Every month, PEERS publishes short stories written by Chinese American Action Team member Jean Lee and translated into English by PEERS Staff Veronica Liu.

The views expressed in this story are not necessarily shared or endorsed by PEERS or PEERS staff.

Trigger warning: material in this story may be re-traumatizing to some readers.

Click here for Chinese language version 點擊此處可見中文

Transgenerational Pattern of Sexual Abuse — A Short Story by Jean Lee

There’s a man in his 50’s that comes into the flower shop once a week and purchases one single flower.  Every time I see him he is always wearing a cap, a jacket, and some old blue jeans.  He is a quiet man with a big nose and small eyes.  He comes in, pays for the flower and then leaves.  I was intrigued by the man, so one day I struck up a conversation with him.

“Where were you from?”

“I came from Gillette, Wyoming.”  

“That’s a small town.  Everyone knows one another.” I knew this because, coincidentally, one of my friends, Drizzle, was also from Gillette.

“Yes,” the man said.

“Whoever graduates from college, the newspaper would print his/her name.”

“Yes.”

“Do you know Drizzle Lui?” I asked.

“She is my sister,” he replied.

What a small world!  My jaw dropped.

“She was my college friend,” I said.

I immediately offered him some hot tea since it was a cold day.

“No, but thank you.”

“Thanksgiving is going to be here soon, are you going home?”  

“I am by myself, not going anywhere.”

“Why don’t you come to my house then?”

“Okay,” he said, after a moment.

“I haven’t even asked your name.”

“Peter.”

He smiled and left the shop.

My assistant said, “I am not being a busy body, but he is a little strange.  You don’t know him well enough to invite him to your house, don’t do it!!””

“You don’t know him, how do you know what he’s like?” I said.

“I can tell by his eyes.  My intuition is usually right.”

***

Drizzle was my friend in college.  She had told me before that her parents were not good parents.  I was very conservative at the time, so I didn’t like what she had said about them.  And later, she also said that her father liked to drink and then would spank the her and her brother.

I said to her: “Who doesn’t get spanked when they were little?”

She said, “You don’t understand. When I was in the first grade, it was pouring rain one day. everyone’s parents came to pick up their kids, but mine didn’t come.  I stayed in the classroom until the night janitor came. He said I should go home because it’s dark outside.  So, I had to leave and walk home in the rain, shivering the whole time. When I got in, mom was lying in bed.  I asked her why she didn’t come to pick me up, she said she didn’t want to.”

“Was your mom sick?”

“She’s always sick, and sighing constantly.”

I thought to myself that maybe her mom had depression, which is certainly understandable and forgivable. But because of her negative comments about her parents, and my conservatism at that time, I did not have good feelings towards her and always kept my distance.

***

One evening, Drizzle invited me to do our school work together. We met on campus. She gave me a bag of rolled up canvas for paintings, which I refused to take. She kept asking me to take it and got a little upset when I said no, so I finally accepted it.  

At that time, I had just recently moved to the States: it was not my culture or habit to accept gifts.  

Later, Drizzle invited me to her apartment for dinner.  My boyfriend drove me over but it was dark and we couldn’t find the place, so we just left it at that. I spent the rest of the evening with my boyfriend.  Someday I would like to apologize to Drizzle for never showing up that evening.

***

The next time I saw Peter was on Hanukkah (both Drizzle and Peter are Jewish). Neither one of us mentioned the Thanksgiving dinner invitation.

“Peter, where is your mom now?” I asked.

“I don’t know.”

“How about your father?”

“He passed away, left me $2,000 and I burnt it,” he said.

“May I ask how your sister is?”

“Probably at the same place.”

“Can you please tell Drizzle that I saw you the next time you talk to her?”

“Sure, but she won’t talk to me.  She is not willing to forgive me.”

“For what?”

“Because I had forced myself on her.”

“What did you do?”  I asked boldly.

“It happened when I went to visit her.  I put drugs in her water.”

“Will you do this again in the future?”

“No.”

“When was the last time you saw her?”

“When I finished high school,” he said.

“Oh, I remember now.  Drizzle invited me over, she told me her brother was visiting.  I saw you there, you were very quiet.  Was that the time?”

“Yes.”

“She didn’t tell me what happened,” I said.

“After I graduated from high school, my father bought me a plane ticket to go visit my sister.”

“And later…?”

“I went home, found a job.  And soon after went to college.”

“What was your major?”

“Computer.”

“Did you graduate?”

