Friday, November 18, 2011

Open Letter to a Friend

I think y'all know how much I hate when I first meet someone and they tell me their life story, all their ailments, and various other overshares within the first five minutes of meeting them. If this is your first time at this blog, please go read some of my tasty Alphabet Soup or something. Trust me.

This is another entirely too long post (seriously, we're talking novel length here) but I want to say something to a friend and her letter, for the rest of y'all, will need some back story. The letter is to my friend but I think it's something that needs to be said to everyone, so I'm putting it here. I've changed some details about my friend (including her name) to keep her as anonymous as I know she would want to be in this.

In the past, I've mentioned that I've had Very Bad Things happen to me. I've often said I would talk about it sometime and I think now's as good a time as any. I've had this letter in my head for a long time as well.

First, Back story (get a snack)....

Statistically, 1 out of 4 women will be messed with before the age of 18. Over half go unreported, so I'd say that statistic is a bit shy of the truth.

I got messed with by three different people before I was in 6th grade.

Very Bad Things - The First Time.
The first time, I was 4 years old. My parents used to hang out with this 4WD club and the main couple they hung out with had a son. I loved the wife of that couple. She made me the cutest little sun hat. It was reversible with white on one side and light blue with little white hippos on the other. One night the 4 adults went out on the town and they had that couple's son babysit us. His name was Jay and he was about 15 or 16.

When he came to put me to bed, he lay down next to me on the bed. He pulled his pants and underwear down and masturbated. He tried to put my hand under his, but I pulled it away. He came on his stomach and then he dipped his finger in it and tried to make me taste it. I didn't want to because it smelled weird and I resisted. He tried to talk me into it saying it tasted just like milk, "You like milk, right?" I lied and said I didn't. I remember feeling enormous guilt for lying since milk was (and still is) my favorite drink. He told me it wasn't bad and tasted it himself. I still wouldn't taste it but he got another finger full and shoved his finger into my mouth anyway.

Just about then, my brother, John - who must've been wondering what was taking so long - popped his head in the door and said, "What're you guys doing?" in an innocent 6 year-old's way, as in, "Are you doing something fun, can I play?" Jay yelled at him, "Get out! I'll take care of you in a minute." John closed the door and took off. Up until Jay yelled at John, I wasn't scared. I was confused and uncomfortable, but not scared. The way he said he'd "take care" of John scared me. After John left, Jay stood up, pulled up his pants, tucked me in like nothing happened, and left the room.

I don't think he did anything to John. I don't know if John told my mom but we never saw that kid again. I never knew if my mom knew anything about it. Even if she had known, in the '70's when I was kid, you didn't report things to the police and you didn't talk about it. You certainly weren't sent to therapy about it. You were told it wasn't your fault and it wouldn't happen again and it was best to just try to forget the whole thing.

Very Bad Things - The Second Time.

Not going to cover this one today. I'll give my usual euphemism that the 13 year old boy next door took a rather unnatural interest in me for 2 years, starting when I was 8. I'll talk about this in detail another day.

Very Bad Things - The Third Time.

This is the one that concerns the letter and my friend.

In 4th grade, my parents decided we should go to the private church school. Long backstory here that we'll skip except to say that they were so small they kept falling apart. In 5th grade, it was even smaller and after xmas break that year, we went back to public school (YAY!). During our stint in jail, um.. I mean, private school, both my parents worked and so after school, we stayed at the houses of other kids' families until our parents could pick us up. It's not as random as it sounds; it was prearranged and every one was pretty happy with the set-up.

For awhile when I was in 5th grade, we would stay with Debbie Canfield's family. Debbie was my brother's girlfriend and her younger brother (Jack?) was a year or two younger then me. The four of us would be picked up by Debbie and Jack's grandma. We would hang out at their grandparent's house, running around like crazy people, until our parents would pick up John and me.

