If I could reach out to the victims of Jerry Sandusky with a single message, it would be this: someday it just won’t matter anymore.
Before somebody throws a molotov cocktail through my front window, please hear me out. I’m not saying that what happened to them wasn’t criminal. I’m not saying that the perpetrator and the people who served as his de facto accomplices with their silence and accommodation, shouldn’t be punished. Heads should roll. It’s just that in the cacophony of competing sound bytes. accusations, denials, demands for retribution and pleas for justice, there is a vital message which doesn’t appear to be breaking through.
Healing is possible.
It takes time. It takes a willingness to let a professional (don’t try this at home) pry open your brain and your memory and your mouth to speak your truth. It sometimes requires writing down your rage in hate letters to the offenders, dead or alive. And it takes a certain level of receptiveness to the grace that comes with the healing. It’s like syrup is to pancakes, it just comes with it. And it can happen, this healing, at least it did for me and I’m a double dipper.
My experience wasn’t with a big-shot coach who lavished fancy gifts and favors on his victims. All I got was peppermint ice cream from my perp. I remained silent for decades, until I simply couldn’t hold down the bile of violation and secrecy any longer. I was in my 40s when I finally told my mother, by then my stepfather was dead. I even delivered the eulogy at his funeral, skipping over his ignoble deeds. Little did I know, that the man I was married to, who sat in the first pew wiping tears from his eyes, would end up in prison years later for committing a few of his own.
The irony was not lost on me. Imagine my bitter disappointment and rage, when it turned out, some sixteen years later, that the man I had been married to, a hometown celebrity, handsome, successful, influential, loving and benevolent to his own children, had been harboring dark ambitions toward someone else’s. I had no clue when I married him that the very thing I was running away from, I was actually running to. This happens sometimes to people who were sexually abused as kids; we tend to behave like refugees. We don’t assert our rights, because we’re not sure we have any. We lack confidence in scrutinizing others, because we feel like damaged goods ourselves.
But I eventually found my voice of righteous accusation; challenging the endless hours he spent on the Internet, his increasing disengagement from the family. When confronted, he passed it off as being gay. I told him to pack his bags. But they don’t lock people up for being gay anymore. No longer under the wary eye of a wife or the threat on being found out, inside our house of cards, it was after he was left to his own devices that the world learned the truth on the ten o’clock news. After a fourteen-month IV drip of news coverage surrounding his arrest and court case, he was sentenced to seven years for having sex with a teenage boy. I spent those seven years trying to convince my children that the sins of their father were not carried upon their shoulders, trying to help them deflect the shame by association that I had endured firsthand.
Last summer, it all came home to roost. Ten months earlier, my oldest brother had died of cancer. I had already lost another brother a few years earlier. I was like an unwilling contestant in an appalling reality show, “The Last Sibling Standing.” I was working 60 hours a week doing work I no longer believed in, going through the motions of pretending I gave a flip, while I had no time to even think, much less grieve. And I’d been on the adrenalin fix of single motherhood for so long, it felt as if I’d been sleeping with one eye open for seven years. But it’s hard to process nuclear fallout while you’re holding up a car, so I set it down. I set it down, got behind the wheel and drove — all across America. I quit my job, loaded up my dog and more baggage than I cared to admit and traveled through twenty-one states, from the Midwest to the East Coast to the West Coast and back again. I needed a defibrillator as big as the nation. I went to reconnect with every place and person I’d ever loved. I went to find a brother I’d never known. I went seeking solace.
What I got was healing. Eight weeks and more than 8, 000 miles later, at a roadside stop at sunset, it all got settled. Gazing out over an endless expanse of Utah desert, I sat on a huge flat rock with my dog, watching the sun go down. It was dry where we were, but there was a thunderstorm on the horizon, some fifty miles away. Rain in the desert comes down in grey vertical shafts from giant pink and purple clouds that pile up like cotton candy skyscrapers as far as the eye can see. Looking out at what felt like infinity, I was inspired to let it all go. I simply let it go. I realized that the egregious offenses which had been hurled my way as an abused child, a betrayed wife, over time, had ceased to matter. They were like a downpour on the desert; transient dark stabs into a porous surface, which would be absorbed, infused and used. Used for the betterment of my life, because I’d been blessed with the grace to understand that there was far more surface than there was rain.
I have a blessed life. Mile by mile, house by house, hug by hug, I was able to reclaim all the good memories which had been tainted by the bad. At the end of this road trip to revival, in which I’d been embraced by friends, family, strangers on the highway, and yes, my found brother, I realized how fortunate I truly am; the grimy corners of shame, betrayal, anger, bitterness and heartache in my life, have been scrubbed clean by the healing power of love. Victim, no more. Like a fast moving storm, how quickly all traces of that pain can vanish, insignificant over time, if we are open to the healing.
Healing is possible. It takes time. God speed yours to you.