The song “She Thinks My Tractor’s Sexy” always made me physically ill. It was easy enough to dismiss it as just hating sell-out schlock country. But I didn’t hate it in the way that I hated, for example, the Toby Keith song “Who’s Your Daddy?” which was by any objective measure much worse. I got really anxious and felt something at the pit of my stomach. I never knew why.
When I was six I loved tractors. I loved the woods, I loved trails. The idea of riding a tractor through wooden trails was as close to heaven as could be reasonably obtained for the white trash six year old me. When I was seven that all changed. I didn’t grow out of liking tractors in the way that I grew out of liking GI Joes. It was taken from me by a very sick man.
My step grandfather was a mean spirited alcoholic. As far as I know he had no friends, and most of his family had disowned him. As far as I could ever tell my grandmother just tolerated him, for some unknown reason. I can’t picture what his face looks like any more, thankfully. All I can remember is that he wore glasses, a metal stretch band watch, what would now be called a trucker hat, that he had a beer gut and a back brace from an accident at work before I was born.
He was also a child molester.
Because my mom was a drug addict and my dad had to constantly move around, as his profession was in the large plant construction field, I ended up living with lots of different family throughout my early life. I’d spend a couple of years with one set of grand parents, then a couple of years with my dad, then a couple years with another set of grandparents, then a few years with my aunt and uncle. I guess looking back all this made me “at risk” or something.
I remember the first time it happened, he asked me if I wanted to go on a tractor ride to pick up some hay for the goats. It was a blue Ford tractor with enormous white back wheels. It sorta reminded me of Big Foot, a monster truck I was obsessed with as a kid. My grandparents lived on a small farm, though I have no idea if it ever actually made any money of any sort. I was too young to really understand any of this, but I believe they mostly lived off a settlement he had gotten from injuring his back at work years before.
The ride there was uneventful. He drank an entire six pack of Milwaukee’s Best over the course of the twenty minute tractor ride. He offered me some sips and I took them. I wouldn’t say that I had liked him before, though I didn’t necessarily hate him, but at this moment this was the closest I had ever come to liking him.
We stopped at a barn to hook up the trailer that would carry the hay, or something. He asked me if I knew that women made milk. I said that I was aware of that, for feeding their kids. He told me that men made milk too.
Luckily I remember very few of the actual acts. But I remember coming home after that. I felt scared, and I felt dirty. I jumped in the shower. He had drank another six pack of beer on the way back and was drunk at this point. He got angry that I was “using all the damn hot water” and went under the house and turned off all the water. I stood in the shower freezing, with shampoo burning in my eyes that I couldn’t wash out. I have no idea how long I stood there like that, but regardless of whether the actual measured passage of time was a few seconds or several hours, it was an eternity.
At some point it got easier. I started to think it was normal. I knew he was sick, but I was a people pleaser by nature and I really didn’t think I had any other options anyway. It still made me feel sick. But for the time being eight year old me coped.
This lasted for about two years. Then my grandmother died. My grandmother, along with my aunt, were the two most significant figures in my life and losing one of them was absolutely devastating. I’d cry for hours on end. I’d never hug her worn soft gowns, never eat her perfect biscuits again. But at some point I realized that this meant that my dad would be moving back and that I’d never see my step grandfather again. A wave of relief flooded over me the minute I realized that. It was in Wal-Mart. I was holding a Ninja Turtle action figure. My dad told me I could have it. I felt enormous guilt for being relieved that my grandmother had died, but I did.
Things didn’t end there though. That’s the problem with sexual abuse, the actual act is only the beginning. As a nine year old I began to wonder if I was gay. There was a girl in the trailer park I lived in that was pretty and, looking back I’m pretty sure was also sexually abused. She’d find magazines that her mom and dad left out. We’d go out into the woods and copy them. Thankfully they were relatively soft core, as evidenced by the fact that for a while I thought sex was rubbing stomachs together. We had a lot of oral sex. I guess I liked it. I liked her, she was pretty and made me feel good about myself. But mostly it made me feel not gay. My dad caught me with her once and it was probably the worst trouble I ever got in. But I didn’t care, she wanted me physically, which to me having her desire me was more important than any actual physical enjoyment I might have taken out of it. I was nine.
As seventh grade approached, physical, temporal and emotional distance had grown to the point where when I thought about it at all, I wondered if it had ever really happened. I remembered hearing about how memories could be implanted, especially false memories of sexual abuse. For some reason this comforted me. My dad had to go to work in Indiana, and I moved in with a different set of grandparents in a different city, as my dad didn’t want me moving around all over the country as he changed job sites every 4-5 months.