Debbie's gpa used to sit in the dark in a front room of the house, watching TV. One time he said to me, "Come give gpa a kiss." He'd just said it to Debbie and she ran in and gave him a peck on the cheek and took off. I followed suit but when I went to kiss his cheek, he turned his head and kissed me on the mouth. This happened a few days in a row and about the third day, he shoved his tongue in my mouth. I was 11 and very sheltered. I'd never heard of a French kiss and didn't know what he was doing. I just thought he kissed weird and clenched my teeth so his tongue couldn't get past them, but I pretty much avoided him after that.

The gparents had an RV in their backyard. I'd never been inside an RV before so I always wanted to go in and check it out but Debbie's gma would never let us, "it's not a toy." One day, we were running around in the back yard playing tag and I heard someone whisper to me. It was Debbie's gpa and he was at the back of the RV signalling to me to come over. I'd never seen him out of his chair, much less outside, so I went over. He said he would show me the inside of the RV if I wanted to see it. I got a weird vibe with him being outside and whispering and all, so I shouted to Debbie, "Hey Debbie, we get to go in!" She was in the garage and didn't hear me. He shushed me and said, "She's already seen it." Then he opened up the RV and ushered me in.

He entered after me and locked the door behind him. I'd never been in an RV before and marveled at the tiny kitchen and other cool things about it. It was one of those long ones with everything in a hallway setting and the bed at the far end. The bed section was raised, the kind that goes over the bed of the truck pulling it. Mr. Canfield lifted me up on the bed so I was sitting on the edge with my legs dangling off. He asked me to get his Bible (being the good Christian he is, dontcha know). It was on a shelf behind a little curtain on the other side of the bed. I twisted around and got it and when I straightened back up, he was standing right in front of me, between my legs. He slid his hands up my shirt and over my brand-new training bra. He stood just like that - motionless save for the shaking of his trembling hands - for several minutes. An eternity. His eyes were half closed and his mouth half open. A string of drool dropped from his mouth and I moved my leg to avoid it hitting me. That movement seemed to wake him up and he removed his hands.

So many things ran through my head while his hands were on my chest. There was a knife on the counter right behind him. I wondered if I could get past him and get to that knife. I wondered if I should bother with it or just make a break for the door. I wondered could I get to the door, unlock it, and get out before he got to me. I wondered if I did get the knife, would he be able to get it away from me. I never once wondered whether I'd be able to stab him or not. I knew that if I got that knife, I would twist in his gut or shove it in his eye without hesitation (although he was so much taller than me, that I doubt I could've reached his eye).

After he removed his hands, he lifted me down and told me to go and play. His pants were sticking out and I walked to the door and left him in there. I wouldn't run. I forced myself to walk. My hands were shaking uncontrollably and I had a hard time with the lock, but I did it and I left.

I immediately found Debbie and told her what happened. As soon as I started telling her, I began to cry. She raised her voice and said, "NO!" I thought she didn't believe me so I tried to stop crying and walk away. She grabbed me and said, "We have to tell Gma." It was my turn to be horrified and cry out NO. She said she believed me but we had to tell Gma right away. I begged her not to. I was crying again and she said that she would tell her but I had to be there. We went into the house.

The way the house was situated, the living room was separated from the kitchen by an archway opening. Her gma was washing dishes and I can imagine what she saw when Debbie said she had to tell her something. I imagine Mrs. Canfield turning from the sink of dishwater and seeing a very pissed-off Debbie standing in the archway holding my hand. The only part of me her gma could see was my hand and part of my forearm. I was standing outside the archway so she couldn't see me, standing with my face to the wall, trying to disappear.

Debbie said, "He touched her." Here's where Debbie stopped talking and started shouting at her grandmother, "He promised he would NEVER do that again but he took Ruth into the RV and he touched her." I heard a dish break as it fell from Mrs. Canfield's hands and I tried harder to melt into the wall. My whole body was on fire and I couldn't get my hand from Debbie's. She held my hand gently but tightly, never letting go. Gma rushed past us like a bull and out the back door, screaming his name.

Debbie took me to the garage where our brothers were. Debbie sat me down and told me how her grandfather had messed with her and her female cousin. That's when I realized that her crying out "no" meant something very different than what I had originally thought. I was devastated. I felt so bad for her. I had no idea people would molest their own grandchildren. I felt like I was going to throw up.

