Sunday, September 2, 2012

Click (26)


It is the sound of cogs in a wheel fitting together, the pieces of a puzzle finding their right home.


It turns on the light and lets you see, eliminating the distortion of the dark.


My sister, Charlene*, and I had never really been close. As we grew older, out of childhood, what had been a healthy and loving sibling rivalry gave way to more of a mother/bully - child/victim relationship--an almost one-sided ownership of the other. I felt as if the regular verbal and physical jabs I received from her (all meant in play, but hurtful nonetheless) was a way to vent the anger and betrayal she felt after the death of our father. It was as if she was trying to fill a hole inside her that could only be filled with anger. I could relate because I was in turmoil myself, not having my anchor.  Charlene never talked about it, never showed that she was dealing with it.  Mom thought her lack of emotion and withdrawal into a premature adulthood showed she was fine.  She married a couple months out of highschool and moved out of the house as fast as she could.

As we went our separate ways into adulthood, we began building our own lives; our marriages, children and careers took precedence, and the chasm between us grew wider and wider.

In spite of our distance both geographically and emotionally, I looked forward to each summer as August would finally arrive. Charlene and her husband, Gary,* along with all four kids would drive the many miles from where they lived in central Ohio to Colorado for a well deserved vacation. Even though we never spoke on the phone, I was happy to be able to spend a few precious days each year around someone that I so idolized growing up.

Over the last few visits I sensed an immense strain on an already fragile friendship between a brother and sister. I began to observe strange and unexplainable behaviors that would perplex me for months after their short visits. The words spoken and conversations between us grew shorter and were peppered with biting insults. The barbs that were meant as joke, but the underlying venom burned deep inside like acid upon flesh. The resulting wounds left behind a paper-thin scar that never healed properly nor did it look the same.

This year, while preparing for their yearly visit, I began to reflect on the past and concluded that perhaps I was the one at fault for the animosity between us. Realizing that perhaps I had been rude, abrasive and possibly mean over the last couple years. I thought that if I could take her aside and express regret and repent for the past, if I could explain what had caused my harsh and defensive conduct, I was optimistic that she would finally reward me and my family with acceptance and love.  We could have something I so desperately craved--a friendship with my sister.

The days grew closer to their visit, and I became very, very anxious. I felt as if I was planning to  “come out of the closet” by introducing my abuse to an overbearing and religiously elitist family. I planned and rehearsed over and over again how and just what details I would give in regards to my abuse. I decided at the last moment that the gory and graphic parts would be left out for fear the information I was presenting might become too much to bear.

The doorbell chimed and I opened the door to greet Charlene, Gary and their family. I could tell that there was an underlying air of nervousness when they crossed the threshold into my home as I had pre-warned them that I was going to disclose some “not-so-pleasant” news.

After the obligatory pleasantries, and “How-do-you-do’s,” a children’s movie was played on the T.V to occupy those tender ears that did not need to be exposed to such inhumanity. We then descended the stairs to the basement where Amy and I had set up our meeting place.  I didn’t know how to start.  This was one of the hardest things I had ever done.  I knew there was a high probability that they would not believe and would potentially even reject me fully.  I asked my wife, Amy, to facilitate the conversation.  She was a master facilitator at work and I didn’t think I could do this on my own.

After settling in, Amy began.  “Thank you for coming down tonight.  Joel has some pretty serious stuff to share with you.  Before we start, we would like to lay down the ground rules.  First of all, we want you to ask questions.  We understand that the information shared tonight may be difficult to process, so if you have questions or comments later on, feel free to contact us.  Don’t feel obligated to say anything.  We want you to know that we have already confirmed the information we are about to share.  Joel, why don’t you start.”

“First, I want to apologize if over the past years I have been mean or offensive to you and the kids. This past year I have been on a journey of self-discovery and healing. Through that I have come to understand why I have behaving in such a way that might cause you to alienate me.” I then began to tell the story from the beginning of what had prompted me to begin to search out what was causing my life to fall apart I told the story of how I sat in my garage and read the bible for one month, reading over and over the book of John searching for the answer to my problem.

