by Jennifer on April 27, 2009

Some stories go on, even when we wish they would end.

This, I know.

My fingers tingle with wanting to snap the book closed. My mouth opens to declare well, that’s that so I can get on with the next story, whole and separate and not tied to the last. A brand new Once upon a time followed by the middle and The End, with a flourish of script.

But that’s not how it goes. It’s not a new lesson, just an old one, dusted off.

Someone else wishes this story would end. Or, more accurately, that I would stop telling it, that my voice would either fall quiet or say that’s that.

Because silence would be more comfortable for everyone – everyone except for me, of course, or for anyone who thinks if she can talk about child abuse, maybe I can, too.

But what I’m hearing is Why can’t she let it go? I don’t want my private life written about.

I know I crossed a line when I wrote here and put my name on my words, and that I would have to defend that choice. I knew that, at some point (hello, now)  it would all become a huge pain in the ass and I would have to go over my decision inch by inch and thread by thread to know the strength of it to know I did the right thing. For me. For others. For the sake of truth. For the simple reason that Don’t tell doesn’t sound a damn bit different now than it did 30 years ago.

And I made the right choice. I know I did.

In all of us, and especially anyone who grew up the way my sister and brother and I did and can say I know, I recognize, I understand (so many of you, a number that breaks my heart), there’s a thread that connects our functioning self to a place at the bottom of the soul. A tether tied to something heavy and inscrutable. An anchor?

Or (yes) a stone.

We don’t live life on a timeline. It’s made up, instead, of layers, one over the other. Today rests right on top of yesterday, and that lies on the on the back of last week and last year or any year before this one. And running down through all those layers, this thread.

Tied to the thing you had to survive. Tied to the thing that taught you that you could survive.

Whip and lifeline, at once.

And you leave it alone as much as you can, because if you didn’t, you couldn’t get through the days.

Because one tug, at the right moment, is enough to bring the oldest pain to the surface, and who wants that? Living in the past isn’t living, and it was hard enough the first time, so you move on, to try find what is good in life and grab hold. And maybe you even find your voice, and it gains strength over time.

Because you heard enough don’t tell in your life. Then. Now. And now makes even less sense, because back then, you didn’t have the words. (A thing everyone counted on, didn’t they?) All you want now is to say it happened and to have someone hear it. I’ve been lucky (so blessed) to find that here.

I’ve said before that I don’t expect the story to turn out any different than it has so far. There’s no formula for stories where real people stumble on to the page, or just stumble, with all their weakness and eyes averted, so not to see. In real life, sometimes, there’s just a man with only enough armor for himself (he’s so sure), and he shows up too late to save the girl from the witch with her mirrors and poisons.

Or by the time he rides up with his excuses, the girl is a woman, and she’s already saved herself.

It can happen like that. Oh, it can.

And if that’s how the story goes down, then by god she has the right to sit on a bar stool and tell the tale. Or to stand in front of a room full of people, or sit in a circle of others with their own stories. Or to let her fingers fly over her keyboard.

Or not to tell. That, too.

But if she does, then when she’s done, when there’s nothing left that she feels like saying, it’s her call when to say Well, that’s that. Hers alone.

If there’s compassion in her, she will try (has tried) to be fair, and when she can, without changing the truth, might even make a few allowances. For youth. For life being a pile of shit sometimes. For people making enormous, stupid choices once, and maybe twice, when their judgment was clouded, or they were weak.

She may even allow for the possibility of a true, heartfelt I’m sorry. Or could be, if the person who should would open the book to the chapter that told the worst of it and understand, once and for all, deep as bone, how bad it was.

As if it could happen like that. She probably knows better by now (she does), but go ahead, prove her wrong.

I wouldn’t count on more than a few allowances, though, because some things just are what they are, with edges that don’t yield to sanding and a surface that doesn’t take to shine and polish.

But some things are too big not to say, and even if you let go of them, there they are. Out in the world. Like they always were, and would be. Will be, ever.

Light has a way of finding dark corners. Almost nothing stays hidden forever.

But most people know that, or should.


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{ 41 comments… read them below or add one }

Em April 27, 2009 at 9:22 am

Oh, Jennifer. Wow. You ARE a strong, brave soul. E

tysdaddy April 27, 2009 at 9:56 am

This is heavy, my friend. I know about the edges, the ones that leave the splinters that we keep digging out of our skin. The stone is the element we all share, as different as each stone may be . . .

