In a powerful essay published in The New Yorker, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Junot Díaz shared his painful and difficult story of rape he experienced in his childhood and how it impacted him throughout his adolescence and adulthood.
Published online Monday, the emotional, first-person essay explores how Díaz experienced depression, rage and suicide attempts in his childhood, how he grappled with intimacy issues in his relationships and how the traumatic experience impacted his writing.
While grappling with these issues, Díaz wrote, he wore a “mask of normalcy” to protect him, telling no one about his experience. Later in his life, however, he began to tell his partners, friends and family.
And, with this essay, he shared his experience publicly:
Yes, it happened to me.
I was raped when I was eight years old. By a grownup that I truly trusted.
After he raped me, he told me I had to return the next day or I would be “in trouble.”
And because I was terrified, and confused, I went back the next day and was raped again.
I never told anyone what happened, but today I’m telling you.
And anyone else who cares to listen.
Díaz, a Dominican-American writer, is professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2008 for his novel The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.
The traumatic experience, as Díaz wrote, altered his entire life, causing him to bite his tongue in his sleep due to nightmares, fall behind in school and attempt suicide. “It f—ed up my childhood. It f—ed up my adolescence. It f—ed up my whole life,” Díaz wrote. “More than being Dominican, more than being an immigrant, more, even, than being of African descent, my rape defined me.”
“The kid before—hard to remember,” Díaz continued. “Trauma is a time traveller, an ouroboros that reaches back and devours everything that came before. Only fragments remain.”
Díaz wrote that it wasn’t until he hit rock bottom in his adulthood that he sought help and began seeing a therapist, beginning a years-long healing process. “After long struggle and many setbacks, my therapist slowly got me to put aside my mask,” he wrote. “Not forever, but long enough for me to breathe, to live.”
You can read Díaz’s full essay online here or in the April 16 issue of The New Yorker.