After six months of protection by the young Belgian gangster Patrick, his positive regard flipped. After six months of not touching me sexually and making sure no one else did, he crossed that boundary, and I was back to knowing I was a sex slave. I had to surrender myself completely.
As I lay on the bed, hands behind my head, feeling extremely relaxed, I shot Patrick a look of resentment. I had not wanted to let myself go.
“My love, how beautiful you are like this,” Patrick said stroking my face, teasing.
I did feel very beautiful and I did not like feeling as grown-up as he.
“You are not ten years old, you know,” Patrick commented as though he had heard my thought.”
“It’s true, I’m not; I’m eleven,” I pointed out.
“You had your birthday?,” he asked, coming to sit on the bed and ruffling my hair, wishing me happy birthday and kissing me. A big long kiss that soon became intensely sexual and could easily escalate into more sex. He stopped, thinking out loud:
“Still, you’re not eleven, either.”
“Then what would you say I was?,” I asked.
“Eighteen, at least. Or you can be twenty. One year younger than me. That’s your age, okay?” he bargained.
I replied simply: “I’m eleven. I have a lot of growing to do before I’ll be twenty.”
Suddenly perturbed, Patrick sat on the edge of the bed staring out ahead. Dropping his head in his hands he repetitively combed his hair back with his fingers. Unlike other men in the network, he seemed to at least have a sense that there was something off about having sex with a child, that maybe there’s something else going on besides what the other men seemed to have agreed upon: they were not pedophiles. Pedophiles were those dirty guys who only had sex with children.
“But you’re not a child,” he tried.
“But I am,” I answered.
Patrick smiled as if I were teasing him. I had mimicked him. It was such a grown-up answer, even if I had not intended it. It was as though Patrick had transferred his adulthood onto me through the sex, as if he was the sex slave. This time, I was the one who was detached, ironic, felt free, and I even lay on the bed in the same relaxed way he usually did, with my hands behind my head, while he was sitting nearby, nervously trying to please me. Patrick leaned over and caressed my body. When he touched the mons, a wide smile spread across his face.
“Okay, yes, it’s true. And what a nice thing, too,” he said. “It’s the nicest thing ever, so soft, without the hair.”
And thus we entered into a phase in which he perpetuated the abuse he had suffered as a child onto me. In a regular romantic relationship, there is a similar arc, of being in love at first and being respectful with each other, protective even, until one day things change, and the power struggle begins. Sometimes people are barely recognizable in this phase, taken over by a young part inside of them that wasn’t active before. In equal relationships, this is the time that makes or breaks a couple, or even a friendship.
With some couples, both are capable of doing their own work, manage to acknowledge their projections, and can navigate the complex emotional landscape of their own past trauma while always returning to a place of respect and clarity with the other.
Other couples fall into dysfunctional attachment in which they each take on a role of either the “abuser” and the other the part of the “victim” aka the “adult” and the “child.” The power struggle is the struggle for each partner to be in the role of the victim/child, in which one gets to feel innocent and free of blame. That role and its accompanying freedom from accountability is what keeps many a partner in less-than-barely satisfying, even abusive relationships. During a break up, both parties often feel the victim and get to perpetuate their victim status as long as they wish, without the other person there to remind them of what is real.
In a relationship between an adult and an actual child, the child will take on whatever role they are handed in order to survive. It may be interesting to note that the role handed to the child is never the role of the child - that role is reserved for the adult relieving themself of the burden they were made to carry in their own childhood, so that they get a fleeting sense of the freedom, lack of accountability and innocence they didn’t get to experience in their own childhood.
Patrick’s burden included the worst betrayal of both his parents with intense physical and sexual violence. His greatest childhood trauma was of being found in bed with his mother at the age of twelve, by his father, who blamed his son instead of his wife. The father, who was also raping his son, felt betrayed by Patrick, put a gun to his head, and decided that instead of shooting him he would maim him instead, whereupon he stabbed his son in the back of the knee with a kitchen knife.
