What Not To Ignore
It would have helped if a single person had come forward to defend me or at least validate my perceptions of reality. Instead I had the Catholic Church and the Catholic School System, which, as we now know, are exceptionally talented at denying violence against children, even within their own precincts. I had an abusive dance teacher and an abusive English teacher, whose interests in me were entirely predicated on their own needs for control and submission. My two sisters remained mute and tried to be invisible, never attempting to challenge the status quo.
And my mother? My mother was a champion of non-involvement. Whenever I tried to appeal to her for help, she would always insist that my father’s violence against me was none of her business, that my welfare had nothing to do with her. When confronted by the continual spectacle of my misery, she consulted the Sisters of St. Joseph; they told her that the problem would be solved by ignoring it. Abuse, apparently, according to the faithful clergy, doesn’t exist without recognition. So any time I cried in misery, wailed for relief, my mother shut the door of my room and walked away.
I don’t understand how any human being can do that. I don’t understand why a child in distress doesn’t activate an emergency alert system in the body, a rush of adrenaline that gets things done, that works to achieve remedy. Even an animal defends her young. I learned quickly enough not to rely on my family for anything except for meeting my basic physical needs. Anything more than that—honoring my thoughts, my feelings, my love of art and self-expression, my desire to be loved for the person I was—didn’t matter, and yet I would not be snuffed out. I found ways to keep what was good about me alive, even if confined to the prison cell of my suburban bedroom. I fostered the strength of my own spirit, in the closet of my books, my music, my dreams of a better life.