TRIGGER WARNING: This article deals with an account of rape and may be triggering for survivors.
I was only a child when my fixation with creating the perfect picture began. I would watch as my father, a freelance photographer, created works of art out of imperfect people through still photos. At thirteen, I’d wanted to have my own portraits taken.
One Saturday, while my mother was at work, my father set up the photo shoot in our dining room, took a few pictures of me and called it a success. Then he said extra shots were needed in his bedroom. Then he raped me.
A week later, I told my mother what my father had done to me and she confronted him. He denied it at first but later confessed. The three of us went to see a therapist together and she concluded that my father was sorry, he would not hurt me again and that keeping our household “stable” was the best way for us to heal. Afraid to be alone, my mother agreed. So we continued to live together as one of the few nuclear African American families in our neighborhood–a pretty picture.
I soon became obsessed with capturing beautiful images on film—never scenery, just people. Good times with friends weren’t real unless I had a photo to prove it. I took rolls and rolls of pictures, developed them, assembled them and put them on permanent display in a photo album by month, year and occasion, with their corresponding negatives in plastic sleeves. Things were normal. I had the proof.
I was sixteen when my father tried again. All of my friends were getting their driver’s licenses and I wanted one too, so when he caught me in my towel on the way to the bathroom, he bargained with me. “Just leave the door cracked when you shower. I want to watch you while you lather up. Then I’ll let you practice driving in my pickup truck.”
I charged at him with the intent to kill, but my towel fell down. Afraid of him seeing me, I ran to my room hysterically crying, locked the door and called a friend to come get me. When my mother returned from work and asked me what happened, my friend said, “He tried it again and she’s leaving with me.” I left home for three months, only returning for clothes every couple of weeks.