92. Silence Is Not Golden

92. Silence Is Not Golden

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Find Your Inner Strength

Silence Is Not Golden

Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage.

~Lao Tzu

My suitcase was packed, in it the remnants of a stolen life. Clothes, shoes, the bare minimum of toiletries, but nothing to indicate a child’s sordid life. No photos, no treasured toys, no books with dog-eared pages. And a hurried note from my mother: “I hope you have a happy life.”

Twenty-three and terrified of the world, of people who do harm, and even those who don’t. Against my parents’ objections, I was leaving to marry the man I loved, Ty. Earlier, they had foraged through my room, stealing my memorabilia, and with it, my childhood identity.

“You’ll be sorry,” they predicted. “After all we’ve given you, this is how you repay us? Running off with some man you’ve known for just a month?”

They were not there to say goodbye. Suitcase in hand, I paused at the mirror to glance at the face reflected there. I saw the face of a scared child, eyes clouded by the abuse sustained at the hands of both parents. I saw a face devoid of the spirit of life, with a body wasted by anorexia.

I loaded my suitcase into my Corvair. Then, I went back to retrieve my six parakeets, happily chirping in their cages. A new life was beginning, a new life with breath and hope and love. Somebody loved me, really loved me — my Ty, a gentle spirit.

I ran away on a Friday in 1972. We were married the next day in a civil ceremony attended only by our boss and his wife from the radio station where we both worked. My old life was gone — or so I thought — and my new one just beginning. The tears of joy I cried that day belied the perpetual tears of my abuse.

“Don’t cry,” my husband would often say, not aware of the abuse. “You are Mrs. Willis now and that is all that matters.” Life, for him, was simple and recognizable.

It took six years before I told him of the abuse.

With Ty, all things seemed possible. I steered the dark secret like a pirated ship through treacherous waters. As the years passed, communication with my parents ceased. I had finally come to realize that what they had done was not normal. My father, a doctor, continued on as though nothing had happened. I followed his pursuits online, first as a doctor at a mental institution, then as a prison doctor. I could not help but feel he was meeting his karma face to face.

“Your father is a jerk,” Norma, my co-worker, complained. “My boyfriend said he refused to treat him for a cold.” I had mentioned only my father’s name to her, but never the abuse. Norma’s boyfriend was serving time for armed robbery at the state prison where my father worked as the doctor.

“He has an attitude toward the prisoners,” she accused.

Anger made me want to tell her he belonged in prison too. I said nothing, swallowing the bile.

“Pretend nothing happened,” was my father’s counsel when I asked what I should tell the man I would marry someday.

“Your father doesn’t mean it when he calls you names,” my mother defended him.

And I was so good at pretending. I had done it all my life. Pretend there was no dark, dank basement, no musky bedroom, no medical office where atrocious acts took place. Pretend there were no belts and switches wielded by my mother on fragile flesh. Pretend that I was an adult when the seeds of a child rattled inside.

The year 1978 began the end of pretense. I gave birth to our daughter Resa. My husband and I were overjoyed. On that day, I gave birth to my “self” too. I told my husband the truth.

“How can a father do such a thing to his daughter?” My husband wrestled with the impact of my words.

Inside, he shared my pain. He listened; he digested my emotions. Though he cared, I still felt alone. I feared it would change his perception of me. Generous in spirit, ever patient, he viewed me still as innocent, one of the qualities he admired in me initially. What he did not comprehend was that my father had stolen not only my virginity, but also my self-esteem. Worse yet, he had corrupted my spirit. How, indeed, can a father, or anyone, do such a thing? Ty’s words were aptly spoken. And how could a mother enslave her daughter to her husband? My mother bartered me to keep her marriage intact.

With that admission in 1978, I began my new life, haltingly at first, then with more conviction. I was not the nobody my father had called me. I was somebody. Our daughter grew into a strong woman, and so did I, emerging from my veiled past. Encouraged by Ty, I joined Incest Survivors Anonymous at our local church. I listened to the stories of likewise tortured women and men. I became the shoulder they could cry on, the ears to hear their pain and anguish, all too familiar. I was not alone after all; I was in a brotherhood of many survivors.

At my husband’s insistence, I began to write, a dream I’d always had. At first, it was like carving words into stone, shaping feelings of rage and sorrow into healing affirmations. Trying to forget, yet forced to remember for the sake of others.

My husband typed my words. He believed in me, as I did not. Slowly, with impunity, I came to believe too. A seedling took root, blessed by the sun; the memories no longer held me captive. My words liberated me, and many others. Though as a child I was not loved, I have survived to tell my story to the world, and to listen when others speak. Silence is not golden, I have learned, but best when broken.

~Josie Willis

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