This article addresses the difficult matter of sexual abuse. Reader be advised.

Little girls often dream of being a princess and marrying a prince. Living in a castle happily ever after. If this were only what I dreamt. Unfortunately, I often dreamt of the day I could tell my mom about my stepfather. 

My stepfather (we’ll call him Dan) and mom met in the Winter of 1969. Mom, Michael (my older brother by 3 years) lived in a small town in Massachusetts on the boarder of Fort Devens military base. My mom was a cashier at the military store on base. One day, Dan went through her line. That’s all it took; they were smitten. Dan and mom began dating, and in a blink of an eye they were married. 

Dan was in the special forces. We would often go and watch some of the outdoor training drills. Soldiers climbing huge wooden towers and zip lining down, marching drills, etc. After the drills, the platoon would gather and stand at attention at the command of the Drill Sargent until they were dismissed. As the Drill Sargent barked orders, the platoon followed without incident. Like the rest of the platoon, Dan looked tough. He looked as though he could take on any challenge and win. My mom was proud. She loved him so much. 

Dan, mom, Michael, and I lived on base for a short time and then moved to an apartment just inside the town limits. We were a happy family. Our family would often go on mini vacations to different states – Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine. We particularly liked seeing the leaves that were changing colors announcing the beginning of Fall. We would listen to the radio while on the road, singing aloud and off key. Dan would often make funny gestures to different songs. Mungo Jerry’s “Summertime” was my favorite song. Dan would make funny faces and wiggle his ears. Dan would have an open can of beer between his legs and would take sips in between songs. Dan was more of a social drinker. When we reached our destination, Dan would take out his camera and begin photographing my mom, me, my brother, me, me, me. I never felt afraid of Dan. Things were pretty good until they weren’t – approximately 8 months later. 

The molestation started at the age of 5. Dan would tuck me into bed. It began with subtle gestures. For example, he would kiss my forehead, then my cheeks, then the top of my head while his hands would gently rub my torso and legs. Dan gradually stopped the routine of kissing my forehead, then my cheeks, then the top of my head. He would just kiss the top of my head and his hand would then touch my “privates”. The first time this happened I remember jumping. “Daddy!” I said, as he quickly apologized. He said it was an accident. He asked me not to say anything to my mom. I didn’t think to say anything to my mom. An accident is an accident. This behavior continued for a couple of years with Dan’s accidents increasing. It got to the point where I asked him why he touched me there. He asked if it felt good. As a child, if something didn’t hurt, then it was good. 

Years went by with the incidents getting more egregious. He was drinking more and more, and his temper was getting shorter and shorter. There was a point where Dan had me touching him. He said it felt good. This is when “accidents” turned into “secrets”. If I refused, he would get angry. He was now mean, I no longer recognized him. The once lighthearted, fun Dan was gone. He threatened to hurt my mom and brother if I didn’t do what he asked. Mom and Dan began verbally fighting more. The verbal fights turned physical. “SLAP!” the sound of his hand connecting with her face echoed through my head. I was scared to death of him. I couldn’t tell anyone about what was going on because of Dan’s threat of hurting mom and Michael. I kept our secret. 

When I was 8, my mom had had enough. She met with Dan’s staff Sargent and told him of the abuse. She explained that Dan was being verbally and physically abusive to her and often threatened to hurt us kids. She said she was afraid for her life. The Staff Sargent spoke to Dan and Dan convinced the Sargent that my mom was having a nervous breakdown. He said the pressure of him going away for drill weekend was too much for her. He would return to her being “crazy!” “Take care of it” he was ordered. Dan began to turn on the charm again to calm the waters. Flowers, gifts, saying and doing all the right things. It worked. My mom fell back under his spell. I couldn’t understand how she could still like him – let alone love him. “He’s changed!” she would say. I had my reservations. One day, Dan came home with an announcement; Dan was being transferred to a base in Dallas, Texas. We were moving. 

Shortly after moving, mom became pregnant with my younger sister. We lived in an apartment just outside of Dallas. Dan served for another couple years and left the military. He worked at night and mom during the day. I would often come home after school to Dan wanting me to masturbate him. I prayed that he wouldn’t be home when I got there. If I got home before Dan, I would lock myself in my room, hide under the bed, and finger paint the under cloth of my box spring. I would stay there for hours until my mom came home. “Please dream come true” I would internally whisper, 

It didn’t take Dan long to begin verbally and physically abusing my mom. This time mom acted fast. She now had a support system and was no longer afraid of Dan. Mom filed for and was granted a divorce. Finally, Dan was out of the picture. 

Months went by with Dan visiting his daughter bi-weekly. I often would disappear over to a friend’s house. His temper seemed to subside. He and mom could now have conversations without fighting. He no longer touched me or asked me to touch him. However, he did continue to photograph me. I was his muse. I hated it. He worked my mom so she would encourage me to participate. Our “secret” was intact. 

As the years passed, Dan’s visits began to be sporadic. He often “no showed” with my brother and I breathing a sigh of relief and my sister crying from disappointment. My brother and I knew it was just a matter of time before the “real Dan” would resurface. The days he didn’t show meant another “safe” day. 

By the age of 12, puberty had begun. My body was beginning to change. I was modest and more aware of my body. I was developing breasts, the hair on my legs was getting darker, and my underarms now required deodorant. It was a Saturday morning with my brother, sister and I participating in the weekly ritual of cleaning house. Dan came to visit his daughter unannounced. He played Barbies with her. As mom vacuumed her bedroom, Dan (camera in hand) called out and asked me where I was. I was cleaning my room. Dan came into my room, He small talked with me for a few minutes. He could see I was tense. We talked for about 30 minutes about school and life in general. My tension was subsiding. He then asked me to get on my bed, stand up against the wall, and take my shirt off. He wanted updated pictures. I refused. He repeated his request, this time with a firmness in his voice. I refused. He was now angry. I ran crying to my mom. She quickly turned off the vacuum and held me. “What’s wrong?” she asked. Dan appeared in the doorway to her bedroom. I told my mom I had something to tell her. She sat down on her bed and as I started telling her the years’ worth of “secrets”. She wept. Dan started crying and apologized over and over. She started cursing Dan and she kicked him out of the house. If he was to visit his daughter, the visits had to be monitored. Mom reached out to several attorneys for help with prosecuting Dan. She was told he could not be arrested for child abuse because abuse was too far back, and the statute of limitations was expired. I didn’t care about Dan’s future with the law. My dream finally came true. 

I had many years of therapy after the “Saturday confession”. The residual of my abuse manifested into low self-respect for my body, I would often flash my boobs to whoever wanted to see them. My body was just an object for guys to ogle over and for me to get to bask in the attention of men. I would often dream of meeting someone who would love me for me. 

Dan died 2 years ago from cancer. My sister told me. She was devastated. I was relieved. Please consider this: Be careful who you bring into your home. Not all people are princes or princesses. Teach your children not to keep secrets that grown-ups tell them to keep. 

In the end, another dream came true. I reconnected 12 years ago with my high school crush and I am so happy living the dream of being in love and being loved the way I deserve.