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An open letter to Dylan Farrow

February 5, 2014

I’m writing this as ice pebbles hit my window, just days after you wrote an open letter about being molested by Woody Allen, and the firestorm your letter ignited. The events of the past few days triggered so much in me that I had to write this letter, to say I’m sorry and thank you.

I can’t imagine how terribly traumatic it’s been for you to watch your predator get away with what he did and go on to receive accolades and notoriety. I can’t imagine how heinous it must feel to be attacked, your motives and integrity questioned so viciously. I can’t imagine how painful it is to watch your abuser be defended tooth and fucking nail by people who co-sign this horrid rape culture. I’m sorry because though I can’t imagine how that feels, I do know what it’s like to be molested and to be silent about it, and I need you to know that your coming out about what happened to you does matter and is making a difference.

I was six when I was molested. The old man who abused me was named Valentín. He’s dead now and I hope he’s frying in a vat of boiling oil in the darkest pit of hell. I remember his cavernous mouth and the white hair that sprung wildly from his head and ears and on his forearms and chest. He lured me to his next door apartment using a bag of turrón, white nougat with pistachios and almonds. I trusted him because he was my second mom Millie’s uncle. Nobody told me what some men do.

But that evening, in my sixth year of life, as I sat in the tub reliving what he’d done to me, I understood why Mommy lectured me and my sister about wearing shorts under our skirts and dresses, buttoning our blouses all the way up, and sitting with our legs crossed at the ankles. I understood why Mom beat me that time I’d lingered on Tio Damian’s lap, ignoring her dagger eyes. She caught me in the shower that night and lashed me so hard with her thick leather belt that the Ho from the “Honduras” embossing was imprinted on my thigh for days. “I don’t ever want to see you on a man’s lap again,” she yelled, but she didn’t explain why. That day, after Valentín touched me, I regretted not listening.

I lay in the tub and let the hot water run until it singed. I wished Mom had saved me the need to learn the why for myself. I wished she’d told me about what some men do. I wished I’d listened. It was my fault. I was dirty and disobedient and needed to be punished. I started scratching my inner thigh first, then I moved up. I clawed until I bled and every time I peed, the sting was a reminder of my crime.

I mutilated for months, even after Valentín moved back to Puerto Rico. I never got close enough for him to touch me again. 

I saw him again when I was fifteen. Mom, Millie and I traveled to Puerto Rico in the summer before my junior year in high school. I was sleeping in the backseat of the beat up Pontiac when I looked up and there he was, looking as decrepit as ever. His shoulders drooped just a little further and his wrinkles were impossibly deeper. Millie peered into my window, “You remember him?” I shook my head, but when he leaned over and smiled his toothless grin, I shrank away feeling just as helpless as I had that day so many years before.  

I didn’t look in his direction again until we were pulling away. My eyes were drawn to a little girl standing in the doorway of his house. She looked to be about six or seven. She wore a flimsy lilac dress, her brown hair hung in limp wisps to her shoulders. She was olive skinned and her eyes were a dull gray that held a sadness I knew far too well. Valentín put his loose skinned arm around her shoulder and pulled her close so her head rubbed on the bottom of his yellowing guayabera. My chest seized. I knew he was doing to her what he’d done to me. I wanted to jump out of the car and take her away from that monster, where she would be safe. Instead, I buried my face in the leather of the backseat and bit down on my tongue. That night, I mutilated to the symphony of coquis and the shuffling of lagartijos on the tin roof as Mom and Millie slept in the next room.

When I finally told Millie about what her uncle did to me, I was thirty and she was on her deathbed. The first thing she said was, “You could never tell your mother that.” More silence. More protection of everyone but that six year old girl I was. It was only three years ago, when I was thirty five that I realized it wasn’t my fault. My daughter was six and I was watching her run around the playground. I commented to a friend that she was growing up so fast. “But she’s still my little girl,” I said. And that’s when it hit me like a swift slap to the face and I understood why I’d been having flashbacks and nightmares about Valentín. I was a little girl when that bastard molested me. It wasn’t my fault. I’d been blaming myself for twenty nine years for what that desgraciado did to me when I was just six. It wasn’t your fault either, Dylan.

It wasn’t your fault then, and it isn’t your fault now.

Fuck those people who defend the bastard that did that to you. Fuck those people who knew and stayed quiet. Fuck those people who tried to silence you. Thank you for not being silent. Thank you for reminding us that no matter what, it is never too late to tell our stories and out a fucking pervert.  You are a source of inspiration for so many who were sexually abused. You are brave. You were the victim and in telling your story, you took back your power. Thank you. In doing so, you gave so many reason to do the same. 

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3 Comments
  1. Cyn Huddleston permalink

    Vanessa, Thanks for giving your words for those who cannot speak or write. I am told over and over that it is helpful when someone shares what they can’t yet. Every time a person who was offended against gives daylight and air to the story, it breathes hope and strength to others. Secrets are where sexual abuse thrives. It can’t live in daylight. Thanks again. Cyn

    • Thank you for reading and commenting, Cyn. It’s never easy to write these terrible things that happen to us, but each time we do, a bit of the sting fades and we’re given respite from our pain. Hugs!

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