Trigger warning: sexual abuse, domestic violence, rape
Recently, when I watched the now infamous video of Trump bragging about grabbing pussies, I was reminded of one man in particular: my stepfather, Tom.
Tom used to crawl into my twin-sized bed and lay next to me while wearing his white briefs. Tom used to speak of wishing I were ten years older so he could marry me. Tom told me once, with much vengeance in his voice, that he wanted to break me in a way he’d never been able to break my mother.
Tom, who wanted to both marry and break me, also punched me in the jaw and chased me around the house. He ended up pulling my pants off during the chase, but I somehow managed to get outside. I ran over to the neighbor’s house, where I stayed that night.
But the next day I had to return to his house. My neighbors weren’t going to take on our problems, no way. We had to work them out ourselves.
I didn’t know what to do about it. I’d been living with Tom for less than two years, and he was unraveling, slowly becoming more and more abusive. So I did the only thing I could do: I made myself invisible. When he was home, I was silent as can be.
Still, he saw me. He saw me and followed me and crawled into bed with me.
I just prayed he would never rape me.
Then a series of events happened that shifted the course of my future.
We’d moved to Grants, New Mexico less than a year earlier from Reno, Nevada. Tom went from working at one casino to working at another, a habit that allowed for him to continue his addiction to gambling. When we left Reno, Jon, my then-boyfriend, and I decided to continue our relationship. We were young but in love. His love letters nurtured me, gave me a reason to feel I was worthy of love.
Jon came to visit me in New Mexico in the spring of 1998. My stepfather knew he was coming for a visit, had even allowed it. But he was watchful. Wanting alone time with Jon, I snuck out to meet with him and his two friends at the hotel where they were staying.
Tom showed up at the hotel door with cops, claiming we were having an orgy in the hotel room. He stood outside our door and yelled, pounded on the door with his fist. I wrapped my arms around myself and shook my heads. Jon and his friends looked at me, something like pity on their faces. They knew what kind of man Tom was, and they didn’t want me going out there either.
But then the cops pounded on the door.
We eventually opened it. The boys told the cops that my stepfather would beat me if they let me go with him. The cops paid no attention to that — they were white cops with little desire to get involved with a Japanese man and a Latina stepdaughter.
The cops told the boys to get out or they’d end up in jail. The boys did what the cops told them, and my heart cried. I’d wanted for them to save me. I’d wanted someone to take me away from this man who wanted to break people like they were slaves.
Tom dragged me back home, telling me I’d regret what I’d done. He began by taking away my bedroom door and taking away meaningful personal possessions — my photos and music. He then hid the phone in the trunk of his car so I couldn’t make phone calls to anyone, not even my mother.
He chased me down the hallway that night, raised up his hand as though to strike me. I looked at him right in the eye and told him to do it. Then I told him I’d show the marks to the cops if he did. He stopped right then and there.
But he didn’t stop doing everything else.
I cry for women who feel they have been broken beyond repair, who are a reflection of my own trauma.
The day after the hotel incident, he took me to his work, some twenty miles outside the small town of Grants, NM, where we lived. He worked at an isolated Indian reservation casino, where all you could see for miles was desert. He left me in the car for at least eight hours while he worked. As he told me, he wanted to make sure I wouldn’t run away with those boys.
He still kept the phone in the trunk of the car, still wouldn’t let me leave the house, still wouldn’t allow me privacy.
Within a few days, things settled down enough for him to concede I could return to school. I had become numb though, terrified of what my future might hold for me. I wasn’t a bad kid — I participated in sports as much as I could, took honors classes, got A’s and B’s, took care of my little sister as well as I could, cleaned the house often. We didn’t have a mother, after all — we just had us.
Eventually, not long after the hotel incident, I ended up at the counselor’s. We met to discuss what courses I would take the following year. But she must have seen something in my face, because she began asking, softly, if I needed to talk about something.
I broke down. I told her what Tom had done, what he planned on doing. I cried as I hadn’t allowed myself to cry since the hotel incident, my body shaking, the full extent of all that had happened finally hitting me.
Then the counselor did something that gave me a little bit of hope. She took my hand and told me she would make sure I got out of there.
