By Jo Hall
You were the friend of a friend of a friend, tagging along to a party I hosted. Celebrating, I had survived divorce and was back to work following a two-year hiatus. Things were looking up…until you brought us down.
You lingered longer than other party goers, commenting on photos of my blond, blue-eyed daughters. “They’re six- and nine-years-old,” I answered when you asked.
The next day, you returned to repair my broken lawn mower. When you learned I didn’t drive due to low vision, you helped with errands. You took us to the movies and cooked for me and my girls. Raised in a small town, you weren’t afraid of hard work. A college graduate, you sported an overcoat, briefcase, and two-way radio on the way to your important job. You played guitar and serenaded me with country love songs. You consumed books and good wine with abandon, like me. Well-groomed, well-spoken, you met my parents and declared your love for me. A real-life Prince Charming, you were.
You took us camping and boating and skiing; you took me dancing and dining. You courted like a vulture circling its prey. We went to church together. You gave me a sparkling cross symbolic of Jesus. (What would he have done?)
That Christmas, I was sick as a dog with a cold. You offered to watch a movie with the girls and put them to bed; you suggested I go to sleep early in hopes of feeling better the next day.
But the next day, my daughter woke me with alarming news.
“Mommy, last night…”
“He what?” I fought the weight of sleep. Standing by my bedside, my daughter seemed surreal.
“He moved my nightgown and touched me between my legs, and he took my hand and put it on his penis.”
“He did?” I was wide awake.
My sharp mother-cat claws were twitching, but I measured my words, not wanting my daughter to witness her mom breaking down. In an even voice I thanked her for telling me what had happened and calmly sent her to the kitchen for breakfast.
I believed my daughter. I trusted my daughter. While I lay sick sleeping, you lay on the floor in front of the television watching a holiday movie, helping yourself to my daughter.
I called you at work. I hissed at you to get your things the fuck out of my house. I demanded you apologize to my child. You did as you were told. You were contrite. You claimed it was an anomaly. You seemed remorseful. You cried. You swore you hadn’t done anything like this before. You prayed. You offered to participate in counseling. I called a therapist, ashamed to admit that a man I invited into my home had sexually molested my child.
When I made the admission, the counselor asked if I had reported the incident to the police. In fact, I hadn’t. I had removed the threat from my home, but I hadn’t wanted to stress my daughter further by talking to the police. The counselor explained he was required to report knowledge of a sexual assault to the authorities. Of course he was. I knew that myself as a public school employee, but I failed to apply that requirement to my own circumstance. I reeled with the reality that my own daughter was a sexual assault victim. Too close to the perpetrator, I hadn’t allowed myself to see the brutal truth.
The counselor agreed not to call the police if I myself reported the crime. You were angry. I called the next day. My life began spiraling out of control the moment my daughter woke me into this nightmare but the disturbance gained hurricane strength after I reported the crime. You were arrested at your workplace and booked as a felon that same day.
I assumed the detectives would accept my report along with your confession on face value, but they weren’t satisfied. Perhaps they presumed that mothers lied to protect their men, or they suspected that I, too, was molesting my fragile daughters. Either way, they insisted that I, and my children, report in person for an interview at “the Children’s Advocacy Center,” a friendlier environment than the police department, they assured. The advocacy center, however, was a façade. Like the smiling face on a billboard lures you into the dentist chair, we were coaxed in with promises of kindness and compassion. I schlepped my girls downtown on the bus, reassuring them that caring people would listen to our story, and then we could go home for ice cream.
We stepped into a lobby set up like a living room, toy boxes and books strewn about. The girls were presented with stuffed teddy bears and promptly whisked through a door that clicked behind them, barring me. We were separated without explanation or apology. I was led to a tight, windowless office and interrogated for an hour while I worried. Later, I learned that my girls had also been separated and held behind closed doors. They were filmed while stern “social workers” poking and pointing at dolls demanded crude details that their little girl minds couldn’t conjure. I saw them cringing behind curtains and crouching behind couches when I later returned without my daughters demanding to see the tapes. The damage was done. For years after, I struggled to find a counselor who didn’t trigger the same type of response from my girls.
I am ashamed I believed you were a good man who deserved to be forgiven. My Christian values compelled me to offer compassion. I accompanied you to court and stood by your side while you confronted your demons. I thought you were the exception to the rule—you had never done it before, you would never do it again, that we could transcend the insurmountable mountain of destruction you had caused.
You registered as a sex offender and began serving your sentence. You participated in a program designed to rehabilitate people like you. But, you swore you weren’t like them. You toyed with my mind and played me against my daughters. You demanded my time, commanding convoluted planning to see me without my children’s knowledge. You were forbidden from being near children, my children, any children, even your own son. But, children were everywhere—stores, libraries, parks, workplaces. We were driven underground, huddled in dark corners, haunted by the devil. We argued and blamed, shouted and cried. Six months passed in anguish. Home alone on the couch, the girls tucked safely in bed, images on the television blurring, sipping copious quantities of wine, staring at the carpet where “it” had happened, I saw the truth. You, too, were a predator.
Twenty years have come and gone. My daughter has forgiven me for not crushing you like a bug the moment I learned of your betrayal, but I have not forgiven myself for the delay, for thinking that the love of a man was worth more than the welfare of my children. Now a mother herself, my daughter entrusts the care of her children to me. My heart is finally healed.
Jo Hall is the pen name assumed by this blind writer when delving deep into sensitive topics about those she loves. Retired from a professional communications career, she is now unearthing decades of emotional essays on parenting, caregiving, living with a disability, and adventures with her guide dog. Jo Hall may be reached at JoHallWriting@gmail.com.
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