is easy to do.
The things you wanted
I bought them for you...
You know I can't let you
slide through my hands ...
I watched you suffer
a dull aching pain ...
I know I’ve dreamed you
a sin and a lie...
Faith has been broken,
tears must be cried
Wild horses couldn't drag me away
Wild, wild horses, we'll ride them some day
The Rolling Stones
The worst part about the worst thing, is that there are ALWAYS things that can be worse. Are worse. And there are always worse versions of your personal worst. My personal worst. There is an unending supply of things that are worse than the worst thing any of us have experienced. So, to my way of thinking, the challenge is to nod in acknowledgement, like strangers passing on a night street. The nod that says, I see you. The nod that says, Your face is imprinted upon my mind like the redness of the naked sun upon my eyes. The nod that says, So don’t even fucking imagine you can hurt me.
That’s how I handle my memories of my worst days. I don’t compare. Comparison just suggests that I have not suffered enough. Suggests that before I can call out my demons and name them aloud, I must prove I have gone through the worst of the worst. As a society we tend to honor only the worst of the worst. We tend to label. We tend say, to so many we say, Stop complaining. It could be worse.
What is, exactly, the difference between complaining and naming? What is the difference between naming and blaming? What is the difference between blaming and simply calling out?
I was just out of graduate school and working for a jury consulting firm when one of the very first sexual abuse suits was brought against the Catholic Church. How many years of abuse had occurred before the day of that trial? How many children? How much of their experience was labeled as complaining? How many adults violated as children were labeled as sinners blaming the Church?
Things have changed since that ground-breaking trial, a trial I was lucky to be a small part of; the consulting firm I worked for told the plaintiffs to go full steam ahead, the Church be damned. By the end of the mid 1990s, not long after that lawsuit, more than half a billion dollars had been paid out by the Church in jury awards, settlements, and legal fees. That was in the United States alone. That was a decade and a half ago. And the lawsuits just keep coming. So, has the worst that could happen to the Catholic Church happened? Did things change?
I have a friend who spoke with certainty in her voice when she said to me, “It’s different now. No one believes sexual abuse is okay.” But I disagree.
If we thought sexual abuse was wrong, we wouldn’t be blaming the Catholic Church. And the Boy Scouts of America. And that creepy man down the street whose wife runs a daycare. If we thought sexual abuse was wrong, we’d be willing to talk about this one little fact: incest comprises the bulk of sexual abuse that is committed. Notice I said committed, not reported. Here’s what I told my friend: If we thought it was wrong, there would be no sexual abuse.
But here’s the rub. Wikipedia tells me that incest is sexual intercourse. You know intercourse, right? Most of us call it fucking. My American Heritage Dictionary tells me that incest is a “statutory crime” of “sexual relations” with a “near relative.” It also tells me that sexual relations means intercourse.
So, it’s not incest if he uses his mouth? his hand? mine?
So, it’s not incest if it’s a cousin I’ve never seen before? How about a cousin I know but who is once removed? twice removed?
While we’re doing definitions, how about this one. Statutory crimes are not taboos so much as laws against things we say are taboo. Like that 18-year-old punk down the street who’s fucking your 16-year-old, fully-consenting daughter. That’s statutory rape. Which we enforce at will.
Like I told my girlfriend, if we truly believed sexual abuse was wrong, we’d be looking for abusers where they hide in plain sight. Families. My family. Maybe yours.
When you are sexualized young, there is no innocence, there is no childhood. When you are sexualized young, what remains of innocence is only the ritual, much like wine is the ritual replacement for the blood of Christ; a prayer and a priest saying it’s holy doesn’t necessarily make it so. Even God knows this. God especially knows this.
I’ve thought a lot about innocence. Sexual innocence. I remember being a child, and later a teenager, and knowing when what I witnessed was innocence. The eleven-year-old girl on the playground hanging from the bars and twisting her legs, saying “This feels good.” I watched with the other girls who pretended not to notice - I mean you may KNOW it feels good, but for God’s sake you do not SAY it feels good - and I knew. This girl was innocent. I could feel it. I wanted it.
In junior high, my best friend told me about her and her boyfriend as they explored their sexuality. Not too much. Not the body grinding details. But she told me enough for me to see two things. Her innocence. And his thoughtful response to her innocence. I wanted to be able to be her in the worst way. On my very worst days, I would say to myself what if. What if I were that kind of girl? But I wasn’t. I couldn’t be. I couldn’t even imagine being. For a girl sexualized before she could even read, achieving innocence would be akin to unbreaking the spirit of a wild horse. What’s done is done.
When you come early to things stuffed into the crevices of your small body; hard things; soft things; when you still feel those things in your mouth, though you can’t say why because your mind doesn’t remember even though your body stubbornly does; you train yourself to feel around them, like horses trained to race around barrels. You learn to move as if they aren’t there, flowing at high speeds with agility and grace, slowing down only long enough to miss what blocks your path to the goal. You perform.
I spent my childhood performing innocence. Thousands of Catholic boys and girls have spent thousands of years performing innocence. Or worse. Moving on to perform the same ritual of abuse performed upon them.
Like I said, there are worse always things. Always.
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