“Remember that night I went missing when I was a teenager?”
“Yes,” my mother replied. “You went off with a man. Your father was so livid.”
“What you don’t know is that I never went voluntarily. I was abducted and raped.”
Mom let this sink in.
“Why didn’t you tell us?”
I have wondered the same thing. In retrospect, I must have been severely traumatized and was likely in shock.
“I was just glad to be alive, I guess. I didn’t know what was going to happen to me.”
“He penetrated you?”
I felt my ire rise. My mother’s attitude towards inappropriate male behaviour was that boys will be boys.
“The memories of that night are only starting to surface, Mom. I don’t remember it all. He took me to a deserted farm house, and assaulted me over and over. I remember shaking uncontrollably, and having an asthma attack. I wondered if I was ever going to get out alive.”
“But he didn’t penetrate you?”
“Mom, this man took me against my will and forced me to repeatedly commit sex acts. That is sexual assault. Do you think it’s only sexual assault if there is intercourse?”
“Why would you dredge this up now? Why not just leave it in the past?”
I couldn’t believe what my mother was saying. I had disappeared one night fourteen years ago. After being left at the side of a highway, I walked miles to return to my sister’s home where I had been staying. The police were waiting for me and knew the perpetrator. They asked me if I wanted to press charges, but I was tired and just wanted a bath. One of the officers told me frankly that I had asked for it, given the tight jeans and halter top I had been wearing. I had no fight in me at that moment. They put me on a bus for home instead. When I arrived, my parents expressed their anger and disappointment in me and I was grounded for a week. There was no discussion.
“It hurt me that you and Dad never asked me what happened. You just assumed I was at fault.”
“Your father was so upset, he never thought you were that kind of girl. It broke his heart.”
His heart, I thought. What about mine?
“Well, I just wanted you to know what happened to me, Mom. I needed to clear the air.”
“I don’t what difference it makes now. It’s in the past.”
“Because whatever happens to us remains a part of us. It is important to understand in order to heal.”
* * *
Two days later my mother dropped by.
“I’ve been thinking about what you said,” she started. “You think that what happened in the past can continue to affect us?”
“I think that what we experience and how we react to it creates patterns that repeat themselves until we learn to break those patterns, yes.”
“Well, I’ve never told anyone this, but I was assaulted, as you say, by an uncle when I was six.”
I waited for her to continue.
“Mom and Dad got a new car, and they took me for a ride with Dad’s younger brother. Dad was so proud. My uncle and I sat in the back and he pulled his penis out of his pants and made me touch him.”
“Why didn’t you say something?”
“Because I knew that my mother would blame me.”
“She always said that boys will be boys, and girls are responsible for not inviting trouble.”
“Mom, that’s terrible!”
“I can’t believe I’m telling you this. I’m sixty-three years old and never told a soul.” The eyes that met mine were troubled, full of pain. “There’s more. Grandma and Grandpa lived in the little house on the farm and we kids would have to go visit them, but I hated it. Grandma would be cooking at the big woodstove, and she’d tell me to go on back to the bedroom and check on Grandpa. Grandpa would want to do things to me.”
“That is sick!”
“It was sick, but Grandma just said that was Grandpa’s way of loving me. He dragged my sister out behind the barn and raped her one day. My younger brother tried to stop him – got a gun and everything, but it didn’t do any good.”
She continued: “Even my older brother Leo was a bugger like that. He’d try to get in bed with us girls and have sex. We were always pushing him out.”
“And no one protected you?”
“It was just our way of life. Neighbours were the same. We had to run past the farm next door to us every day on our way back from school, in fear that one of the boys would catch us. My little brother got caught one day, and the boy made him perform oral sex.”
I wanted to throw up. “I don’t understand how nobody did anything.”
“We lived on a farm. We saw animals doing it all the time. I guess we just thought it was part of nature.”
“But you do understand that it’s not right, Mom?”
“I guess I always sort of knew that, but I couldn’t talk to anyone about it. I thought it was my fault.”
“You were a kid! How could that be your fault?”
Mom pondered this as if it had never occurred to her before. “Do you really think talking about it can help?”
“I think understanding what happened to us can help us break cycles.” I could see that you she wasn’t getting it. “For example, Mom, you thought that you were to blame for what happened to you. How many times in your life have you accepted abuse because you couldn’t stand up for yourself?”
We both knew the answer to that one. Two abusive marriages in which my mother was always willing to take blame for what was done to her.
“How do I break the cycle?”
“By catching yourself before you go into It’s my fault mode.”
* * *
“I did it!” my mother’s triumphant voice rang out at the other end of the phone. “I was at the doctor’s office and he told me I have cancer. I immediately thought of all the stupid diets I’ve done and that I probably brought this on myself, when I remembered your words. I stood right up and said: “It’s not my fault! I don’t deserve this!.” You would be so proud of me.”
“Good for you, Mom.”
Mom told me that the cancer was in her bowel, and that they were going to do emergency surgery. She’d suspected cancer for sometime, but hadn’t told anyone. Unable to stand up for herself against my father’s constant abuse, she had contemplated letting the cancer take her life. Our recent conversations had helped her see new possibilities.
“Mom, you need to come through this surgery with a new determination to live – for yourself. You deserve to do all the things you want to in life, and you don’t need to put up with abuse. Choose life, Mom, and when you get better….. take assertiveness training.”
As a therapeutic touch practitioner, I was allowed in the recovery room. When Mom awakened, her eyes immediately locked on mine. “I thought about what you said! I am going to live for me! No more blame or shame!”
* * *
Life is a spiral dance. We don’t leave the past behind, we circle back around to the issues and patterns that have been a part of our experience – always from a new perspective, and always with a new opportunity for understanding and healing.