Lesson Learned from Zoe Zolbrod: First, Face Myself.

Before my kid brother or true nightmares existed, I came across a blue jay on the sidewalk. Its plumage looked beautiful despite all the little bugs crawling all over it, and was it a problem its eye no longer stayed in place? I didn’t think so. I knew it wasn’t properly alive; a properly alive bird flies away when you get near it. But I really hadn’t thought too much about death apart from “Jesus died and rose again.” Death had no sense of permanence. When the time came, the bird would be properly alive again.

There is a difference, I think, in knowing something is not-right vs. knowing something is wrong. I knew the bird wasn’t alive like me, but I didn’t know it was wrong to put it in a dump truck and drive it around like any other stuffed animal. You better believe my mother made sure I knew after scrubbing my hands for several minutes. The disease, the dirt one can get from playing with the forbidden. It transfers. It festers.

telling-cover-3I still carry a dirtiness on me and in me, and I’ve never been able to scrub it off. Zoe Zolbrod used the same term: “my dirtiness, of which my victimhood was a part” in her memoir The Telling (71).

It was the first time I had seen the word tied to the Feeling. Experience. Person.

And through reading, that Person was me.

Zolbrod sent me reeling with the stench of old wounds and fears. When she recounted the first night her cousin came into her room, I remembered the hall light in my bedroom, and The Monster’s silhouette as my parents were occupied elsewhere in the house. Let’s play a game. His hands slipped under the elastic waistband of my pajamas. It felt wrong. It had to be wrong, but…but he’s family, so…so it couldn’t be THAT wrong, could it?

When Zolbrod wrote of the cousin’s coming in the day when her parents promised to be gone, all those afternoons pulled me back, those hours when The Monster knew my parents were bound to be at church for hours, got my kid brother to be quiet in the basement while he kept me in my room, knowing there was no way I could overpower him as he talked so damn calmly as he reached in. Pulled down. Slipped his tongue in. Put my hands there. This is what family does for each other. Don’t you want to be like other girls?

I didn’t. Yet The Monster spoke time and again, turning the wrongness into something normal-ish, practically traditional. It wasn’t properly wrong, just not-right.

Zolbrod takes readers through life after the abuse, including how she began to move beyond her cousin in a new “float of physical bliss” with the boyfriends of her youth  (76). She took back her sexuality, her body. I, on the other hand, retreated as far as I knew how. I wore sagging clothes that would have made my father look a wastrel, refused to do my hair or face. I was often mistaken for a man by strangers, and didn’t care. I didn’t want to be seen as other girls. I didn’t want to be seen. And no one could, not the proper me, so long as I hid it deep enough. Zolbrod calls it “personhood vacating” (121). I fled into myself where The Monster could never reach. Like Zolbrod, I discovered my own “inborn intricacies,” and thought that In Here, The Monster could never really hurt me (94). A body’s nothing, the soul everything. And he’ll never get that.

Until now.

Words make worlds, do they not? Writers create with language. And I had created a wall with the words of stories, metal so thick surely no villain could penetrate them.

But in reading Zolbrod’s memoir, words twisted into sinew and skin: the hands, calloused and hot, across my body. How does it feel?

Words betrayed me. They burned me so that every emotional poke from my children felt like an axe on firewood.

Little Loves, you’re better off tossing Mommy out with all that’s broken. I’m no good for you. You deserve someone whole. Clean. Better.

Does a phoenix feel like this when the fire finally comes and cleanses its rigid body of all the creepy-crawlies?

I have written of phoenixes before. They, too, live anew and beyond death. When I finished Zolbrod, I felt as she after reading Kathy Acker’s Don Quixote: “I sensed some truth about armor and pure resolve arising from violence and shame” (41). For years I have struggled to make sense of why God put me through that pain. God’s plan is always sure and right, He never gives us more than we can bear, God knows best, etc. So apparently it was in my best interests to be abused?

At this point, a “Fuck you” screamed at heaven sounds near-logical. Sounds, but doesn’t feel. Perhaps it’s the preacher’s kid in me, who has always thought faith a second-breath, as important as blood and unable to be transfused if lost. Or perhaps it’s because I’ve already faced such horrible parts of myself during the years of post-partum that to look back on something even older and disown God on THAT seems…Petty?

