Tag Archives: education

“It Was My Secret To Tell”

When I started writing again, the first thing I noticed was that I have way too much stuff in my head that I could write about…Such a quandary not knowing what would be of any relevance to any one other than my near and dear ones…Than a follower on Twitter asked me a question which I did try to answer but 140 characters is sometimes torture for a long winded broad like me. A few days later , a similar question was put to me…both based on a tweet that I try to re-tweet at least once a day when I can…

As a victim who survived I urge you to please help #StopChildAbuse ~Report It ! Donate a tweet a day. http://JustCoz.org/helpspreadthis

Maybe it’s because of what’s been in the news lately…maybe it’s just because it is the whole world’s dirty little secret that a lot of the children on this planet live in fear…but I did open the door when I put it out there that I was not only a victim but also one who survived… The question was posed again and I promised to try and answer it.

I have started and stopped….deleted and re-assessed this piece over 30 times so far. The mere fact that I have had such difficulty putting into print something that I have lived with my entire conscious life fills me with such a sense of uncomfortable confusion as it is a subject I have spoken on….counseled on…for the most part had thought it had become no more than a teaching tool for me now….and yet…over 30 times ?

Granted it was a secret that started when I was only 5 years old …and other than one very sweet and caring family doctor… it stayed buried deep within me until I reached my 26th year of life… it was also something that I had thought I faced and dealt with a long time ago but apparently scars that may appear to be healed… are still a bit sensitive to the touch…

I was born into a somewhat lower middle-class family. We never went without the necessities but my father worked two jobs….sometimes three to provide for us. Our house was small and always filled to over-capacity as my father took in stray or stranded children the way some people take in cats…There was even a while there when I couldn’t tell who was or wasn’t one of my siblings. The school year was like an exercise in military efficiency (my father had been a drill sergeant in the Army)…we all had our schedules and amazingly it left my mother with, in her words, just enough “alone” time to keep the house and everything else in order…I know now though how hard it was on her…at one time she had three of us under five…(funny how it sometimes takes becoming a parent to appreciate one)

It’s my understanding that it was in the summer time…when school was out and there weren’t enough activities to keep us all busy…a choice was made that there would be summer camp when we could afford it or  they would pass us out for visiting trips to relatives… for what was really only a few weeks during those hot months…and that would  help my mother keep her sanity and even allow for some much needed romantic moments for her and my Dad…I know all this now but back then …well, not so much…

My Grandparents lived on a farm and for city kids, it was fun for the first few days after that it would kind of lose it’s charm…and while the older kids could do chores and stuff …my grandmother didn’t seem to have time or patience with 5 year old “too fidgety” me…I remember sitting in a big rocking chair on the porch doing nothing…being asked to be quiet was something I remember hearing a lot as a kid.

An Aunt and Uncle came for a visit and offered to take me off her hands for awhile…It was confusing in my young eyes to keep getting passed off, especially when my Uncle sat me on his lap and whispered in my ear as he wrapped his arms around me…”nobody wants you but me”… I remember it clear because it was his mantra…he repeated over and over to me whenever he could…always softly…always whispering so no one else could hear…He would add things like “I don’t understand why your mommy says you’re a bad little girl. I think you’re a good girl”…”They said we could keep you but if you’re good I’ll let you go home.”

 For the next few weeks I stayed with them…even though they had other children, I ended up being alone with my Uncle a lot….His hands….his fingers….the fowl odor of his breath…burned forever in my mind…not just from that brief two weeks but for the countless weeks and years that occurred after it…I will not describe anymore of the details as they are something that I do not desire to see in print…for four years he had his way with me…each summer visit made longer than the last…telling me how my mother really didn’t like me…how my father was too busy to be bothered with me but that uncle loved me and that as long as I did what he said and was good…he would make sure that my family didn’t give me away…He had good fuel for this as I did have a foster brother and had been told that his other family hadn’t loved him enough and that’s why he was going to live with us. How cunning these kind of perpetrators are…and how once violated… how openly vulnerable an innocent child is…

