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Dad Didn’t Protect Me—But I Forgave Him Anyway

Names have been changed.

When I was little, my dad took care of me while my mom worked. I didn’t know what she did. Sometimes she wouldn’t come home for days, but if I asked where she’d been or what she was doing, she would beat me.

I was their only kid for seven years. My dad treated me well; he took me to the park and we danced and sang. I didn’t really have any friends. When my cousins—on my mom’s side—invited me places, my dad would tell them that I was sick or didn’t want to go. He told me that they were bad kids, part of a gang that he didn’t want me around. So I kept my distance from them.

One day when I was 6, my dad went to the hospital. My aunt was taking care of me, but I was scared and wanted my dad. After he’d been gone for days that felt like years, I asked my mom where my father was, and she burst into tears. She never answered my question.

I stopped talking at school; I sat in a corner away from everyone. Finally, after two months, my dad came back. He had a patch over one eye; he told me the doctors did surgery but couldn’t save his eye. Warning me not to be scared of him, he slowly took off the patch.

His eye looked white, as if there was nothing inside. But I didn’t say anything: I didn’t want him to know it did look scary. He was my dad and I loved him.

At school, kids teased me that my dad looked like a monster. I was bullied after that, and I stopped talking to everyone but my father. My dad took me to therapy, and the therapist told my parents I needed a brother or sister to get me out of my shell. I didn’t understand what they were talking about until my sister Kimberly was born, when I was 7. I loved her and vowed to always look out for her.

A Dark Turn

When I turned 12, my life took a dark turn. My cousin, one of the bad ones, took me to a basement where I was knocked unconscious and violently raped by I don’t know how many people. I woke up sore and bleeding, and a boy I didn’t know told me that I was now
part of their gang. It was the gang my dad had been trying to keep me away from.

The boy sent me home in a cab. My mom opened the door, and I told her what had happened. She just smiled and told me to take a shower and go to bed.

I didn’t understand. I was bruised and bloody all over—why did my mom just smile? My little sister got into bed with me and hugged me, and we fell asleep together. I woke up when I heard my dad yelling my name. My body was still hurting.

My dad ran into the room and hugged me and I started crying again. He hugged me until I fell asleep. After that, I heard him yelling at my mom, asking what was wrong in her head.

Two days later, my mom brought me into a bar. Other young girls were there dancing with older drunk men, who touched the girls in places no one should. It became clear that I had to join them.

My mom ordered me to go to the bar every weekday, and I’d stay until very late. When I tried to hide, they began drugging me so I’d have sex with the men. Before long, I was addicted to cocaine.

Usually I was too tired to go to school. I spent the weekends with my sister and my dad. We never talked about what I was doing, but with the money I had left over after paying all the bills, we bought food and clothes for my sister.

Not the Life I Want

One day a boy I knew from elementary school, Billy, saw me go into the bar. He asked why I was going there, and I got mad and told him to get out my life. But he wouldn’t let it go. He kept showing up at the bar after I was done and riding the train home with me. I told him what was going on, and he asked, “Is this the life you want?”

He inspired me to confront my father. So one day when I got home from the bar, I walked through the door and said, “Hi, Daddy. Can we talk?”

My mom walked in and demanded, “What are you going to tell your father when I’m not here?”

I wanted to lie, but I pulled myself together.

“I want to quit the bar. I want to go to school. I want a future.”

My dad looked surprised and my mom turned red.

“What do you mean?” she asked. “You need to work! Are you crazy?”

I cut her off: “But you could work! You’re not sick, like my father. You’re never home! Why can’t you work? I am not the adult, you two are—”

Then my dad pulled out a knife and held it to my neck. He said, “You are going to work whether you like it or not, OK.”

My heart dropped. I expected threats from my mom but never from my father. That’s when I knew I had to leave. I was only 16 and this wasn’t the life I wanted.

image by YC-Art Dept

Billy had arranged a place for me to live upstate with his cousin. He took me up there, and I got a job in a restaurant. I paid for the things I needed and still sent money to my parents for my sister. Billy asked me to be his girlfriend, and I said yes. Having him believe in me and help me escape the nightmare of the bar opened up the world for me.

