As is customary, or traditional, I should make a New Year’s resolution. I don’t even remember what I resoluted (made up word which I can do in a blog, right?) to last year, but honestly, I had a great year. One synchronistic event was the day I met Dr. Menbere Aklilu whose story I AM MENBE I am writing and is coming soon. As for the rest of 2014, I’m working real hard on letting go of my past.
Christmas 2014 was full of blessings and good times. I tried my hardest to just keep quiet so as not to be shooshed again. That’s why I write; to have a voice and yet I don’t even write about those things for which people are afraid I might mention. You Shoosh!
So what I’m thinking about for this next year (just twelve hours away) are two things. One is–at the risk of further alienating certain family members or sounding like a hippie– to speak my truth. Not that I have a burning desire to unburden my troubles nor do I wish to bring up the past (because I’m letting it go, right?), but in working on my next novel, I AM MENBE (coming soon), I find that there are too many common threads. And blogging more will also serve my second resolution–to write more. I’m reading that if you want to get published, you must blog and build your fan base.
But what to write about has been my struggle. I like to write fiction and make stuff up, like happy endings. Write what you know, the experts say. Well, that’s a lot of damn material. I’m old for God’s sake; I’ve had a ton of experiences. Besides, who wants to hear more about dysfunctional families, abuse, child molestation or menopause (Oops, there I said the “M” word. Molestation.)
As I mentioned, in working on the story I AM MENBE (coming soon), I feel a kindred spirit. Menbe is an immigrant, having come to this country from Ethiopia. She worked hard, persevered and now, in addition to her own homes and cars, she owns a 5-star restaurant. She was also resolute in her vision of making a difference in this world.
I try to make a difference in my own quiet way. My humble family, also immigrants from Mexico, came to America, worked hard picking fruits and vegetables up and down the fertile California valley, bought cars and homes and are all now living the American dream.
But something about childhood molestation can destroy a family no matter how many homes, cars or bank accounts you have. From a young age, Menbe was abused and molested by family members. I, too, suffered the same indignities. And like her, I remained silent. We just knew that to say anything would betray some sort of sick trust and sure enough when we did bring it up, we were told to stay silent. Callete!
“That’s just what kids do” or “he was drunk.” Like this was all normal stuff? If it was so normal, then why can’t we bring it up at the dinner table, for God’s sake? Why are you shooshing me?
“I got a Christmas card from your favorite person this year,” my mother told me on Christmas Eve.
Well, I have so many favorite people. Not. I couldn’t imagine who that might be.
“Don’t worry, I ripped it up and threw it in the trash.”
Finally, I figured out who mom meant without having to say his name. “I wonder if he even remembers what he did to me?” I said, and then I started to feel that same guilt that I’d made such a big deal out of the fact that my mother’s cousin had molested me while he was left to babysit my sisters and me.
Years later after watching the discussion of a similar topic on Oprah (my mother loved her Oprah), I felt safe telling my mom about the molestation.
“I can’t believe you never told me,” my mother said.
Well, I knew better. Too many other times, when I had spoken up, I received a slap to the face, or a switch to the behind; twice, a black eye. But those things were normal in our culture and for the times.
“Was it just once? Did he penetrate you?“ Those are the kind of questions I still get from family members who are just a little curious. What the fuck (using the “f” word shows I’m really angry about this part) does it matter, how, where or how many times? A breach of trust was committed, damn it!
And, here is the best question of all. “What were you doing to make him do that?” Seriously!! Recently, my mother kidded that I must have been some sexy four-year old. I can almost laugh at that.
My mother simply resolved never to speak to her cousin again.
“He’s been reaching out to me,” my she said looking away from me from her seat next to me on the couch. So close and yet so far off.
Now I wonder if I need or should confront my molester after all these years. Would I be doing him and everyone else a favor? Or, as was the case when Menbe confronted her molester, things only got worse amongst the family members.
No, for me it’s better to move forward. Really, I’m okay with that.
Christmas morning as we sat out on my sister’s Malibu deck overlooking the sparkling Pacific (means peaceful) Ocean, my other sister took a seat next to me and said, “Mom told me…” and then she stopped.
“What?” I asked. “Mom told you what?”
“Oh, nothing. I know how upsetting it is to you.”
“No, I’ll tell you what’s upsetting is the way you start to say something and then just stop,” I said. “You’re talking about the Christmas card she got from Gustavo.” (There I said his name.) “Yeah, I’m over it.”
The next evening my whole family was at Dave & Buster’s trying to have a good time. All of the kids were off playing games. I was seated at a table surrounded by my mom and my three younger sisters doing what they love to do best, gossip. For some reason (I had tuned out or maybe it was just the noise of the pinball machines), my youngest sister blurted something out about child molesters.
“Are you talking about Gustavo,” I asked. For God’s sake, I was sitting right there. It was surreal. They were talking about it like this shit only happens to strangers–other people’s children. SHOOSH! I wanted to say, I’m sitting right here. By the way, who’s watching the kids? I find it ironic that some parents feel their kids are safer in a public place.
So, yeah, my New Year’s resolution is to speak my own damn truth. Like a cancer, molestation destroys families and will continue to do so until someone speaks up and teaches their children that it’s okay to talk about it. We need to let our children feel comfortable talking to us without fear of being slapped or shooshed, and by allowing an open line of communication, a young child will know that molestation is not normal. It is not okay. I will no longer feel dirty, like a cochina. I am sin verguenza, without shame. I will no longer be silent. Shoosh your own damn selves!
Now, let me get back to I AM MENBE (coming soon).