The 4 of us kids huddled together until my parents showed up and John and I left.

I told my mom what happened. After Very Bad Things - The Second Time (which I know she knew about and had helped make sure it stopped), I expected a very different reaction from her. My dad was on a business trip in the back country (he measured water up in mountains for the power company) and she felt she didn't have a lot of options. She said, "I need you to go there after school tomorrow." She had to see the look of horror on my face and I know she heard me emphatically say, "No!!" She said, "I can't take the time off and there's no place else for you to go after school. I know it's awful but he won't come near you and I just need you to be my brave girl for a day or two." She promised me he wouldn't even be at the house and since I had no choice...

The next day, not only was Mr. Canfield at the house, but he was the one who picked us up from school. Something he had never done before. We used to fight over the front seat but that day, all four of us squeezed into the back. I remember seeing him and him looking at me with rage in his eyes. I couldn't take it and looked down at my feet. I knew in my heart, I would never look up again.

When we got to their house, we hung out in the back yard, but this slug of a man who rarely moved from his chair, suddenly had a bunch of yard work to do. My brother suggested we go for a walk. We weren't allowed to ever leave the yard (they didn't live in the best neighborhood) but we left anyway. We walked and walked, all four of us, trudging along in the heat of the day, silent. John tried to talk and joke a bit but I was a silent black cloud and it didn't work.

Finally, we stopped. I'd been looking down and had no idea where we were. I remember we stopped near a big wooden fence and a main road with a lot of traffic going by. John had had enough. He tried to tilt my chin up but I pulled my face away. He did it again and, again, I pulled away. He did it a third time but wouldn't let me off the hook. Even so, I wouldn't look him in the eye. He kept moving his face to look in my eyes and I kept looking away until I finally looked up at him and glared. He said, "There you are. I knew you were still in there." I glared at him still but remained silent.

John was instrumental in getting Very Bad Things - The Second Time to stop. He knew me like no one else and I think he knew the fact that I was silent and not looking up was something that could become permanent if he didn't do something.

Holding my chin up the whole time, he told me this:
Ruth, that man is old and weak. He did something that was bad. He touched you but he could never, EVER touch who you are inside. If you change, he wins. You can be mad and hurt, you can even be scared, but you can't let him win. I know who you are. I see you in there. And I don't ever want to see you looking down anymore.

John was 13 years old when he told me that. It broke my silence forever. I cried, not loud or anything, but I cried. Debbie started crying, too, and took my hand. We all held hands and went back to the house. We stayed in the yard and when the slug came outside again, I looked him in the eye and said, "Go back to your chair and stay there." He glared at me but I didn't look away and he went inside.

The next day, my mom had arranged for us to go elsewhere and I never saw the slug again.

Like I already said, when I was a kid, families didn't report this stuff to the police and you didn't talk about it afterward. The thing is, if someone had reported that man, or even told my parents, he would have never had access to me. He wouldn't have had a chance to prey on someone else. It's all about Fair Warning.

And now, my letter....

Dear Renee,
We were having a conversation awhile ago about our busy live. You are so busy and so organized and put together, I was asking how you do it all. You said, "Prozac." I thought you were joking and laughed but you said, "I'm serious. Without Prozac, I have panic attacks and can't function."

I said, "Wow, that's some pretty heavy duty stuff! How'd you get started on that?" You told me that you were molested for 7 years and when you finally went to therapy about it, the Dr. gave you Prozac.

I was stunned! We'd known each other for a couple of years and being such a close friend, you knew about my Very Bad Things but never said anything about yours before. I said, "7 years?! Holy shit! Who did that to you?" You told me that was something you would take to your grave. I ruminated to myself, "Well, it had to be family member." I didn't realize I'd said it out loud but I must've because you laughed and said, "Well, I'm not gonna play 20 questions about it." I said, "Of course, I'm sorry!" and then our conversation went elsewhere.