My time with my family became so unreal to me….I was the “perfect” child….did all my chores…never fussed…teachers actually sent home notes telling my parents I was too quiet but my grades were exceptional….I was most often found in a corner reading a book ( stories that could take me places and let me pretend that all was right with the world).I sometimes felt like I was only watching my family and not really a part any longer.I would cry about only one thing….not wanting to go away when the summer month of July came around but I was soon to realize that I wasn’t safe at home anymore either…

It was as if there was an invisible label on my back saying “Easy Target“…because two years into the summer “visits” with my Uncle…a so-called family friend began spending evenings at our house and offering to tuck us in at bedtime…spending more time with me than any others…he always acted as if I needed to be comforted or loved….as if I wasn’t…I’ll never know if he had somehow talked to my uncle or if people like this have some kind of radar but it sadly became a part of what I expected and my silence was necessary so that I wouldn’t be sent away for being bad.

Still not quite sure how two different perverts in two different cities managed to molest the same little girl but they did…The stopping point came when I was nine years old…( I did go through a period where I thought a higher power had intervened in a most strange way)…a cold turned into strep throat and went untreated which led to Rheumatic Fever…I was in a coma for weeks and than stuck in a bed for almost six months…All the attention that I got quickly buried the brainwashing notion that my father and mother didn’t love me or want me around.

The family friend stopped coming around…and my uncle…well…I had to put up with him awhile longer…but his tactics changed as I guess he knew his mantra wouldn’t work on me anymore…He told me that if my father were to find out what had happened between us that my father would kill my uncle and than go to prison for the rest of his life.He told me that my father would never be able to look at me again because I had done such bad things…Oh, how evil is the mind of an adult with such power over a child…I was only 10 at this time and still very much in this man’s control. He no longer even tried to touch me but he had a stare that at holidays and family events  usually sent me looking for a place to hide…I became the quiet non-social one…I became an outsider looking in with my family…but I kept the secret…

There was a part of me that resented my mother for not knowing what had happened to me…Our relationship spent years strained and distant…My father could do no wrong in my eyes…I somehow felt I was protecting him by keeping the secret…I was closer to him than any of the other children…He confided in me…trusted me…there came a time when I knew I had to tell him…but kept putting it off..there would be time later…He died suddenly of a massive heart attack at the young age of 53… a piece of my heart breaks every time I realize that I betrayed him by not believing that he would love me no matter what.

A year later, I got up the courage to tell my mother…the look of pain in her eyes was almost more than I could bear…I had stayed away from family functions for over ten years by then and kept out of the family dramas…My uncle had been caught sexually abusing his own granddaughters and I know she didn’t mean to do it but my mother put a guilt trip on me of epic proportions making me feel that if I had told on him when I was a child… none of the others would of had to suffer…which also brought back memories of the family friend and put the thoughts of what other young lives had been hurt at his hand in my head.

This is where a lot of victims who like me, face a cross road…we can’t go back and change one damn thing about what had happened to us…and speaking up years after the fact bring a lot of mean, hateful things hurling towards us from those who don’t want to believe that anything you say is true…I did speak up…My aunt and her half of the family have pretty much let me know how much they hate me…The ex-family friend…was going through an ugly divorce…all I did was show up in court one day…I sat quietly in the back…He took one look at me and started to cry…in open court he told a judge that he was a bad man and that he no longer would fight for the custody of his kids…( one of which it turned out he was abusing)…

I call myself a survivor because I went on to volunteer at phone banks set up for abused children . I’ve worked with counselors to help victims know that they were not alone … that it was ok to report it….talk about it…hell, scream it from the roof tops if it’s helps…Silently suffering only helps the abusers… I might of had a problem writing about this but once I found it, my voice refused to stay silent. It is what it is and I have tried to use it for the better…

As soon as I knew that they could really understand me…I taught my sons that it was important to always talk to me about what was happening with them in regards to any interaction they might have with other adults. I might have been a bit over-protective of them when they were younger because of my past but I keep reminding them everyday that there isn’t anything they can’t tell me.. I refuse to feel sorry for myself…I refuse to let the past dictate whether I can live, love or laugh…I love life…I love people…I would not be me if I couldn’t keep an open heart and mind…I  have an unquenchable thirst for helping people…To do or be any other way than who you want to be… is to let the bastards continue to molesting your mind and even your very soul…

This was hard to write but I will have to admit that I am glad I did it…I hope that sharing it with you will turn out to be a good thing as well…

Now do me a favor…Give someone you love a hug and let them know you’re there if they need you 🙂

“The Wonder of Wire-Coat Hangers and a Political Education”

It is so amazing to me now, how much of what we learn is not in a classroom. I know that there has been a hundred years of studies on how environment, culture, race, religion, sexual orientation and quite possibly whether you got to play with a yo-yo or not have an impact on how and why you end up thinking the way you do…on the equally mundane as well as important amounts of the matter and anti-matter that consumes us.

