Chapter 4 – Disclosure

31 Dec

During one of our weekly appointments, Dawn revealed a secret to me that, as easily as changing the stations on a radio, destroyed my life forever.

In response to the disturbing shift in my daughter Casey’s behavior, I found a therapist, Dawn Walker, experienced in working with adolescents. Casey had a sweet, gregarious, outgoing nature.  Her smile lit up a room.  People were drawn to her effervescent, whimsical personality.  In the year after we moved to Colorado, Casey became mean, violent, engaged in sudden outbursts of rage and sexually provocative behavior around older men—a lethal cocktail.

We’d been seeing Dawn for a couple of months.  After the first session, I instantly liked her.  Dawn had soft hazel eyes, a round cherub face, and a silky voice.  A white embroidered collar circled the neck of her green flowered blouse.  She smelled like roses.  Dawn supported me when I expressed frustration and anger at Casey’s behavior.  She never insinuated I was a bad mother or that Casey’s behavior was my fault.  Dawn’s comforting tone reeled me in, instilling a sense that I could tell her anything.  For the first time since dealing with Casey’s behavior changes, I trusted a professional…        

When I arrived at the MentalHealthCenter for our latest weekly appointment, Dawn emerged from her office to greet me.  “Nice to see you, Jordan. Come in.”  She extended her hand as if to grasp my elbow as she ushered me into the office.  “Casey is already here.”

Nothing seemed peculiar about Dawn’s behavior—there were no indication of anything unusual. I chose a dingy velvet arm chair across from Casey. The room felt uncomfortably still.  Suddenly, a whisper of doom swept past me. Words are capable of altering the course of a life in seconds or inflicting fatal wounds on the heart. One word accomplished both for me that day.

Dawn began. “Do either of you want to start? I know this has to be hard for both of you.”  Hard. What did she mean?  Life with Casey had surpassed hard.  “I was hoping one of you would initiate the conversation.”

Casey avoided eye contact; her head drooped as she stared at her hands clasped tightly in her lap.  She made no indication that she intended to start.

Dawn turned to Casey. “I’ll start then.  Is that okay Casey?”  Casey subtly moved her head to indicate yes.  Dawn turned to me and calmly, matter-of-factly asked, “Jordan, how are you dealing with the fact that Casey was incested?” For a moment, I thought my heart stopped. Instead, it catapulted against my ribs.  What did she say? Incested. Is that what she said? I must have heard her wrong. My heart slammed against my ribs as my body quivered. The room froze—the details seared forever on the backs of my eyelids. Casey’s head remained lowered; as she opened and closed her entwined fingers.    

The word, incest, hung in the air, suspended, like an apparition searching for a body to inhabit while a thousand unformed thoughts rambled through my head.  I couldn’t allow the word to settle in me—I wasn’t ready. I was certain that I’d never heard the word incest before. That one word sculpted my future from the moment it was uttered—erasing the life I’d known before, instantly. 

The face that stared at Dawn was clean as a slate, masking the horror movie rolling in my head.  I remained absolutely still, unsure of what I was waiting for.  I sat like a stiffened corpse—a monument to bad mothering.

Instantly, I’d been parachuted into a foreign territory without a map or guide and didn’t speak the language. Confused, disorientated, unnerved, an appropriate response didn’t materialize.  The parenting handbook didn’t include a section on incest.

The room spun and blurred at the edges.  My head felt as if it had been repeatedly slammed in a door.  I placed my hands on my temples to quell the pain. My throat turned into sandpaper.

 A voice I sensed I’d never heard before filtered through the heavy stillness. “Jordan, are you all right?” A coherent response was impossible.  “Jordan, did Liz Lemy tell you about Casey’s memories?”

Dawn’s expression changed. Her eyes widened, her mouth gapped, and her skin took on a sickly pallor. We were mirror images of each other.

“I thought Liz told you, Jordan.  I’m so sorry,” Dawn said as much to console me as to console her for delivering a tragic message so bluntly.  Dawn couldn’t take it back. She tried. “I’m incredibly sorry. I thought you were told.  I feel terrible.”  Dawn continued her attempt to mitigate the damage.  “I’m stunned no one told you Casey had been incested.”

