Lesson Learned from Zoe Zolbrod: Second, Find My Voice.


A thud strikes the house while I sit on the floor with my sons. 
Not quite ready to walk, they roll and crawl about for their animals and trains. Bash has already made two successful trips across the room for my coffee.

I stretch myself upright, and see a smear the size of a baby boy’s leg on the window. The smear is white and red.

I peer outside, and see a large bird on the porch, a head of red feathers, grey breast, black wings. It’s blinking. Gasping.

The red head was not intended by creation.

Its chest heaves.

My sons gurgle, topple the zoo again.

Its eyes flutter, close, flutter, close.

My sons cackle at one another. I hear the ting of a train against my mug.

The porch turns red beneath its neck. Its chest rises, falls. Stays.

~*~

I’m here to write about a failure.

20160830_121809Everything seemed to be churning so well, like that wave of relief you get after finally vomiting all the bile. Back in May, I accepted the word “victim” in its connection to myself. After reading Zoe Zolbrod’s The Telling, I finally found words to fit what I had felt from those years ago: the pain. The anger. The confusion, lots of confusion, as Zolbrod put it: “I could not find a place for myself” (215). When you don’t really know you’re a victim, you don’t know what you need to tell. You believe what you’re told–this is what families do for each other–and there’s a part inside that hisses:

Your parents are doing God’s work. If you tell, they won’t be able to do God’s work. God won’t reach others. God is more important. His ministry is always more important.

So you make yourself believe what’s going on will have to end sometime, and then it will be done, boxed up with all the other past days where it can’t slip beneath your clothes. Breathe heavier, and heavier, while all you go cold in the world and pray to Not Be.

~*~

I turned away from the bird and took care to my own. Surely enough creatures lived around here who would love fresh bird. I saw a fox the other day. Cats lived nearby. Hell, I’ll take a snake, just…Nature, take care of your own.

~*~

When something is horrible and commonplace, especially when it’s caught in the web of loyalty and blood, it’s easy to look away, make the bet it won’t happen again, assume if it’s really of great consequence, someone else will force it to stop.

-Z. Zolbrod, 218

~*~

Bo came home and took care of his own. Our duties formed by expectations and obligations: Bread Winner, Stay-at-Home Mom. Admittedly, not an easy marriage then.

“Did you see the bird?”

“No.”

“There’s a dead bird on the porch.”

Pause. “Okay.”

“It’s been there all day. I was hoping something would carry it off, but nothing’s come.”

Shrug. “I’ll handle it in the morning.”

Morning came. He left.

The bird still lay there. Odd feathers blew around in the whirlwinds caught by our porch. The beak went slack: open, shut, open, shut.

~*~

While Zolbrod faced her memories and her family before she got married, I did my best to shove that box into the dark recesses. I can remember days in high school of being so bloody angry and unable to verbalize why. Because…God? Because everyone was going into the ministry but me? But now I can see it was because The Monster had started to take an interest in my friends. I wanted to protect them, but I couldn’t say why. I had scrawled “nightmares” on the box, hoping that would make it easier to contain. Childhood nightmares are just a part of anyone’s life, right?

Only in college, the first school where no other family member ever attended, was I able to create some sort of identity for myself….until The Monster announced he was enrolling there my second year. My parents thought it a marvelous idea. “Jean, you’ll help him, won’t you?”

I broke down crying with the college chaplain, and he recommended that The Monster and I address our family together. No healing could come without unity.

To be true, to be me. To open my mouth, and say, “This happened to me, and it’s affected who I am.” I could not finish what college had helped me start without this moment.

The Monster’s reaction to the chaplain’s suggestion: “Look, it was a bad thing I did back then. They don’t need to know.”

End of conversation.

And like a fucking coward, I did what I always did: I silenced myself.

~*~

Spring, beautiful spring. My firstborn sleeps on my chest. I’d barely had ten minutes’ sleep all night. I still reeked of ravioli vomit from labor that night. But I was a mom with a healthy baby. A daughter.

Family came round later that day: Bo’s father, then later on my family, including The Monster.

Oh, God.

I have a daughter.

Every family gathering thereafter put me on DEFCON 1. The Monster showed little interest in baby Blondie, yet I always kept my distance, always nursed out of sight. When I told Bo I wanted to speak up, he pointed to The Monster’s behavior and said, “You don’t know if he’s going to do anything. Just leave it be.” He saw me as paranoid, fed the part of me that thought like Zolbrod did: The Monster was working through his own growing sexuality. He wouldn’t do anything now.

The morning after Bondie’s first Thanksgiving, I walked outside to say good morning to my father. I remember the bright blue sky, and giant elm in the yard half red, half green. The dog, sniffing for squirrels. My father turned to me, and I could see nothing “good” was meeting his eyes.

