Note: If you’ve experienced sexual abuse or assault, this post could potentially trigger you. If you are in the US, one resource for support is the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 1-800-656-4673.
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“You’re not hearing me!”
Quietly… I hate it when she pauses then goes all quiet…
“I think I am.”
She looks directly into my eye. I know it’s supposed to calmly assure me she’s quite serious….
Not good timing. Eye contact makes me uneasy. I try my usual focus-on-the-eyebrow fake. But I can feel myself building…
Whether she notices my anxiety or not, she continues. “Please tell me again what happened.”
Therapy feels like an elaborate mind fuck. An expensive elaborate mind fuck.
I’m 29. I’m smart. I know it…
It’s just fucking Dungeons & Dragons… a role-playing mind game for two… with an all-powerful dungeon master making rules as she goes… in secret… And you.
You’re not allowed to win. This is my third try with a new therapist. I just don’t get this process…
I sigh. “Look. Nothing really happened. I didn’t get raped. It was just weird.”
I slump back in the stuffed chair. I mumble bitterly, “Now I’m sorry I told you.”
She leans into her desk. “It was weird.” That freaking compassionate mask. Like a funeral director. “Please… just tell me again. I want to understand.”
I glare at some imaginary audience up in the left corner of her office ceiling… subtly roll my eyes just enough.
“He was sitting in the recliner. In his underwear. Sipping scotch. With a book in his lap…”
Physical memories… the light… the quiet in the house. In my mind, I’m there in that moment….
She startles me. I had lost her office for a moment, forgotten where I was. I focus. Then snap, “That’s when it got weird. Like I said.”
Her eyes widen. “I want you to know that I want very much to hear you.”
Then, quietly, “But I want you to be aware of your volume. You may not realize you’re getting louder.”
“I think people might hear you through these thin walls.”
“Just think of us as if we’re talking in your living room with people in the house. We want to hear each other. But no one else needs to hear our private chat.”
“And, please, when you can, tell me… What happened next.”
Clear my throat.
Then fast as I can…
“He said I didn’t know how beautiful I was. How I could probably sleep in a different bed every night for the rest of my life. But that would be wrong. And that I knew that would be wrong. He and my mother had raised me to know that would be wrong. He asked me if I was still a virgin. I said, yeah. I lied… Just barely. He said, good. He said he wanted to tell me something before I went off to school…”
“Then he got up.”
Her whisper… “What next.”
A dark rush of words… a vomit of my words…
“He got up…. he got close… I could smell the scotch on his breath… he said not just women would want me… some men too… I would have to make a choice… like he made a choice… then he pinned me and kissed me and rammed his tongue down my throat and groaned and began rubbing his dick against me I could feel it through his briefs… it was wet…. and I went numb and I didn’t move and I was silent inside and there was a flash of light…
“He looked at me. Just looked at me. And it was like he wasn’t there… again. Like the other times. This weird absent look in his eye and he said that I was the only one. The only one he ever felt that with….” I’m fighting to keep my eyes open.
I guess I snap at her. “We went over this before. Okay?…
“I don’t remember. I don’t remember. I was upstairs in my bedroom in this weird silence. In the dark. Still in my work uniform. Just sitting. All I could think over and over was I stank and I needed a shower….
“It was just weird. Weird as fuck maybe. But it just wasn’t rape. I READ Deliverance. THAT’s rape. I dunno what this was….
“I just can’t get over however how weird it was. I keep thinking about it….
“And the freaking nightmares. Him in that chair. Back. Not dead. In total control again. Drunk. And rotting. Rotting in that chair. Flesh just rotting off his bones….
“And I’m frozen in place. I can’t move…”
I hear my voice. A hurt child’s voice….
She sat quiet. Looking out the window. Kind of awkward pause. I’m thinking she’s tired of my shit. She doesn’t know how to “professionally” tell me, Get the fuck over it…
“John.” AGAIN with that fucking pause.
I want to HIT something. ANYTHING. Stop with those fucking pauses.
“John, What if he had done that… to your sister?”
Like a thunderclap. Then someone is SCREAMING in the room…
“I WOULD’VE FUCKING KILLED HIM. I WOULD’VE FUCKING KILLED HIM…”
“John. Stop. Sit down. You’ve got to stop. Just sit.” Is she reaching for the phone?
I snap to. I’m standing. I’m not in my chair. My arms are waving.
I sit down…
I finally hear me. I don’t need her answer. I know.
I’m stunned. I start to fall asleep…
Back then I always started to fall asleep in emotional distress… Maybe I did briefly lose consciousness… I had before with other therapists.
After a moment I start apologizing. There are reassurances back and forth. She gets me water. I sip. My throat hurts.
“Are you feeling better?” I nod.
“Good. I want you to listen to me for just a moment.” I nod.
Having trouble following what she’s saying. I say, “I’m having trouble staying awake.”
“I see that. You’ve got a lot to process….” She looks down, thinking. Speaks slowly, evenly…
“You came to me with several areas you were concerned about… your career… your relationship… your isolation. But when I asked you to pick the first, top one you wanted to work with… You chose this memory.”
Silence. I believe I’m supposed to fill it…
“Yes.” Hoarse whisper.
“You want me to tell you what I think. You want to know, is this event in your life important… or should you just move on.” Glancing at her admission notes on me. Tiniest of smiles. She got it right…
“Honestly, I think you know.” Then says, “I’d like to ask you something… Hard…. May I?”
Awkward silence. “Um. Okay.”
“You understand how difficult, how destructive for a girl it would be if her father sexually touched her. Even something that some might call, ‘minor’… say, intentionally brushed her breast. Especially, if it happened repeatedly?” She waited for me to nod. “Different people might call it different harsh things… but you understand. Am I right?”
“You were his son. You were 19. Just exploring being an adult, sexual male.”
“Do you think… that the fairly explicit sexual activity you just described… with your father would be easier for you, less destructive for you… because he didn’t actually penetrate you…. because you were a male?”
And things suddenly got real, real clear.
And even more confusing…
Because what she DIDN’T know to say… what NO ONE knew to say to me back in 1983…
I was his autistic son.
And of course, this was just one incident. One individual. One act…
And there were other acts. Other individuals. From age 3 on…
If you’ve seen autistic children’s agony, what annoyed adults casually label “meltdowns”… in social situations, in stores, or when senses become totally overwhelmed by noise or smells or atmospheric stress…
Perhaps you can imagine a young autistic child attacked. By a friend, a schoolmate, a parent… the searing betrayal of trust, nearly incomprehensible to our autistically naive neurologies.
And understand, as near as I can tell, that raging, fear-filled child still lived in me as I sat, now adult, before a rather gifted therapist. Even as I doused her with the brusque sarcasm and the fragile arrogance of a former “gifted” child…
Truth to tell, he still remains in me. Mere moments… and one too many stressors… away…
At age 68.
⬆⬆⬆These⬆⬆⬆ are the reasons that I believe we as a community do not talk about just how prevalent sexual assault on autists is.
It seems to me sometimes that every autist I know experienced sexual abuse or assault. My story? At best average.
But even, what… average sexual abuse destroys a childhood… an adulthood… a life… many lives…
Let’s talk about that….
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More about our community in Part 2…