I grew up in the 70’s. My dad is mentally ill –probably a mix of Asperger’s (back when there was that), Bipolar, OCD, and PTSD. He’s never been professionally diagnosed. His symptoms, however are not that complicated. –Not that different from a 2-3 yo with sensory overload or impossible to manage frustration or confusion. –only this three-year-old weighed 250 pounds.
He was a tyrannical maniac.
In addition to being terrifying, he was embarrassing. He often fought with the neighbors on either side of us. Stupid stuff like the neighbor on the one side took great care of his yard. It was always manicured and immaculate, but if his bushes grew over into our yard, Dad would shave them all off at the fence line and throw the branches and clippings over into that neighbor’s yard.
The neighbor on the other side was a Vietnam vet. He loved restoring old cars. Since he had a day job, he could only work on his cars at night. His garage was about a hundred feet from my parent’s bedroom. My dad has insomnia as well as heightened anxiety particularly as it pertained to his work. This was a perfect storm. There was more than one embarrassing altercation between them. Both of the dads of these neighbor households also abused their families. I didn’t learn this until I was an adult, but probably a big part of the discord between all three parties was the way they saw themselves in each other and hated what they saw.
I was compulsively overeating by the time I was about 17 months old.
I had a rather memorable and intense experience with the son of the Vietnam vet neighbor either the summer before my 2nd birthday or the summer after. Since the beginning of my compulsive eating is well corroborated at 17 months and since my birthday is in the beginning of April, I suspect it was the summer before. This fellow 2-year-old instructed me on oral sex, giving and receiving. And we acted out both. I remember it very well. There were at least 2 incidents, maybe three. I remember my brother being there for one of them. (He would have been…6?) I also have a memory of being present while my brother rehearsed this event to my Mom. I have asked both my mom and my brother as an adult what they remember and they claim to not know what I’m talking about.
I have no memory of being particularly traumatized by this, or any heavy shame about it. I do believe my masturbation habit began at this time. I don’t remember the masturbation history existing before I was 8, but I suspect that’s because the age of accountability rhetoric. I would not be surprised if that effected the way I filed the memories. Not being responsible for it is the same as it not happening. As a young person, I just though that this neighbor boy must have stumbled on to some of his dad’s pornography or something and acted it out on me. I was 40 before I realized how unlikely this is. I suspect an adult was more directly involved in some way and I don’t remember.
By the time I was 8 years old, my mom went back to school and to work in preparation to leave my Dad. She started a job that had her away from home from 3-10 pm. I have a brother who is 3.5 years older than me, and a sister who is 4.5 years younger than me. Of course, the 12-year-old brother was exempt from kitchen duty because he mowed grass three months out of the year. (code for because he has a penis.) This made me, at the tender age of 8, the woman of the house that Dad hated. It was for me to get home from school, clean the kitchen (that had been used by 5 people for 24 hours without further maintenance contributed by ANYONE else in that time), make dinner, and endure his nightly explosions which were part of his decompression from work routine. Exempt brother was in his room drawing airplanes and eating peanut butter. Terrified sister was ducked out of sight/range somewhere in the house.
Also, at around the age of eight, my friend Holly and I found a sex education book in her basement. It was straightforward and designed for children. Her mom was a special-ed teacher. I don’t remember it being too big a deal. Her mom didn’t mean for her to find it and planned to read it with her when she was a few years older.
The book answered questions I didn’t have, but also raised questions. I was at least indirectly aware of my clitoris, but not my vagina. My best guess at how intercourse would work then, I thought, is if a clitoris goes in the hole at the head of the penis. –and to get there the penis goes between upper labia. Hmmm…? Something is not adding up about these diagrams I tell ya…
The kitchen duty Dad wrath daily hell persisted until my mom left my dad when I was 14.
When I was 9, I started getting lots of babysitting jobs. I was always very tall and very mature for my age. My best guess is that people just didn’t realize how young I was. (My parents certainly seemed to have forgotten.) I was almost as tall as my kindergarten teacher. I was 5’7” in the fourth grade. I finally topped out at 5’11” at 15 years old. Then my arches fell which shrank me a bit. Then running made me lose a quarter of an inch off my height for every year I did that… I MIGHT be 5’8” now. And while I was shrinking, everyone around me grew up. So, I feel normal height-wise now, but ALL of my childhood I was the jolly green giant.