“I don’t know what’s going on with you and ___, but you need to grow up.”

…wha?…

“You always look down on ___. You need to deal with that. Now.”

Here. Now. NOW, Jean, say something! All the missed chances in the past, all the pain and anger and dreams of killing The Monster, just open up and FUCKING SPIT IT OUT

I remember shaking all over. Visibly shaking. “Do you ever wonder why I act like that?”

My father bit his lip. “Yes, I do. And maybe you’ll tell me some day. But it’s still something you have to work out.”

End of conversation.

~*~

Zolbrod wonders, as I do, what would have happened if she had told. She learned after her first child’s birth that the cousin who had abused her was arrested for molesting another child. I see The Monster come and go at family functions, and hate myself because I don’t know. Were there others? Are there others?

Or maybe I was it. Maybe it really was “a bad thing he did back then.” Maybe everything is okay now. I once tried to make myself believe that, but motherhood rewired me: how I walked, how I ate, how I slept, how I even went to the bathroom. But especially in how I viewed the past.

When the Josh Duggar scandal broke, my mother blamed the media for slandering a “good Christian family.” “They took care of it themselves, like they should,” she said while my sons played at her feet. “Besides, it all happened a long time ago. It doesn’t matter anymore.”

I had to leave the room, bite my fist to keep from screaming.

The past so. fucking. matters.

My children shouldn’t share my nightmares. The same self-loathing that makes it so damn hard to accept any compliment from anyone, because who compliments garbage? Who can look at me, this thing used and discarded, and somehow see me as worth their time?

No. My children will not have that tar slathered on their souls by The Monster’s hands.

~*~

I hate being afraid of my own porch. I can’t have the kids grabbing a dead bird–let’s not have that be a generational thing.

I’m sick of being afraid. I need to be what my kids need me to be:

Unafraid to do what must be done.

I gather up some newspaper and a shoe box. With Thomas the train distracting the children, I step out. Drop the newspaper over the body. Kneel. Lower my clawed hands over the newspaper where it lifts from the ground, and slowly clutch.

It’s still so soft. Light.

Into the shoe box. A small red patch on the concrete holds a single feather in the air.

~*~

My therapist does not consider me ready to face him.

I had wanted to do it this coming weekend, when my children are to be watched, and my mother–The Monster’s biggest ally–will be occupied elsewhere.

Yet I’m being encouraged to wait. And with every day’s wait, I grow more and more afraid to speak.

The holidays are coming. Holidays mean family for long visits, attention drawn in one direction while kids go in another. I think of this, and I think of the summer shindig my mother threw: everyone outside, Blondie goes in to change out of her swimsuit, I see The Monster go in after her, and I pound through another door and shout my daughter’s name.

The Monster was staring at his phone by the kitchen table. Blondie looked at me from the hallway, confused. I…I had to make it sound okay, just….it’s okay, Kiddo, I just wanted to make sure I knew where you were…and I could see he wasn’t near her, but–

Why did he have to go inside just to check his phone?

I think of that moment, and I think of the holidays, and lose my breathe to fear. I do not see how others can tell me to wait.

Because this isn’t about me. I can’t alter the past, but I can prevent its recurrence. All it takes is the voice which crawled into the back of my throat time after time let’s play a game to come back to my lips, to look into the eyes doesn’t that feel good? and push back the hands this is what families do for each other

The voice that failed then. That fails now.

This failure has to stop.

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37 thoughts on “Lesson Learned from Zoe Zolbrod: Second, Find My Voice.

  1. Overlooking the subject matter for the moment, your use of three interchanging flows of events to tell the story made it read as if the basis for a theatre play or suchlike, brilliant…I would still like a word in The Monster’s shell, mind. Sounds like a bloke who really, really ought to have that fortune of his told.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Jean darling, you have probably no idea how powerful this piece is what you evoke in a reader. I know that is not why you wrote it as such. You are not a failure. You have not failed. This is exactly what people like the monster play and prey on, EVERYTHING you talk of here. And it is not being a failure to have confronted, to live with this, to fear shattering the family bauble that you belong in, that is your bauble, to rightly wonder who knows what and what it all might do. . The bottom line is you went in after your daughter. AND yeah, I think too fucking right he could have made that call outside, the shit. If he was aware of the pain, the agony he’d caused, if he was in any way a different person now as he says, then he’d also know how totally inappropriate it is to be around your daughter in a situation like that. You will find your moment brave lady. Don’t you doubt it for a moment either, xx

