Thursday, February 7, 2013

Coming out of the Woods

Recent events led to this letter. I have rarely talked about this incident. I am doing so now in the hope that it helps someone, somewhere. After forty-four years, this was a long time coming.

To my molester:
When I was seven years old, a group of you took me to the woods and molested me. Your deeds were discovered, but not because I told. I remembered the threats, so I kept quiet, but I wasn’t your only victim and you were all eventually found to be molesting more than one of the youngsters in our neighborhood. “Young adolescent boys being boys,” they said. “Don’t talk about it,” they said. “You must have done something,” they said. And in typical 1960’s fashion, the stain was covered with an area rug, like the spot where Uncle Joe spilled the wine at Christmas. If it couldn’t be seen, then it never really happened.
To my credit, even though I felt like damaged goods in my parents’ eyes, I instinctually did what it takes some victims years of therapy to accomplish. I moved on with my life and never really gave the incident much thought. Sometimes I would wonder why I didn’t think about it, why I was able to dismiss those memories completely. To this day, I only remember walking in the woods and the aftermath of the discovery of what happened under those tall pine trees. That’s really the part that sticks out, the aftermath, the shaming.
See, it wasn’t what you did that hung around for years. You were all a bunch of sick, stupid teenage boys, who should have received what was coming to you, but you didn’t. Back then the shame brought to the victims’ families overwhelmed any need to get justice for them. So, “the boys” skipped away free, while the victims carried the burden of “keeping the family secret.” It was never discussed again, NEVER. That is until I came out of the closet.
My mother wanted someone to blame for my being a lesbian. Guess what, she blames you. I find that amusing. Being a lesbian is the one true thing I do know about myself. It has nothing to do with “man hating” or the trauma experienced by a seven-year-old-girl. I loved several boys and later men, married, divorced, and raised an exemplary young man. I simply found my soul mate in a woman, and discovered the missing link in my life. Really, my mother gives you way too much credit, and I certainly give you none for the best thing that ever happened to me. Finding me had absolutely nothing to do with you.
Still, my mother cannot let go of the blame game. She has to have a reason for her daughter being a lesbian. It certainly can’t be something natural, there must be an explanation, and it can’t come back on her. So, for more than twenty years, since discovering I was gay, she has searched for answers and finds them in blaming you. She runs into some of you from time to time. She likes to call and tell me when she does. Now, the thing we NEVER talked about is her obsession. She wants me to be angry. She wants me to walk into your offices and let fly with the accusations. (By the way, I see you still run in a pack, with a few exceptions. Nice political positions some of you have, too. Sure would be a shame for people to know what you did. That next election or political appointment might be hard to pull off.) Besides the fact that the statute of limitations ran out years ago, I think it’s just too little too late.
The time for marching up courthouse steps was forty-four years ago, when standing up for a little girl’s dignity would have meant something. Fortunately, that little girl stood up for herself. I don’t give a rat’s ass who you are and what you’ve become. I did just fine, and never give you a passing thought, until my mother calls with another sighting. I look back now and know that the thing that affected me the most was not what was done to my body, but what was done to my self-image by those who let me think I was damaged goods. What you did, well, I hope you can live with that. What the people that were supposed to help me during the aftermath did, well, I hope they can live with that too. What I did, learning to depend on me and only me, I most certainly can live with that.
My father apologized to me, just three years ago. He’s had time to think about how the incident was handled. He’s very sorry, now. I just told him, “No big deal,” and walked away. See, the time to have talked about it passed long ago. The little incident you experienced with my mother the other day, her innuendo in front of your wife and kids that she knew your deepest secrets, the way you flushed white and the joy it gave her – I get no pleasure from that. It makes her feel better to call you out now. I would have preferred she called you out forty-four years ago, when it mattered. You don’t matter at all to me now.
So why am I writing this to you? Because somewhere somebody will read this and think twice before telling a child, “Don’t talk about it.” Maybe they will see that the trauma to the body is a passing thing. The trauma to the mind is not, and that emotional trauma is multiplied when you shame the victim. Maybe someone will step up and be a child’s hero, remind them that they’re worthy of love, and this bad thing that happened, it wasn’t their fault. Maybe someone will realize that being molested as a child can be overcome more readily than the aftermath of accusations and denial.
I’m going to tell my mother to leave you alone. I’m going to tell her that this attempt to blame someone for my sexuality is ludicrous. I will tell her that your demons are yours to deal with, and hers she needs to own. The trip to the woods did not damage me as much as she’d like to think. The shaming in my own home was worse. Have a good rest of your life. I know it’s getting down to the wire for you. Make your peace. I have.
I am not your victim, I am a survivor.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Duct Tape Can Mend a Broken Heart

