am supposedly headed after finishing eighth grade at St. Andrew’s Grammar School. Want a hit? Clare asks me, holding up a hand-rolled joint that her Mexican boyfriend supplies for her. No thanks. Not in the mood, I tell her. But the truth is I’m afraid it will make me paranoid like the last time.
The music and excitement lure Dad into the living room from his workroom across the hall. Here I come, you luckies! he announces exuberantly, utilizing his favorite line as he swishes into the room. Can I take a drag off that? he requests playfully. Clare and Sharon giggle hysterically and offer him the joint, watching delightedly as he takes a hit. He begins a hip-swaying free dance, gyrating toward the older girls, then moving in close to Sharon until he is right there French kissing her.
Sharon shrieks with the delight of this unexpected and taboo attention from an attractive 40-year-old father with longish hair, dressed more like an adolescent than a grown man. He is wearing denim bellbottoms and a paisley-printed shirt, the top buttons open. I love this song! he exclaims in response to the heavy electric guitar work and booming male vocals. What album is this?
Cream, Dad, Clare informs him. You’ve heard it before, she says. Your mother can’t stand this music, but I think it is exciting! he retorts. He moves on to Clare, pulling her to him, trying to stick his tongue in her mouth, but she pushes him away, laughing and teasing him as though he were a teenage boy. This attention only fuels Dad’s fire to dance giddily over and grab me. He aims for my mouth with his tongue sticking out. Our mouths make brief contact, enough for me to feel a slithering wetness enter between my lips. I push him away and he laughs tauntingly, What’s the matter? I’m just trying to show you how to French kiss! You’re gonna’ need to know, now that you’re a teenager!
This is the one time that I dare to tell my mother that my Dad has done something that disgusts me. She is lounging on the plush, russet, floral-covered cushions in the den, reading a fashion magazine and drinking her afternoon tea. I open the door to find her preoccupied, annoyed at my attempt to make my presence known. I blurt out, Mom, Dad just tried to French kiss me, and he did it with Sharon and Clare, too. In a sharp tone, my mother quickly stamps out the interruption. She finally looks up from her magazine to make brief eye contact. Don’t be ridiculous! Your father would never do something like that! And returns her gaze to the glossy page, a gesture of pure denial that makes it clear that I am dismissed. Like a queen ushering an ignorant and helpless servant out of her private quarters, she waves her hand in disdain.
I go back to find Clare and Sharon. They are now in Clare’s pink-walled room, lolling around on her set of twin beds with rose-printed spreads, the French doors to her balcony open to the balmy L.A. evening breeze. When I relay to my sister what our mother said, searching for some validation, she minimizes our father’s French kisses. Oh, come on Alix, he’s just having fun and playing around with us. You can’t take him seriously. And she and Sharon resume their banter.
As the dread of having to swallow my own truth washes over me, I pause, trying not to taste. And then—I swallow.
Some things were amiss and missing in my upbringing — including the parental parts of my parents. They were like a couple of teenagers who found playing house boring and parenting annoying. All those wild needs from the four of us kids were left untended. Later in my adult life, my mom actually said to me, You know, I never realized that you each had different needs.
When my sisters and I hit adolescence, my parents were both emerging from the shock of their own traumatic upbringings. They were ready to explore their adolescence just when we children had launched into explorations of ours.
I loved ballet and took lessons for several years at a ballet school way out on east Colorado Blvd. When I was 14, I heard that Nureyev and Fonteyn would be performing Swan Lake at the Hollywood Bowl and told my parents that I desperately wanted to see them. They agreed and drove me into Hollywood on the evening of the performance. Their plan was to accompany me into the Bowl to find a seat, then take off for a stroll down Hollywood Boulevard when I was occupied watching the ballet. I guess they had bought me a ticket for the overcrowded open seating section because there were no seats left by the time we got there.
A nice man beckoned me over and offered me a seat on his lap. My parents ushered me down the aisle in response to the offer of a seat but didn’t stick around to see where exactly I would be sitting. They had told me where to be at a certain time afterwards so they could pick me up without much hassle. And so, they were off to stroll Sunset Boulevard, people-watch, show off their new, mod outfits, and try to catch up with the youthful years they had lost.
The man who had given me a seat beckoned me over and gestured to his lap. There were no empty places to be seen. Yet, with my parents gone, it was all rather exciting, and I loved the sense of independence and freedom I felt.
Since I was used to my Dad prancing around naked at home, not to mention some of the other stuff, it didn’t seem all that bad that this friendly man was offering me a place to watch the show.
I took my seat on the stranger’s lap. There I sat mesmerized by Nureyev and Fonteyn on the outdoor stage under a dark, open sky dashed with stars, while expert hands fondled and brought me to orgasm under my dress over and over again. I didn’t mind because it felt good, and I got to watch the best performance I’d ever seen.
Author's CommentSecrecy and denial about abuse allow our societal shame to unconsciously direct the victim’s life, ensuring that the wound festers, hidden. Until denial is pierced and truth exposed, parents often remain blind to the abuse of their own children. If you have been abused, the greatest gift you can give yourself and others is to break the code of secrecy by telling a professional who can help you through the painful journey of your own healing. This intervention will prevent the vicious cycle of passing abuse on to the next generations.