    Liked by 2 people

    • I’m crying, but for good reason. Your love and words fly over The Pond and my heart’s all the stronger for it. Maybe I’ll buck the therapist, I don’t know. All I know is that it needs to happen, and I’m not waiting until the holidays to do it. O Lovely Lady Shey, you are a force to be reckoned with! (For all sorts of kickass,loving reasons. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • Listen hone therapists don’t know it all. Ask yourself always how worth it is in life throwing the pieces in the air and whether you can cope with them maybe not coming back together again. Weigh THAT against what you seek and what you need to do. —I think you need to do this, especially when I read about Blondie. He’s not learned anything. (Of course there’s times it is not worth throwing the pieces in the air over what we are throwing them in the air for . I don’t think we are talking a time like that)
        Bottom line, maybe the pieces won’t go back together again in terms of your family, well these pieces are a casualty–hopefully only for a little while though. You just have to be strong enough to stand up to that little while and know that you can’t live your life in the fear that someone might not stand by you, no matter who they are. While you do YOU are that casualty xxx

        Liked by 3 people

      • I’ve been going through your words since yesterday, and you are so bloody right. Hell, I even contacted him to see if he would be free today (without saying why, of course). He’s sick. Not leaving the house.
        FUCK.
        I talked to Bo; we’re going to see when some friends are available to watch the kids while we talk to him.
        This is going to happen. This HAS to happen.
        Thank you so much for your love and strength from all sides. Doubt ebbs away when I read your words. 🙂 xxxx

        Liked by 3 people

      • Jean see that sick bit… it is another screen. I do NOT say more cos we all need screens because we can all be vulnerable. . BUT we also all need to confront the truth and protect our own and frankly I did not like the fact he was unable to recognize that he should not be alone near your daughter — also reckoning that is why he is now hiding. And listen- I am here. brave lady I mean that and it does not have to be any kind of violent scene with the monster just what you have to say AND see having Bo there, well, he does not even need to say a word ok xxxx

        Liked by 1 person

      • Okay. xxxx
        I’m determined this happens before Thanksgiving. I’ve conceded we need the kids safely elsewhere for it, and Bo’s working on making that happen with friends who live nearby.
        I even thought about doing it on the phone–safe for everyone, right? But I don’t like not…as much as I can’t stand the thought of talking about this face to face, I NEED to see him as I talk. Hell, I’ll probably have a mic of some sort to record the conversation. I need to see how he reacts, and I need to see him speak–or not speak. But I’ve got to have that, dammit, so I’m going to get it.
        Thank you, dear one. xxxx

        Liked by 4 people

  3. “You don’t know what fear is until you’re a parent,” says a favorite sappy movie of mine, and it’s so terribly true. That instinct to protect is a heart rending game-changer, and the fear of failing in that…well, it doesn’t bear thinking about. You are a person who inspires me- not just as a gifted writer, (my goodness, how can you take this aching pain and express it so beautifully?), but as a strong person and a bright light in my life. And when you feel weak, well, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Hang on, friend, and here’s hoping this can be resolved, (or maybe that’s too much to say- that a resolution can begin?), soon.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Friend. I’m so glad you’re on here. 🙂 Your sappy movie quote is so apt–it’s amazing what we can shove into the back recesses when it only affects us, but kids make it aaaaaaaaaaaaaaall so different.
      I’ll keep you posted. Love to you and yours for always. xxxx

      Like

  4. I wanted to tell you long ago that I disagree with your therapist on many points. Don’t wait for holidays. You and your husband have to put a full stop to that. Just make it short, and make sure he understands that you are serious. In my humble opinion he has to be reported and monitored by local authorities.

    Can you guys just ignore the family gatherings altogether? Can you make up a legit reason to go somewhere else instead? The atmosphere there is very unhealthy. You can pay a personal visit to those you like any other day. Is it possible, what do you think? Many hugs! xxxx

    Liked by 5 people

    • This is currently the topic of conversation, especially since my mother wants to hold a party for The Monster on my birthday. While having it on my birthday is annoying, the reason for the party is, to me, rather ludicrous. (Long story.) We’re currently working out a time to visit friends who live nearby so they can watch the kids, and Bo can come with me to make this happen. That’s one stipulation of Bo’s that I’ve come to agree with: the kids should not be anywhere near this going down.
      Thanks for the hugs. 🙂 xxxx

      Liked by 4 people

      • He is right. Thing is as I said in that blog post you recently kindly shared on facebook, no-one is all bad. This ‘shit’ may do some good things. It may well be that he is totally sorry and ashamed of what he did back in the day. He may never do it again. BUT I personally believe that if you cross a line then yes you may change, you may not be that person etc and you may crave and deserve forgiveness, you have still forfeited the right to certain things because of your actions, moment of madness, whatever. In this case that is his right to be anywhere near you or your daughter, in family situations. That’s it for me. You don’t need to feel in any way bad about that. Nor can you go on sitting on this ant heap…parties for the monster on your birthday…. ??? Hugs darling. Hugs. x

        Liked by 2 people

      • Thank you. That’s exactly how I feel–even if he does actually say he’s sorry and asks for forgiveness, then out of that feeling he should respect my wishes that he stay away from my kids. If he scoffs, then I know he’s not changed, and that marks the end.

