My writing Don’t Tell. No, Tell was unexpected.
The content of this blog speaks frankly to abuse and may be triggering.
Let’s have at it. If it didn’t happen to you, it did happen to someones you know. And yes, that is plural – more than one someone.
Likely it happened in your teens. But also likely that you were a preteen. Or younger. Or older.
And highly likely you never told anyone about the assault. Maybe you didn’t want to call it an assault. You didn’t want to call it anything. Safer that way: if you didn’t name it, it didn’t
happen . . .
Also likely, you were assaulted more than once and possibly by more than one assailant. Victims who don’t seek help often find themselves in the same similar, horrible situations. Déjà vu: familiar storyline, different characters.
Whether you shut it out of your memory for years or decades and found yourself triggered by a recent event – the news, your own child turning “that age”, a colleague or friend deciding to unexpectedly “confide” in you; or whether you have lived with the silence, the fear, the shame, the guilt, the confusion and you hoped never to speak of it. Ever. No matter your “whether”, it haunts you in inexplicable ways.
Maybe you wondered who would believe you. Maybe you questioned whether you were just as much to blame – or more so. Maybe you believed that “nothing” really happened because everyone gets bullied, felt up, yelled at, punched, touched in inappropriate ways. Maybe you were threatened.
I know all that. Personally. I was sure that I was to blame. That I did something to make it happen. That I did something to make it NOT stop happening. That my not telling anyone was a sign of my fear of my assailant who claimed he would inflict harm on those I loved; but also that my silence was a sign of my weakness and my manipulated thinking that I actually liked or deserved the abuse. Such assaults involve a cleverly planned redesign of facts and truths that amount to total control by one and total fear by the other. And assailants are infamous for their mastery of these mind games.
I was at the top of my class in school and I was failing life. And no one knew. I was that good at keeping silent; he was that good at making sure the rules were clear. There was no class in combating the mind games of an assailant.
And then I discovered that he was torturing other girls . . .
Only then did I escape my own torture – this time. I tried to save one other girl but she refused in fear; she was in too deep. And I never told anyone else. I couldn’t speak it – there would be consequences for her.
I have lived with the shame of what happened to me. And I have lived with the shame of not telling anyone then, since, and now. And I have lived with the shame of what that silence has undoubtedly meant to so many others he was abusing then and those he would go on to abuse.
Those of us who live with a history of abuse often choose to stay silent. That kind of fear and shame does not suddenly find a voice of strength and courage against the masses of support and love that the perpetrator has created for their public persona. We know who we’re up against. We know it will be “I said vs they said”. There is rarely evidence. Not months, years, decades later.
Some victims suicide. (I considered it often.)
Others experience a lifetime of depression and/or PTSD. (I know.)
Some choose addictions or self-harm for reasons they may know but will never divulge in order to numb what happened. (I understand.)
Decades-old death threats (even in the face of today’s logic) do not simply dissipate into a shrug of “how could I have ever believed that I – or the people I loved – would ever be harmed?” Sometimes, there was blatant proof of what the assailant would and could do. But rarely does a victim need proof. The threat is enough.
I needed to check my reality recently. There has been so much news that I can’t seem to escape and so much internal confusion to keep the past from being my present. I asked a friend if it was any different for him having been severely and repeatedly bullied decades ago from grade school through high school. He told nobody then because he knew of no one to tell who wouldn’t make his situation worse. His silence to this day remains his shame. And his voice today drops to a hissed, angry whisper when he speaks of the time that perhaps now explains his lack of self-esteem as well as the other demons he battles. He is an abused man, wounded decades ago and still bandaging those same wounds today but there is not enough antiseptic to cleanse the shame.
I listened to his low growl and realized that I hadn’t understood how far-reaching “assault” can be defined and how, no matter the method, the repercussions remain the same. In fact, I once dared use that 4-letter R-word (I have difficulty saying and writing it) and someone asked me to explain what I meant in detail – insinuating that I may have misunderstood the meaning, that I didn’t know. I suddenly realized that they didn’t know.
If I reported my assailants today – because yes, I was one who fell into the pattern that confused a lack of self worth with deserving more abuse –, it would be simple for each of them to find hundreds of people to stand up for them, to confirm their outstanding characters.
I am certain that every recently accused priest would also have a crowd of at least 65 parishioners who would attest to their good name – 65 being today’s magical number, at least for Brett Kavanaugh.
Serial assailants live in a world where they are often revered. And they prey on those whose silence they can easily coerce. Whether it was a single event or years of continued abuse, they can bank on their victim’s inability to speak even as the assailant’s “other” community surrounds them with adoration. Their status means they can abuse with impunity, because nobody wants to think that they are capable of horrible things.
A recent article on NPR focused on how to talk to our teens about the Brett Kavanaugh news.
I blanched. As if far too many kids couldn’t already explain it to us.
Are parents ready – will they know what to say – when their teen tells them about the abuser in their lives? Are parents ready to believe and not challenge? Are they prepared to get help so that their child will not continue the silence and shame that may haunt them for decades until the truth becomes that much more impossible to “prove”? Are they prepared to hear that someone they like and have always trusted is a person whom no one should like and no one should trust?