We seem to get selectively assigned early in life. We either rebel against it, expand on it or heck, just find a different path entirely. This for all intent and purpose works for almost every level of existence however for this sharing I would like to dwell momentarily on a few things that fell into place for my brain to work as it does.

I was not a student of journalism. I tried once but was asked to drop the class as my professor told me that a true journalist could say in two sentences what it took me three pages to explain. The following semester, I wanted to try again. I even wrote him  (in my opinion) a wonderful essay…five pages long …telling him what a great teacher he was, how I would work very hard to learn, what virtues and insights that I possessed to add to group discussions and projects, and asking him if I could once again take his class. Two days later the reply in the mail…one page with letterhead, signature and the simple message “NO”.

I was not a student of politics…though I think I was fortunate to have a parent who taught us by his actions as well as his words when I was growing up. He encouraged us to do volunteer work in school and around the community. I went to rallies, even attended a few “sit-ins” but did I really research any of my young votes??…No! I was a democrat from day one and voted that way. I cared deeply about my little piece of the world and the people in it but somehow missed out on the “big picture”…

I didn’t think of myself as student…and yet I did learn….

My Father was quite possibly the most fascinating man I will ever meet. A child of the depression who got most of his formal education in the Army where he rose to the rank of Drill Sergeant during the Korean War, a position that added a deep sadness to him that he would not share with us for many years.

He liked things to have order but more importantly he liked us to understand why he wanted things the way he did and from the second I learned what language was…his major house rules were embedded in my mind:

#”Be respectful of your elders”…they have lived longer and deserved it (until proven otherwise) was always added because Dad firmly believed that age had little to do with stupidity.

#”Don’t lie, cheat or steal”…these all kind of fell into that “be honest” category and breaking any of them usually brought forth the harshest of punishments.

#”No one is always right and no one is always wrong”… My mother disliked this one as she never wanted to have to explain and preferred falling back on that “I’m your mother and I say so” line.

#”Arguing with words…good. Arguing with fists…bad!” I was pretty sure this rule was directed at all the young men that lived in our house though I learned the hard way not to come between two sisters in a heated discussion about almost anything.

# “Have Faith…in yourself and in whatever you chose to believe in.” This one was the hardest to not only understand but to achieve. It was his strongest rule and yet it was the one least discussed.

My father was raised  by a fire & brimstone…bible-thumping…church three days a week…”if you don’t do as I say you’ll burn in hell” woman with a husband (my beloved grandfather) who sat quietly in a corner chair smiling and nodding on occasion, did not tell his children who or what to believe in. Dad had some sort of deal with our mother, who until we reached the age of 13 took us to church every Sunday and made sure we attended a bible study group once a week.

I watched as those ahead of me chose to keep going or stop. We had so many different people as a part of our family. I think my father worked to make sure that we were exposed to as much diversity as he could find for us. We were encouraged to respect our friends through understanding by attending their churches and learning other religions.

When my 1st Sunday came, I decided to spend the day with Dad. No one seemed surprised, as I had come to be known as his shadow. After breakfast…. the flying around of schedules…. who’s going with who…what cars are in use…when will everyone be back…the house settled into an eerie quiet.

