I call it the “sixth sense effect”. Once you wake up to the realization that a relationship has been abusive, you replay the scenes of your life with that person (or people) through the lens of this newfound information and a growing understanding of what you lived through. It’s a splash of cold water in the face, for better and worse. Again and again, you go back through your memory and you see what now seems obvious–but was once desperately confusing and emotionally torturous for you.
It took me five years to get up the nerve to watch The Keepers.
I knew enough about the critically acclaimed 2017 docuseries, and the web of crimes it revealed, to understand how sad and rage-inducing I would find the events it follows. What I did NOT know was that by putting off watching this beautifully made and important story, I was missing out.
Kirsten wants you to know that her daughter, Annie, is a hero. That’s the real story, the one that doesn’t get told enough. Kirsten knows how kind and moral her daughter really is, contrary to the smear campaign against her. She remembers how courageously Annie took action to stand up for her mother and herself, even when it meant risking her own safety. Kirsten is here to set the record straight. And I’m telling their story for all the misunderstood and overlooked heroes among us.
My advanced copy of CHOSEN: A Memoir of Stolen Boyhood arrived on my front stoop on a recent Friday afternoon. By Sunday morning I had read all 318 pages. I’d also filled the back of the book with tightly-packed, handwritten notes in an effort to capture the thoughts and emotions that bubbled up as I read Stephen Mills’ poignant account of surviving sexual abuse as a young teenager.
Sometimes heroes turn out to be good people leading quiet lives who decide to face injustice for the benefit of us all. Dateline recently told the story of one such hero in a special 2-hour episode. My friend, Donna Palomba is a respected advocate who has worked to protect the public from sexual assault perpetrators since she was attacked in a 1993 home invasion by a man who turned out to be a dangerous repeat offender. He was also her husband’s formerly trusted friend. When the Waterbury police accused Donna of fabricating her assault, she fought to clear her name and change department protocols to prevent other survivors from being revictimized the same way.
“I think something bad happened to me.”
These were Chandra Moyer’s words to her husband after she was suddenly hit with frightening flashbacks at the age of 37. In the interview we recorded for my podcast, Chandra gives us an almost cinematic description of the way flashbacks transport a person back in time. They threw her into a frozen state, inundated by sights, sounds, smells, and overwhelming emotions that had been locked inside her memory for decades.
Being stuck in the role of the scapegoat is a lonely experience. Your place in the group never really feels secure. You live with a constant sense of being blamed and shamed–even if you can’t point out exactly how, or why it happens. You have probably been told that your feelings are wrong so many times you‘re not sure which end is up or whether you can trust your own instincts. But still, in your gut you know things are not right.
That’s why you chose to speak up in the first place: to bring issues out in the open and hopefully address them together. Sadly, it’s also why you’ve been cast as the scapegoat by those who are hell-bent on denying difficult truths and maintaining the current power structure. As the scapegoat, you are subject to ostracism, victim-blaming, scolding, and shaming. And for some, a campaign of lies and half-truths weaken their perceived credibility both in and outside of the group. It is a painful way to live.
Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean—
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down—
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?
-Mary Oliver, The Summer Day
I love Mary’s question at the end of this poem. It comforts me and haunts me, reminding me both to slow down and speed up. To drink in the beauty and wonder of the fields and sky, while also striving to reach my goals. This is my everyday dilemma, the push and pull of being alive, aware, and driven.
“What do you have to lose?”, her partner asked.
Maddie Morris had been thinking about contacting me for a while. She wanted to say she’d been comforted by the podcast and my writing about “the second wound”. She might even offer to be a guest on the podcast, Truth & Consequences. But Maddie hadn’t decided. She wasn’t sure if she wanted to take the risk. That is, until her partner posed this question.
When the newest issue of New York Magazine arrived in my mailbox last week, it didn’t take long for me to flip to the back page and peruse the “Approval Matrix,” their weekly ranking of timely facts and intriguing news tidbits. I usually find it a fun read, but not this time. In the quadrant, which assigned this high-profile story the status of “despicable,” was a photograph of Woody Allen holding a young Dylan Farrow and the words: “The crosscurrents of accusations from the Farrow-Allen households.”