Picket fences

“Do you know, Watson,” said he, “that it is one of the curses of a mind with a turn like mine that I must look at everything with reference to my own special subject. You look at these scattered houses, and you are impressed by their beauty. I look at them, and the only thought which comes to me is a feeling of their isolation and of the impunity with which crime may be committed there.”

Sherlock Holmes – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle



When I was young I had a best friend.  She was the youngest of two girls.  My younger sister, this best friend, and I were inseparable.  Our older sisters were inseparable.  It worked out nicely.

The older girls tended to stay at home- they read, wrote, and played their flutes.  We younger girls…did not.  We tended to build fortresses in the woods, climb trees, rescue critters, explore cranberry bogs and spend days at the pond which was a few minutes walk from their house.  We also re-enacted Grease 2 on the front lawn every night for almost an entire summer.  Yes, you read that correctly.  Grease 2.  Because… Adrian Zmed.  I know.  It surpasses understanding.

Anyway, we were basically feral.

We had a stretch one summer where we would get up while it was still dark. Unbeknownst to the adults, we would sneak out of their little grey shingled house.  The three of us would put on our bathing suits and run up the street with its pavement embedded with rocks that would have hurt normal people. By that point in summer, though, we’d not worn proper shoes for a month and had hooves for feet.  Our intention was always to swim before sun-up, when the normally copper tinged pond water lay still and flat, like onyx, and the daytime cacophony of children laughing and adults admonishing gave way to a chorus of crickets and tree frogs, and a splash which would go unnoticed later in the day would seem deafeningly loud.

Our filthy feet would fly, the piney sap from the carpet of fallen needles leaving them black and sticky.  We barely needed our eyes to adjust to the dark.  We’d traversed that well-worn trail so many times- we ran, guided by memory- avoid the ditch there, hop the fallen log there.  We were giddy with the knowledge we were outlaws.  No one knew where we were or what we were doing.  We didn’t have a lot of rules growing up, but we were breaking most of them.

Toward the end of the path, off to the left in a  little copse of trees, there was a campsite. As my younger sister would say, it was super “sketchola.”  Some of the people staying there were undoubtedly families doing family things, the majority were most assuredly not.

Any thinking person would give the place wide berth even in daylight, and rightfully so.

We would sing songs (I vaguely remember the Smurf theme being one of them.  I so wish I was kidding about that.) half-hoping to wake up some of the older boys we’d seen during the day.  Okay, TOTALLY hoping to wake them.  What would have come of our success, we’ll never know.  Thank God

I think the other two might have been nervous though I can’t say for sure.  I wasn’t afraid. Not there in the dark, courting disaster.

Around the same age, maybe a little older, I discovered hitchhiking.  A few times I was picked up by men, sometimes with a friend, sometimes not.  I knew on some level it wasn’t smart, but I wasn’t worried.  When I was in college, I lived and worked in a very dangerous neighborhood and walked home by myself at night all the time, unfazed.

It wasn’t bravery, though.  It was more like I desperately needed my fear barometer to be recalibrated.

As a kid, I battled insomnia frequently.  Everyone else in the house would fall asleep, and, seemingly safe in my own bed, I would be paralyzed.  Afraid to walk in front of windows, catastrophizing every little noise I heard.  I had all manner of irrational fears. One of the main ones was that I would be killed by the mafia.

…I know.

I’d been expressly forbidden to read The Godfather.  Which naturally meant I promptly read The Godfather, by flashlight, in the garage.  I was twelve, and genuinely scared of hitmen murdering me in my own home.  In suburban Massachusetts.  I mean, not JUST mafia hitmen, obviously.  That would be silly.  Garden variety murderers, too.  I would stay up all night in stark terror, only falling asleep when the sky began to lighten.

No one ever hurt me in some seemingly dangerous places or situations, but I had very bad things happen to me in what should have been the safe cocoon of my family.

I have a friend who has been going through some traumatic stuff lately. People are encouraging, even insisting that she go home to stay with her mother in the house where she grew up. Makes perfect sense- when life knocks you down you go home. It seems like the most logical thing, the safest thing, the sanest thing.  Well, it seems that way to people who don’t get it.

People are frustrated that she doesn’t want to go home and sleep in the very bed where she was violated.

Think about that.

If you are raped by a stranger in an alley, no one expects you to go back there, set up a recliner and a lamp and read the Sunday paper with your attacker.  Unless it’s your father, or your uncle, or your brother.

Home isn’t just a structure, it’s a concept.  For most people it is their soft place to fall, their safe haven.  Not so, for survivors of incest.  The very IDEA of home gets compromised.  When your abuser is family, and so are his or her co-conspirators or accessories after the fact, there can’t be a happy homecoming.  Not really.  But we’re expected to go home, anyway.  People are asking us to pass the gravy at Thanksgiving, and we can’t stop looking at the chalk outline of our childhood on the floor, the blood stains on the walls. The crime scene tape across our bedroom doors.