Emily R April 27, 2009 at 10:10 am

you have a right to tell your story. if our parents wanted us to say good things about them, they should have acted accordingly.

Jenn @ Juggling Life April 27, 2009 at 10:21 am

Don’t stop telling the truth. Your writing has helped me realize it’s okay to talk about what happened to you. I loved my mother very much, she was a good mother in many ways, she had a very difficult life, and though she loved me more than life itself she emotionally and physically abused me.

the mama bird diaries April 27, 2009 at 10:35 am

You have every right to tell your story… honestly and beautifully. They made their own choices and now you can make yours.

Louise April 27, 2009 at 11:25 am

First, this is excellent.

I agree with Emily R. Just like parents wanting you to visit, if they wanted you to say only glowing things about them, they might have treated you in a different manner… all of them. Oh yeah, they might treat you in a different manner NOW as well.

Why are people like this so selfish? My guess if their lives were genuinely good and the fruits of their lives were full of praise-worthy things, they would humbly hope you wouldn’t tell about their goodness. But not to tell the truth about the bad is just selfishness on their part. If it is ignored, they can convince themselves it did not happen, and that they did nothing wrong. That they NEVER did anything wrong, and that they are good. Let’s see, maybe they are not evil (because there are many, and evil is a strong word), but I’m pretty sure from my vantage point, I see only selfishness. Not a lot of love or caring, just trying to brush their pasts aside so the present doesn’t know how bad it was. Funny how people can just move on so easily from one situation to another, from one person to another, and leave behind the skeletons. No, nothing stays hidden forever, but they seem to think it’s YOUR job to hide it. I think you know I’m with you in being more than a little tired of that behavior, which seems so childish.

At what point do people grow up and acknowledge their faults and weaknesses and mistakes? Granted that is a tough, and often painful, thing to do, but don’t we become better people by doing that? At least if we acknowledge it to ourselves, and to those we’ve injured in the process? Do people not WANT to be better human beings? I know many who do. Clearly not everyone.

Yes, you have the right to tell. What happened to you was part of YOUR life, and you have every right to talk about it. If those people wanted to not be in that story, they might have behaved better. And really, they should be kissing the ground in front of you for leaving specific names and places out. No one has knocked on their door accusing them of anything. Most of the people who read here do not personally know those people. No one is hunting them down. One has to wonder why they are so afraid.

And besides your having the right to tell, if it is something you can do, you may have a responsibility to tell. If your story can help even one person, isn’t it worth it? If it can create awareness that just one person would not have to go through what you did, isn’t it tenfold worth it? I know that your words have touched many people who have had similar stories–giving them the courage to tell their own or at least know that they were not alone. We will never know how many. Or how many might notice something to help save a child in the future. What little I have said on my blog regarding my perspective to this ugly family story has shown me that people hunger for it. You are not telling this story for kicks. It is because it needs to be told. You HAVE made allowances that were generous in my opinion. It IS too big to keep quiet.

Maybe one day (I’m not really that optimistic) some of the people will realize how stupid they have been… for more than 35 years.

Madge April 27, 2009 at 12:16 pm

Everything i said this morning on the phone.

V-Grrrl April 27, 2009 at 12:25 pm

“Whip and lifeline”

Oh yes, that thread…We all have some version of it running through our lives.

Your story. Your life. Your blog. Your choice.

Why shouldn’t you claim it? I appreciate that you speak your piece not in anonymity, shame, or rage but as a fully actualized person, as a survivor.

Andi April 27, 2009 at 12:28 pm

You are so brave to shine the light in all the dark places. For yourself, yes, but also for all of us. Thanks.

KellyL April 27, 2009 at 12:31 pm

First, I love the line “Don’t tell doesn’t sound a damn bit different now than it did 30 years ago.” So very true – those words just echo to their older counterparts and remain the same. Also, I agree with Louise. You have made allowances that were VERY GENEROUS. Your heart is so full. You give me and other readers hope and inspiration in our trials. I am thankful.

