You’ve lost an hour to daylight savings; make it up to yourself by listening to This American Life episode #425: Slow to React. I’ve been listening to TAL since we lived in Chicagoland (2000-2002) and WBEZ was my local NPR station. Since I seem to be busy when WAMU broadcasts it locally in the DC area, tonight I caught up on some of the podcasts while decoupaging a bunch of tins I can’t bear to toss out. I’ll take & post some pictures on flickr once they’re done, probably tomorrow.
One of the stories in the TAL podcast made me angry about it again, Act 1: When I Grow Up. Really, you should listen to that first to see where I’m headed, or just throw caution to the wind (like I would) and read on.
It began the night that my friend Suzanne and I pulled the switcharoo on our parents, telling our fathers we were spending the night at the other’s house. After soccer practice, we walked into town, to Mt. Peg via Golf Avenue, and chose a camping spot to dump all of our stuff. We were free! Free for the night! Free to go to my uncle, Joel’s, party! Free to sleep under the stars! Free to pretend that being 15 and a sophomore in high school is cool (I’ve since concluded that almost no one enjoys their teen years or feels at all cool, or cool enough).
Joel was having a party at my grandmother’s house, the trailer in Beaver Meadow. She’d already shacked up with her boyfriend and he had planned a huge party for … I don’t remember now. His birthday? Octoberfest? He told my Dad & stepmother about it, and they were going to stop by after they got out of work, around 11 or 12. He also told me that I was welcome to come by also, and wanting to be more grown-up than I really was (one of the great labors of my life until I stopped getting carded), Suzanne and I hatched our plan: we would pull a switcharoo (most assuredly not what we called it) and would either hide or be long gone by the time they got there; we assumed there would be other parties to go to that night.
We caught a ride with some older friends and started drinking beer from the keg as soon as we got there. Joel and his friends had a bonfire going, music and a bar (really just the keg, as I recall) set up in the shed/lean-to. I felt safe drinking; I was at my grandmother’s house, a very familiar place, hanging out with my much-older uncle that everyone told me was hot and he was treating me as an equal. My Dad’s youngest brother, Joel, is the same age as my oldest cousin on the Kinne side of the family, the same age as my half-brother. Growing up, he was more of a cousin than an uncle, or perhaps somewhere in between.
I went into the house to use the bathroom, probably after a couple of plastic cups of beer. When I came out of the bathroom, Joel was there. He cajoled me into one of the bedrooms, saying he wanted to talk to me about something privately. I don’t remember what he said before he kissed me, on the mouth, with tongue, and my reaction was, for many reasons, all of which have caused me great shame, to kiss back. Then the rational part of my brain kicked in and I pushed him away, or as away as you can get without being let go of. Trying not to let on how freaked out and panicked I was, and hoping for a strategy that would get me out of the room and away without a confrontation (which I seem to instinctively avoid, even at great cost to myself), I tried to reason with him (and me) that this was wrong. I don’t remember how I did get away, but I didn’t tell anyone about that for a long time. I am still ashamed that I responded in-kind instead of with immediate disgust.
I rejoined Suzanne and our friends, and we continued drinking. Time seems to speed up at parties and before I knew it, I saw my Dad and stepmother in a group of people on the edge of the party. I don’t know if Joel told my Dad that we were there or if he just waited for him to notice us. I don’t remember if Suzanne and I did something to call attention to ourselves other than being drunk; by then, Suzanne couldn’t even walk straight and I had a hard time getting her up to go hide someplace.
My Dad was angry, of course, and probably shocked that I would pull something like that so early in my high school career. He wasn’t going to deal with 2 drunk 15-year-olds, though. He told me to call him in the morning after we slept it off. I don’t remember who called Suzanne’s Dad or if he called my Dad, but upon being found out by my Dad, Suzanne immediately started freaking out that hers would also show up. I don’t remember all of what happened, just that more drinking ensued and that there is a huge gap in my memory of the rest of the night. I don’t remember a lot of the details of the next day, like, for example, where I woke up. But I do remember Joel driving Suzanne and I into town, probably giving us a pep-talk the whole way about the risk we took and now having to face the consequences (though really: I don’t remember).
For the first and only time in my life my parents grounded me. The two-week (or was it three?) sentence was a huge hardship (imagine my eye roll and exaggeration here), considering my budding social life. At the time, I was spending weekends at Dad & Julie’s in Barnard, near the Bethel line, and the rest of the time at my Mom’s, the house in South Barnard.