Stop saying that word.  I waited for those words that formed in my throat to make their way out. 

Digesting the meaning eluded me.

My words burst out on their own.  “You’re mistaken, Dawn. I would have known.”  I was about to explode; my insides shattering like broken glass.  On the outside, my unraveling remained hidden.   

“I wish I were mistaken, Jordan. I know this is terrible for you.” Dawn said as if consoling a child whose mother just died.  The word incest batted around in my head like a tennis ball.  Dawn’s voice rose above the din.   “This was a cruel way for you to find out.”

A raspy voice filled with sorrow responded.   “How do you know for certain this happened?”

“Casey told her older sister, Taylor, about a few memories of sexual behavior by her older brother, Jake, when she was about four-years-old. It happened in the tent trailer parked in your yard. Jake would have been about twelve. Taylor called Sandra, Casey’s foster mom, to tell her what Casey said to her.”  The sequence of events flowed from Dawn.  “Then Sandra contacted Casey’s Social Worker, Liz Lemy, who then called the police who interviewed Casey. Later, Liz phoned me.”

“No one called me. Why didn’t someone call me?  Nobody called me,”  I uttered in a pitiful, anguished cry. 

“I don’t know why you weren’t called.” To her credit, Dawn didn’t make excuses.

“What do you mean Casey has a few memories! What specific memories?” Without waiting for a response, I lurched forward in my chair.  “Jake wouldn’t do anything like that to his sister,” I insisted with fragile conviction.

“I know this is difficult.” Dawn’s spoke as if she was soothing a wounded animal which made her words more palatable. “Jordan, don’t blame yourself because you didn’t know. Perpetrators manipulate the victim usually with threats to ensure their silence.  Victims almost never disclose to their parents for lots of reasons.  Secrecy within families is a hallmark of this crime.  Family members usually love the perpetrator and are afraid they’ll go to jail or they’ll break their parents’ heart or tear the family apart.” 

What followed was a discourse on memory of sexual abuse victims. Apparently Casey had blacked out most of her memories of the abuse and her childhood. What remained was four consistent incidents of Jake sexually abusing her. They were specific and graphic. “It’s the clarity and consistency of what Casey remembers that make her statements credible and reliable. The fact she knows where she was, her age at the time, specifics of those incidents and her statements never waiver give them credibility.” Dawn’s hands lay crossed in her lap as she relayed the information. 

Dawn continued explaining aspects of memory in victims.

“Victims often have repressed memories.  They block them and push them into the subconscious mind because they are too painful to remember.  They believed if they remember it will kill them.  Casey has snapshots of specific moments that broke through the blocks.  A trigger can also cause a flashback of a scene.  But Casey may or may not ever regain full memory of the abuse.”

Dawn searched for some indication of comprehension to creep across my face.

 “The abrupt changes in Casey’s behavior—the rage, violence and sexualized flirting with older men—are likely the result of the sexual abuse.” Dawn said as she leaned her head slightly toward Casey.  “Moving from California to Colorado distanced her from the perpetrator and older siblings, providing a safe environment in which to reveal the abuse.  Being in a foster home also provided distance from you.”

Fantastic. Now, I was the enemy; the impediment to her disclosing the sexual abuse.  How ironic that the mystery to Casey’s extreme behavior changes was solved. I’d agonized over an answer but not this answer.

I don’t recall the length of Dawn’s reply other than I remember her repeating the validity of Casey memories and, reiterating, Jake was the abuser. In a desperate desire to escape this nightmare, I clung to a fragile hope that Casey was mistaken. I wanted concrete evidence to warrant my pain but I feared questioning Dawn further with Casey in the room.

As if sensing my dilemma, Dawn said, “Parents facing a tragedy so horrific have difficulty accepting incest has happened because often there are no witnesses, no physical evidence and the victim’s memories are scarce, making absolute proof impossible.”  Thoughts raced across my mind like a ticker tape.

Accepting the incest didn’t come automatically. But, I didn’t disbelieve Casey either.  In retrospect, I allowed for the possibility that it happened.  That was all I was capable of at that moment. I am grateful I didn’t blurt out the constant stream of plausible denials playing in my mind.  I didn’t understand until much later that disbelief is a common response to shock, the body’s way of saving itself from a grief so intense that you fear you’ll go insane or die from the pain.

