I could feel the filth, see it, taste it. I felt dirty from the moment my neighborhood bullies stole me away to parks and woods and took parts of me I thought I'd never get back. At five years old, I learned words I never wanted to know. And I did things no little girl should ever experience—all at the hands of teenage boys bent on sex and exploitation.
I wonder if they felt dirty afterward.
I wonder if they still do.
Pictures of me during this time are startling. I was a waif of a girl with dirt-crusted shoes, secondhand clothes, and a distant look in my eyes. I felt out of place, even before I was sexually abused. But afterward? Although I had no unction of the word "outcast," the word defined me. I lived on the outside looking in. I watched The Brady Bunch voraciously, longing to be Cindy Brady in what I perceived to be the perfect, safe family.
But I never felt safe.
Even today my husband opened a door and startled me. I nearly jumped into hysterics.
When I met Jesus at 15 years old, 10 years post-rape, I felt things would be different. He would clean me up. He would help me shed the moniker of outcast. Well-meaning leaders reminded me of 2 Corinthians 5:17, that all things were made new in Christ, and the old things—all the flashbacks and searing memories—were gone.
I pretended the sexual abuse didn't matter. I tried to shove that dirty feeling way down. But ultimately, I believed I was dirty, and no amount of disregarding or shoving changed the way I felt about myself.1