It happened so many years ago—over 45, actually. Why am I writing this to you now? Because the question remains: What happened, exactly? I have a memory of everything leading up to seeing your very stiff, very angry penis, but after that—nothing.
You were babysitting. I was, what—10 or 11 years old? You would have been 19 or 20. Mom told me I could stay up late to watch "Laugh In." You said I could stay up only if I ...
If I what?
I remember seeing it. Your penis. My next memory, though, is crying to my mom later that night, saying I never wanted you to babysit again.
There was no stroking, no fumbling, no hand job, no blow job—at least, nothing that I remember.
Maybe I made this whole thing up? Maybe this never really happened? We've seen each other socially for years and years. I've hosted bridal and baby showers for both your daughter and daughter-in-law. We spend most holidays together, your family and mine. How could I be so seemingly calm if something really happened?
I once brought it up to Dad. I said, "I have a serious question. Do you remember …" and he interrupted and asked, "You mean, when J. molested you?"
I was shocked. So it did happen.
I asked my mother about that night. What did I say when she came home? Did she tell Dad, or did I? Unfortunately, in the face of unpleasantness, Mom grows cheerfully vague.
"Oh, Denise, you know I don't remember those things," she said.
It helped her survive the terrors of her childhood, but it doesn't help me solve the mysteries of mine.
Yes, things were different back then. "Boys will be boys," people said. Kids played doctor. Perhaps it wasn't technically molestation. However, it was certainly inappropriate touching.
What kind of man gets aroused by a 10-year-old girl?
I know you were hard because, when I was 14, I went skinny-dipping. The boys had limp flesh dangling between their legs. Despite my book-learning, I was awfully naïve. I pointed and asked one boy, "What's that?"
"My penis," he said.
"No," I said. "Penises are hard." Which means that, until that time, I'd only seen a rigid one.
I have a fantasy of being at your home for dinner, and you ask me to pass the potatoes. Instead, I point to your still-under-age-10 granddaughter and ask, "What would you do if some boy shoved his naked, erect penis in her face?"
You'd probably tear him limb from limb.
If it's not OK for your granddaughter, why was it OK for me?
You've never even given me an apology. And by never confronting you, I inadvertently protected you. I gave your actions a tacit stamp of approval.
My therapist considers this a pivotal event in my psycho/social development, and suggested I write this letter to uncover feelings and perhaps reach some type of catharsis. She also wonders if perhaps there were others. Would my saying something have protected any other little girls from your advances?
Watching your daughters grow up, self-assured, exuberant women that they are, I find it hard to believe you did anything to them. But one never knows. If I say something, I fear I would splinter the family. It was your actions, not mine, that set this in motion. Why do I feel guilty, when it was you who was the predator?
I've gone over this in therapy, with trusted confidantes, and cried, ranted, been bored, been forgiving and then grown angry all over again.
I'm not interested in you as much as I want peace for myself. I don't want to be sabotaged by some hidden, unexplored trauma of my past. I'm almost 60. I've earned that right.
I will never send this letter. But I know with great clarity that you did something to me years ago while babysitting, something I did nothing to deserve. It affected me, and you are responsible. Others see you as the successful retired executive, the devoted son and husband, the beneficent father, the charitable citizen. But I know differently.
If there is even a whiff of inappropriate behavior with your granddaughter, I will break my decades of silence. I will call you out, splintered family be damned.
Because I know differently.