22 April 2010

Death, and the Victim

There are some things that time cannot mend, some hurts that go too deep.
- J.R.R. Tolkien

It wasn’t like I was an attractive child; “Husky” was the diplomatic euphemism the J.C. Penney catalog used to describe my body-type. Of course, being beautiful would not have been any kind of excuse for the things he did…for what he took from me.

For years, I’ve been able to lock the memories away; way back amongst the cobwebs in a seldom visited corner of my mind. Occasionally, of course, something would remind me – catching a whiff of cigar smoke, seeing someone chewing tobacco, a news story about a child being sexually abused – but I’d quickly push the memories back into that corner, until now.

Why dredge up the memories now, after nearly three decades? Why reveal something that I’ve never told another living soul? Because, my maternal grandfather, Arthur H. Monigold, the man who sexually assaulted me several times in the early 1980s, is dead.

He was diagnosed with Cancer early in 2007, but he didn’t tell anyone. A week before he died, while he lay in a hospital bed, his doctors informed family members that they expected him to die at any time. And, on October 17, 2008 – my 40th birthday – he did.

Standing beside his casket; seeing him for only the third time in nearly 25 years – knowing that it would be the last time I would see him on this earth – he didn’t look like “Grampa.” He was no longer the man who towered over me back when I was knee-high to a grasshopper. He looked like a wax sculpture. His once-strong fingers and sharp hawk-like nose were withered and shrunken. He was nothing more than a pile of wrinkled, leathery skin buttoned up in the last suit he’ll ever own.

And I was happy to see him off. It took a long time, certainly a lot longer than expected, or deserved, but I guess that if the good die young, the evil seem to live damned-near forever.

Most people will find it a bit strange that I’m celebrating a death in the family. I don’t mean celebrating the life which preceded the shuffling off of the mortal coil, but actually rejoicing that a family member is now residing in the deepest, darkest, hottest pit, in the lowest level of Hell, with several demons assigned to make his eternity as terrifyingly uncomfortable as possible. I assure you, my vivid imagination turns to the worst horrors that John Milton and Dante Alighieri ever described.

I could tell you some of the good things the man did in his life. He served in the United States Army during World War II. He spent decades working in Ohio steel mills. He married, fathered seven children, and adopted another. He provided food and education for the entire clan, and watched them all marry-off.

But those good things only make what he did to me more difficult to understand. His abuse wasn’t like a father teaching his son to be tough by telling him not to cry when he skinned his knee, or when he got hit by a pitch while playing baseball. It was a grown-up taking sexual advantage of a child. A child entrusted to his care, a child who trusted him; a child who was probably more damaged by keeping the secret of the abuse, than by the actual abuse. My grandfather told me not to tell anyone, and I didn’t…for nearly thirty years.

I wasn’t the only child he abused. Unfortunately, I’ve learned of three other children – all family members – that he hurt. In addition, over the last several years, I’ve received hints and heard rumors about his abuse of two other family members. The knowledge that I might have been able to stop some of the others from being hurt burns me – if I had just told on him – if I hadn’t kept his secret…

When I learned of his imminent death, I did not travel to Ohio for some kind of death-bed reconciliation. I did not wish to hear an apology or an excuse – if he had even offered one. Too many of my “issues” can be traced directly back to his abuse.

It is why I don’t like being touched by any but my closest friends. It is why I don’t trust many people – and rarely give a second chance to the few I do. It is the biggest reason why I don’t sleep at night, even in my own bed. It is the reason that I am always suspicious of peoples’ intentions with children and constantly self-conscious about my interactions with my 4-year-old niece. No, I felt – and still feel – no need or desire to forgive him or to forget what he did to me!

What I do feel is hate! Hatred at him for what he took, and hatred at myself because I let him take it! Because I couldn’t do anything…because I still can’t do anything. I can’t tell you how many times I wanted to drive to Ohio and strangle the life out of him with my bare hands. I wanted to look into his eyes as the life left them, and see his final realization that I was taking something valuable from him. But I didn’t. I didn’t use the fact that I’m bigger and stronger than someone else to hurt them!

Too often, I hear people use their own past sexual abuse as an excuse to explain their abuse of a child. As if that is any kind of justification for visiting that kind of pain on a child. As if there could ever be any justification for that. Yes, I was sexually abused as a boy, but I would drag razor blades across my eyeballs before I would intentionally hurt a child.

I didn’t make a scene at the funeral home. I politely declined a request to serve as a pall-bearer. And, despite my repeated blustering that I would remain at the cemetery to help the workers cover him with dirt, I did not. Before the service began, however, I found a quiet moment to stand beside his casket and slide a list of his crimes – the ones I know about – inside his jacket, as a kind of boarding pass for the trip to Hell. I wanted to make sure that the Devil didn’t miss anything.

This revelation…this confession…is not about finding some kind of closure for myself. I’m certain that if I haven’t found closure by now, I never will. No, this is about the truth; a truth that should have come out a very long time ago.

I know, of course, that I’ll see my grandfather again…someday. We will have a lot to talk about while we both spend eternity in Hell. Until that day, however, I’ll go on living my life as best I can – an endeavour more difficult some days than others. As painful as it is, I’m trying to learn to accept the past for what it is – rather than pushing it back into that dark corner – because I know that it will always be there, and I can’t change it now.

F. Scott Fitzgerald illustrates this struggle in the last sentence of The Great Gatsby. He writes, “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.” The fact is, we each suffer from the accumulated wounds of our lifetime. We can wash away the scabs of immediacy, but the scars remain to remind us of the pain much longer…sometimes forever. My scars will never fade completely. My memories will always have the power to carry me back to the past. All I can do is beat on against that current.

For information about missing, abused, neglected, and murdered children, please visit these sites:

Child Abuse and Neglect – HelpGuide.org: http://www.helpguide.org/mental/child_abuse_physical_emotional_sexual_neglect.htm

The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children: http://www.missingkids.com/missingkids/servlet/PublicHomeServlet?LanguageCountry=en_US

The National Sex Offender Public Website: http://www.nsopr.gov/

NetSafeKids Home Page: http://www.nap.edu/netsafekids/

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