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A girl sits on rocks during the summer solstice at the Kokino megalithic observatory
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“I got pregnant, and my parents told me I had to marry him.”

“I was sixteen when he raped me.”

Helena Bala
By Helena Bala

This entry is part of a series called Craigslist Confessional. Writer Helena Bala has been meeting people via Craigslist and documenting their stories for nearly two years. Each story is written as it was told to her. Bala says that by listening to their stories, she hopes to bear witness to her subjects’ lives, providing them with an outlet, a judgment-free ear, and a sense of catharsis. By sharing them, she hopes to facilitate acceptance and understanding of issues that are seldom publicly discussed, at the risk of fear, stigma, and ostracism. Read more here. Names and locations have been changed to protect her subjects’ anonymity.

Shelly, 40s, Northeast US

I was sixteen when he raped me. I got pregnant, and my parents told me I had to marry him. My dad was an elder—a leader in our community of Jehovah’s Witnesses—and everything in my life seemed very black and white. I knew what was expected of me, and I knew I had to date and marry someone of the same faith.

I remember that conversation with my father. He told me I should not have put myself in that situation, and that I had to marry Kevin. Abortion was not an option. I was still a Witness at the time, and I believed that if I got an abortion I would go to hell, and there would be no way to redeem myself.

So we went to the courthouse and got married. I stayed for two years, and I got pregnant again. I had my second child, and when she was six months old, I packed up my car in the middle of the night and I drove us all to a homeless women’s shelter. And that was the first time in over two years that I felt I could breathe.

My parents didn’t speak to me. I was excommunicated from our community and forbidden from contacting any members of our church. I was completely alone—all the people I’d ever known and loved had banished me from their lives.

I stayed in the shelter for six months, and then a friend took us in for about a year. My mom and dad reached out to me after that and said that they wanted to be a part of the kids’ lives. We moved in with them, but my dad didn’t speak to me—and hasn’t since. It’s been over fifteen years.

My ex was a very violent man. While we were married, he repeatedly beat me. I’d call my mom and she would take the kids while I went to the hospital. She saw me like that—like a bruised stray animal, scared and in tatters—but she never asked me if I needed help. I put a restraining order against my ex when we were finalizing the divorce, and I guess it wasn’t really a surprise when my mom came forward in court and claimed that she’d seen Kevin molest our oldest child.

Kevin ended up getting supervised visitation, but shortly after the divorce, he completely disappeared from our lives. He hasn’t seen his kids since and obviously that’s for the best. But I never made peace with what my mother said in court: if she did see my ex-husband molesting our son, then why hadn’t she said anything earlier?

Was she lying now? In her twisted world, did she feel that she was finally doing something to help me and my children? On the other hand, she’d seen the way he beat me and she hadn’t said anything about that, either. Was she trying to redeem herself by confessing something that would break open the family that she and my father had insisted upon?

I don’t know. My gut tells me that I don’t trust her. She believes in the Bible above all, yet she turns a blind eye when someone is hurting her daughter—her own blood. This seems so contradictory, so twisted. She told me to stay with Kevin and God would reward me for my pain and suffering when I returned in the new life. But why is it not okay for me to leave someone who hurt me? And why does the Bible trump the welfare of your own child?

It feels like it’s been a lifetime since everything happened. Both of my children have graduated from high school now. I graduated too—I got my GED, then I went to college, and then I put myself through grad school. It seems like I should be a different person, like I should move on. But I can’t—I yearn for my parents to tell me that they were wrong—to acknowledge the effect that their decision had on my life. I yearn for them to see me as their child, and not some foreign object, some pariah.

I could have been so much more. My life could have been so different. I could maybe wake up every morning not feeling that I am broken, that I am unwanted, that I am a victim, that I am less than, that my existence is futile, that I am a liar and a fake… I wonder what it would be like to feel comfortable—to feel that my soul has settled.

I wonder what it’s like to trust people, too. I trust no one. It’s hard to get close to people and to experience joy, but I’ve known nothing different. I think that it’s naïve and gullible to believe that people are good. I don’t think they are—I think people’s morality and goodness is totally circumstantial and mercurial. At the end of the day, I think the only God people serve is the self. And, sadly, “I love you” means nothing to me—they’re just words that are tossed around casually.

And what will my children think of me when I tell them about my past? What will they think of their grandparents? How will they view the world when something they’d taken for granted—that they were the product of a consensual relationship—turns into the ugly truth? I don’t know what that does to young children, and I don’t know how it disfigures their future. But I know that I don’t want to do to my kids what my parents did to me—I don’t want to be the reason for my children’s unhappiness.