by Sarah Ford
Sofia and Adam seem to have a good life. They have a house that needs work, but is a happy home. They have dogs that are their children. Her family are friends; not by blood, but by love. It’s not a perfect life; those old fears are still there when she turns away from Adam and sleeps in the bedroom on the other side of the house. Every now and again, she feels the fear. She sees it lingering in her eyes. She feels it when she hears her husband removing his belt at the end of the day, the sound of secrets.
After all these years, Sofia could still see the same green walls, the same plastic lavender-on-white curtains waving as the breeze went through the room. At odd moments she could hear Mama talking to Tia Tacha by the clothesline at the fence. She felt the smooth fabric of the bedspread under her little legs, dangling over the edge, her feet tapping a beat against the mattress as her oldest brother loomed over her.
Sofia is stifled in a crowd, seemingly surrounded by people who know her secret and look at her in pity, in derision, in disbelief. The same stifling fear she felt when he would pull her panties down. The same fear when he would lure her into the closet to have her do things to him.
He would tell her, “Don’t tell Mama or Daddy. They won’t love you if they knew what you make me do to you.” At 5 years old, she believed him. She never told, but always wondered why she would get to eat her favorite snack after he left. Now, as an adult, Sofia can’t eat tortilla with peanut butter.
Sofia had another brother, Miguel, and he was her lifeline. Miguel was her friend, and he teased her like any other older brother. They could spend hours outside, playing with the toy soldiers and trucks in the dirt. He’d let her tag along with his friends after school. “She’s tough, man. She’ll knock you out if you make her mad,” he’d warn them. Sure enough one boy tried to hit her with a baseball, and after she got off the ground, she flew at him. Miguel had to go get Daddy to help him get Sofia off the boy, who was on his back, legs kicking while Sofia had him by his ears, slamming his head into the dirt. “She’s tiny but mighty,” Miguel would proudly tell his friends. Miguel was nothing like their older brother. That one, he would always watch her, daring her to tell.
As she got older, he quit coming to her and leading her to his bedroom. She became a spoiled, frightened child. Her sisters started calling her “Drama Queen” and the name stuck, even as an adult. They felt she usually got her way and never had to be “responsible”. Sofia never wanted to be too far from Mama and Daddy, and hated the thought of even spending the night at her cousin Cathy’s house. She didn’t like going to see her sisters in college and spending the night at their house while Mama and Daddy were at a hotel. They thought it was a treat for her; to Sofia, it was fear. What if he came back?
When she was 12, Sofia got the “sex talk” from her sisters and they explained what periods were. Now, the thought of some guy doing what he did to her and having consequences terrified her. She began to eat more, hoping if she got fat no one would want to do what he did to her. All the other girls in her class were changing, wanting to be around the boys. All Sofia wanted was to be friends with everyone, yet keeping them from finding out she was a slut for what he did to her.
He left to go to the service, leaving Sofia feeling relieved, but she still worshiped him. All her sisters ever saw was how she would defend him, and he rejected her. They thought she was stupid. As she grew up and finally went off to college, she began to feel like she was missing something. She saw her friends getting married, having babies, having dates, and hearing them talk about sex. It always embarrassed her, because all she knew was what he did to her. Her dates were fumbling, embarrassing incidents. One time her “date” pretended to have a cramp in his leg so he could get out of the back seat and ride with his friend up front, while she sat in the back, mortified.
Sofia finally tried to have a boyfriend in college, and thought because he wanted to do things to her, he loved her. Until she got pregnant. Then he said she slept around a lot, and wanted nothing to do with her. Hearing Daddy once tell her, “Don’t be a disappointment like your sisters and brothers. You’re our last hope, baby girl.” With that ringing in her ears, she scraped up the money to do the unthinkable. That was it for boyfriends for many years.
She would go to the bars to go dancing with her friends, and ended up being the designated driver, watching everyone’s purses and coats while they got asked to dance. Sofia would watch the guys looking for someone to dance, and as much as she wanted, no one asked her. She thought guys had a radar for “damaged goods”. So she quit going to the bars. She quit going to parties. Eventually she quit going anywhere but work, home, and on weekends drive to her parents’ house. She became the “good” daughter who was always there for her parents. In return, they did what they could to support her when she needed help. Her sisters had each other; she had her parents. Did they ever know what he did to her? Sofia always wondered, and thought they might have suspected, so tried to compensate her for her silence. All her sisters saw was a spoiled baby.
Then Sofia met Jamie. He was tall, funny, good to his parents, and just a nice guy. He’d drag her along when their friends went to dance, and got her dancing again. He became a little-big brother to her. Jamie unwittingly helped her to realize that men could be fun, friendly, supportive, and best of all, that she deserved respect. It was a slow realization, but Jaime unknowingly started Sofia on her path to freedom. Jaime helped her learn to feel “normal”, whatever that was.
It was an odd feeling, quite liberating. She was becoming confident, something he never wanted her to become. He wanted her to remember “what you make me do to you.” Sofia never confronted him for what he did to her when she was a trusting little girl. She always imagined him full of remorse, but he never showed it. He treated her like their sisters treated her. He called her spoiled, a brat, stupid, fat, just like their sisters. He’d have a smile on his face when he did it too. He enjoyed knowing she’d never tell.
Sofia learned, over the next decade, that she was not that little girl anymore. She gained confidence in herself. She was happy at her job, good at it, and was validated as a good person, a good worker, and a staunch friend. Her life was finally going her way. And yet, she never told anyone about her secret.
Then Sofia met Adam. He was funny, kind, shy, and in her eyes, absolutely gorgeous. His red hair, blue eyes and cop-built body was everything she ever dreamt she wanted in a man. Adam told her, “once I saw your big ol’ brown eyes, I was hooked.”
Engaged after a year’s dating, Sofia has been happily married for over 10 years. The scar still rears its ugly head, sometimes in the mirror, “you’re still fat and stupid, you know.” He’s been dead for over 3 years, and although she refused to go to his funeral, she’s come to peace with what happened.
It’s a part of Sofia, but it does not define her as much as it did all those years ago. Her parents have been gone for a long time, and she has no contact with her sisters. There is no one to call her stupid anymore. While she still talks with Miguel, she doesn’t see him very much. He doesn’t talk to their sisters often, let alone call Sofia. They don’t see either of them and Sofia’s fine with that. She doesn’t miss having her sisters look at her and feel their disappointment that she isn’t thin like them, successful like them, and have nice things like them.
Sofia is fine. Sometimes.