“Herein is love…he loved us, and sent his son to be the propitiation for our sins.”
I knew what Mama wanted by the look on her face: apologetic and needy. She had cracked my bedroom door yet again, peering through the gap and fingering Come here.
I hung my head and crawled out of bed, dragged my footies on the cracked linoleum, following her to her bedroom, closing the door, and sliding under the sheets. Mama cuddled and held me close, her breathing labored as if her chest were held down by the weight of the whole world. She exhaled the exhaust of wine and whiskey. She tickled her fingers down my cheek, and then she parted her nightgown and reached for my hand.
It was pretty much the same every time.
Everyone, my friends, the neighbors, our relatives, knew what was happening. But this, they did not know. This they could not fathom, could not dare consider. All the signs were there, but they didn’t want to see. Everyone except Pearle. Like me, my little sister had no choice but to see.
Later, from the kitchen I watched the latest bald-headed john siting on the living room couch, grinning at Mama over bent wire-rimmed glasses and peeling two twenties from a wad of cash. He caught sight of Pearle peeking wide-eyed around the Lazy Boy. He gazed at her, smirked, and looked back at Mama. He raised his eyebrow asking the question, and readied his hand to skim off a few more bills.
Mama did not recoil. She did not scream, curse, or throw the sumbitch out of the house. She just stared at Pearle until her expression fell slack, until she had no feelings one way or the other. She looked back at the man, fixed her eyes on the floor, and nodded.
Pearle was my breaking point. I was only nine years old but still the man of the house. I was too young to place words to feelings, too young to understand the implications, but right then I knew with clarity that nothing in the world mattered but this now, that I was the only wedge between Pearle and...well, you know.
An anger I’d never felt welled up inside. That greasy motherfucker wasn’t going to lay a hand on my sister. I marched into the living room, widened my stance, bore a hole in Mama, and wagged my finger. “No,” I said.
Mama looked at me, puzzled at my resoluteness. The man laced his fingers behind his head and, half amused, waited to see how this would play out. Can I overpower him? I wondered. Persuade? Plead? Run into the street and shout for help, shoot him between his four eyes? No, no, no. So I did the only thing I could: I stepped in front of him and took off my clothes.
The life of Gregg Milligan inspired this story. For more information about child sexual abuse, please visit www.ascasupport.org.