“I have a story, but I need someone to write it,” a friend said to me recently. Here’s the story, some details imagined and names changed but the facts are all true.
“I know why Cassie is having such a hard time.” Jean wasn’t surprised by the phone call from her ex-sister-in-law, but she was surprised Alice thought she knew what was wrong with Jean’s daughter. Cassie had been hospitalized for a suicide attempt, which came after years of struggling with alcohol and drugs.
“My brother molested her,” Alice said and suddenly everything made sense to Jean. She’d been divorced from her husband, Cassie’s father, for over ten years, but during those years when her children came back from visits with him they often had trouble sleeping and behaved erratically. Jean hadn’t known then what she did now about abuse of children, and even with what she knew, she still hadn’t thought something from Cassie’s childhood might be driving her terrifying behavior as a young adult.
“How do you know?”
“Because he molested me,” Alice said. “I’d like to see you to talk about it.”
Jean and Alice agreed to meet and Jean called her best friend Elizabeth to ask her to come along. Jean was anxious and scared, and while she believed Alice and had always gotten along with her, she felt like she needed the support of Elizabeth who she’d known since childhood.
Jean, Alice and Elizabeth met at a dark bar near where they’d all grown up. They ordered drinks and Alice began talking first.
“I’ve never told anyone about Michael, that he molested me when I was a kid. But watching what Cassie’s been through I had to tell you. I see how she’s struggling and recognize the struggles I’ve had. If finally talking about what happened to me can help her, then it’s worth it. And it will help me too.”
Elizabeth watched Jean as she began to cry, then Elizabeth started to cry. “I was molested by my brother too,” Elizabeth said, almost whispering. “I’ve never told anyone either.”
Jean was stunned. “Me too,” she said. “My brother abused me and I never told anyone.”
The three women looked at each other, all in the 40’s, all successful, educated, capable women. Jean and Elizabeth were best friends. They told each other everything. Alice had been part of Jean’s life through her years of marriage to Michael and even since they’d split up. Jean had always considered her a friend, someone she could trust.
But none of them had ever trusted themselves or the world enough to tell each other or anyone else that their brothers had sexually abused them.
Now their silence was broken and together they could figure out how to make their secrets a strength.
This happened years ago. Cassie is fine now, a mother herself. She and Jean work hard to make sure the children are safe.