For years now, “family” has been “the f-word” for me. As is experienced by many incest survivors, family consists of perpetrators, co-dependents and stealth assassins. I’d already confronted my living perps (the last one died about seven years ago). I avoided most family members but dropped my guard with one, my mother’s youngest sister. It seemed she was “on my side” and we spoke every Sunday for more than five years. I thought we were secure with each other.
Then she came to visit for my 60th birthday parties (yes, plural: I had two). She convinced me that another cousin, close to me in age, would love to come out and celebrate with me, and bring her adult son as well. Long story short: everything seemed fine until the day of my first party, when the sabotage began. By the time they were through, all the joy had been sucked out of my two celebrations, they maintained a unified hostile front towards me for the SIX days they were still in my tiny home, never bothered even a rudimentary “thanks for the use of the hall” — meaning my bed, car and good will — and we’ve severed all ties. In the wake of that, suffering from adrenal exhaustion that almost killed me and deeply depressed, I just figured I was one of those people who had no family and that would have to be just fine.
Then a funny thing happened: On June 20, I got an email with the subject line, “I always wanted to know my aunt.” I thought, “Oh, great – another Nigerian chain letter asking for money!” and would have deleted it unread except I always like to check, just in case.
Good thing I did. The first line read, “I am your niece.” Not just any niece: the one who I caught my brother with when she was seven years old. His actions would have flown below the radar of anyone not a survivor and not attuned to his behaviors. That’s because he always made the abuse with me playful… until it was not. And I saw him place his hands inappropriately on his daughter and then make it a game between them… just the way he did it with me, conditioning me to more and more intrusive touch until the one night he miscalculated, crossed an incontrovertible line, and my life changed forever.
All of two months into Recovery, I confronted him that very day. I told him what I saw him doing, that I recognized his pattern, and if I ever found out he had done anything to any of his children, I would show up unannounced at his front door with an axe and chop “it” off. Within five minutes, he’d told his wife, she’d exploded at me on his behalf, and dragged the kids away. I knew I’d never see them again.
It took me two years of healing and strategizing before I felt strong enough to lodge a complaint against my brother with Child Protective Services. They did not keep me informed as to what happened as a result, but I know it came down in a very messy, protracted way. As a result, the family closed ranks against me, my mother disinherited me, and (as I’ve learned) my name became more forbidden to mention than the worst of curse words.
At my mother’s funeral, no one would talk to me… except this one niece, now in her early teens. Our paths crossed in my mom’s house, and as we walked in opposite directions she shyly looked up, caught my eye and said, “Hello” as she continued to walk by. I held onto that moment, that single word, as a sign that maybe my prior action had done some good and not everyone hated me for it.
Fast forward to June 20. I’d heard not a word about this niece — or indeed, anything at all about my brother’s family, other than his death from lung and bone cancers. Suddenly, here was this astonishing email – long, articulate, direct, not hurtful, well-written, correctly spelled and punctuated (these things are inordinately important to me), containing more information about my family-of-origin than I’d received in the past 28 years. At the end, she offered me unconditional love, family, friendship.
Even more astonishing, she wrote in this email that her father “was not a pedophile. He never laid a finger on me.” She also revealed that after the investigation came down, “it ruined my relationship with him. He could never look at me the same. I reminded him too much of you.”
So. My brother, who never got any help for his tortured history and experiences (my father set him up for such an ugly set of dysfunctions), changed in his relationship with his youngest daughter because, she believes, she reminded him of me… and my promised axe (which she did not know about). He never touched her in a way that crossed the line. She was safe.
For all my facility with words, I do not have the right ones to explain the way this made me feel. Were my actions the reason why he stopped what seemed to me to be inevitable behaviors against at least this one daughter? I don’t dare claim it (there may have been a world of other factors, you never know), but it’s a logical assumption that my actions made a difference. So I lost the rest of my family? An inheritance? My “good name” within that hereditary clan? WHO THE FUCK CARES?!?!????? I spoke my truth — awkwardly, with fear and difficulty, but directly to the perpetrator — and a child grew up without being sexually abused by her father. Truly, that is worth anything up to and including life itself.
In the ensuing weeks, we’ve been sharing a lovefest through a cascade of email revealing so many parallels in our lives, we couldn’t have been more alike if she’d grown up in proximity to me. Her husband has written directly to me and revealed himself to be a loving, open, clear-minded, creative and funny man who adores his wife and kids and welcomes me without restriction or limitation.
And the girls! I went from having no family to having a niece, a nephew-in-law… and TWO GRAND-NIECES!!!!! I’m awaiting a package that contains pictures of the entire clan (they’re not very digital) so I can walk around showing them and bragging – a “grandparent” demographic I never thought I would be able to enter.
Lest you think I’m making the same mistakes I did with the pseudo-loving relatives, we’re taking this slow. In close to a month, we’ve emailed repeatedly but not yet talked on the phone. We’re either both shy or both sensible, with maybe a hefty dose of both. They’re talking about taking a road trip out here this winter in a big RV. (The girls are home-schooled, they do crafty-type business that’s highly portable, and this would just be a field trip of sorts… a really, really big field trip <g>.) We’re talking honestly in our email, have covered world news, recipes, conspiracy theories, wildcrafting foods, family history as seen by us (very different from the accepted spin) and just the excitement of finding like minds in the most unlikely of places – within our gene pool.
I don’t know where this is going, but I know that having family members who wants to know who I am and not try to make me who they need me to be is an extraordinary experience, unprecedented in my life. I don’t know who might be lurking around the edges of your gene pool, but if it’s appropriate to your heart, I wish you a comparable miracle.
In the meantime, I’m awaiting the package of a lifetime, filled with love, good intentions, home made habanero pepper marshmallows <!>, and hearts willing to reach out and touch mine with gentleness, humor, respect and joy.