How do I begin? I’ve been considering (and reconsidering) telling this story. Perhaps you are wondering, “What for? Shouldn’t the past stay in the past?”
To some people, I wish it were that easy. Years after that, it still haunts me.
When Grandma passed away, Grandpa was very depressed. In fact, he had been depressed when she was still ailing. Since he was living alone in his big house and also unwell, we needed more than a housemaid. A family member (or two, at least) had to stay there and look after him.
Wanting to be a good girl, I said okay when my mother asked me and my siblings to stay there and look after Grandpa. At least we took turns in two: sometimes it would be my siblings or me with either one of them there.
That ‘Fateful’ Night
At first, everything was alright. I had been in that house since I was little. Grandpa (and Grandma) had always been kind and loving to all of their grandkids, no exception. It was rather sad to see that none of my cousins had stepped forward to take turns with us.
I started noticing something strange when the nurse who had looked after Grandpa seemed afraid. The first night after Grandma’s funeral, I was in Grandpa’s room with her while Grandpa was asleep. When I excused myself to the bathroom, she suddenly grabbed my arm and pleaded, “Mbak, saya jangan ditinggal sendiri!” (Sis, don’t leave me alone!)
Even when I assured her I would not be long, she refused to let go. I had to wait until she calmed down and then promised her again. Despite keeping my word that night, I sensed her oddity.
I found the answer behind why all the housemaids and nurses had resigned early one night. Since I was still unemployed despite being in my twenties, I had mostly stayed there and rarely gone out. I was busy reading while Grandpa was watching TV, when suddenly he turned to me.
“You can read in my room,” he offered. He looked so tired and I assumed he was ready for bed, so I shook my head.
“I’m okay here,” I replied.
He went silent for a moment, staring at the TV screen. Minutes passed before he offered the same thing again. Again, I declined. This time, my gut feeling warned me. He could still walk properly, but why did he suddenly want me alone with him in his bedroom?
The third time, he offered the same thing. This time, it felt more like an order. When I gave him the same answer, he suddenly exploded with rage as he stood up.
“I just want some company, that’s all!”
Grandpa staggered into his bedroom and slammed the door behind him. I was too shocked to respond for a while. Then I rushed into the guest room, closed the door, and cried silently. Not only that, I automatically locked the door. Because of that, I had to stay awake, waiting for my sister to return. When she did, she wondered why I had locked the bedroom door.
“What’s wrong with you?” I said nothing. Despite not being alone again, I still did not feel safe. I was restless that night.
The next day, everything looked normal. Grandpa greeted us as always. For a while, I wanted to believe it had been just a weird, scary dream. When my sister left for work, fear started creeping in again. I avoided too much contact with him and decided to spend more time in the guest room or outdoor.
Everybody wondered about my drastic change of behaviour, because I started hating being there. I did not know how to tell them until one night, when it was my aunt’s turn to be there, something scarier happened. Grandpa had forcefully kissed her mouth, so she ran off home!
The next day, the whole family was in an uproar. My aunt told my mother and their other siblings about what had happened. My youngest aunt started crying hysterically, claiming it was impossible. Once everybody learned the harsh truth, she was crying even harder in anger.
“What was he thinking? He’s an old man!”
“He can still function,” my mother reasoned, trying to remain calm since she was the eldest daughter.
That was also how we all learned why all housemaids and nurses had resigned. When asked about that night, Grandpa only claimed that he had been sleepwalking, thinking my aunt had been Grandma. Of course that was a lie.
All the while, I had stood there listening with my head down. Realising that, my mother turned to me and asked, “Are you okay?”
I could not take it anymore; I burst in tears. I finally told them what had almost happened to me and they all gasped. My mother patted my shoulder awkwardly, but she put two and two together and understood.
My whole relationship with Grandpa had changed since that night. I could not look at him the same way again until the day he passed away, even when I was actually luckier than my aunt. Eventually, I was excused from the duty with a promise not to tell a soul outside our family. They finally hired a couple – husband and wife – for it.
I often hear victims of sexual violence blamed for not fighting back or speaking out. They think it is that easy – and the predator cannot possibly be in the family. The truth is it could be someone you know...and your family might want you to keep quiet about it. In the name of ‘family honour’ and because it’s a major taboo they think you should.
I am not writing this to disclose my family’s shame. Consider this another example why it is never that easy. I even had to change my name in this story.
"Adia" is an aspiring writer, seeing and knowing too much for her own good - according to some people. She loves cats, eating chocolate, and listening to classic rock. She currently lives in the central part of the big capital city.