“A memory is what is left when something happens and does not completely not happen.”

17 Nov


“Why did you never tell your parents?”

“When would I? When my mother was dying of cancer? After when our family was already splintered? When my father was drunk and sobbing at 2am? I couldn’t do that to him, give him something else he couldn’t protect me from.”

“It’s not the child’s job to protect the parent.”

“Maybe not. But it was mine.”


My grandfather died this week.

Or, as I’ve long thought of him, my mother’s father.

He has never been a grandpa to me. Or a Pa, or a Poppi or anything. He has always been an old man my skin cringed away from. He has always been the first man, the one with wandering hands.

I justify it, that it doesn’t hurt, that it doesn’t harm me, because I only remember one time, on the couch, while everyone else was in the dining room. I was giggling, playing, until I wasn’t, and his hands tightened on my arms, then around my chest and like fire stealing air from a room, I was suddenly bereft.

I find myself crying absently at work full with memory. My voice breaks and I run to the bathroom. I make it home somehow and I run the shower long and hot and silently sob, letting loose a scream no one will ever hear. Facts take their stolid, well dressed place in my head, examine their nails and recite:

My grandfather is dead.

He’ll never touch me again.

He’ll never touch my daughters.

This worry, this pain I know I am not alone in, that somehow, they will find us again, pin us down with malice and silence and take, it slips between my lips and I am sudden and surrounded by light, by relief shaped like candy. In my eyes that little 6 year old skips, in a red dress and shiny bob and giggle and disappears into light, free.


I am free of the hands that hurt me. They are all dead.

All dead.

But so am I, inside it seems.


I have never told my family. I have mentioned it once to my father as he slid off the end of my bed, drunk, sobbing his failures into his hands. I remember comforting him, wishing he’d go to bed already, I had school in the morning. I started to tell my brother once, and stopped, realizing you can’t speak to a rock.

I have told friends, obliquely or not, I have let loose silk ribbons of my truth, but never a chorus of it. Always trapped in my mouth, the lack of detail, the sore of scabbed memories, fenced in. I cannot be a survivor of something I do not remember, can I?

I remember moist hands, trapped breath, the inside of my eyes. Wrong. I can taste the wrong inside me. The world collapses into a moment I carry like a photo, tattered.

Once my father made me hug him, years later.

Wooden. Turn to stone, to water, to incorporeal ether. He can’t touch what he’s already stolen.


I will never tell my father. I could you know, let it slip, color his coffee. Let him carry it.

I won’t. I never will. Today I bury this. Today I have stared into it’s maw, felt my tears and said enough. I have lived with a rock under my heart for far too long, a child in a corner, wistful and quiet. She deserves more.

So he will never know. As a parent, I’d damn well want my daughter to tell me, but as a child,  I cannot burden him with anything more. This life has been sweet and sour enough for him. I can protect him. This I can do.


I am relived. I am livid. I am terrified. I am 33 and I am 6. I am crying and smiling and retching as water spills over my back. Noise rushes between my ears and I am seized by finality, and the gaping future before me.

I am free.


27 Responses to ““A memory is what is left when something happens and does not completely not happen.””

  1. Catherine Mackie November 17, 2010 at 3:34 pm #

    You have every bit of empathy I can muster… different time, different faces, same situation yet different. All the family gatherings tainted by that one presence until your own presence becomes the taint at family gatherings. I send you a hug of understanding and compassion for all you went through and I pray that it is, indeed, over for you. I’ve carried my two… yes only two… memories with me every day for the past 45 years… How many times does it take to destroy a life. One. Just one is all it takes. But no one gets that, do they. I thought that when my mother died and I no longer had to be polite at family gatherings I would feel different… but it is just as it was… when he dies? Will I feel differently then? I forgave him, or tried to, but I have never forgotten. Not for one day in those 45 years…This is too long… Peace.

    • thordora November 17, 2010 at 3:35 pm #

      They do not deserve forgiveness. They deserve to be forgotten, utterly.

  2. Natalie November 17, 2010 at 4:18 pm #

    I was reading and my heart began to race…until I read the last line…”I am free”.

    I, Natalie, am sorry…sorry for you, sorry for your father, sorry for all of the others that have had to silence this truth. So sorry.

    This was beautifully written…probably one of the best things you’ve ever published. I hope that putting it out there begins to allow you to forget and make peace with the silence.

    Let’s have a beer soon….it’s been too long.


  3. Misty November 17, 2010 at 4:18 pm #

    You are free. Sending hugs your way.

  4. liprap November 17, 2010 at 4:21 pm #

    The terrible pain this sorry excuse for a human being inflicted on you is just awful. What you’ve had to endure all this time…it’s amazing you can put it into words as well as you do. I wish your family had been a better help to you. You still need a supportive system of people around you, and I hope you have that. If not, please get it. All of this upset may be an indication that you do need more support than you think to fully heal.

    Wishing I could clone myself right now.


  5. Neil November 17, 2010 at 4:30 pm #

    That really tore me up.

  6. Laura November 17, 2010 at 4:33 pm #

    An acquaintance of mine is in a similar state – the man who abused her as a child dropped dead of a heart attack this week. I can’t even imagine how it must feel. But maybe it means there’s a plague going through and destroying all these hideous men. We can hope, right?

    I never had any idea you had so much weight on your soul. I guess I was just your typical self-absorbed teenager… I was so oblivious. I’m sorry I couldn’t have been better.

    • thordora November 17, 2010 at 11:21 pm #

      You were always a light in my day, and were anything but oblivious. I’m just very good at staying quiet.

      There is no possible way you could have been better than you were.

  7. Deer Baby November 17, 2010 at 4:40 pm #

    I think you’re amazing.