“Yes, and I found a job in my field.  But I was not able to function.  So I had to leave my job.  I contacted Drizzle and she took me in.  I stayed here in California for a long time, and finally my brother-in-law kicked me out.”

***

Memories, memories… that was the summer when my husband brought me and my two babies to attend Drizzle’s wedding. It was a long drive and it was also a particularly hot day.  After the ceremony, we all went over to Drizzle’s backyard for the reception.  I saw Drizzle’s parents and her older sister.  They were like any other normal families, talking and socializing with the other guests.  But, now that I thought about it, her father and mother looked very solemn. They did not even have a smile for the guests. Peter was not there either.

The phone rang — another customer placing an order for flowers.  I turned around to Peter.

“Peter, I have an order down the street.  Do you mind doing the delivery for me?”

“What do I say?”

“You don’t have to say anything, just delivering it will do.  I will write everything on a piece of paper.”

“Ok, I will try,” he said softly with his head bowed.

“Sure you can.  I will pay you too.” I wrapped up the flowers and placed them in his hands.

“After you delivered them, please come back to see me.”

After 20 minutes, he came back and said he had delivered the flowers.  

“I followed the sign, walked too far, then walked back and found the place.”

“Thank you, Peter.”

“Maybe next time I can try again?”  He asked meekly.

I didn’t answer him right away because I was not sure if it would work out.  After all, this is my business and if something went wrong, I would lose my customers.  

“Peter, what do you do for a living?”

“Oh, the government subsidizes me.  I see my therapist once a month free of charge, and I have a place to live close by.”

“Do you take medication?”

“Yes, free also.  Only a couple of dollars.”

“I will contact Drizzle, anything you want me to tell her?”

“No.”

“Peter, how long have you not seen your mom?”

“I saw her two years ago, she was in Germany.  She sent me a plane ticket and I went .  Saw her at the airport, talked a little, then after an hour, I flew back.”

“Why? What happened?”

“Because she had sexually abused me when I was little.”

I don’t know what he considered sexually abusive behavior. Sometimes a pat on the back can still be misconstrued as sexual abusive conduct.   

***

After Christmas and New Year, I got a hold of Drizzle.  She sounded surprised to hear from me.  It had been years since we were last in touch; the last time she came to see me was the year after I gave birth and fell ill.   

She said, “I can’t come to visit because I don’t like to see you like this. I feel awful.”  I thought to myself: what kind of a friend is this? Staying away when everything is not going well.  I don’t need a friend like that.  After that, we lost touch.  

But now that I knew what had happened to her, her family and background, I felt bad and decided to contact her.  We met on one cool morning.  We hugged and everything was forgotten.  

I said, “Drizzle, I saw your brother.  He comes into the store to buy flowers occasionally.”  She didn’t say anything.  

After a short silence, she said, “My husband told him to leave our house.  At that time, my baby was 3 months old.  He got mad, lost his temper, and refused to go to work.”

“He is getting government subsidized housing, and has delivered flowers for my customers once.  Do you want to see him?”

“Maybe after my daughter leaves for college.  Then I will invite him to my house.”

“Do you want me to relate any messages?”

“Well, if he wants mom’s whereabouts, I have her address.”

“I will let him know.”

“Please be careful.  He is dangerous.”  

Drizzle was very serious when she said that Peter is dangerous.  I didn’t want to ask, but it’s probably because of his drugging her and the abuse that followed, but personally I don’t feel threatened by him at all.

***

After two weeks, Drizzle invited me for an early morning walk. When I saw her, she handed me a package.  

“Inside the bag is Peter’s favorite childhood toy. There’s also $25 cash. Do you mind giving it him?”  I could tell that she still had love for her brother. The only thing I didn’t understand was why he had left his favorite toy at her house. Did she treasure it so much that she had kept it all these years?

***

I hadn’t seen Peter for over a year, but then I ran into him at a support group.  After the group, I looked for him. He looked the same, wearing the same hat, and he still remembered me. “I have gotten old,” he said.  

I always wondered what had happened to him when he was a child, so many questions running through my mind:

Did he progress or did he go backward?

Did his situation stem from when he was still inside his mom’s womb, or did his parents or society influence him? Or was it both?

Was society unable to help him, slowing his progress, or was he just unable to progress? Not willing to grow and advance himself.

Or was it because he had not yet met a therapist that could help him? From graduating from college until now, 50 years old, he had not worked.

***

Peter once told me that he can switch back and forth within his 6 different personalities in an hour.  It’s hard for me to understand.