Seventh grade was a period of adjustment, all of the kids there had known each other for years; social structures were in place and I was the new kid. I made friends in my new neighborhood pretty easily, but there weren’t really any girls in my neighborhood my age. As a seventh grader, not having a sexual relationship with a girl made me doubt my sexuality at times. The girls in my class, like all seventh graders, were worried about popularity and new guys weren’t popular. The bizarre part is that I never felt remotely attracted to any guy, but simply not having a sexual relationship with a girl was enough to make me wonder about myself.
In ninth grade, just as I was starting to become moderately popular, and girls were showing interest in me, we moved again. My grandparents moved into a much nicer house, in a much nicer neighborhood, in a much nicer school system. It sucked for me, for the most part I hated all the kids there. Luckily I lived directly next to the school, and could walk, so nobody knew that my grandparents drove a used minivan. Everybody else was being dropped off in BMWs.
Again, doubts about my sexuality crept up, again for no reason other than not having sex. Towards the end of the year, one of the prettier girls started to, inexplicably, like me out of nowhere. We both walked a similar route for the first part of the walk home and we ended up walking through the woods together a lot. There was a large pipe that spanned a creek that could cut your walk time down a lot. She was scared to cross it, and I’d hold her hand as she crossed it. On the last day of school in ninth grade she kissed me after we crossed it. I felt okay again. I moved out of my grandparents house and in with my aunt and uncle the next week.
I made friends more easily at my new school, but again tenth grade was mostly a lost year of reestablishing myself in the social structure of the school. There were girls who thought I was cute, but for a while I was off limits for any of the popular girls, simply because nobody knew who I was.
As eleventh grade approached, I was more popular and parties and alcohol also entered the picture. No longer were my sexual longings weird, but now more par for the course. Almost every person at my high school went to one of two large churches that were literally across the street from each other, competing with each other for dominance over the town. It was considered a major slap in the face when one church bought land on the other church’s side of the road, the ultimate showboating of victory. I went to neither of these churches.
In a lot of ways this made me something of an outsider, especially combined with only having went to the school for a year, whereas most of these kids had been together since elementary school and went to church together on sundays. The preaching of no alcohol and abstinence only made a lot of young kids rebel, and we’d all have parties in the woods, under the power lines.
And that’s when things started to get really weird. Because sex for me had always been much more about the girl’s desire for me, a bunch of drunk girls just wanting to secretly rebel against their parents was literally disgusting. Not in that I was disgusted by them, I cared very deeply for most of them, as they were my friends, but the whole idea made me feel literally sick to my stomach. And it all came to a head one night under the power lines when an old man in a blue Ford tractor drove up and ran us off his land.
It wasn’t him, he was dead, but for all the world I felt every ounce of fear, anxiety and a million other as yet unnamed feelings when he drove up to shoo us away. I had an urge to throw a beer can at him. The girl I was with saw it and stopped me, thank God, as jail would have been ugly. I didn’t even know why I felt that way. I didn’t make the connection until years later.
I broke down for about a week, and nobody else knew it, I didn’t even know it. I thought I was just scared because I almost got caught drinking. I had been caught drinking before and nothing happened at all. A dead man’s actions nine years prior were controlling large swaths of my life, and at the time I still didn’t know it.
Sexual abuse is an STD, and it’s incurable. You never get past it, you only maybe get better at coping with it. And outbreaks happen. Just this week I had an outbreak. I was completely non-functional for two entire days, couldn’t eat or sleep, and betrayed the trust of my best friend. I was angry when I shouldn’t be, I was ashamed of things I shouldn’t be. And this will never completely go away.
Sexual abuse takes things away from you as well. Who the fuck gives a shit about tractors, but I’m mad as hell that they’ve been taken from me. I’m mad as hell that barns make me feel anxious. And I’m enraged that every sexual drought I have makes me doubt my sexuality, no matter how absurd I logically know that is.
And that’s okay. It’s not okay that it happens, but it’s okay that I’m broken and will never be completely fixed, because, well, there isn’t any other option, and I’m damn sure not letting him beat me. I’m going to survive and do my best to help others facing this, and to do everything I can to prevent this from happening to kids in the future.
But mostly I’m going to try to survive and do right. I’ll probably never be able to listen to “She Thinks My Tractor’s Sexy” or see a blue Ford tractor, but I guess that’s okay; John Deere tractors are more ubiquitous and John Deere Green is a better song anyway.