Over several days, little pieces of the picture fit together in my head—a picture taking shape in slow progression which created a space where acceptance was possible. 

A net of despair dropped over me.  Sadness seeped into my pours and pulsed through my veins.  I shed no tears. My face told the story I couldn’t find the words to convey.

“Jordan, it is not your fault. You are not to blame. Sexual abuse is difficult to detect because the signs are subtle and difficult to associate with abuse because they mimic normal childhood development.” Dawn forever endeared herself to me for attempting to assuage the questions of culpability gripping me.  Her clarifications were intended to apply salve to my wounds but nothing could assuage my pain. I respected her for trying.

Dawn was still talking and I wondered if she had ever stopped. She was talking about memories again; repressed memories, fragmented memories, isolated memories, blocked memories like an attorney presenting closing arguments to a jury.  Tremors gripped my body from somewhere deep inside.  Listening hurt

While I allowed that Casey may have been incested, I staunchly refused to consider that Jake was a perpetrator.  The thought was beyond what my heart could allow. Jake was my son. I gave birth to him, nursed him, held his hand while they stitched up his leg, posted his school pictures on the refrigerator, witnessed his first steps, laughed at his antics, and loved him. I pushed the idea away.  Yet, it still lingered in my mind like a sinister shadow.  Allowing Casey may have been molested was as far as I could go down that frightening and treacherous path. I would live to have my heart ripped out another day.

Suddenly, concerned for Jake surfaced. “What is going to happen to Jake?”

“The police aren’t going to prosecute because he is out-of-state and prosecuting would be expensive. Casey’s smattering of memories and lack of physical evidence makes prosecution problematic.” Dawn stated the fact as though these justifications were satisfactory. The failure to prosecute Jake haunts me still, not out of retribution, but emanates from concern. He needed treatment.

I remain eternally grateful to this day, that I didn’t blurt out my doubts in front of Casey.  Two years later, Jake admitted to Casey he had molested her and apologized—the only incident where he chose to take responsibility for his actions. He admitted to abusing her beginning at age three to age nine.  The abuse stopped only when he moved out of our home. Later, Jake in a tearful redemptive cleansing to his older sister poured out his sexual abuse transgressions. In a latter to me, Jake blamed me for the abuse, denying any responsibility.  Years later when he was afraid of exposure, he again denied the abuse saying, “I have no direct knowledge of any sexual abuse committed to Casey.” He has never apologized to me and I’ve lived with the aftermath to Casey and her younger brothers.

Emerging from paralysis, Casey’s presence in the room screamed at me. We had been talking about the sexual abuse she incurred as if she wasn’t there. My heart broke as I stared into Casey’s face. I didn’t know what to say. Words seemed insufficient given the magnitude of what she endured. I felt useless. Anything I could say seemed trite, pointless.

I turned to Casey with calm control. “Casey, I don’t know what to say to you. Nothing feels right. I am so sorry. I had no idea.” Empty words poured from my mouth. “I love you.  What can I do?” Whatever I said amounted to throwing words into a bon fire and watching while they incinerate.

Dawn asked Casey if there was anything she wanted to say to me. Casey shook her head, continuing to stare at the floor as if waiting for a magic wand to make her disappear. I couldn’t hug her. I felt fragile—one move and I’d fall off the cliff I was precariously clinging to and crash to my death.

Raising her head, gazing at clock, Dawn said, “Our time is up for today. I know Casey is relieved you know, Jordan.” Dawn attempted to patch up the gaping hole she created. “Next week we’ll talk about where we go from here.” Dawn carefully stood up.  In response, I copied her.

It was inconceivable to turn me out into the world with my heart bleeding.  Words bunched in my head but no sound came out. How could nothing remain to be said but goodbye?  Parting this way seemed criminal.  Dawn hadn’t mentioned a support group for mothers, no referral agencies, no resources, no books—nothing.  There must be something more to say.  What was I supposed to do? Whre was I suppose to go?  Back to my normal life, but my life isn’t normal   There’s a big hole in the middle   Everything was going on around me and I’m stuck in the hole  So I drove home.

Something broke in me.  I spent years patching together the pieces of a life destroyed that day in August by the word incest.

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