I live just off of a major thoroughfare, several actually. Occasionally, one of the homeless people that live under the overpass will stroll through the neighborhood. There is a dead end street, about a block from here, with a few good places to “live,” so we see them often. Never have any trouble and they are rather like neighborhood folk, they just live outdoors. If you live in a city, then you know these people. We do what we can, when we can; give to the soup kitchen, and help out in other ways, but it always tugs at my heart to see someone struggling.
Today, I was writing on my laptop in my warm and cozy home, drinking Starbucks coffee, listening to music, a life is good kind of day. I am jarred from editing the same sentence ten times by the sound of something crashing outside. It wasn’t a loud sound, more like something was dropped on the street beside my house. I live on the corner, so I hear all the street noise. It wasn’t the sound that made me stand up. It was the stream of screamed obscenities that followed it.
My dog jumped up beside me and we both listened, as a man yelled out one expletive after another, raving mad. I slipped to the back door and peeked out. I see an obviously homeless man righting one of the three wagons he has trained together. He is so caught up in his raving that he doesn’t notice when my dog pushes out the door. Buddy, my male dog that would eat someone before he would let them near me, growled low and then pushed back in the house. No barking, just a whine, like, “Mom, that man is all kinds of crazy.” I agreed.
Part of me wanted to ask if he needed help, and before all of you write in about what a heartless person I am for not doing so, this guy was on another planet, completely lost in his rage. I am alone at home with a dog that thinks it’s better if we just let the man be. His ranting went on for fifteen minutes, while he tore through every bag he had neatly packed into his wagons. I know, because I stood in the bedroom and peered through the blinds.
My heart was breaking for this man and I took a step toward the door several times, but his demeanor was quite frankly very scary. I also thought about calling the police, but then he was just in the street, voicing his displeasure loudly. Was that against the law? Hell, I’ve had a bad day and cursed the Gods, so why was he any different. Granted, my outbursts were usually alone in the car, with no one to hear my rant. But then, I had a car to rant in. This guy had three wagons.
When I thought he may have been having a genuine meltdown, and was possibly in need of immediate mental health intervention, he found what he was searching the bags for. He stopped ranting immediately, and then knelt down on the road by the wagon that had fallen over. That’s when I saw the source of his rage and I my heart ached for him.
Ever so gently, he lifted a radio from the street. It was a little red plastic boom box and obviously his most precious possession. It had fallen, breaking the door to the battery enclosure and the casing was cracked off one end. I watched as he tore strips of tape and tenderly repaired his treasure. That radio was his connection to the world and his world was in chaos for the time it was in disrepair, but as he lovingly reassembled it, I saw his demeanor change. When he turned it on and I heard music begin to play, I rejoiced with him, as his shoulders straightened out of their slump and his spine grew erect. A defeated man turned victorious, it was a sight to behold.
I watched as he reloaded his wagons, smiling now, and then moved on his way. I was struck by the magnitude of loss, when it is put in perspective. A devastation to one may be a mere inconvenience to another. A broken radio might not seem like the end of the world to most of us, but to this man, it was his world.  Watching him walk away with a smile on his face and a spring in his step – well, I was smiling too. He was victorious over fate today, and though he lost his mind there for a bit, he recovered and saved his precious possession. Two lessons learned: 1. The loss of something trivial to one could be a life altering devastation to another. Respect that.  2. When things look the bleakest, a little rant may help, but always carry duct tape in your wagon. It can mend a broken heart.