        Liked by 3 people

  5. Oh, Jean, that such soul-shaking writing comes from such a dark and horrible place. 😩 You are strong, and amazing, and vulnerable, and struggling, and right, whatever bullshit your parents might spew about working shit out. This is not a disagreement over a borrowed car or lost library book. This is an entire life, wrapped around the pole of an ongoing, untenable, fucking illegal series of events, families be damned. Speak now — screw the therapist (not literally) — and lay this immense burden at someone else’s feet. Where were your parents in all this? How could they not know? I am so attuned to my children’s emotions that as a mother, I don’t stop asking questions until I get to the root of it cause that’s what we’re wired to do. You have every right to claim your independence from this quagmire and if your voice shakes, that’s okay, and if you think they’ll call you a liar then send them this little piece before you go and let them ruminate in the horror of a childhood derailed. That kind of deviant behavior is not a one off – just as rape is legally identified as a violent, not sexual crime – and unless he gets help, despite the latency of the disease or passage of time, he will always be wired that way and Blondie is at risk. So send the story as your calling card and when you get to Thanksgiving, punch that effing piece of shit in his self-congratulatory mouth (or just imagine that part because violence just breeds more violence). Truly the pen is mightier and your story can rip even the most hard-hearted to bits. Sending virtualgobs of love and courage.

    Liked by 3 people

    • 🙂 I agree. It does make me a little sad, if this means my children will no longer have a grandparent (for I can see my mother cutting all ties over this). But a grandmother who protects a Monster is not a true grandmother at all.

      Liked by 3 people

      • My darling, a grandmother who puts a molester above being with her grandchild is not a grandmother. I have a wee grandbaby. I could not be without him, could not not feel his wee arms around my neck and hearing his laughter in my ears, and your friend in the above comment there speaks absolute truth about being a mother. We know our children. I know you are sad and these pieces may never come back together, that is what you risk but you risk far more staying silent. xxxxxxxxxxxx

        Liked by 2 people

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  7. Hi Jean. It’s just candid me Marie. I don’t know your age nor when that shit happened, but I suspect that was some years ago and it’s dealt with you inside out. The pen I believe is more powerful than a gun. Blowing monster off if u had a gun, will not heal you as much as if you wrote that all out in a memoir. Yes those are tough to do and the risks are usually very high – and there is this dang ” oh Hail Family Honour… Stuffs and all”, but darling mum yourself, what will you do if it were Blondie? Encourage her to speak up and even champion advocacy against such regardless of who did it or which or what pride is at stake, or tell her hush and peace be still? Darling, From Victim to Victor that’s my mantra, and I know God is out there for me all the way and I can have it directly with him and wouldn’t blindly drink in any chalice am offered even if filled freshly transformed “water into wine” versions told to me by whoever here below. Life is so tough, you deserve to Live and not live at fear’s mercy. Your kids deserve to Live and Love with a whole mum by them. No deserves the truest and best wife he bargained for. I pray serenity for you, I pray for much much Grace, I pray for much wisdom, patience and everything gentle and good for Bo as he helps you navigate this “misery”. Let your gut lead and yes doing it in person and not via phone is way much better though tougher. In Christ’s Love, Marie

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you so much for your kindness and encouragement. It is precisely this reason, this fear of them sharing such experiences and nightmares is what makes me know I must do this. I know I must do this, in my heart and soul. Yours in Christ, JL

      Liked by 2 people

  8. I’m simply astounded by what you’ve suffered…and that you continue to suffer. Many others do not have to keep seeing their Monsters, yet you cannot do that at this point.

    Your strength amazes me.

    My first reaction after reading this post was that I want to kill the Monster. But I know you don’t want your friend in jail. I adore you to no end, and I’m so in your corner that I’m super-glued to it, dear J. You inspire me to no end….you’ll be in my prayers constantly about this one. 💕 you!!!!!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Good heavens! What an amazing piece of writing! I could actually feel my heart being wrenched and twisted. I have not read something this evocative in a very long time. Apart from the heart breaking subject, you are very talented. You really have a way with words.

    Liked by 2 people

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