This is not an easy story to tell, but it could be so much worse, as I am now keenly aware… The truth can be hard to hear, but it’s still worth telling.
When I was a teenager- 14 or 15, I don’t remember exactly, living in the great Northwoods of Wisconsin (indeed, God’s country); one of my best friends’ dads molested me. He wanted to rape me, that was obvious. But he didn’t. I begged him- PLEASE LET ME GO. I WON’T TELL ANYONE-I PROMISE! Through tears of fear- I begged him to let me go. I cried and shook, and planned my escape as he was lying on top of me, telling me what he wanted to do to me, and what he wanted me to do to him, with his daughter sleeping in the room above, his sister in the bedroom next door, and his wife, a nurse, working the third shift at the local hospital.
I had been wakened by him in a frantic voice, telling me he had something IMPORTANT he needed to talk to me about. Something about Dawn, his daughter: it was urgent. So urgent, he woke me up as she was sleeping right next to me and pulled me from the bed. It’s important to note that I woke up to him sitting on the side of the waterbed, rubbing my stomach. Yes- he was rubbing my belly. And even then, I reasoned this out- as quickly as I could in my head- he’s trying to be quiet, so he doesn’t wake Dawn- this [what he has to say] must be bad- my gut knew… THIS IS WRONG! THIS IS SO WRONG! “I’m not dressed,” I told him! “It’s OK,” he said. I pushed down the fear and reasoned there must be an explanation, a really good one.
I had begged him to tell me whatever it was that was so important, while we were in the hall. He just kept shushing me and putting his finger to his mouth to remind me, “this is a super-sensitive,” or so important that no one can else could hear it; especially Dawn, as he continued to pull me down the stairs and into his bedroom, the one he shared with his wife. I had never seen a grown man naked before, as he quickly was when we reached his bedroom. The only two thoughts I had running through my mind were how will I escape and my dad is going to kill him when I tell him. And I wanted him too- to kill him.
I didn’t scream and I didn’t yell. Even though I was terrified. I just cried and shook, pulled away, and begged him to please let me go, as quietly as I could. Why didn’t I want to alert anyone? Because I didn’t know how to explain how or why I was in his bedroom. He had dragged me there, but no one else knew that. I didn’t yell or scream, and I didn’t think it would look like I had been forced there. Yes- the thought that went through my mind was- this was ALL MY FAULT. How could I have been SO stupid!?
He was one of my best friends, dads. How could I think or believe his intentions would be otherwise.
There was a sliding glass door in his bedroom. There was also lots of snow on the ground, and it was freezing outside (winters are not gentle in northern Wisconsin.) I was only in a t-shirt and underwear, and I was barefoot- but I knew I could run as fast as I could- I thought I could easily outrun him with all of the adrenaline running through my body- to Jill’s house- a mile or so down the road (my BEST friend, and the only one I ever told this story to.) I knew I could find help there. Her dad, Bill, and her mom, Cathy (our parents had the same names) they would help me.
In the end, I simply exhausted him with my crying and begging and lack of cooperation. He eventually gave up and let me go. He could see that I was not going to make this easy on him. He told me he would let me go but if I EVER told anyone, he would make sure they knew I was lying. I told him I would NEVER tell. I ran back up the stairs and slipped back into bed, trying to stop the trembling so as not to wake Dawn. I lay awake until morning when I could call my mom to pick me up- and thanked God that Dawn never woke up because of me.
I didn’t tell. I didn’t tell because it didn’t feel safe to tell. I wanted too—my God, I wanted to tell. I wanted to spill it all to my mom as soon as I got in the car. I knew my dad well enough, though. Enough to know beyond any doubt that he would indeed KILL this man. There was no question about it. JA would die. And all I could imagine in my mind was my dad spending the rest of his life in jail for what this man had done to me, his only daughter, and one that he fiercely protected. I couldn’t let that happen. I could not be responsible for taking my dad away from his family and being the reason he killed another human being; that was too much to bear. So I stayed silent. Not forever, but in the end, it wasn’t me who told.
We had moved back to Indianapolis before my parents ever learned this truth. It did feel safer, after all, we were hundreds of miles away, and I didn’t see (in my mind) my dad driving up north to carry out this dirty deed. The letter came from the district attorney to my parents via my aunt and uncle’s address- where our mail at that time, had been temporarily forwarded. That meant they [aunt and uncle] would also know. I remember my aunt calling my mom, “You’ve gotten a letter from the district attorney in Eagle River.” The letter stated that they had received word that JA had molested me. They needed to know if there was truth in this statement, and if there was, would I be willing to come back to Wisconsin and testify against him?