I could hear the TV from the kitchen and found my father sitting on the couch with a cup of coffee in his hand and the Sunday paper in a sort of neat pile at his feet. Across the room was our modest size one television set. (Yes, Virginia, there was a time when families only owned one TV) It was a black and white one as the colored sets were still a bit out of my dad’s budget though we did have this really weird screen cover that if you put it on upside down it made everything on the bottom of the picture blue and some of the people’s faces green. (Sorry, strange flashback)

The TV sat against the back wall of our living room, where surrounding it on the wall and even up onto some of the ceiling was the most elaborate honey comb of no less than 25 wire-coat hangers. They were all stretched out and connected, either by twisted ends or some sort of thin metal-like stuff  my mother used for hanging pictures. Most were those brown metallic colored ones a few those dipped in white paint ones against my mother’s “spring peach” painted walls

I remember watching Dad, as he would occasionally attach new ones to the maze. I remember the day my older brother fell off the chair he was standing on as Dad instructed him how to tack the one he was holding to the ceiling during a football game. I remember my mother’s anger as the wired monstrosity grew up and around her thoughtfully designed modern living room set.

Now I know that some of you are scratching your heads and thinking…What the hell do wire-coat hangers and an old black & white TV have to do with a political education?? Trust me…I will get there. For those of you, who understand the reasons behind the wire-coat hangers…I thank-you because  I worry that my grey hair is sometimes interfering with my grey matter.

In an ancient time of no cable and the city I grew up in, Chicago, living up to it’s nickname the “Windy City”, our antenna never seemed to be able to stay up on our roof. Hence the wire-coat hangers! Starting with a large set of rabbit ears ( please, any children present, just ask someone old) sitting on top of the TV, the coat hangers were attached to the tips and fanned out in all directions to be able to pick up more stations and get a better picture.

No wire adjustments needed that Sunday so long ago as I watched the screen…a very smart looking man with thick glasses was questioning a very smart but different looking lady. I started to ask my father who they were but his finger went to his lips letting me know to be quiet at the same time pointing to the screen. Another house rule…

#”Learn to listen.”

Her name I found was Golda Meir. The man’s name was Lawrence Spivak and the program was “Meet the Press”. It wasn’t like the evening news. It had people asking questions and people giving answers that to a young mind held a wonderment of clarity.

Even though I got wrapped up in being a teenager and becoming a young adult…no matter where I was…if only for that brief 30  minute window…I watched. Learning more as I went along. Mr. Spivak was known for his tough questioning. When asked about them he said “Since I wasn’t beholden to anyone, I just felt that the question had to asked. It just had to be fair and informative and accurate.”

Bill Monroe took me through my first voting years…and I will admit now and deny it later that it was Garrick Utley’s cool sounding name and dimples that held my glancing interest while I tried to be a single working mom in the late 80’s. This was also during a “maybe someone else can explain to me” period when Lesley Stahl could pull my attention to “Face the Nation” now and then.

Politics was getting increasing more complicated and everyone seemed to start having hidden agendas. I could watch one show and get an answer to something…switch to another show…same question totally different answer. I was starting to think that maybe I was just too dumb to understand the mess.

Than December 1991…turned on Meet the Press and a smiling man with the kindest eyes I had ever seen was on…My concern that Mr. Utley and his dimples had been replaced faded very quickly and right from the start…Mr. Tim Russert had my heart and my mind.

For the next 16 years he helped me to understand what the hell was going on. He did it in ways that left you wanting more not feeling stupid. His political coverage of elections and debates were matched by none.

I stayed up all night in 2000 and got to witness first hand what was marked as one of the 100 greatest moments in TV history. “Florida, Florida,Florida” on his white board with that grin on his face.

But it wasn’t just the way he did his job…it was the way he made me feel a part of his job and his life. He shared so many glimpses of his family, his humor,his love of sports. As a life-long fan of the Bears..I still couldn’t help but smile when he would cheer for his Buffalo Bills.

A father’s lessons and wire-coat hangers gave me “Meet the Press”…Years of insightful moderators gave me my education but I will always believe that it was Mr. Russert would made me feel like a participant and not a spectator in our nation’s politics.His passing left an un-fillable hole in my heart.

Today, I still see too many people with agendas and preaching to me instead of informing me. There is hope though a few new voices being heard and a few more seasoned ones getting the recognition they deserve. I have watched the start of a new horizon at Current TV, that I know will help us get our voices heard, bring more truth to the forefront and perhaps even re-educate those whose brains have been turned to mud by the extreme right media.

The era of wire-coat hangers is over but the purpose behind them…to find and hold a better picture of the world will hopefully never end.