For of all sad words of tongue or pen,
The saddest are these: “It might have been!”
– John Greenleaf Whittier
The two lines above are from one of my favorite poems called Maud Muller. It tells a story that has stayed with me from my childhood. A few years ago my oldest brother Brian said to me, “Sis, can you imagine what might have been if Dad hadn’t raped you and begun his incest? Why I might have been a famous illustrator or painter. Scott, with his beautiful baritone voice might now be a world famous tenor. And you and Jeanne might have become famous authors with many books on the best seller list.” Of all the conversations I had with my brother this stands out as the most poignant. I had never thought of it that way but he was right. It left me deeply saddened.
When we are born we have so much promise. Our entire life is in front of us beckoning, encouraging us to be all that we can be. Sometimes even at a young age of three we already know what we are going to do with our life (I wanted to be a writer). Signs along the way beckon to us. I began reading at an early age and as my childhood years progressed I devoured books as if they were an addiction. When I was a pre-teen, already raising my baby sister Jeanne (mom turned her over to me when she was born. I was nine years old. She’d already had four kids in as many years and was done with raising kids) I spent my time reading books to her and her young friends and soon graduated to making up stories to enthrall them. I loved it. If God were to be looking down and watching my life he would have nodded his head and said, so she’s going to be a writer and a great mom. Everything moved along as planned.
My brother Brian, in the eighth grade, drew a picture of a naked lady on the white board we had in our kitchen. I was awed at how his depiction was so artistic but nervous about what mom and dad would think when they returned from grocery shopping. He quickly erased it. Over the next few years I caught glimpses of illustrations of Brian’s and was impressed. Scott was already singing in choirs and in a few years it was obvious that he had a beautiful almost heart-stopping voice. A friend told me that I wrote my first novel when I was a teenager. I don’t remember that but had no doubt she was telling the truth. I was already writing poetry and thinking plots in my head. My sister Jeanne, shortly before she died in a tragic car accident at the age of 25 was in the middle of writing a biography of the pirate Jean Lafitte.
What happened? When my dad entered my bedroom in the middle of the night when I was thirteen he set off an avalanche of family disorders that left us reeling. As I say in my memoir, I Never Heard A Robin Sing, “My family life reminded me of a camp of mutilated and injured soldiers from some obsolete war, indescribable in its agony. All the figures were shadowy and disoriented, as if only half alive and that half living in a well of misery. We moved in and out of our days appearing to wait for some catastrophic happening, all of us knowing that once it did, we were ill-prepared to handle it.”
What a sad state of affairs, what a cruel thing to do with children who showed such promise. Of all my siblings I’m the only one who went on and tried to fulfill my early promise. Even then I had to go through five years of recovery before I could begin to seriously write. Brian died a few years ago, bitter and anguished over his own life. He died of cancer and several lung disorders and had been an alcoholic for most of his adult years. (see the ACE Study at https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/acestudy/) But he has given me a poignant truth. Don’t let this happen to you or your children. If you were in any way sexually abused as a child please get in to recovery as soon as possible (see one option for recovery called Repair Your Life on our website www.thelamplighters.org). Children of an untreated child sexual abuse victim stand a five times greater chance of being sexually molested themselves. Do you want this to be the future of your child or do you want them to experience all of the promise they had at birth?
Even in times of anguish, the wounded family seems unable to bond together and fight the battle from within. Lost and desolate, we carry our pain, a load that grows with each passing day, until it becomes more burdensome than our lives can handle.”