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Through the trees

September 24, 2021

Content warning: This article contains descriptions of child sexual abuse

Nora Sullivan Horner

One day, my sister and I were playing in the woods. I followed after her every step of the way. I was looking for fairies, she was hunting for bugs. It was mid-afternoon when we realized that we couldn’t find our way back home. She panicked, and then I followed. However, at that moment, I thought to myself: “I would be much more afraid if my sister wasn’t beside me.” I looked up at the tall trees that surrounded us, and I thought to myself, “I don’t mind being lost.” I then caught a glimpse of our backyard through the tall trees. My sister had unknowingly led us back home. I remember thinking that I wished we had stayed lost for just a little while longer.

I’m almost 20 now, and I’ve discovered that healing takes a great deal longer than what my younger self allotted time for. I was in survival mode throughout my entire childhood. I was so full of rage, but that feeling kept me alive. Some days I just felt numb, and honestly, that was the most unbearable feeling of all. So, I held onto that rage and fear. Though there were some moments that I experienced true happiness. I felt it when I would sit in the car with my sisters singing a song that we knew every word to. At night, we would sing while my hand hung out of the window. I felt so alive, reaching up to catch the wind and stars. Those moments were fleeting, but I cherished them.

One thing I learned from my abuser was how to hide my true nature. I decided from a young age that I would blaze a path for my own destiny. I used to think that I wouldn’t be able to do that if people found out about the sexual abuse. So, I closed my eyes and bit my tongue, dug my nails into my skin, turned my head and waited until he was done. I did this each and every time. I hid behind being a perfect child. I smiled brightly and laughed often; I was the president of several clubs, and I got straight A’s. I had a goal to get a scholarship and go to a college far, far away. That persona I spent my life developing was a sham, but it was one that kept me afloat.

I’ll never forget the joy I felt when I received my acceptance letter and realized I was going to Maine for college. I had received multiple scholarships and had saved up my own money. The years of planning to escape to school had finally paid off. I grew up in a low-income household, so many nights we had to choose between gas or food since we didn’t have enough money for both. My high school was ranked lower than 89.9 percent of the rest of the schools in Georgia, and despite all of this, I’m here, at Bowdoin College. I look back at where I come from and the experiences I went through, and I’m utterly proud of myself.

I stayed hidden in the dark so that no one would see me. I still hide now, but this is me breaking out of that habit. I want people to see the real me and not just the shell I’ve been walking around in. I’m still cracked and chipped but not shattered. There are moments that the storm calms and the flames die down. There are these special moments—ones I had back then and ones I have now. Back then, when I looked out into the woods at night and saw how the moonlight shone through the leaves, I was at peace. I then went to bed and waited for dawn to come. The only difference is that now, I’m not scared to wake up.

I haven’t made it yet, but I’m not afraid of happiness like I was once before. I’m still living, breathing and healing. But, make no mistake, I will always have that fire raging inside of me. It’s etched into my soul.


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