At eleven years old, I became the receptacle of all of Patrick’s unresolved trauma from his twelve year old self. I was beaten, raped, stabbed in the back of the knee, and had a loaded gun put to my head. Patrick had sex with my mother in front of me.
In the last months of the abuse, I expected I might be killed any day. Children who were favored and discarded were often killed. The special love child slaves give to a perpetrator when they are protected is a precious gift, pure and infinite. Once that love is betrayed, as it invariably is, these children become so dejected and depressed that no one wants them anymore. They are considered spoiled goods.
I had already been favored by another perpetrator and dumped, which was the reason I had been so very cautious with Patrick, which had attracted him all the more. I was still alive after being rejected the first time because the Belgian network bosses didn’t know that this had happened, and I was too dissociated to be in touch with the vast well of pain connected to that experience. The Belgian network bosses only knew that a powerful American they wanted as a friend, had them running me back and forth from Belgium to Germany from the summer of 1972 through the fall of 1973. It appears that the American never issued an explicit order to have me terminated, so I was returned to the Belgian network as usual where I met Patrick just a few weeks later.
My mother probably was never as high and as crazy as during her affair with Patrick, when the set up she had created by pimping me out came to match her unconscious purpose of revenge, to find that elusive freedom through living out the adult role of her repressed incest triangle. When I found my mother and Patrick in bed together, my mother yelled: “You thought you could have them all, didn’t you?” I never saw her as elated as in that moment.
One problem with unconscious trauma repetition is that it always lands one back into the role of the abused child. The following is what happened after Patrick picked me up from home even though he had been sleeping with my mother, busy living out his incest triangle from the adult side. He dropped me off late in the evening one day later. Sometime during our time together I had called him a traitor. This was his greatest trigger. The theme of betrayal was the greatest theme of his life. He betrayed those he loved, continuing to make his scary father right in one endless variegated loop of his trauma story. When I called him a traitor he viciously beat me. I had spent over 24 hours in his sex-filled psycho-drama without food and ate bread upon my return home. My mother, failing to react to my bruises and swollen face, complained about my taking the bread - stuck in the role of her victimized little girl.
Sitting down at the breakfast table the next morning, she ostentatiously gave my little brother toast with jam and hot chocolate.
“What about me?” I dared to inquire.
“We don’t have enough bread this morning because somebody ate it last night,” she announced.
“Then go buy some,” I shrugged.
My brother, seven years old, broke a piece of his toast and reached to hand it to me. My mother prevented him.
“No, no. She will just have to learn not to have her breakfast late at night. That’s all. It’s her own fault,” my mother stressed.
“O, it’s my fault now,” I said.
My mother winced, her eyes wide and instantly filled with tears. I angrily blurted out:
“I never screamed that I thought you could have them all!”
“What are you talking about?” mama cried.
“Hah! I’ve never seen you so happy,” I continued. “Is it only when you can steal my guy away that you can be that happy? Is that it?”
“Your guy, listen to that, she’s eleven years old and she’s calling a grown man her guy,” she retorted. And anyway I never said that. You misunderstood. I wasn’t even talking to you. I didn’t even know you were there. I’m thirty five years old, I think I know what I say. I don’t need you to come and tell me what I said.”
“Then what did you mean?” I asked, confused and deflated, wanting to believe whatever differed from the truth I had witnessed.
“I don’t even remember what I was talking about, because it wasn’t anything important. Oh yes, now I remember, I was talking about your school. You thought you could do all your school books, your lessons and everything, and go away during exams, and still pass. That’s what I said.”
‘Do your school books:’ Those words and her grammar were all I could focus on until it dawned on me that I had forgotten all about school. I had been kept out of school for weeks on end. Patrick took me to the South of France. I never considered what might happen with school, or that I might fail and have to do the year over. I broke into tears and cradled my head in my arms. My mother put a consoling hand on my shoulder.
“But Ann,” she said, calling me by the name I had as a child, “ you don’t have to cry for that. It’s not so bad. Maybe papa can do something about it. Maybe he could go talk to the nuns once he gets back from Greece.”
I looked up into her friendly eyes with a flicker of hope.