Chris April 27, 2009 at 12:41 pm

“Don’t tell doesn’t sound a damn bit different now than it did 30 years ago.” It certainly does not. I have a family member who still occasionally requests that of me. I think “she” is doing it her way in her own time, and “she” chooses the most beautiful words.

anymommy April 27, 2009 at 1:34 pm

I’m thankful for your words and telling. I haven’t experienced this awfulness, but I know, absolutely know, I am a better parent for having met you and reading your gorgeous writing. I know you are telling for you – as you should – but you are endowing so many with your courage.

Daryl April 27, 2009 at 1:40 pm

I am thinking this is your life and you have every right to tell it to whoever you please … and dont stop because I believe aside from helping you .. the telling helps others and maybe some who might be abusers who read this take warning .. you could be outed one day too!

texasholly @ June Cleaver Nirvana April 27, 2009 at 2:23 pm

A person capable of apologizing is often a person not capable of committing things in need of an apology. I wish it wasn’t so. I wish there wasn’t a need.

I am pro-story telling. I think scarier things live in the dark.

david mcmahon April 27, 2009 at 5:48 pm

You’re so right about the layers of life. It’s a perfect description.

maggie, dammit April 27, 2009 at 6:33 pm

It is your right. People cannot expect that just because your stories overlap, you are not entitled to them, that they didn’t happen separately and differently for you. As long as you treat the ghosts with respect, you have every right to exorcise them.

Kat April 27, 2009 at 8:14 pm

Wow. Got here from Maggie’s StumbleUpon on Facebook.

There’s a lot I don’t/can’t/won’t write on my blog about our childhood because of my brothers and my sister, the invasion to their privacy. But sometimes it’s so hard not to write it. You’re very brave.

flutter April 27, 2009 at 10:54 pm

Damned straight, Jenn. You sing it, scream it, whisper it on the slightest breeze and I will be here to witness.

JCK April 28, 2009 at 7:11 am

Today lies on top of yesterday, oh yes it does. And one tug, one little tug is enough to bring it all back… Your words evoke so much pain, yet your courage shines through and your strength. You write your truth and that is powerful. And when one writes truth, it shakes the foundation, yet the rebuild is so much stronger. Keep writing it. We are here to listen and applaud your courage. Sending huge hugs.

Oh! And how much more powerful for your children that you are revealing these stories rather than burying them. Because family stories have a way of coming back and haunting the next generation. You are such a great mom!

Craig Glenn April 28, 2009 at 7:21 am


Tears for you and….

Tears for me too.

Craig Glenn

Green Girl April 28, 2009 at 9:45 am

You have such a lyrical way–this describes the dilemma of writing/revealing our hellish pasts perfectly.

The Muse April 28, 2009 at 10:52 am

Sometimes writing it….
Is the only way to heal……………………

Mrs. Chili April 28, 2009 at 1:01 pm

“Whip and lifeline, at once.”

If we are ever in the same time zone, we must get together. Everything you say – and I mean EVERYTHING – resonates deep inside me.

I am sure that the perpetrators in my story have no idea about my blog. I’m also sure that they see things very differently than I do. “We did the best we knew how” is the excuse I got (when I was still listening to excuses). That’s a long way from a heartfelt “I’m sorry,” isn’t it.

The story is OURS to tell. If our perpetrators didn’t want their story out in the open, then they should have behaved in such a way that the stories we’d tell would be ones they’d be willing to share. The fact that you’re meeting with resistance only proves your point.

fancy feet April 28, 2009 at 3:09 pm

It’s your story to tell or not to, like you said. It’s your story.

Loved this post.

Landon April 28, 2009 at 5:21 pm

Well said.
Count me among the many who are proud of you for not only telling your story, but for emerging as the strong and lovely human being you are. Despite it all.

Hatchet April 28, 2009 at 6:52 pm

Oh Jennifer, I’m so sorry.

Don’t tell is the story that links all of us together, no matter how big or how small the pain. It always amazes me how families like to think they can keep a lock on ALL of the skeletons in the closet, forever.

Your writing is exquisite, as always.

apathy lounge April 28, 2009 at 8:41 pm

Truth can’t be changed in hindsight. What’s done is done and you have a story to tell. Accusing fingers should be turned around so that they point back at the accusor. Which came first: Chicken or egg? Abuse or the story about abuse? You go, girl!

jessica April 28, 2009 at 9:30 pm

what an incredible post. I truly believe that no one can stay silent forever and sometimes reliving the past, if only for a while, at the right time is exactly what it takes to never have to go back there again.