It amazes me now that I forgave Joel for that initial transgression. It was not instantaneous. I avoided him and Scott – really, any Kinne family function that I could get out of. I was vigilant at first. But then he was there for me; he was the one house sitting for my Mom (really: smoking pot with his girlfriend) the hellacious night that winter when my first serious boyfriend broke up with me and Julie threw me out of the house for the first time (and my Dad let her). He was the one who comforted me & cheered me up the next day. I thought things could go back to normal, or close to normal after that. Normal with some caution on my part.
Dad and Julie went to Florida every spring to spend time with her family. I had gone along for one of these trips, my junior year, when they went on their honeymoon in Hawaii. But my senior year, they had bred their Newfoundland and there was a litter of puppies that needed to be taken care of and a mama that needed to be fed more often than usual. After another house-sitting mishap for one of my Mom’s friends, which I’ll get to in another post, Julie acted like it was a huge deal to be left with a whole house all alone: she told me she’d talked to the neighbors (not likely) and they would be watching for a lot of cars going to the house (likely). I had something going on after school one day and wouldn’t be able to get home in time to take care of the dogs on-schedule, so my Aunt Sue pitched in and helped me out.
By this point, I’d finally honed in on getting out of Vermont via college, the further the way the better, and had stopped partying as much as I had by December of my senior year. Note that while my grades were good, (I made honor roll or high honor roll for every report card, was taking advanced classes for everything but math & science, and had gotten into NHS that fall), I wonder how much better I would have done with out all the drinking, smoking, pot-smoking (much of it contact high after I figured out that it puts me to sleep), and shrooming (4-5 times, tops). Maybe I would’ve gotten into Brown (first choice, turned down for early admission), fulfilling a not well-thought out fantasy of returning to Providence, where the Kinne roots are. Not that any of this really matters to this post other than me saying: hey, I was still a good kid, even for all of the bad things and not-so-great things.
So. There I am house sitting, perhaps the day before Dad & Julie & the twins are due to get home and who comes down the driveway but Joel. He was out driving and thought he’d stop by. We hugged. He didn’t let go. He gyrated into my hips and tried to get me to kiss him. “Playfully” held my hands behind my back. Told me that I wanted it, “You know you want it, don’t you?” Showing me that he was stronger than I was. I pretended that I was in a movie or on TV: what was I supposed to do next? I ran scenarios in my head of the options available to me. Chief among them were the ones that would keep him calm and me not hurt. While I tried to talk him out of this and convince him that I wasn’t interested and that force wasn’t going to help matters, I looked around for things nearby that I could hit him with. I calculated how fast I could get to the knife block in the kitchen if he let go of me, if I’d make it before he caught me. Contrary to all the movie & TV rape/incest scenarios, I actually talked him out of it. I don’t remember which magical phrase it was, but I could see the change in his demeanor. He let go of me, apologized, and left. As soon as he was out the door, I locked it. I locked the other door. I closed the curtains in my room (on the 1st floor). I kept the outside lights on all night.
The next day, when everyone came home, I couldn’t tell them, not right off the bat. In addition, Julie didn’t see how well I took care of the dogs, that the dishes were all clean & the counters wiped, or that I had borrowed my mother’s vacuum (a really good one with a rotating brush for the carpet). Instead, she focused on the hamper in the bathroom, a hamper I never used, and proceeded to throw me out of the house again after I had the nerve to talk back to her. She timed it strategically, I’m sure: my mother had separated from stepfather #1, the guy in the duplex in Hanover, and while she waited for the lease to be up on her condo in Wilder so she could move back in there, she rented a 2-room apartment in Bridgewater, in the basement of one of her brother’s girlfriends. For the rest of my senior year and the following summer, until I went to college, I slept on a metal roll-away bed just outside the bathroom in the eat-in kitchen, with my mother in her bed in the other room. I couldn’t tell either of them about what had happened until I was safely away at college. And their reactions were very similar to their reaction to me telling them about Scott: we’re not going to make waves by doing anything about this.
Things could have been much worse. The things that happened to me, that were done to me, are on the mild side of all the possibilities of what could have happened and what has happened to other victims of sexual abuse. Still, it has affected my life in ways I’m still coming to terms with. For example, my reaction to Joel making another hip-gyrating pass at me 20 years later when we all gathered around my father in the final weeks of him getting poked and prodded and probed to find out that he had pancreatic cancer. I also suspect that my parents probably wouldn’t have had success doing anything legal about either Scott or Joel. Any statute of limitations has long run out on all of it anyway, and so this is it; talking about what happened in public (or as close to public as I can get) is my only way to fight back and the only way I can warn other people. The weight of other possible victims weighs heavily on me.
But I’ve lost that hour and spent much more than another get the bare-bones (or as close to bare-bones, emotion-free, factual) story out. And though we’ve all lost an hour to spring, we’ll get it back in the fall when we need it most.