It Gets Settled


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.

Healing Happens Here

It gets settled out here.

About Jean Ellen Whatley

Writer. Dreamer. Sometimes schemer. Journalist/memoirist/observer and sometimes constructive irritant. Prisoner of demon muses. Mother to four humans and two dogs. In my spare time, I delete phone numbers of former boyfriends.

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  1. Judy Jojola says:

    Awesome writing. I hope people get the message you so purposely put forth.

  2. Jean, thanks for always speaking to my soul. At a time when i am doing some healing of my own, you keep it in perspective and remind me that we will all be OK.

  3. Art James says:

    I am pondering.
    Healing is possible.
    We make ‘our’ Life.
    You transcend it.
    We share the Pain.
    You rise above it.

  4. Beautifully written and so glad you found healing. When does the book come out? Happy New Year.

  5. Your words and experiences will resonate with many. You are a gifted writer.

  6. Jean, as always when I read your writing, I sit here crying. Thank you for your amazing writing! Happy New Year.

  7. I am glad to hear that you have reconnected with your old soul, the one that truly guides our lives.

  8. Beautifully written. And bless you for both finding that truth and sharing it with us.

  9. Gerry Mandel says:

    I can add nothing to the previous replies. Only that I am touched and awed by your words. Surely there must a magazine somewhere that will pick this up and run with it. I’m old fashioned and still believe paper is permanent.

  10. Marilyn Roberts says:

    Thank you for the story so beautifully written. I am happy that your trip put you in such a good place with yourself. Your life has been fraught with unhappiness from time to time but you have overcome. You have beautiful children and so are you. I also think your ex has a good soul -perhaps put into a bad body and upbringing that was unwilling to accept him for what he was.

  11. Hello all,

    Gerry, I’m in to paper too. I’m working on it getting it more widely distributed.

    As for the rest of y’all cry babies, THANK YOU, I really mean it. I’m being flip, but this is why writers write. It tells me that I’m doing my job, that it’s worth sticking my neck out. I don’t set out to make people cry on purpose. I do, however, feel pretty passionate about some messages. This is one of them.

    Nobody ever sets out to join the Adult Survivor of Sexual Abuse club — but, according to researchers who seem to know quite a bit about this stuff, there are approximately 39-million of us out here wandering about. If you lined us up, shoulder to shoulder, it would look like they were giving away free iphones at every Best Buy in America. Unfortunately, all we hear about are the ones who are still struggling — or perpetuating the cycle of abuse. I get it, sensationalism is alive and well, it sells papers and makes the Nielson TV meters purr like cats. But I’m willing to bet, that there are a far greater number of folks out here like me, who’ve stepped over that stinkin’ mud hole and walked on down the path to getting over it. I just wanted to throw it out there to acknowledge my silent brothers and sisters and encourage others to swap for the Victory Club.

  12. How beautiful and perfectly put. I remember discovering your blog on Open Salon early on, while you were worrying about this trip. And now, here we are and you’ve done it and it has brought so much to your life! I wish you a new year of health, happiness, love, and adventure. And all the best for Libby, too!

    • Thank you, so much Alysa for your kind words. Open Salon was very good for me when I first started writing and features so many other really good writers. We’re fortunate to live in a time when our human condition knows no borders. Happy New Year to you and yours. Are you still in Paris? My door is open in St. Louis :)