Picture imperfect

by Jennifer on June 17, 2009

eventThe other night I came across a piece of information that knocked a little world inside me off its axis. I don’t want to say here how I found it, but I do want to tell you about it.

This: a photo of my stepmother – you know her as Sue – at a tea and silent auction to benefit a local organization in her city (my hometown). It was startling enough to see the photo of her after all these years, but there was more.

It took me about five seconds to discover that the proceeds from the event would go to a parenting skills center whose mission “is to provide a variety of quality preventative and treatment parent/family education programs to families at risk for child abuse and neglect and domestic unrest/violence.”


And there she stood big as life, posing for a photo like there was no reason in the world why she shouldn’t be there. As it turns out, one of the women in the photo with her is the founder of the center, and another woman is a therapist and adoption coordinator. You have to wonder what they would think if they knew the truth about the woman standing with them.

After that first moment of shock, I just became really calm. I wasn’t sure yet what I would do, but I felt as though stumbling upon a piece of information like this called for some kind of action from me. (Maybe it does, maybe it doesn’t.)  I felt like it’s time. Time for her to deal with me in a way she’s never had to before, as someone strong who has a voice and a pen.

So a couple of hours later, I sent a note to Sue through Facebook (relatives of hers are on my friend list, so she came up on my list of People You May Know).

My words were simple.

“I hope you made a large donation,” followed by a link to the page with the photos. And then, “You might be interested in reading this,” and a link to the series of posts I’ve written here about my family. (There are others, but those are a good start.)

It’s the first contact I’ve had with her in over 15 years.

It’s possible that she will come to this place to read what I’ve written, or maybe she won’t. There’s even a chance she won’t see the note I sent, so I plan to send the same thing to her by mail.

In any case, that’s not the point. What she does or doesn’t do now doesn’t feel as important to me as what I do.

I don’t expect anything to come of this, really, nothing satisfying, anyway. It’s impossible to drink from a broken cup. Any action on my part is bound to feel hollow and so long overdue that it’s almost irrelevant. If anything, maybe people who think one thing about her will come to see another, truer picture.  Maybe that’s something.

Or maybe all that comes out of this is that I say my piece and go on, which is what I started here. I’ve said what was and what is, and somewhere in there I’ve even hoped for something better in the future, certainly for my own children. And I know (I know) what could be doesn’t lie in the past.

But some things do lie in the past that maybe shouldn’t. So there’s a good chance that I will talk or write about those things in other places besides here, places closer to home for her. And she will know about it. Whatever I do, it will be measured and careful and without anger or any hope for justice of some kind. (The days for that are long past.)

It’s possible that some people out there won’t agree with me or see the point of reacting at all, and that’s fine. Sitting here, I’m not sure I can put words to what this is that I’m feeling, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have a solid reason for doing whatever I feel needs to be done, once I figure out what’s next.

There are a lot of reasons, and many of you have read them (many of you have lived those reasons yourselves, and have your own stories), why it’s not out of line for me to react on a bedrock-deep level (below anger, below pain, even) when I see this woman pretending to be an advocate for abused children. Whatever reaction I have to that isn’t outsized compared to the nerve she has to put herself in that place, in that photo.

It just isn’t.


If you have a moment, Emily wrote a poignant, related post at her place today that – as she often does – inspired me.

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{ 43 comments… read them below or add one }

Angela June 17, 2009 at 3:36 am

You are an inspiration, Jennifer.

Suzanne June 17, 2009 at 3:38 am

I completely understand your need to speak out, if just directly to Sue at this point. The pain you endured from this woman should not go unspoken. If it helps one other person, then it is a victory.

Sometimes, it is extremely cathartic to write about that which hurts us.

Lee June 17, 2009 at 5:46 am

Sue is to be pitied. She displays identity forclosure at a criminal level.

Daryl June 17, 2009 at 7:06 am

I have always said you are a better person and I am … I would be writing to the foundation and to those others in the photo to say ”hey, guess what? Sue is an abuser and maybe she’s trying to make up for it by joining your organization but she shouldnt be permitted near children ever”

Revenge is best served cold.

Chris June 17, 2009 at 7:15 am

Powerful stuff, Jennifer. You’re very brave. Hugs.

V-Grrrl June 17, 2009 at 7:27 am

It would be nice to think that this is some deep subconscious attempt on her part to begin to make amends for what she’s done in the past without having to truly face the magnitude of her actions. Acknowledging the problem exists “out there” and parents and children need help “out there” could be the very first step in facing the darkest, ugliest part of herself.

Or this action could be the ultimate form of subterfuge and DENIAL, an in-your-face act to silence the whispers or shouts of her conscience and of her victims.

In my ideal world, the first version would be closer to the truth than the second one, but I trust your gut reaction and instinct here because YOU KNOW, you’ve lived with her madness, you’ve seen how her mind bends reality and justifies that which can’t be justified.

If she really wanted to make amends, the first place to start would be with the victims of abuse.