Maggie May April 29, 2009 at 2:59 am

I have come over from David’s and want to congratulate you on jointly winning POTD.
It is a poignant post and I need to read a few more of them to get the complete gist of it but I would say that everyone has a right to tell if a great wrong has been done. You were the one that suffered because of it.

Kirti April 29, 2009 at 5:11 am

Wow, amazing piece of writing…you should be congratulated for your courage…congrats also for the POTD!

Merisi April 29, 2009 at 5:27 am

Of course it is your life and your right to peel back as many layers as you wish!
Bon courage,

Congratulations on the POTD from David!

Jenn Jilks April 29, 2009 at 5:59 am

This is a post I can idenrify with! wrote a memoir about caring for my failing parents. (Mom had cancer, dad a brain tumour) I spoke of the perils of a daughter giving palliative care, and the lessons I learned (too late!).

My generation thanks me.

My parent’s friends alienated and scolded me. Yet, the stories I told (family infighting, their illnesses giving them dementia and delirium, my father’s irrational, erratic behaviour) help others understand what many have to endure.

Good for you!

Janine April 29, 2009 at 8:13 am

This is thoughtfully beautiful…and demonstrates true depth of feeling and thought that has hard won….Thanks for your courage…then, and now. You inspire. Congratulations on POTD….truly well-deserved. ~Janine XO

Debbie Davis April 29, 2009 at 1:30 pm

Hello, I came over from David’s authorblog. Congratulations on the Post of the Day Award.

Kimberly April 29, 2009 at 2:15 pm

You keep right on talking and telling. It is your right and your words give strength to anyone else who lived through a similar situation. Great post, beautiful writing.

Dharmamama April 30, 2009 at 7:45 am

I’ve read this post several times since you first put it up.

Keep writing, keep telling those stories; we are here with you, and the person (people?) that did those things can’t get you any more.

I couldn’t think of what to say, how to respond – but I think that’s it. You’re not alone – not only in what you suffered as a child, but now. You’re not alone now. We’ve got your back.

I had a moment (several, actually) when my brother-in-law joined facebook, and I link to my blog on there, and I realized he might read it, then my sister would, too. I was ready to stop blogging and cancel my facebook account! But I didn’t.

I haven’t written as openly as you about things that happened, partly because *I’m* not ready to face them – but I’m going to keep writing. I’m going to keep NOT hiding.

Thanks for being brave.

Coco April 30, 2009 at 10:24 am

How telling and sad that the people who hurt you as a child continue to try and make things all about them and how they feel. Because it happened years ago, you are supposed to sweep it under the rug? You are supposed to protect their feelings? Where were they to protect you when it was their job to do so?

If your parents think it’s tough to READ about it, maybe they should consider how it was to have to LIVE it. Shame on them, then and now.

Jennifer, I support you and I’m here for you. Keep writing, keep telling, keep speaking out.

Gwen April 30, 2009 at 3:58 pm

Wishing I had the words, but standing here in solidarity all the same.

Hilary May 3, 2009 at 4:51 pm

It’s your story to tell. How dare anyone who feels you haven’t the right.. the need. You are an inspiration to many and you express yourself so beautifully, You are one classy lady.

phd in yogurtry May 3, 2009 at 9:32 pm

Truth vs protecting others. This IS the story, or a big part of it. And much of the time protecting others is the denial of the self, a reluctant bargain and can feel like a repeat. So I appreciate and can relate to your struggle. To say that courage is required to move forward is an understatement. However you proceed, I hope you find peace.

Cath May 5, 2009 at 10:12 am

So glad I got to this. You are a powerful writer. You write for me to JEnnifer. Really you do. My family sit in this room with me as I type and do not know, will never know the pain, the memories, the need to tell.
But I can’t.

You recognised it in my when I first came here and commented. I know I am not a statistic. I am (tragically) not uncommon.

You write so well. So eloquently. And this is the bravest thing I have done – to comment like this and put my name on it. I owe myself that much, when a fellow human showed such courage, I can too. Thank you.

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