The Minotaur

by Soleil Ho

By the time I entered high school in 2001, I had developed a nervous tic: Whenever anyone touched the top of my head, I would scream. If the person was a man, it didn’t even have to be the top of my head.

* * *

The Spanish word for “bother” is molestar. For modern English speakers, the different levels of invasiveness suggested by the words make it an odd translation, though we have conflated them at times when the context demanded. In Richard Wright’s short story, “Big Boy Leaves Home,” the titular character’s father interrogates his son after a confrontation with a white married couple turns fatal. “Big Boy, did yuh-all bother her?” he asks, fearful of the mob that would descend upon them at any minute. Centuries of taboos and curiosity and anxieties and dead bodies and acid and tar bundled up in that one word. Once upon a time, it was possible to bother someone with one’s penis.

* * *

Sometime in the early eighteenth century, “bother” and “molest” diverged from their semantic synonymy and struck off on their own, to make their respective fortunes in connoting annoyance and assault. “Bother” became the property of Winnie-the-Pooh; “molest,” of hooded men in dark alleys. When it comes to the latter, we have an array of euphemisms to capture all of its various nuances.Violate.

Dishonor.

Interfere with.

* * *

When I was a grade-schooler in the 90s, kids called it “snatching,” though we didn’t know what that meant, exactly. My friends and I would gather on the fringes of our rooftop recess area and whisper about the costumed ghosts who would snatch stray trick-or-treaters and tuck them under their sheets. My friend Yvonne’s mom had read about it in the New York Post, but when we asked her why the ghost-men were snatching little kids, she couldn’t tell us. Her mom refused to let her go trick-or-treating that year.

* * *

According to the American Psychological Association, ghost-men and their ilk—strangers—account for only ten percent of the child molestations in our country. The other ninety percent have faces we can tie to names, voices, and birthday cards; they don’t have to put on bed sheets to snatch their victims.

* * *

My typical outfit at age nine: sneakers, black leggings, denim dress, barrette.

* * *

The big question posed by David Lynch’s Twin Peaks, a television series that aired in the early 90s, was, “Who killed Laura Palmer?” The question, along with the character’s prom queen portrait, appeared on all of the promotional material leading up to the series’ first airing, priming the audience with a familiar brand of concern and anxiety. We are used to perking our ears up when we hear a beautiful girl has died or gone missing. I have always wondered if people would print milk cartons and fliers with my face if the same thing happened to me.

* * *

I was lying in bed with my boyfriend during our senior year at college when he asked me about my screaming problem. This was during the questioning phase that we all go through in relationships: the deeper getting-to-know-you stuff that comes after you’ve eased into having sex fewer than three times a day. With his help, we had worked to control my violent shrieking so that it was less socially awkward. But it was still a “problem.” Maybe it was rooted in the lack of a stable male role model in my life, I reasoned. My mother was never lucky in love. I thought about her last husband—my ex-stepfather—and recalled his hot breath lingering on my scalp. I stayed quiet, but I felt the familiar pang of being on the precipice of panic.

* * *

To this day, my little sister is convinced that I was our ex-stepfather’s favorite. “You guys could really relate,” she said once. She saw us listening to the Beastie Boys together; playing catch at Jones Beach; separating and trading sections from Newsday every weekend over breakfast. Perhaps the truth would lessen her pain, but I’m not ready to let that seed blossom in her. I’m not ready for what she would make of it all. For now she remains bitter, and I let her enjoy that privilege.

* * *

I must have stashed the memory under one of my mind’s floorboards a long time ago, when I was trying to focus on being twelve years old. But in my haste to put it away, I left some of its artifacts poking through the surface. A snapshot of a strong, yellow arm. The roaring clap of a thunderstorm. The dog-eared card my sister and I prepared to commemorate our mother’s return from a business trip.

A monstrous dream.

My boyfriend’s line of questioning forced me to step back and see how these pieces all fit together.

* * *

The American Psychology Association tells us that the presence of a stepfather in a girl’s home makes her twice as likely to be molested.

* * *

After I woke up from my monstrous dream, my stepfather, shirtless, asked me if I’d slept the whole night through. I nodded, and he laughed as he told me that I had punched him in the groin at around midnight. He put his hand on my shoulder and pressed my flesh like he was gauging the ripeness of a peach at the supermarket. As I ascended the stairs in my oversized Nickelodeon T-shirt, I paused, and the weight of my left foot on a wooden step elicited a loud, groaning creak. My aching, juvenile body didn’t feel like it was my body anymore; it was trying to speak to me, but in a foreign language. I felt the tickle of an invisible finger trailing down my spine, and I shivered.

* * *

We find out in episode seventeen of Twin Peaks that Laura Palmer’s father had molested her since childhood and finally killed her. The police ended up blaming a demonic possession. It sounds farfetched, but the episode ends with the question, “Is it easier to believe a man would rape and murder his own daughter?”

* * *

My typical outfit at age fourteen: orange-tinted sunglasses, men’s cargo pants, Doc Martens boots, Hawaiian shirt, Ace bandages strapped across my torso, flattening my chest.