One of my assailants was the popular guy at school; he was a leader. Teachers liked him. Other students voted for him. My mother asked about him often.
If only I had been on that side of the playing field where the adoring fans sat and not trapped beneath the bleachers, locked in the prop closet, or held captive in a rarely used bathroom with a hand over my mouth and a whisper of what would happen if . . .
I can barely find my voice and I shake while I type this, but I’d like to say:
To Professor Blasey Ford: I believe you.
To those reading this and remembering a past they continue to hide: I believe you.
To those who are supporting someones: Believe them.
To the parents whose children may be brave enough to speak: Believe now; don’t encourage – don’t allow – decades of debilitating silence.
To the me who wrote this: I have always believed you.
I am sorry that I couldn’t speak up sooner.
#FindingMyVoice #Believe #MeToo
The next blog will be cheerful. Promise.
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Where is death one year later?
The truth is I don’t know.
My nephew died. It’s been a year. Emotionally, it was yesterday. I screamed so loudly and fell to my knees when his brother called that day and said ... I actually cannot recall exactly what he said. Odd how you think you'll never forget. But I simply couldn’t comprehend the words coming through the phone. Nothing made sense. My body knew what my mind refused to know. The impossible. At an impossible age. For impossible reasons.
Danny had died of a seizure. How insane was that? Enough that I couldn’t get off the floor. He couldn’t. I couldn’t. Only now as I write this do I understand why I laid there until they picked me up. I recall feeling puzzled that anyone could move at all.
Time was standing still. But in reality it was only still for him.
Danny died too young. Maybe this is true for everyone – whether they still need a few more hours. Or days. Or years.
Too young. Too soon.
But he died having conquered so many fears. Having lived more than the three decades that declared his true age. Having reached a pinnacle in his career – a career that he defined, that he quite literally wrote the book on.
He had colleagues – older and younger – who were in awe of him and still liked him. He had students that he inspired into majors and careers that they might never have pursued.
Hell, he started a blog before I knew what the word meant or how to find it online or whether it “was safe” to even read one. He owned a website long before everyone claimed a domain name just in case they’d need it later. He was forward thinking about where technology and student journalism would meet.
He traveled around the whole damn world having overcome a fear of flying so severe that most others stay grounded and never know the cultures and dramas beyond their 200-mile radius or outside the politics of their own country. He was terrified and he flew anyway. While the destination was the goal, the need – the craving – to know more was the motivating factor to get him there. So he went.
Maybe he had more places to go and more to give but he managed to get to a “there” that many of us never even know to dream about.
He discovered. He wrote. He lived.
Every minute of his life.
Death, I’ve learned, can bring us closer. Death, I’ve learned can divide us. Unexpectedly.
And coping with death, I’ve learned, is that personal. Danny's death drove many within our family to different ends of despair. I miss him. In that painful, indescribable way. And I also miss many who loved him but who are now no longer in touch. Thankfully, they haven’t died, but they are, sadly, nearly as gone. There is no describing those levels of grief either.
One year later. Danny still hasn’t called me. That’s not unlike him. If you had been related, if you had known him, then you knew: he might not return a call, a text, an email for a year. Maybe more. And because I loved him, because I just knew that he loved me back, I didn’t mind. On any random day, his number might have popped up on my caller ID. “Hey, you?!”, I would have said without a sharp intonation, without a threat of where-the-hell-have-you-been. I would have just proclaimed, “Hey, you?!” as a peace offering of sorts and continued on as if I’d spoken to him last week. We would have chatted and caught up and we would have made plans to see each other. Of course, I would have known that the likelihood of him actually showing up was very small but I would made those plans just the same.
The thing is that now <sigh>, well, it's just ... I see Danny in crowds – impossible. I see him in articles that he is quoted in – forever possible. I see him in random pictures that pop up unexpectedly even though it’s not always him – but dammit, it could have been (and sometimes is). At times, I laugh at his audacity – it’s just like him. At times, I cry at his insensitivity – how could he not know how much his absence hurts my presence?
And, true confession here: I am still certain he will call.
I’m just not surprised he hasn’t.
Not because he’s died. It’s because he’s still Danny. He’ll always be. And so, he may call still – that’s what my heart chooses to believe even as I am certain that I sat with him at the funeral home and looked at his picture over his coffin. Stunned. “Where the hell are you?” I had thought. “So not funny,” I had thought. I’d have been furious if he had jumped out from behind the nonexistent curtain. But I would surely have hugged him hard. And I’d have been afraid to let him go again without making plans that he would keep this time.
That was Danny.
As he will always be.
And that is me. I’ll just let him know this time that I’m pissed he hasn’t called in so long but that I’m glad to have a chance to tell him about his amazing cousins, about what we have all been up to, and then I’ll ask him what he has been doing. He’ll likely reply as he always did, “Not much.”
Not until he died did I really hear about his life.
Talk about serious deflection issues! (I'd like to talk to him about that.)
My phone is ringing now as I try to finish what he started: this blog. That’s the kind of timing he has.
Just in case, I’m ready.
It’s still not him.
Maybe the next call.