People who are not survivors of sexual abuse have God-given fear instincts that kick in when they find themselves in inherently dangerous situations.  So do survivors.  It’s just our dangerous places are often disguised by picket fences, our war zones are decorated with family photos.

It’s what makes incest so profoundly complicated.  People involved love both parties. They love the victim AND the perpetrator.  They ‘don’t want to choose.’  The whole ‘not choosing’ thing?  That’s a choice, y’all.  It is always, always a choice in favor of the abuser, and THAT is a bell you cannot unring.  That’s what can make it, in the end, impossible to ever really go home again.

21 Comments on “Picket fences

  1. Your writing is so beautiful; poetical and stunning. Thank you for offering your honest and melodic voice to the growing body of important work offered up by women and survivors. You are brave and true ❤

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Oy. This one hurts. That choice thing–I guess people do choose. That sucks because (and this sounds whinier than I’d like) it makes me realize no one chose me. Powerful piece. ❤️

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Thank you for sharing. So much of this is true for me. “No one expects you to go back there…. Unless it’s your father.”
    He was chosen.
    I’m going to need to put on my big girl panties today.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. I am so grateful my childhood home was sold years ago, and no family still even lives in that state.

    Although family ties keep it front and center anyway — Christmas, always, but there are graduations and a wedding coming up.

    In my case, there’s no choosing, because there isn’t any knowing. I am not nor would I want to rip the family apart, because it would be visited on younger generations who had nothing to do with the past, anyway. But that happens to be my circumstance. It’s not a huge family, anyway, so it’s not like there’d be that many to take sides and line up.

    So I swallow it and deal with the times we come together, and I’m not sure any more if that’s the ….. if it’s what I want or don’t want, I seem to be really confused.


  5. Thank you for your courage and honesty. I wish you love and peace. You are an exceptional writer too: poetic prose which is as hauntingly, beautifully descriptive as the story is horrifying. Thank you for speaking for those who can’t find their voices yet.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. The perpetrator was chosen. Is still chosen. I’m told that it’s a good thing people change, meaning he wouldn’t do it again – get over it. I was told he probably didn’t know what he was doing back then – that he’s harmless now. Lies. Those are lies and he is chosen. Will always be chosen.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Hitting right on that nail again today! My Mother picked my Father after social services made her leave him. She would leave me alone for weekends at a time to go be with him, which was over 50 miles away and me only 13 with a baby brother to watch of 4. Life didn’t get easier once the abuse stopped, it just changed into a different kind of abuse, one in which I was the one to blame.
    I see now that my Mother was a victim too, we don’t realize that sometimes the abuser is doing the same thing to your Mother. There are so many ways in which an abuser can get to you! The manipulation can go on for years after the physical abuse stops. I think the mind games abusers play with children can be much harder to over come at lease for me it was. My PTSD is easier to deal with but “Home” was never
    a safe place.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I don’t expect you to go back to the scene, not even close. I don’t do it myself. I won’t put my children in the presence of people I know to be abusers. It was a hard decision to come to, hard to let go of hope of it ever being different and hard to say no to social pressure (that “family” must be preserved even when it’s a dreadful and infectious disease). In that decision was peace, healing, and freedom to write in a whole new way.

    Liked by 3 people

  9. My family never even really liked much less loved my molester, but didn’t carry thru with standing up for me in favor basically of just avoiding some awkwardness.
    Really?!? Momentary awkwardness was too high a price to pay? (shakes head)
    Happens all too often I’m afraid.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s so sad. Why not, if it wasn’t a close person — don’t get me wrong, any family should deal with whomever it is, and forcefully, but that seems particularly baffling. Why stay connected to someone you’re not close with who harmed your child/family member that way?

      On the other hand, I get it, too — I was mildly molested by a godfather who was my dad’s best friend. I’d told my brothers who made me tell him — and he knocked me down for lying about his friend. And once he finally did relent enough to call my godfather, who admitted to the incident, all he did was make him apologize — and remain best friends with him, and have him in our house every weekend from then until I moved out at 18.

      This was before much worse was happening to me.

      I’m sorry you were forced into continued contact and must have felt devalued by the lack of proper choosing. That’s so hurtful.

      Liked by 2 people

  10. YES YES YES! No one understands why I don’t want to go back there even though ‘he’ doesn’t live there anymore. So many painful memories that far outweigh the few good ones that there occurred in my childhood. Now, as a mother, I go so my children can have relationships with their grandmother, aunts, uncles and cousins (none of whom were the abuser). However, I hate every single minute of it and I’m always left feeling guilty feelings. No one gets it unless they’ve been there.
    Thank you for sharing and putting into words the things I’m struggling with on the inside. It sucks when you hate going ‘home’.


    • I’m sorry it’s so hard, Lori. It’s okay for your well being to be a priority, you know. Family can meet on neutral ground. You don’t need to sacrifice your emotional health in order for no one else to be uncomfortable.

      Liked by 1 person

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