Or maybe, and I think this may be the truth, it’s because I could feel the armor and resolve grow with me, and take me beyond the Monster’s reach. I have knowledge others do not: to be tortured year, after year, after year, to suffer on my own without hope of help, yet live. I fucking lived. My husband, my children, my friends, my masters, my teaching, my—well, this, here. MY words. They’re mine. And they don’t hurt.

Now the real duel awaits:

I must face The Monster, hands and all, in the present.

Click here for more on Zoe Zolbrod and THE TELLING.

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50 thoughts on “Lesson Learned from Zoe Zolbrod: First, Face Myself.

  1. After reading this I’d be more than happy to meet the Monster on your behalf, maybe read him his fortune, that’s for sure. Ethics (religious or otherwise) go right out of the window in the face of perpetrators of vile events, then and previous. As ever, wonderfully constructed piece of writing, shifting forward, looking back! There’s me…not felt angry for ages…you see words really do work Ms Lee!

    Liked by 1 person

      • Sorry if I sounded a bit fierce…yet blokes like that give men a bad name. Two (or more if they are that way inclined) consenting adults, whatever their sexuality can do anything they want together in my book, but the abuse of kids is the one thing that sends me right over the top! As for my missus…well, she’d have the lot of them hung, drawn and quartered.

        Liked by 2 people

      • LOL! No, I liked the fierceness. I’m still afraid whenever I’m around him. When I know others are more than ready to take him on, my own…well, cowardice, I guess. Well, it shrinks a bit when I know one like him would never make it far among my friends.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I am but an old pacifist and a life long anti-capital punishment supporter (thankfully it doesn’t exist in Western Europe)…yet sometimes, just sometimes my best Ray Winstone voice is about me and one needs to get in part!

        Liked by 1 person

    • Hugs and love, O Lovely Lady Shey. I thank you, and will think of you as The Day draws closer.
      Yes, I’ve made myself set a day. My therapist isn’t too keen on the day, but the stars align with the kids and my mother being absent.(I’ll explain in the next post.)
      Thank you for all you are and do. xxxxx

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  2. No one—not you, not Zoe, not anyone—should have a Monster in their life.

    Your words are testimony to your strength, but why don’t you let Michael, shehannemoore and me have a first go at the Monster. Then may what’s left of him be exposed, charged and jailed.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Ahem. I MAY know where to get ahold of a shotgun. You’ve always been one of my favorite people on God’s green earth you know, and your strength and courage in facing all of this, (and your eloquence in expressing it,) amazes me. Love and prayers.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Your words are SO powerful, and I for one, encourage you to keep writing. I can’t begin to imagine the pain you’ve lived through, but I have many friends (and clients — through my former work in mental health & nutrition) who’ve shared with me unbelievable stories of sexual abuse and the shame and hiding that kept them quiet. I believe sharing our pain through writing is necessary, and I have found that writing about my own pain and struggles has been incredibly healing. All the best as you continue your journey through healing. xoxo ~ Viv

    Liked by 2 people

    • I thank you. 🙂 I know path through healing has quite a few miles on it yet, but I do feel myself moving forward when I write. I hope and pray you continue to find the right words as you go, like bread crumbs through the forest…

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Powerful memories, and eloquently-told, Jean. How does one hold the charming, beloved preacher’s son accountable for the most heinous of deeds? It seems the only option is to speak your truth, as you have courageously done in this essay. But it will be hard for some to hear. It’s often easier to mask our own shame for our blindness or inaction by blaming the innocent victims we should have protected.

    I don’t know if Maggie Kuhn’s quote will help.

    “Leave safety behind. Put your body on the line. Stand before the people you fear and speak your mind–even if your voice shakes. When you least expect it, someone may actually listen to what you have to say. Well-aimed slingshots can topple giants” (Maggie Kuhn).

    It seems from the many comments, you have a supportive network who will stand by your side, if only in spirit. I send you hugs and best wishes ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much, Carol. Kuhn’s quote, of course, made me think of David and Goliath. I do think you’re right–it’s time to put myself on the line. Safety is not the same as peace, not at all. And I’m ready for peace.
      Hugs and love to you and yours!

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      • Jean, I’m so sorry for what you went through and for the deep wounds you still carry. What happened to you is not your fault. Based on the little bit you shared in the essay and comments, I’m not sure your family will be pleased to hear the truth. There are many ways to tell your story if you sense that direct confrontation will only bring you more hurt. You can build on this essay, write a memoir or creative nonfiction, or any other genre you choose. You’re an eloquent and gifted writer!