  8. sol November 17, 2010 at 4:54 pm #

    I don’t know what to say… I’m happy you’re free. And I guess your girls are lucky because nothing will ever happen to them, because you are aware and you protect them.

  9. Kat November 17, 2010 at 4:59 pm #

    I was molested from 5-10. I have clear memories of several specific times and hazy ones of others – I don’t think that really matters though. My parents paid this teenage boy to babysit when they wanted some couple time.

    I told no one until I was 20 and my world had been blown apart by my being raped by my boyfriend and trying to hide it. Too many new memories fighting for space with the old ghosts. When I told my mom, I got what I now know are typical responses. “You weren’t really raped, were you?” (The babysitter made me felate him) “You were such a tattletale at that age, why didn’t you tell us?” “He was just experimenting” and for me the worst was when my mom expressed concern that my problems coping with it were something wrong with me because my younger brother had had no problems. They had caught the babysitter in the act with my brother and STILL LET HIM BABYSIT. So I just shut up again. My molester had been right when he told me that if I told no one would believe me and they would know I was at fault. If I could still be convinced of that at 20 why do people honestly think children will tell???

    Then I got married and had my first child. That blew a giant hole in my coping mechanism. My husband knew all along that I had been molested and raped but I had assured him that that was all in the PAST. One day by pure chance I came across a book called “The Courage To Heal” It’s for adult survivors of childhood molestation and incest. I read personal accounts and read my story in theirs. I read typical coping behaviors – some good some self-destructive – and saw descriptions of myself. I read typical responses of parents when they are told and saw EVERY single one of my mom’s.

    That book has helped me immeasurably. It helped me tell my parents again and this time have the right words to counter the denials and mitigations. It helped me seek support from people who would listen and help. It helped me pay attention to my self-destructive behaviors and see them for what they were/are – attempts to punish myself for something that was never my fault. Most importantly, it helped me do 2 other things. 1. It helped me understand,forgive and honor what that little girl did to survive when the adults who were supposed to protect her failed her. 2. It helped me see that I am who I am today because of surviving my molestation. It’s not all BAD. I’m a more sensitive mother. I am a stronger advocate for child protection. I am a loud educator to say that it’s not STRANGERS that you need to be afraid of, it’s the person you would let in your home. I like who I am now, so I can’t hate who I was to get here.

    The book talks about healing being a spiral and how events in your life can bring on a new crisis – some more major than others. The death of your mother’s father is the death of your abuser – something to feel relief over. But it’s also the death of any chance for the little girl in you to do anything. That little girl who had a right to expect love and kindness for that old creep may be mourning both the loss of the love that never was and the chance for retribution.

    • thordora November 17, 2010 at 11:22 pm #

      “That little girl who had a right to expect love and kindness for that old creep may be mourning both the loss of the love that never was and the chance for retribution.”

      That made me cry, and I knew it was true.

  10. Sue November 17, 2010 at 5:18 pm #

    “The world collapses into a moment I carry like a photo, tattered.”

    You are gorgeous in all you do, J. This writing, this remembering and seizing of freedom, this is art of the most powerful kind.

    Wishing you everything that is best and good today.

  11. Marcy November 17, 2010 at 5:34 pm #

    May telling us, and yourself, make up for not telling your daddy.

  12. Heather November 17, 2010 at 6:24 pm #

    Your gorgeous phrasing even when writing about the most painful things just blows me away. You are brave and you are wonderful. I admire you.

  13. Kelly O November 17, 2010 at 7:23 pm #

    Oof. xoxo

  14. Quadelle November 17, 2010 at 8:29 pm #

    I wish there were perfect words to say and that I could find them to give to you. I ache for 6yo you, both then and as she has been with you since. You deserved better and still do.

    I hope that the freedom you have experienced this week grows full and complete. That you will have the space and support to speak of details, to explore fully the ramifications of how this terrible abuse affected your life until it’s negative power is depleted, and the strengths you have developed as a result are all that’s left.

  15. Nat November 17, 2010 at 8:55 pm #

    I am still looking forward to the day when I’ll be free. I thought I’d feel free when he went to jail, but when he got released after a mere 16 months, I knew I was not. Some day.

    • thordora November 17, 2010 at 11:23 pm #

      I thought I was completely over it. Turned out I wasn’t but now, tonight, I feel cleansed. Not better but….clean.

  16. Bon November 17, 2010 at 10:21 pm #

    you CAN be a survivor of something you don’t quite remember. you know.

    i chose to be free once, when i was in a place in my life not so different from where you are now…i laid out my past in front of the person i’d chosen to trust, and then i left it behind, as best i could. and i walked off with him, into a life where i was not the sum of my past. i chose not to be wrapped up in that story anymore. it is one of the proudest things i’ve done. (and it wasn’t a perfect cut…triggers require work to this day. but it stopped me being nearly so vulnerable to them).

    you are free. go. walk on. xo.

    • thordora November 17, 2010 at 11:23 pm #

      That’s what I want. Wrap it pretty and leave it in the wind.

      I go now.

  17. sweetsalty kate November 18, 2010 at 12:20 am #

    I’m saying this only because I think it might make you smile.

    Cleanliness is godliness.

    (love you)

  18. Suebob November 18, 2010 at 1:15 am #

    I don’t have anything smart to say except to tell you I hear you. Hugs.

  19. flutter November 18, 2010 at 1:36 am #

    I am holding you in my heart, sweet girl. You know where to find me if you need any little thing

  20. hodgepodgeandstrawberries November 18, 2010 at 7:53 am #

    My dad was molested by his grandfather. He did tell, and the family hushed it up. He has never been free.

    I’m so happy for you, that you are strong and light and able to let this go from you.

    Hugs. Even though I know how you feel about hugs. 😉

  21. Maggie, dammit November 19, 2010 at 10:38 am #


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