I understand your need to speak out, to claim the truth, to not let it be buried or denied or forgotten. That takes courage, and shows strength. Facing that truth and those facts head-on demonstrates once again how far you’ve come, how much you have to teach others facing similar situations.

Dharmamama June 17, 2009 at 7:44 am

This line came to me: I carry your heart with me, I carry it in my heart…

The rest of that poem is a little too romantic and relationship-py to post here – but I wanted to let you know – you are not alone. Many people who care about you are holding your heart and hand, as you take these actions I know are necessary.

Wow! You’re like a grownup and stuff. ; )

nicole June 17, 2009 at 8:12 am

You sent it because you had to for yourself, and that is enough. Whatever her motives are I’m sure you’ve spent enough of this lifetime on them. You are standing tall and speaking the truth. You are letting her know that you will not be silent. Brave and Beautiful.

maggie, dammit June 17, 2009 at 8:34 am

Holy shit.

You speak, girl. Speak and speak and speak until you no longer feel the need to speak. It is your truth and you have every right to it.

I’m so proud of you.

Coco June 17, 2009 at 8:48 am

Holy God. I literally had to read through this a few times before it soaked in.

She is either delusional or she has got a streak of nerve a mile wide. I suspect it’s a combination of the two, because I confess I find it highly unlikely that she has changed her stripes at all and is somehow seeking a way to make up for the cruelty she doled out in your childhood.

I feel so angry at her, pretending she is so concerned with abused children. She is a monster, a fraud, and a liar, and I am so proud of you for slapping her in the face with the truth of what she did, regardless of the outcome. Let her know that someone knows the truth about her and speaks it.

Ree June 17, 2009 at 8:53 am

I have to second Maggie’s comment and tell you that I’m so very awestruck by how calm you sound in this post.


slouching mom June 17, 2009 at 9:05 am

i fully support and admire what you’ve done. she should be held accountable.

tysdaddy June 17, 2009 at 11:55 am

Yeah. Calm. That’s the sense I’m getting here as well.

Work it, girl.

tysdaddy June 17, 2009 at 11:56 am

That sounded bad.

I meant, work it, my friend. Sorry to have belittled you that way . . .

Jenn @ Juggling Life June 17, 2009 at 12:00 pm

It seems as though you are doing this for the right reasons–because it will help you, not because it will hurt her (though her getting hurt is acceptable).

I would be very tempted to let the director know something about her past–it is possible that she is volunteering, not just attending a fund-raiser and that would be totally unacceptable.

Jennifer Harvey June 17, 2009 at 12:37 pm

Brian – you didn’t! I got it. 🙂

Jenn – I’m already on it…I’ve had the same thought.

Thumbelina June 17, 2009 at 12:45 pm

Well Jennifer when I first loaded this page it had 7 comments. Now there’s 16. Life got in the way for a few hours. Sorry about that.

I think you absolutely have the right to feel what ever you need to feel and do what ever you need to do. I cannot express what I feel about that woman being at that place. I do know that I would want to know if any of my children, or I, might be within spitting distance of her. So you write. Write and write and write. And don’t forget to sign your work.
(((biggest hug ever))))

Thumbelina June 17, 2009 at 12:51 pm

Like Brian I hope I didn’t belittle your pain. “Life got in the way.” Huh. I just felt the need to explain why your reader would tell you I was here 3+hours and more.
You know how much I admire your courage and strength. And now I have read the others I agree – I feel the calm. That is so therapeutic for you – and dangerous for her. 🙂

Jessica June 17, 2009 at 3:02 pm

taking your power back is the best thing you can do for yourself

Emily R June 17, 2009 at 5:00 pm

honey, I have a post going up for you tomorrow.

Lisa Milton June 17, 2009 at 5:21 pm

Sue’s duplicity is confounding, but sometimes abusers do just this thing, this amends making or projecting or whatever her game happens to be.

I’ve always kept quiet about the ugly people in my life.

I’ve been rethinking this policy more and more. Your bravery emboldens me.

Mrs. Chili June 17, 2009 at 6:09 pm

Speak it for all those who still haven’t found their voice yet. It ends with us.

nicole June 17, 2009 at 6:51 pm

wow I’ve been reading up… following your links. I am just absorbing your story. And it makes it so much ((more)) amazing – right – that you should speak out against this woman today. If anything I seriously think you should let the director know that you don’t recommend that Sue be in any personal contact with children.

The picture of you and your sister – oh man, it broke my heart.

Your perspective is enriching my life and POV. thank you so much.

the mama bird diaries June 17, 2009 at 7:20 pm

You go jennifer!! I am so proud of you.

anymommy June 17, 2009 at 9:31 pm

I don’t know if you feel this way, but when I read your words I think, wow, this is one of the bravest, most centered people I’ve ever met. Say everything you need to say. It’s your story and she has no power over it any more. I’m deeply sorry she ever did.

phd in yogurtry June 17, 2009 at 9:48 pm

I can only imagine how unsettling this must feel. Talk about a jumble of conflicting, angering, shocking, “you’ve got to be kidding me” feelings. Hugs and more power to you for confronting in your own way, in your own time. Having worked with abusers of many ilk, I am no longer surprised by these hypocritical posturings. But I am outraged each and every time.