I began doing a LOT of babysitting at this time. A LOT of babysitting. Most of the gigs were free church things involving WAY too many kids WAY too young and REALLY deep assumptions happening within the adults involved. I was picked up by someone from church an hour early every morning to watch all of the kids of everyone who was in the ward choir. All the kids. At the same time. With no help, no toys and no compensation. I did an afternoon gig once in the backyard of someone in the ward that was hosting an all afternoon RS board meeting. The kids and I were out in the backyard the whole time. 5 of the 14 kids were under 18 months old. I WAS NINE!!!
Also, at this time, our ward was raising money to expand our phase 1 and 2 only meeting house to phases 3 and 4. This was before north America was declared tithing worthy and budgets and building funds were covered by general funds. In our ward, we made and sold pizzas on church premises to the violation of SO many laws of the land.
It went on for years. Finally, someone noticed that you can’t form a money-making enterprise on tax-exempt church property and we had to move premises. Then, however many months or years into that, someone noticed that a completely untrained and inconsistent assembly line of pizza-makers week after week violated a host of food safety and health codes and the project was abandoned all together. For years though, several families fought over dibs for my babysitting services for the Friday night pizza-making events. Some paid me, some did not. Some paid an insulting amount (like $2 for 6 hours with 4 kids. Even my 9-year-old self was like, “Ya, why don’t you just keep that”).
I acquired a paper route at the age of nine as well. (Again, because the guy from the telegraph didn’t realize how young I was.)
I also babysat for a neighborhood family that was deeply troubled. The three boys were 4 years old, 2 years old ad 7 months old. The mom was a nurse and worked odd hours. She smoked like a chimney, the house was always FILTHY and depressing. It was during the years of gross cloth diapers and way stinky baby formula. There was nothing charming about this environment that could lend fodder to a girl-child’s fantasy about mommy-hood. There was so much pain in that house.
I was nine years old and alone with these kids for ten hours at a time. One summer it was day after day for the whole summer. She, at leased paid me. ($1/hour.) There were play girl magazines under the parents’ bed at this house. I don’t know how I found them or if this is where it started, but it resurrected the “so how does this work, anyway?” question.
I tried to test my angle and attitude hypothesis with the baby’s penis and my vulva. (I didn’t understand about the vagina part exactly.) I also didn’t understand about the erection part. It didn’t work and I was still confused.
I tried to figure it out with the four-year-old boy and two-year-old girl in one of the pizza families –thinking that a third person vantage point would make it all make more sense. It also really didn’t work. There was at least one incident with each family. Maybe more with the neighbor family.
None of it worked and I moved on. I had a vague notion of this being embarrassing behavior, but none about it being sinful behavior and certainly none about it being HARMFUL behavior.
That whether or not these little people could talk or remember, that they were PEOPLE. This, to me is the thesis of my report and my motivation for writing my story. I have been a half-a-century trying to claim and honor the humanity of myself and those around me. That quest got off to a rocky start.
At one point the Mom of the pizza family with the 4 kids that paid me $2 for 6 hours child-care, called my mom because the 4-year-old boy had reported some kind of impropriety.
The mom wanted to talk to me. My mom reported this shruggingly and handed me the phone. The mom said that during bath time, the 4-year-old reported that he could, “…put his ding-dong in [sister’s name’s] ding-dong.” The mom asked, “Who told you that?” and the boy said, “Sabine.”
I remember stammering. Then she said, “I’m not mad at you, If I was mad at you I wouldn’t let you tend anymore, I just think that it’s my privilege to teach him that.
Between the age of 9 and 11, the worthiness rhetoric was ratcheting up –as was the ogling gaze from adult men at church (by the age of twelve, the ’I’ll guess your age within 4 years or you get a prize’ guy at 6 Flags guessed that I was 18. This means he bet a prize on that I was somewhere between 14-22 when I was 12.) My parents had a friend -their age that would watch racy movies and then call me to tell me all about them. He was doing that to my mom as well. Rather than deal with this problem head on, she started spending all her time on yardwork to not have to pick up the phone when it rang because it would either be my dad calling to yell at her or this guy calling to tell her all about his latest skin flick. Great strategy, except that left me to answer the phone… (Not unlike the great strategy of going back to school and work to get away from Dad.)