“You think?” I asked feebly.
“We’ll see,” my mother said with a little laugh. “We can always try.”
My brother asked: “What happened to your face?”
Before I could think of a reply, my mother interjected:
“Ann was very silly. You know what she did? She walked right into the swing, and it hit her eye.”
My stepfather was in Greece for work. Whenever he traveled, we had more visitors. I was home from school; the reason never mentioned. That same afternoon, the local Catholic priest visited. He leaned back in a comfortable armchair, feet on the ottoman, cigar stump in the corner of his mouth and a cognac tumbler in hand. When he saw me enter the room, he was so shocked he jerked up.
“Ann, what has happened to you?” he exclaimed.
Again, before I could think of an answer, my mother volunteered:
“She walked right into the swing yesterday.”
“How did you do that?” he asked me. “How could you have hit your face like that?”
“Her brother was swinging, and Ann didn’t look when she passed in front of him. Right, Ann?”
My mother smiled at me, like we were getting away with our little secret, and she was letting me in on the fun.
A little later, a friend of my stepfather who was a missionary in Congo back home for a visit, rang the doorbell. I opened the door. He shook my hand, glancing at my swollen and bruised face as if it made him angry, commenting that I had gotten big. As my mother poured a liqueur for the missionary, he remarked:
“And what pranks has that daughter of yours been up to, huh?”
“Ran right into the swing!” the priest called out, “in the backyard!”
He pointed his thumb in the direction of the backyard and laughed:
“That must have been quite a bang, when that hit. I hope you didn’t scare the neighbors, Ann. It’s always so quiet here; they might have thought the roof came crashing down.”
My mother joined him in merry laughter, followed by the missionary, who joked:
“You sure made a mess of your face!”
In the following days, several other visitors commented and joked about my bruises, which turned a reddish brown. The first time my brother was present during the jokes, he did not deny that I had walked into him when he was swinging, even though that must have been news to him. I don’t believe my mother had a conversation with him about it; she was so skilled at denial that she would create a story to cover the truth and then instantly believe it. Without other witnesses, she would have done what she did at other occasions: completely ignore visible symptoms of abuse, so nothing even happened to begin with. When my stepfather was home, she would always get to him first with her version. Her children didn’t exist outside of her story.
Some weeks later, I pictured myself walking into the swing, an image that had been called and recalled countless times in the past days and weeks, and I suddenly got confused. Isn’t this a real memory? Didn’t I walk into the swing? I thought. Wasn’t I in the backyard, making my way over to one swing, passing in front of my brother on the other swing, not judging his swing range, not paying attention where I was walking, and didn’t I get hit by the wooden seat corner, as my brother swung forward? Isn’t that how I got this bruise? It seemed that way.
When I undressed later that night, observing all the other bruises on my body, I wonder if I got those from the fall, when the force of the swing knocked me to the ground.
The gaslighting I experienced in childhood came to haunt me in all relationships in adulthood. Quick to question my own truth, it is an ongoing process to allow myself to know what I know. I’ve been gaslighted in adulthood many times, all prompts to dive into the painful past and discover the truth beneath the surface. Of course, I am not completely healed, but I do have the capacity to discriminate: to recognize when I have been acting from a young victimized part and come back to the adult self, and to take an honest look at myself when another sees something in me. A friend and I recently successfully navigated a minefield of triggers and projections on both sides. The process had us connect with our respective hurt child parts inside, which got to be seen and understood and a little more integrated. This resolved an issue that had stood between us for at least six months and it brought us much closer.
“This pure soul loves me.” These are the words from a talk on relationships given by a monk of the Self Realization Fellowship that keep returning to my mind. Behind all the muck of delusive thoughts and projections is a soul who in their pure state could not do anything but love me. This includes those souls that seem to have lost connection with their pure soul completely. It includes my mother. It includes all those who need to project. It doesn’t mean exposing myself to someone who is not safe, it means I can remember that they are not truly the person they presented. It is a helpful reminder to keep bringing myself to a place where I am connected to my pure soul, and can love their soul, no matter what.