Police and Foster Care

My parents took out a PINS (person in need of supervision) warrant on me, calling me a runaway. The police picked me up, and I told them exactly why I’d left my parents’ house. The police took me to the Child Protective Services (CPS) building, and I went into foster care. I told the authorities about the bar and the owners, and the pimps were arrested. I didn’t press any charges against my parents, because…I still don’t know why.

My mother wanted to cut all ties with me. She told others in the family that I’d gotten pregnant and moved to Mexico, where they’re from. One day I got a message from my dad to be at the house in an hour; my mom wasn’t there. He gave me a few bags of clothes, and that’s when I knew my dad wasn’t the bad one but the one who followed.

After a few weeks, I got a home with a foster family. Telling the truth and going into foster care was the best decision of my life. I got a foster mom who listens to me, a foster sister who’s funny, a foster dad who lets his anger out on video games, and a lazy cat who attacks me at night.

After I’d been in care for seven months, my dad called. I could hear he’d been crying.

“Hey Dad, is everything OK?”

“I’ve been a horrible father. I can’t believe how far this went.”

Weak, Not Evil

I’d suspected that my dad had a heart and never wanted to hurt me but was too weak to go against my mom. I had lost so much that I wanted to hang onto this good part of my father I was talking to.

“Daddy, it’s OK, don’t worry. Everyone makes mistakes.”

He started crying, “But no, Mami; I did wrong. I am sorry; I never meant for this to happen. I should have protected you but I didn’t….”

I started to cry, but I wanted to hear everything he had to say, so I pulled myself together. “Daddy, that’s the past, and you can’t change it. But you can make a better future.”

He was silent for several seconds. “Can you forgive me for my mistakes, princess? I will change, I promise.”

My heart stopped. It was like my prayers had been heard and my dad was really going to change for me.

“Daddy, I forgive you. I left that in the past.” As I said it, I felt a big weight lift off my shoulders.

He continued, “I promise I’ll support you in anything, because it’s my time to be the adult.”

I started to cry, and that night I slept like a baby knowing I broke the chain and had my father back.

Not Enough Time

After that conversation, everything changed. My father and I snuck out to see each other and my sister. He called and texted every day to ask about me, and I opened up to him about school and the rest of my life. He came to my parent-teacher conference and encouraged me to do Halloween PJ day, which I felt was childish.

My foster mom knew things were better with my dad. She asked if I would go back and live with him. I put my head down and said no. If my mom were out of the picture, maybe, but I didn’t completely trust him yet either.

When I was 17, I didn’t hear from my father for a week. I was worried enough to text my mom to ask about him. She called me back and said, “I am sorry. I’ve been trying to think of a way to tell you. Your father had a stroke and stopped breathing. Come see him.” I could hear my mom crying, “I don’t know what to do with your sister. I can’t tell her; I just can’t.”

I tried speaking: “I…I…I…I” I dropped to the floor. It felt like I was being stabbed. I hung up and cried. How unfair to lose my father after we’d just made our peace. I cried until I fell asleep that night, and the next day I went to the hospital.

When I entered that room my heart dropped. My father had three tubes down his throat and a bunch of machines connected to him. I ran to him, grabbed his hand, and whispered, “I love you, Daddy.” I told him my sister was on her way, and I read him my poems.

I had to tell my sister, who was only 10. She couldn’t handle seeing him in the hospital. As the days passed, the doctors gave us no hope that my dad would get any better.

Several weeks later, the doctors told us my dad had a bacterial infection in his brain that wasn’t responding to treatment. They gave us the option of taking him off life support. My mother and I called a pastor to come in and pray for my dad. On September 6, my mom, uncle, godfather, grandfather, aunt, cousin, and I gathered around my father as the doctor pulled the cord and took the tubes out. I was crying the whole time and holding on to my mother’s hand.

On September 8, 2016, at 10:38 a.m., my father died. I’m happy that I made peace with him and that he left this world knowing that I forgave him. What he and my mother did to me is terrible, and I am still recovering from being raped and prostituted as a very young girl. But I’m glad he and I got closer before he died. Every day I look at my phone sad because I’ll never get another text or call from my dad. I feel like, if he’d lived longer, my trust for him could have grown. We could have been the father and daughter we both wanted to be.

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