* * *

Children often serve as mediums for the occult or monstrous in fiction; their vulnerability and the cultural fetishization of their naiveté make them perfect targets for devils and beasts. What better way to engage an adult audience than through fear for a child’s life? The Exorcist would have been relegated to the shadows of cult cinema if Regan MacNeil, the exorcised, were thirty years old, rather than twelve. Long before The Exorcist, in ancient times, King Minos of Crete famously demanded that his monstrous son’s sacrificial victims had to be youths and virgins of noble birth. Maybe the other side of the coin is that this same childish innocence can be thrilling to violate. The world only gets one chance to burst that balloon, so why not be the one with the needle?

* * *

Near the end of Halloween night, a group of us nine-year-old girls dressed in costumes like the Pink Power Ranger, Snow White, and a black cat brought our candy to Yvonne’s apartment. We pooled our haul on the floor of her bedroom, and tried not to bring up all the sights she’d missed.

* * *

As the memories crept out of me, I lifted my head from my boyfriend’s skinny white arm and stared into the darkness of my windowless room. Small things began to make sense: my aversions to touch, and to my own womanhood. My fear of ghosts. I sat up and sobbed into my hands, rocking back and forth on our bed, feeling the faint pressure of my boyfriend’s fingertips on the exposed skin of my lower back. “Why?” I chanted. “Why, why, why?”

* * *

In the summer of 2012, the Reverend Benedict Groeschel, a priest based in New York, addressed the epidemic of child sex abuse among clergy members in an interview with the National Catholic Register. He said, “Suppose you have a man having a nervous breakdown, and a youngster comes after him. A lot of the cases, the youngster—fourteen, sixteen, eighteen—is the seducer.”

I obsess about the mistakes I’ve made in my own life, rotating them in the light as if they were ancient insects in amber. Perhaps I owe my stepfather an apology. I didn’t mean to put him in such a difficult spot.

* * *

In the span of five months in 1984, Terrance Williams killed two men—a sports booster and a church leader—who had sexually abused him since he was thirteen. The jury sentenced him to death. While he sat on death row, his advocates publicized testimony that had been suppressed by the prosecution: Years of sexual abuse by those men and others, which he reportedly endured because he was desperate for paternal affection, had lead him to turn the hurt inside. When he was seventeen years old, he finally broke. (As of this writing, his execution has been delayed in light of the new evidence pertaining to this abuse.)

* * *

Sometimes I look at our old house on Google Maps. And sometimes I search for my ex-stepfather’s name on sites like LinkedIn, a directory of sorts for professionals. I see that he works for a national tween girls’ apparel catalog, and I wonder if I could just walk into their Manhattan office and stalk its cubicle labyrinth—not a far cry from Daedalus’ design—to find my Minotaur at its center. He is “mine” because only he and I have any idea of what happened in that little white house while my mother was away. The secret binds us together.

* * *

The difficult part about confronting something like this is that the credibility of one’s memories can come into question, especially if memory is all you have to work with. Could I have invented the whole incident? Did I dream the shotgun under his bed, or the loud voice that he would use against my mother? Should I have known better? Did I seduce him?

Did I like it?

* * *

That night, I’d dreamt I was standing on top of a wrecked building in New York City, and in my twelve-year-old fancy I have decided that I am a superhero in purple briefs and yellow spandex. My subconscious makes sure to give me a sunset resplendent with layers of peach and red velvet. A monster approaches; it is huge, green, and amoeba-like, armed with rows of sharp teeth in a mouth growing wider and wider. It rises up. I kick, scream a barrage of unintelligible magic words, and the tears come hot and fast. As I leap down from my perch with my fist aimed at the monster’s sweaty forehead, speed lines appear around my body, just like in cartoons, and the impact makes the sound of a shattering window.


 

TheMinotaur_Ho_photo_lgeSoleil Ho is in the running for an MFA in creative nonfiction writing at the University of New Orleans. What she lacks in beauty, intelligence, and charisma, she makes up for in causticity. She is currently participating in a Dungeons & Dragons campaign as a Level 1 Gnome Bard.

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10 thoughts on “The Minotaur

  1. John Schimmel says:

    This is a remarkable piece. I was particularly compelled by the unfairness that the mind buries these events and then torments itself with questions about who the victim really is. Thanks for letting us into this story.

    Like

  2. John Schimmel says:

    This is a remarkable piece. I was particularly compelled by the unfairness that the mind buries these events and then torments itself with questions about who the victim really is. Thanks for letting us into this story.

    Like

  3. Soleil says:

    Hi John! Thanks so much for your generous comments. I’m really grateful to you and everyone else who managed to stomach reading my piece.

    Like

  4. Soleil says:

    Hi John! Thanks so much for your generous comments. I’m really grateful to you and everyone else who managed to stomach reading my piece.

    Like

  5. Ginny Taylor says:

    Truly a well crafted essay on a very difficult subject. I, too, have been the victim of child sexual abuse (over 40 yrs ago), and have found writing about it helpful in conquering my demons. I hope the same is true for you. I would use this essay in a writing class.

    Like

  6. Ginny Taylor says:

    Truly a well crafted essay on a very difficult subject. I, too, have been the victim of child sexual abuse (over 40 yrs ago), and have found writing about it helpful in conquering my demons. I hope the same is true for you. I would use this essay in a writing class.

    Like

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