I can't stop thinking about it and about Mr. Canfield. I know you grew up with a LOT of family. There were three siblings of your parents, with 4 or 5 kids each, and you all lived on the same block. So all these siblings and aunts, uncles, cousins, were all floating in and out of each other's houses all day, every day.

I know you are one of the "good" kids and I can only imagine how alone you must've felt during all those years of abuse. I don't have any confirmation that it was a family member but for it to have gone on as long as it did, it had to be someone who had a lot of access, so either family or church since your family was always there as well.

I know it was a long time ago. You and I are in our 40's and this happened when you were a child. The thing is, people that do that sort of thing are wired differently and they don't stop. They can't. If that person is still alive, they are still on the hunt for a new child, another child. It's a matter of fair warning. I'm not saying you have to turn them in to the police, although that would be ideal. At our age and with the laws back then, you are likely past any statute of limitations on that anyway. I'm saying that if this person is alive and seeing nieces, nephews, grandchildren, or any other kids in any capacity, and no one knows, they are still looking for a way to get those children alone.

They never stop, Renee. They NEVER stop. Not unless someone makes them stop. I know it's a scary burden to be the one who makes that happen, but I also know you can do it.

When you were a child, that person told you something or threatened you in a way that scared you and scarred you and kept you silent all these years about who it was. Renee, you are not that scared child anymore. They can't hurt you anymore.

Again, for that person to have that much access to hurt you for that long, it had to be someone your family was close to. Someone they loved and trusted. If you tell, this is what's going to happen...

People in your family will be furious. They will revile you and call you a liar. They will talk about you behind your back, about how you always were prone to drama and making up stories. They will hate you and some will never speak to you again. Some of the one's you thought you were closest too and loved you the best, will turn on you. I promise this will happen. But I also promise, I can guarantee with absolute certainty, that at least one other family member will come up to you and quietly whisper, "me too."

And the ones that hate you forever.... I also guarantee that if your abuser is still alive, even that abuser's staunchest supporter will suddenly find reasons not to leave that person alone with children anymore. They may not even realize they are doing it but they will keep those kids safer. And that's why it has to be done.

If your abuser is dead, you may feel there's no reason to do it, but there is. It wouldn't be a matter of keeping kids safe now; it would be a matter of that one other family member who also feels like they are the only one. Even if they never came forward, statistically, they are out there and maybe their panic attacks would be a little less frequent if they knew it wasn't just them. They will see the strength it took you to come forward and maybe it will give them the strength to also come forward or at least to seek the help and therapy they never felt they could get before.

I doubt you will ever take the step and no one will judge you if you don't. I'm asking you to think about it. I'm asking you to try.

Holding your hand and tilting your chin up, Ruth!


sophanne said...

What a brother you have. What a friend you are. But I already had that second part figured out.if I ever needed it, I'd want you having my back. The well of your awesomeness is deep and unending.

Lisa/knitnzu said...

Ruth, you have a wonderful brother! And you are a great friend.

Sadly, it's an all too common story. And I think I'm maybe one of the lucky ones. Only happened once. I told. Police came. I think he was arrested but didn't do jail time. We moved. I was 10.

Marissa said...

First- I am so sorry you had to go through that. Sorry, too for your friend's experience, and for so many countless others'.
I have learned, in the past few years, that 'turning a blind eye' is one of the biggest evils we face as a society. As you said, going public might not stop the abuser, but it certainly makes it harder, and may save a future victim from that wretched experience.
Your brother is wise beyond his years. So glad he was there for you!

Yarnhog said...

Oh, god, Ruth. I'm so sorry that happened to you. I'm so glad you're such a strong person and that you have such an awesome brother. And what you said in your letter--dead on. It's more common than anyone thinks. And that's all I have to say about that.

kmkat said...

Your brother is awesome, as are you. I was one of the lucky ones, although I did not escape childhood completely unscathed. (Janitor at my grade school, inappropriate hugs, but nothing worse. This was in the 1950s, so the societal repression was even worse.) Wonderful and thoughtful and powerful letter you wrote. I hope it works for the sake of other children and other former children.