        This final comment feels like an odd thing to say, but it keeps surfacing with each rewrite of this response – Please protect your tender heart. ❤

        Liked by 1 person

      • Thank you for all you say. 🙂 I don’t think my family will be happy, no; I need to work through this more when I continue my reflections on Zolbrod’s book. But my therapist feels it imperative that I DO speak up, if only for honesty and clarity when it comes to my children. She doesn’t want me to rush it, but there’s a brief window of time in the approaching weeks where Bo and I can approach him without the children or other relatives around, and I feel THAT is the time to do this. Whatever happens after, happens after, but I’ll know I’m doing what is right and true for my family, and for myself. xxxx

        Liked by 2 people

  6. You are a gifted writer and amazing person, Jean. Don’t magnify that piece of dirt calling him The Monster. He is just a cowardly criminal. You deserve peace, and whatever action you take to achieve that peace, it is justified. Sending you my love ❤

    Liked by 2 people

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  8. My heart ached as I read this, Jean. You are my friend, you are brilliant; my puny words begin can’t describe how incredible you are as a person and as a truly astounding writer.

    For someone to have done that to you, and hurt you in that way – I can’t begin to tell you how furious I felt (towards The Monster) while reading it . As I read each paragraph I thought, “My God, this writing is spectacular”, but then the horror of what I was reading about kicked in. I have enormous respect for you for making it through that nightmare and for living with the trauma.

    But it fucking sucks-beyond-the-beyond-of-all-suckology you’ve been through such hell.

    I’m glad you’re seeing a therapist, and it’s good to know that you & Bo have discussed approaching him when the kids/relatives are absent.

    You’re in my thoughts, dear Jean.
    Much love to you,
    XOXOXOX

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks, Dyane. Reading Zolbrod’s memoir was one of the most painful things I’ve ever done, but also one of the most cathartic, too. I have to keep writing about it…of course I’m avoiding it right now…but it helps to feel the hand squeezes and hugs from so many friends near and far.
      Love to you and yours. Keep them safe. 🙂 xxxx

      Liked by 1 person

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      • It is so sad that you have had to go through all this pain. You’re writing is outstanding and would urge you, as some have already said, to turn this into a book. The way you write is raw, real and utterly compelling. Not only will it be cathartic but in essence your experience is set in blood/stone (book) forever, no one can take that away, you’re in control. It documents and materializes what he’s done to you (with this, he can never escape and it may become a ball and chain for his conscience for the rest of his life). It may even stop him in his vile tracks, make him think about offending again.It could have the Big Brother is watching you effect. It also makes you a brave survivor, telling your story, and may help others to confront their monsters in their own way, but to confront them indeed. I do not like your therapists advice. No. No. No. This monster controlled you, paralyzing you from speaking up; how you must have burned with a cauldron of emotions? And now this therapist is controlling when you speak up? Surely the right time is your time; when you’re ready? Aren’t they there to facilitate that? To be guided by you? Hell! One of the most difficult things in the world to do, you feel ‘ready’ (not the right word), and she says, ‘no, not now’? But enough of her. What you have done is supremely brave. Please write this book and let him feel the weight of it for the rest of his life. After all, he never said sorry.

        Liked by 1 person

      • You’ve hugged my heart with this. I’ve been dealing with a new wave of anxiety, coming to terms that I have to speak with my mom about this for her to understand that tension between The Monster and me, but to also talk to her about my own anger with her that has always been simmering through the years since she’s always on his defense with other matters that I never felt she’d hear me, or believe me, or, well, care, because it was all a long time ago.
        It’s still the stuff of nightmares.

        Liked by 1 person

  15. As if the pain isn’t enough, the additional and collateral damage caused as result of this vile beast must make things so complicated and emotionally complex (love but anger towards your parents)
    I don’t understand why some of us are put through hell. I know you have a faith. Mine is there but a little pedestrian. All I can say is that when I read about you and this, I see such strength. Your vulnerability is your honesty and your honesty is the source of your strength which I feel will guide you through these nightmares.
    Big,big hug to you.xx
    Please, please consider writing a book on this.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It is something I feel important to share, yes, especially when I can see now that I handled my postpartum like the abuse: shut my mouth and deal, think about when it’s not happening any more. try to live for that. Even Bo didn’t know how bad my postpartum was until he read my first blog post where I likened postpartum to Jason Voorhees. He looked at me like I was another person.
      Thank you for the hug, and the friendship. xxxxx

      Liked by 1 person

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