The scars of abuse can last one’s lifetime

So Randall Margraves attempted a courtroom attack on former USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar, who was being sentenced on charges of sexual abuse, because his three daughters had been victims. Why am I not surprised? I knew my father would have killed the person who abused me when I was 6 years old; that’s why I took pains — at age 11 — to make sure he’d never find out. I didn’t want to be responsible for murder…
My brain had treated me kindly for those intervening five years, blocking out everything that happened one night when my parents were out, my baby sister was asleep and an older teenager, known and trusted by everyone in our large extended family, was on duty. The details? Let me just say that my sex education occurred at a far-too-early time in my life, and leave it at that: one night that set the course for my whole life.
My brain shifted gears as I began physical maturity, and one day — in the midst of a furious, lightning-strike storm — everything came back, in full detail. (Please, do not try to convince me that there is no such thing as “repressed memory.” I know better.) My immediate response was to stop talking. Altogether. On the third day, my wise parents took me to a child guidance clinic, where Dr. Harry Little (I have never forgotten his name) asked me if I could tell him what was wrong. I shook my head no. Then he asked me if I could write about it. I shook my head yes. By 11, I had already written much, some of it even published, and after Dr. Little read my long account, he said the most unexpectedly wonderful thing possible: not “How awful!” but “You are a writer!” That affirmation saved my sanity. Then I could talk again, to tell him everything, and make him promise that he would not tell my parents. And somehow or other, he honored me. Somehow or other, he even convinced them not to ask. Not ever.
But therapy can also shift life’s pathways. When I graduated from college with a writing major and was offered an assistantship, I declined; I had determined to become a social worker, as payback to the man whom I still believe almost literally saved my life. And so I entered that ill-chosen graduate program, hated every minute of it, and found a way out after the first year by marrying a nice Jewish fellow student. I wrote for a local weekly for the next year, until he received his Master’s of Social Work. But by then, I was pregnant. And after that…
Well, it was the mid-’50s. Women with children stayed home to care for them. But my life was saved a second time by a neighbor woman who wrote for a large suburban paper. She had gotten “permission” from her minister to take the job; he recognized the she would be more damaging to her daughters if she couldn’t go outside to do work she truly loved. The other neighbor women shunned her. But I joined her as a part-timer at the same paper, working my schedule around what were by then two young children, thanks to the flexibility of an understanding editor.
Then: Guess what? The husband didn’t understand, and divorce became inevitable. The rest: years of single-mothering mixed with my chosen “career,” and a happy second marriage — but with a man who convinced me to forgo full-time work. Sadly, some mistakes are beyond correction…
To this day, I am wary of closeness and unexpected touching. I will never be a “hugger.” And I refrain from putting a stone on one family grave, the one for whom I also refuse to say Kaddish. Please — do not believe that sexual abuse is absent from nice Jewish families. If I used Facebook — which I don’t — I would have added my name to the “MeToo” list. But it’s not too late for my cautionary tale…

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Washington Ray

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  2. Christina Keenan

    I, also, belong to this club of which no one wants to be a member. I continue to feel awkward with the casual touch — which might be nothing more than a gesture of warmth from a man, but which sets off defenses I haven’t been able to shut off. Bless you for your courage in writing this article. Ironically, it helps to know I am not alone, and yet makes me sad that I am not alone.

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