Jill was the only one who knew my secret, and she had told. I wasn’t mad at her; I was relieved. I was so glad that she dared to speak up on my behalf. Sadly she told my story because he did it to another. Another friend, Cheri (you see the guilt, right? And why we must tell.) But she [Cheri] wasn’t afraid to speak. She told her dad, and he went (as far as I know) straight to the police. Truths were told; my story was out. My mom and dad were both devasted. It was hard to witness their reactions, and they, of course, wanted to know everything. How could they have missed this, they asked?
Gavin DeBecker states in his book- The Gift (paraphrasing)- “We humans are the only animals on this earth that will walk right into danger—being fully alerted by our natural (God Given) instincts to do otherwise- because we don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings.” We must start teaching our children to pay attention to these inward signs and instincts and act on them! No matter what. Hurt feelings if you must. Who cares!
What I didn’t mention above was that my mom also babysat for this man. He was in our kitchen- many mornings and many evenings. My parents “knew” him, though they were not friends or anything of the sort. He was the father of the little girl, Tina, that my mom babysat. That was hard for my mom. Really hard- once she knew. And even as I write this, I’m sure I hid it well and gave her no cause for concern. I’m sure there were signs, but you had to be looking for them.
Some years later, I was sitting in the dining room with our three teenage daughters when Dani said to the four of us: “I heard a statistic the other day that one out of every four girls is molested. I don’t believe that. There are four of us here.” And that was when I knew I had to tell them my story. I hadn’t thought about it for a long time, but it was always there. You can’t easily let these experiences “just” fade into the background as if they never happened.
When the Catholic church was exposed, well, that’s when I realized it had been happening to boys, too. All along. I never thought about “the boys” before, only the girls. Not that I can remember, anyway. But it does. It’s happening all around us, and it always has been. We don’t want to think about it or believe it, but we MUST. We have to start paying attention, seeing the signs and heeding our kids’ behaviors and the warning signs. Watching. Listening. Being fully present and being mindful of their devices. Joe and I were very present, I think, with our kids. We didn’t let them go to certain places or with certain people. I trusted my motherly instinct, but mostly with our girls. They were the ones I worried about, for obvious reasons.
My dad never killed this man. I don’t know what happened, in the end, to be quite honest. I never did testify, and though I do feel like I gave a written statement, I can’t say for sure. I don’t even know if he ever served jail time, though I am now curious to know. I did look him up on FB a couple of years ago. I know he’s in Florida enjoying the sunshine state, or he was then, anyway. Riding around on the lawnmower with his grandaughter on his lap. That was hard to see.
I can understand the importance of sharing our truths, now, more than ever. We have so much to learn from each other. It’s not good to stay silent about these matters. And we must realize that to speak boldly, to share our stories, we have to feel safe. We have to know we’re being heard; that someone is listening. Is there something that comes to your mind now, as you read this? A red flag? Something you think you “might” know? Ask. Just go in as soft and loving as you can and ask the question; is there something I need to know? And listen. Let the healing begin. If your kids are telling you something is wrong, something is happening, believe them! We have got to start listening to our kids. If you’re of an even older generation, this is probably harder for you to read. But it’s way past the time to get uncomfortable and have these conversations. And if you’re reading this and you’re an abuser- what the fuck is wrong with you!? Get some help!
Do a gut-check- with yourself. Are you questioning things? Words or actions of your kids? I don’t want NEVER to trust again; I don’t. But I would much rather someone’s feelings get hurt than to put our kids or grandkids in harm’s way. I don’t care who’s offended. I CAN’T care. Gavin DeBecker is right. Fear is a GIFT. God gave it to us for a reason. Can we start paying better attention to it? All of us. Please. I don’t have time these days for small talk or worrying about “offending.” If what I have to say is too hard for you to hear, then it’s ok. But it probably also means there’s something you need to give some attention too; a self-examination, of sorts. Even as I sit here and write this, my stomach is in knots, fighting the urge to puke. And my experience wasn’t even that bad. So many others have had it much worse. So. Much. Worse.
Please, let’s have some hard conversations.
And Jill, I don’t know if I ever said thank you. If I didn’t then, then I’m saying it now; THANK YOU.
My final thought:
“Deal with your shit before your shit deals with you.” (Can someone please make that into a sign? And if you do, I need one, please.)