Gary and Charlene sat silently in front of me looking as if I were speaking in some unknown and ancient language.

I continued, “One Sunday in September, while at church it began,” I recounted all of what I knew about the abuse at the time leaving out the details because I still found it difficult to speak exactly what had happened. I instead called it “oral or anal play” masking the true reality of what it really was . . .rape.

Finally, Gary spoke up and asked, “How old were you when this happened?”

As I began to speak, I could see Charlene’s eyes welling up in tears. “I believe I was 13 when this happened.”

“That can't be right.  AFB wasn’t in town when you were thirteen. Charlene and I got married when you were 15 years old.  AFB didn’t arrive in town until shortly after that.”


“I was 15? FUCK!” I thought to myself. All of the missing pieces and questions I had about when the abuse happened began to fall into place and make more linear sense.

As we discussed further, Gary told a story of one day at his home. He was on the roof making repairs and closing up the swamp cooler for the winter. I had come by and started screaming at him in some unintelligible way.  

“Don’t make me come off this roof and kick your ass,” he recalled saying to me. “After that exchange you weren’t ever the same.”


I vaguely remember that day. I thought, why was I so mad? Was I trying to tell him what happened? Perhaps it came out as anger instead? I was not the same after that. It was then that I started smoking, drinking and doing drugs.

I then recalled a story of a teacher I had in a private school in Denver. He told my mother during a parent teacher conference “What happened to Joel? He used to be such a nice boy and a good example of a Christian.”

“Oh he is just mad because his father died,” was her curt reply.


People noticed a change in my behavior. The warning signs were there. No one cared enough
to pay any attention to me, I thought. I felt like putting a gash in my wrists right there and ending it all.

Denial spoke up, “You were 15? That’s old enough to have the ability to say no. This didn't happen. You are an asshole for making this up!”

We ended our conversation gossiping, sharing stories and catching up on each others lives outside the spectrum of what was just revealed. I thought our time went well, and as we concluded we made a promise to stay in touch throughout the year and to talk on the phone more.

The next few days I struggled with the new information, though I was grateful for it, I found it hard to accept. All this time I believed that I was thirteen years old when I was abused. I told myself that a 13 year old was more child than adult and therefore more easily susceptible to the “con” of a perpetrator. At 15 you are more adult than child and therefore more able to make “wise” decisions and have a greater capacity to say “NO!”

Thankfully, I was mistaken.  As I began to research this topic I found a comforting answer.  I realized that the 2 year difference in what I thought my age was and what was fact really didn’t matter. I learned that the brain of an average human adult does not stop developing until sometime in our mid 20’s, therefore, children are more vulnerable and unable to say “no” to adults and those in authority who wish to abuse.

I had the unfortunate situation that not only was I young and easily influenced by adults, I was groomed and abused by an authority figure that I had been taught was infallible like the God he was supposed to serve.   This was a well respected leader in the community, a pastor of one of the largest churches in the county.  All of my life I was told to obey those in authority.  I had no choice but to obey.  It was no one's fault but the one bastard.

As I processed the information, one sound resounded in my head like a cacophony of resonating truth that overwhelmed me.  Click.  Click. Click. CLICK!

I fact checked and rechecked.  I became obsessed with making sure the timeline was correct.  Each time--Click.

Now, more than ever, I wanted to know why.

*names have been changed


SynthGirl said...

I sincerely admire your courage for seeking the truth no matter what -- and for facing your sister & her husband with truth.

And a warm hug to your awesome supportive wife, as well!

I, too, have trouble with my timeline -- you're not alone on that. Keep up the good, solid work -- it IS worth it...!!

Perpetually Healing said...

Thank you for reading! I really enjoyed reading your work today. "Sister Christian" was especialy moving for me. Thank you for sharing your bravery with the world.