It was a damp and dreary autumn evening when I finally decided to clean out our dreaded hall closet. I turned on some 80s music and began sifting through old board games, puzzles with missing pieces, and scarves. I was officially a clutter collector. Beneath all the jackets, coats, and a few forgotten shoes, I discovered a small cardboard box. Inside was my childhood treasure: matted red yarn hair, scratched black button eyes, and a crooked stitched smile. My sweet Raggedy Ann was the little sister I never had. After all these years of going away to college, traveling, and employment relocations, Raggy never left my side. It pained me to find her here, abandoned in this box.
I held her clubbed hand, cradled my cotton sister, and began to cry. I was a 32-year-old mother to a sweet son, holding an old doll and sobbing in the closet. My body convulsed as I recalled the sexual abuse of my childhood.
I dubbed him The Monster. Others called him Father. He was a close friend of my parents and a frequent guest in our home. He seemed to be as tall as he was wide, with a head of slicked ice-gray hair and silver-rimmed glasses. His face was rough like a prehistoric crater. Upon his arrival at our home, a snack tray with potato chips and pop was promptly placed in front of him as he settled into his favorite vinyl chair.
As a precocious three-year-old, I danced and performed around the living room, and he beckoned me to “come sit on my lap.” The day I finally did, the twirling stopped and the terror began. While I bounced on those thick dinosaur legs, his hands hurting me under my dress, my parents would ask if he needed anything. I assumed they must have known what he was doing to me. After all, he stayed for a delicious dinner.
Over time, the chair game was no longer sufficient. The Monster and I would leave the house and take our “special trips.” In desperation, I reached for Raggy and took her along, though she was never able to protect me. We were both too small.
His car had one long, flat front seat. I would lie still and squeeze my eyes closed. I hoped he would stop if he thought I was sleeping. In my little girl gut, beneath my floral cotton sundress, I screamed at him to go away. Raggy stayed close, and my tears soaked her dress. As the gravel crunched under his tires, his face bloated like a toad, he would turn to me and firmly state: “Do not tell anyone. No one will believe a little girl. And if you do tell someone, I will find you and kill you.”
Shortly after my sixth birthday, my living nightmare suddenly ceased to exist, and finding the perfect box, I reached for Raggy one last time. I hugged her so tight, her black button eyes seemed to bulge. Twisting her red yarn hair in my fingers, I held my pinky to Raggy’s crooked stitched mouth and asked her to keep our secret safe in her little cloth heart. I folded her in half and laid her gently down. Sighing, I carried the carton up to our attic one slow step at a time.
The crack of thunder and my dog’s bark brought me back to the moment. Sitting cross-legged on the wood floor in our hallway, a mixture of scarves and shoes scattered, I gently gave Raggy one last hug. Realizing all I had been through made me the person I am today, and for that, I am grateful. Pressure is a key part of what turns carbon into diamonds. And like a diamond, I will continue to shine.
This article first appeared on Women For One and is featured here with author permission.