In the family
I have a large, extended family. Here in California, the main branches are my own family, my mom and dad’s family, and my family via my aunt to her husband.
When I moved to LA, one of the people onto whom I glommed was my cousin by marriage, Sol. She was vivacious, curious, elegant, spontaneous, completely in love with life. She was considerably older than I was, but in her I saw the type of woman I would want to find for a life partner. When she entered a room, it immediately brightened. She was educated and had deep empathy for others.
Then something happened.
Part of it was that she never married. She stayed at home, helping care for her grandmother and mother. But she had lived at home before the change.
She became timorous, withdrawn, gray before her time. She was unable to hold down a job. All her education went to waste.
We clucked that it was due to the Pentecostal church she began to attend, which made her look back askance at her former life.
But then my mother and aunt said something, whispered it: maybe she was raped.
Now, we have no evidence of this one way or another. My cousin has certainly never said anything.
But it’s hard not to make that assumption. How a vivacious woman turned into a near hermit makes those who love her wonder. And as we have been reminded these past few days, it’s far from uncommon for victims of sexual assault to not only not go to the police, but to not tell anyone. Not parents, not siblings, not friends.
When people—mostly men, but more than a few women who support those kind of men—scoff that it mustn’t have been that bad as the victim didn’t report it immediately, I only have to hope that they don’t see someone in their lives decline from vivacity to dolorousness, and be left to wonder: What happened? Or, worse, that it happens to them or someone they love. It’s this lack of empathy which is the most gutting thing; it’s always the woman’s fault for dressing too scantily, or walking alone, or, let’s be frank, existing.
If this is what happened to my cousin, I hope that one day she’ll be able to speak about it, and maybe reclaim part of her life. As we have seen, so many women are unable to.
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