The counselor contacted the principal, and the principal told me she wanted to help me too. That morning, they made a number of phone calls to my boyfriend’s parents in Reno, who said they wanted me out of that unsafe situation. We’ll take care of her, they said. The counselor and principal then made a call to my biological mother, who lived in Georgia. She told them that Tom didn’t have custody of me. She did.
I remembered how a couple of years before, when I’d lived with my mother in Virginia Beach, I’d begged her not to send me to live with him. As much as I disliked my mother, I was terrified of my stepfather. My mother had told me stories of how Tom had abused her, how he’d made her have sex with his Navy friends for sport, how he’d committed her to a mental institution back when she didn’t know English, how he’d put her on a plane to Brazil after she’d given birth to my half-sister, how after she’d left, he’d told my half-sister that our mother had died.
The stories didn’t seem to matter anymore though, not when it came to her decision. She’d made up her mind about sending me away. Besides, Tom had promised her he’d changed from the abusive husband he’d once been. My half-sister, who lived with him, could use an older sister too, he’d told her.
She’d believed him.
But now she knew she’d been wrong.
Yes, get her out of there, she told my principal. Please get her out of there.
Within a matter of hours, the principal had arranged for me to take a bus from New Mexico to Nevada, where I’d be staying with my boyfriend and his parents.
Before the school day ended, she took me to my stepfather’s house. I had to pack quick, she told me. I ran into the house, shaking. I threw as much as I could into a suitcase, wishing I could take it all with me but knowing I’d have to leave much of it behind.
Then the principal took me to her house. Her house was beautiful, a home, but I didn’t feel comforted. That night, as I slept on the sofa, I watched for his car to pull up into a driveway. To this day, I cannot describe the terror of waiting through that night. I fully expected he would find me and finish breaking me, as he’d promised.
At 5 a.m., I woke up and began to get ready. My bus would be leaving at 6:30 in the morning. I don’t remember details from that morning, just that one moment I was at my principal’s home, and then the next I was at the bus station, still watching for his car.
I only began to breathe once I was on the bus. But still, I worried that he would chase the bus down, come crawling through the windows. He’d told me once, recently, that he would hire someone to find my boyfriend and murder him if I tried to get away. I understood the implications of what I was doing, but it was my only chance.
This happened almost twenty years ago.
Listen to these words: These memories continue to haunt me.
I still have nightmares that I’m living with this man. In my nightmares, he’s the one who controls my life and tries to have sex with me. I still deal with the trauma of the violence in my childhood and teenage years, directly related to this man.
These memories continue to haunt me.
Now, I’m not saying my stepfather is Donald Trump.
They are different men. But their twisted perceptions of women women are eerily similar and hint at unresolved trauma.
Trump’s twisted perceptions of women make women like me feel afraid for good reason.
When I hear Donald Trump talk about women like they’re objects, when I hear him talk about grabbing their pussies and trying to fuck them because he can (to use his words), I feel my victimhood all over again.
I feel a little bit of hopelessness too. I feel the weight of my own trauma in knowing that men like this have power and choose to wield it in frightening ways.
I also feel the weight of generations of women fighting to get away from men like this, fighting to realize the strength of their own power.
Some of them get away, some don’t. Some of them realize the strength of their power, some don’t.
Some of us have been broken too much. Sometimes I wonder if I have been broken beyond repair, and then I renew my commitment to myself, to my own empowerment.
But I cry for women who feel they have been broken beyond repair, who are a reflection of my own trauma. I cry for women who have never felt their own worth, who have never learned to love themselves because no one else has loved them.
No, my stepfather is not Donald Trump, but when I see Trump’s anger and preying sexual energy and emotional unraveling, I am reminded of my stepfather.
I’ve seen where this can go.
I was that little girl on the escalator once, that little girl that Trump said he’d be dating in ten years.
So I pray, I really pray, from a place of hope and fear, that we don’t hand the reigns of our country to Trump, because, mark my words, if we do, he’ll teach our men and our children to break the world, not piece it back together.
And the last thing we need is more brokenness.
Juliana Marcelle Crespo is a mother, writer and wild woman in Bloomington, IN. This piece is part of the Survive Your Story Guest Exchange.