JCK June 17, 2009 at 10:21 pm

You were definitely meant to find that picture. I am worried about what Jenn said – that she could be a volunteer. It occurred to me as well that maybe the Director should be contacted. But, whatever you decide, I applaud your courage in moving forward with this. You are coming out of the dark into the light now.

flutter June 17, 2009 at 10:26 pm

I am so proud of you, I can’t even see straight

texasholly @ June Cleaver Nirvana June 18, 2009 at 5:51 am

Good for you. Don’t you just have to wonder what the hell she was doing picking THAT charity? There are a million causes in the world and she chose that one. I was cheering through your ACTION paragraph! YEAH.

Lilian Nattel June 18, 2009 at 11:15 am

This isn’t the first time I’ve heard about perps who are therapists or child advocates. It’s sickening, isn’t it? But most child abusers don’t wear a sign or look like a drooling pervert. Many of them have friends and jobs and donate to charities. They are skilled at being two-faced. It’s crazy-making, more so than people who are violent all the time. But their civil face does provide some sort of modelling or skills that ironically can allow their victims to grow up and live a different and truthful life or to mimic them and put on a good face while living a lie, whether that lie is to pass on abuse in their turn or simply deny (at a cost) their own pain. So kudos to ending the cycle. The choice is about standing in your own truth. For you that’s meant direct contact through facebook and by letter. For other people it might not entail contact. Either is okay. The point is to live your own life in the way that is congruent with your integrity and self-respect.

Hatchet June 18, 2009 at 2:59 pm


Righteous anger wouldn’t be deep and abiding enough to cover the emotions required upon finding that photograph. Kudos to you for remaining calm!

fancy feet June 18, 2009 at 5:21 pm

I want to echo what Maggie and, well, what everyone else is saying and that is to speak.

While I was reading I could just feel your voice rising and making its way past the surface. I know you’ve done that in many ways here, but it’s getting louder and gaining power. Like others have said here, I’m so proud of you. I know I don’t know you, but I’m proud. Keep using your voice.

Mrs. Schmitty June 19, 2009 at 5:01 am

I can imagine how difficult that was for you. I commend you. Hugs to you, friend!

Cammie June 19, 2009 at 9:54 am

I can only imagine the anger I would have felt seeing that. How dare she act like she is an advocate for these children after what she did. It would make me want to SCREAM out loud! I am so proud of you that you contacted her to let her know some people know the truth. Then to let go a little piece at a time.

Heather June 19, 2009 at 9:44 pm

Wow. I couldn’t begin to imagine your pain and the kind of person that does the things that she has done. I just support you in your decisions. Hugs to you.

Louise June 20, 2009 at 5:35 pm

We’ve talked about this already, so I’ll just say I LOVE the reactions from above.

Kimberly June 22, 2009 at 6:06 pm

Wowza. That is a lot to take in.

I think you are one of the most amazing women I’ve ever “known.” I’m incredibly awed by your calm demeanor during this. I would be flipping I think.

Maggie May June 23, 2009 at 3:04 am

It is so normal to react. Any one would.
However you have gone beyond that and have come out in peace. No one can take that away from you.
Congratulations on POTD. Came over from Davidi’s.

Beth June 23, 2009 at 3:58 am

I am impressed with your action! My step-mother wasn’t abusive but she was indifferent to the needs of my sister and I. After our father died, she did and said a lot of things that still hurt to this day (almost 30 years later). I wish I could be more like you and tackle the hurt head on.

brian miller June 23, 2009 at 4:04 am

Congrats on POTD. catching up with your story I can see why David picked it. it took a lot of strength to do what you did. i hope it does open dialogue with your mother…of course my wishes are for the best. but good job laying it out there….

Butternut Squash June 23, 2009 at 7:00 am

Narcissists are completely frightening human beings. They often look very normal and pleasant to the outside world while they are terrorizing at home. Though I wouldn’t expect her to feel much about what you have written, she will know that it could affect her negatively in the eyes of others. More important is that you protect yourself and others from her.

Ofcourse you already know that most abusers have been abused themselves. It could be that her support for this cause makes a great deal of sense in her mind. Perhaps we could even hope for a little guilt or remorse for what she has done.


Sophia June 23, 2009 at 10:37 am

I’ve just followed the link to read the other posts and I think you’re very brave to do what you’ve done. It can be hard to let go of the past when there is no justice, when the person or people responsible for your pain just seem to go on with life with no ramifications. Where’s the karma? Where’s the justice? I hope that you can feel the support from your readers, and let us lift you us when you feel weighed down. Well done – I applaud you.

Technobabe June 23, 2009 at 6:05 pm

It doesn’t matter what other people think about what you do. You are being true to your own beliefs and working toward your own healing. You did say in this post “Whatever I do, it will be measured and careful and without anger or any hope for justice of some kind.”
So, with no expectations and without anger , you are facing something within yourself and looking for closure, not revenge. Best wishes to you for completion and closure.

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