I did not grow up on the mean streets of Detroit or Chicago. I grew up in a mind-numbing number of homes that began modestly and rose like a soufflé into an Italianate San Franciscan Mansion circa 1906. And yes, it survived that earthquake.
Had I had its foundation I might have come through better than I have. This is the reason I am writing to you — tiny, five-year-old me — so that as you grow up you will know how to trust your instincts, get help, and stay away from those who hurt you. I will always, strongly be with you in spirit.
As I’ve walked the corridors of this life that will become yours (with some changes I pray) I’ve met hundreds of people. Many of them shared their stories with me. I was privileged to write them. The subject never was incest, but that’s my focus now — so that my story doesn’t become your story sweet child.
Number 1: First, it’s okay to adore daddy. I know he’s going to teach you how to ride a bike and tell time. But never let daddy touch you in your private places. If he does, tell mommy and if she doesn’t believe you, tell your teacher to call the police.
By the time I was your age little me, I’d already been moved from Belmont, CA to White Plains, NY. Daddy kept getting into trouble at work. He had affairs, which means he slept with someone other than mommy. So then we moved (before you were born) to Barrington Hills, IL; then to Hillsborough, CA, to Pacific Heights, San Francisco, CA and on to Russian Hill, San Francisco.
No one ever talked about child abuse in our parents’ circle of friends. They talked about silly things like the San Francisco Symphony’s Black & White Ball.
The grownups I knew and you’ll meet, little one, groomed their daughters by sending them to Frank Kitchen’s Dancing Academy in tiny white gloves and black patent leather shoes. Those parents told their children, “you should be seen and not heard.” So, just like them I was seen and never heard. I want you to be heard.
Little love, don’t believe you are not perfect because you are. You are God’s gift to this world. You are special and have a gift to share.
Number 2: When daddy and mommy tell you to come downstairs in your nightie to kiss good-night their friends, pretend you are sick. If you go, my love, a man — many more than one man will touch you while he holds you in his lap. That’s wrong.
Precious child, when you are sent to the private girl’s school in a uniform; when your classmates tell you they are better than other people; do not believe them — because they are not. No one is better than anyone else. And with people who look different from you, you must always remember — they have the same hopes you do. They are the same in every way except their skin color is not the same as ours. If mommy or daddy tell you that brown people should be called, “Jose” or “wet-back” or others with darker skin, “Nigger” I want you to close your little ears and repeat what they said to your teachers. Be brave and tell everyone, because this is ignorant and wrong.
You will never be alone because I am always with you. When daddy came into my room (that someday might be your room) I was a little older than you are now. You are too small to be told exactly what happened, but I pushed daddy as hard as I could. He fell through a glass door. It was so loud that mommy must have heard it. But mommy never said a word. The next morning daddy said to me, “how did you break that window?”
That scared me. So after daddy went to work, I ran to mommy. I told her that daddy was touching me in the night when she was asleep. She said I was a liar.
I began to think she was right. She was not right.
Number 3: When or if this happens to you, cling to the truth. You have the right to have a good life. It is hard not to believe mommy but mommy is the liar, not you, and I will love you no matter what.
Again, because daddy doesn’t tell the truth I need you to tell someone what happened. Tell many people what happened. Forget mommy’s rule to “never complain and never explain.” If people come to take you away from mommy and daddy, you will survive. I promise you.
Please walk away from mommy and daddy. Don’t look back. I looked back, and came back again and again. Nothing ever changed, my heart. There’s a grownup word you’ll learn later. The word is narcissist. People who have this illness can’t care about your feelings.
Don’t blame yourself if you can’t do what I’m asking the first time you try. That’s okay. I couldn’t do it either for many years. And when I stood up as tall as I could I was thrown out of the family. It was a prominent, society family which meant a lot then to some stupid people. Girl friends said I was committing a kind of life suicide for doing it. But I did it and I survived it and you can too.
Look at mommy and daddy carefully. They are just people. They are just flesh and blood. They will age and die. What you do now will free you from the worst kind of bondage. Don’t internalize their lies. Celebrate the gift you are and all you will become. Their lives are not more important than yours.
I see you clearly with your pretty dress standing while daddy takes your picture. When things change and they will soon precious, I am at your side as is God. Believe you have the foundation and the strength of the mansion on the hill. It wasn’t crushed by the earthquake of 1906 and with your new, growing foundation you won’t collapse either.
This short piece is for anyone of any age who is struggling with the effects of verbal, sexual and physical abuse in their family. I did survive the abuse. I did fight back. But I was so psychologically entangled with both my parents I ended up coming to their rescue over and over again. I am working through it.
If you have survived abuse in your family I weep with gratitude that you have. God bless you.