My feet were heavy with dread as I shuffled over and my stomach felt sick as I climbed into his stinky bed. He pulled me close against his damp, clammy skin. He took my hand and placed it on his penis. I tried not to breathe or move a single muscle in my body, hoping to avoid making the situation any more threatening.
From the father with the choking hands, I had learned how to play dead. So it was easy now to think myself dead. He said irritably, “Now squeeze.” Frustrated with my feeble attempts, he angrily added, “No, not like that, like this,” as he placed his hand over mine to make the rhythm to his liking. This repulsive act of touching him seemed to go on for hours, my seven-year-old body frozen into a twisted, ugly position. I imagined I was like the tumbleweeds that I had seen strewn across the desert floor and mashed up against fences on the drive to New Mexico. My thoughts started to focus on the wet, slimy lobsters he had tried to make me eat when we were camping. I wanted to vomit, like then, but I knew if I vomited I would make things worse.
I don’t recall how this episode ended, or if it was repeated. I do remember that when I was back in my bed, I curled up into a tight little ball to keep anything else from getting me. Hidden deep under the covers in the near one-hundred-degree temperature, eyes shut, I tried hard not to cry out loud.
Once he woke up and said in a menacing voice, “You better shut your mouth before I give you something to cry about.”
I stuffed the corner of the sheet as far back in my mouth as it would go. Although gagging, I managed to remain silent. My pillow was soaked with tears and snot, but I didn’t move. I was too scared to sleep the rest of the night.
At daybreak, I quickly dressed in my usual dirty pedal pushers and T-shirt, and snuck out the camper door. Few people were awake at the fair, so I wandered around in a dazed state for some time. Then I noticed her again, the old Indian woman sitting on her blanket, just like she was the last time I saw her. Her eyes called to me to come and sit by her. I sat on the very edge of her blanket facing in the same direction that she was facing. I was not yet ready for any eyes on me. She allowed me to sit quietly for several hours. Without a word or touch, she seemed to absorb enough of the trauma in my system to enable me to finally get up and slowly walk away. Just like that, I left with a new-found fire in my belly.