By the age of 11 I had linked some of the sex-shame and culpability of women and children messaging at church. I had also gotten a bellyful of the only way out/forward being repentance which, for serious sin, includes confession to the bishop.
When I fully connected the dots: What lasciviousness means, what nigh-unto-murder means, what damned and outer darkness and eternal torment means, I concluded that there was no way I could make my mouth form the words of what I had done to a grownup –especially to my weird bishop and that therefore I would be going to hell when this life was over. Therefor, I thought, since heaven was out for me, I may as well spend the next 70 years or so helping everyone else get there and be content with that.
Then the 11-year-old primary girls were invited to a special YW meeting to start that transitioning. The lesson included something about repentance and about bishop-interviews that would be every 6 months and start at our 12th birthday.
Something about it was inspiring enough that I made an appointment with our bishop and braved the confession.
This bishop skirted around on his wife for twenty years before she divorced him and he was excommunicated. His wife was my dad’s 2nd cousin. He, the bishop, had a bizarre voyeuristic interest in my family from the time my parents married, but of course I didn’t know this at the time. After his divorce, he proceeded to plow thru a number of widows and their fortunes before being loved back in to full-fellowship at church. (-thank God, right?)
Of course, I didn’t know any of this then. I just know he was melodramatic, had a gross southern accent and spoke in a stream of malapropisms (My home teacher later commented. “Ya, he’s kindly funny about that…”)
Anyway, the components of the confession interview that I remember after being terrified for well over a year of having this conversation, but knowing it was my only option if I want forgiveness and to get out of hell were: NUMBER ONE that the first thing out of his mouth was,
“I can’t forgive sins. We aren’t Catholic.” I remember that I struggled with language to describe what I had done. I had brought up the kids I babysat, so he was trying to prompt me. “Did you play with his penis?” “no” (…why do that?) “Did you have an organism?” (I swear to God. That is NOT a misspelling) “No…” (paging thru the 5th grade biology notes in my mind about plant and animal organisms and trying to figure out the relevance…)
I remember some general instruction/discourse about sex. -that it’s a great way to unwind, but we are expected to wait until we are married. He explained various levels of church discipline and that he didn’t think this called for any of those. I remember leaving and being so relieved and feeling so courageous that I had done this hard thing that I had to do. –That every thought I had no longer needed to be accompanied by, ‘except what difference does it make, I’m going to hell anyway.’
I wonder if with that heavy weight off me, it finally occurred to me that the masturbation habit was the greater sin and had more power to permanently damage my soul. It’s possible. It’s possible he brought up masturbation in the first interview. I may have gone back for a second confession. This all may have been part of the first confession. I don’t know. I remember a conversation with him about “impure thoughts” –which is probably the terms I couched it in. To try to explain what I was getting at, I said, “Well it’s like if I see a Happy Days episode and it ends with Fonzie and a girl on his couch in his apartment and they kiss and turn the light out, I finish the scene in my mind.” He said, “OK, finish it for me.”
I don’t remember what I said, but I remember realizing that he was getting off on this conversation. (I was eleven and didn’t know the roll an erection played in sex, but I knew THIS.) I also recalled the discourse on all the flavors of church discipline and sensed him getting off on being my personal gate keeper to heaven every bit as much. And THIS ^^^^my friends is the most concise definition of ecclesiastical abuse I can think of. I was not raped by an ecclesiastical leader, but this story and MANY other dealings with authority in my own life and as I advocated for my own kids (now, 20, 18, and 15) has made crystal clear that in our quest for godhood and goddesshood, we have lost our humanity.
NEVER in this situation was the welfare of these kids even inquired about, let alone addressed. Never was any amends-making or restitution involved in my “repentance process.” -Just confession and I don’t have confidence that the confession was for my benefit, knowhutImean?
I didn’t understand until I was in my 40’s that the depression I was familiar with had a counterpart called anxiety that I had never named. All of the manipulative language used at church at me about sex as a youth I heard loud and clear and took very seriously, So seriously that stains to my soul were more important than the welfare of children. (Including the child in me.)
The nonsense shame rhetoric is enough. Being ogled in the hallway every Sunday was enough. All of this is enough.
Correlating the procedure of middle-aged men talking to teenagers and children behind closed windowless doors is beyond risky, harmful, ridiculous and stupid.