Imagine the Unimaginable
| by Anonymous |
October 29, 2015. 10:11 am. That morning will forever be etched in my mind, dividing my life into a “before” and “after” that I could never imagine happening in my wildest nightmares.
Up until that minute, we were the same as any other family of divorce: scarred, healing, and doing our best to move on. After that split second, we became something else. Something unnameable, unspeakable, undefinable.
October 29, 2105. 10:11 am. A fifteen minute call with my daughter changed the lens through which I now see the past, the present, and the future.
It’s now August 2016. Less than a year later after that fateful phone call, I find myself waking up each morning with a clenched jaw and my left hand tightly squeezed into a fist. It has been over a month now that I have been waking up this way. The anger and rage that I can’t release during the day seizes me at night when my defenses are down. I wouldn’t have thought things could have gotten so much worse since her disclosure on that phone call, yet every week there’s a new twist. I feel powerless and useless to stop the downward spiral of events and inevitable abuse another child will suffer.
The pain and shame of knowing my child was traumatized for years at the hands of my ex-husband and I was there and didn’t save her… that is the pain that I am desperately, tenuously, trying to live through now. It is compounded by the emotional fragility of my daughter and the knowledge that her almost four-year-old half-sister is very much still in at risk.
It’s not a pain that is talked about out loud. Who wants to hear about child sexual abuse? Who wants to believe it exists, much less is at an epidemic level in the United States? I would much rather think she is lying than accept the fact that he could have done these unspeakable things to her. Who in their right mind penetrates a four-year-old? How does that happen and go unnoticed? I would much rather believe a lie than believe the unimaginable.
I do some research. I discover that what my daughter experienced and shared with me is not unusual. Sadly, the reality is pretty horrifying as Mia Fontaine wrote in an article for the Atlantic Magazine in January 24, 2013:
“Here are some statistics that should be familiar to us all, but aren’t, either because they’re too mind-boggling to be absorbed easily, or because they’re not publicized enough. One in three-to-four girls and one in five-to-seven boys are sexually abused before they turn 18, an overwhelming incidence of which happens within the family. These statistics are well known among industry professionals, who are often quick to add, ‘and this is a notoriously underreported crime.”
These crimes are nauseating. Can you imagine the innocence of a child being destroyed by his or her own parent? For years, I was so angry with the Catholic Church (“my” church) for what the priests did to children and how they hid it. I had no idea it was happening in my very own home.
Then October 29, 2015 happened.
My nineteen-year-old daughter called me from college. “Mom”, she asked. “Are you sitting down? There’s something I need to tell you. It’s important.”
“Sweetheart, you are scaring me.”
“It’s okay Mom. It’s going to be okay” she said.
And so the conversation began. I didn’t realize it was only a beginning. I didn’t understand then that “it” had happened chronically for eight years. That “it” had progressed from something small into something bigger. I don’t know if she couldn’t talk about the depth of it or if I wasn’t ready to hear it. I only understood that my own private earthquake was rocking my world. I knew in my heart instantaneously that she was telling me truth.
As she spoke, my body quivered, then shook. Tears bled randomly down my face. “I am so sorry honey. I am so sorry. It was my job to protect you. It was my job to keep you safe. I am so sorry I failed you,” I sobbed.
Over the next few weeks, I found out just how severe her abuse had been. I wished she was lying. I wanted her to be lying. A lie would have been so much easier to handle than the truth. In the movie Spotlight, the reporter Sasha Pfeiffer tells one of the clergy abuse victims that it is important not to “sanitize” his abuse. It’s virtually impossible to imagine what happened without specifics. Can you imagine a father taking off his four-year-old daughter’s tights and panties while she is still wearing her velvet Christmas dress because they’d been at the theater together seeing the Nutcracker Suite? Imagine he unhooks the belt between her legs, but leaves the seat belt strapped across her chest when he removes those pieces of clothing, separates her legs and tells her “it’s ok. I’m doing this because I am your dad” as he uses the fingers on one hand to penetrate her, while rubbing himself with the other. Can you imagine it?
I do not want to be like Cardinal Bernard Law of Boston, and so many others who swept abuse in the Catholic Church under the rug. I do not want to let my own shame over what happened to my daughter keep me from believing her or protecting the three-year-old daughter that now lives with my former husband and his new wife. The only way to make this more real, more imaginable, is to talk about it.
Mia Fontaine tried three years ago. Maybe because she didn’t write about it from firsthand experience her report seemed more like she was recounting statistics. This is something that happens to other people, right? The Catholic clergy abuse crisis was an anomaly, correct? Things like that don’t happen to ordinary families, do they?
Wrong. Very wrong. Things like this happen every day. All the time. Too damned often. So maybe by sharing my truth, in all its ugliness, I will be able to loosen my jaw and relax my fist. Maybe it can be the catalyst for tangible change.
Maybe, just maybe, another innocent three-year-old little girl will escape the sexual atrocities inflicted upon her half-sister by their father.