Chapter OneA LEGACY OF
Some of my early memories are
very vivid. Even today, certain
sounds or scents immediately
transport me back to the
picturesque setting of my
childhood home. It stood
on a hill off an old country road in a small farm town
in Ohio. I can still picture myself coming home after
school, walking up the long lane to the white three-bedroom
ranch-style house with blue shutters.
When I arrived, my crazy little dog, Frisbee, would
get so excited he would jump all over me, while my more
composed cat, Cotton, would rub against my legs, leaving a
trail of white dander to blow in the wind and land on my
clothes. Mom would be waiting for me at the sliding glass
door of her sewing room, where she crafted dolls to sell at
festivals and art shows. It was the perfect home for the perfect
THE PERFECT FAMILY
I was one of the few kids in my school lucky enough
to have a "cool" mom. You know, the kind you don't mind
being seen with in public, the kind who buys you clothes
you'll actually wear. My mom was hip without even trying
to be. It was just who she was. She looked cool. She dressed
cool. She talked cool. She was smart and funny. My friends
seemed to like hanging out with her almost as much as they
did with me.
Mom was a great friend as well as an awesome
mother. She was always there for me and always understanding,
even when I made those dreaded phone calls from
school to say I'd forgotten my basketball shoes or left my
homework on the kitchen table. I felt I could talk to her
My parents divorced when I was only a year old,
and my mother remarried when I was three. My stepfather,
Vince, was a salesman, and every day he'd go out to scour
the countryside for customers. I used to pretend I was going
to work just as Daddy V did.
My mom would pack a lunch for me in a brown paper
bag. I would kiss her good-bye and head out the kitchen
door to the garage. I pretended that my truck was
the old gray Ford tractor parked in the corner of
the garage. I would climb up on the red metal
seat and eat my lunch. I always told my mom
not to look at me because, after all, I wasn't really
there. I was driving to work! You can imagine how
exciting it was when Vince let me sit on his lap and steer the
tractor as he drove it around our property.
My mother and stepfather were attentive, loving
parents. They were always there to tuck me into my soft
pink bed at night, read me a bedtime story, and say a night-time
prayer. They encouraged me to discover and pursue
my talents, and I always knew they would support me in all
my activities, which eventually included ballet, gymnastics,
basketball, volleyball, track, and art.
Daddy V was always willing to spend time with me.
I never felt like an unwanted stepchild. He treated me as if
I were his own daughter. He was always there to push me
on the swing or ride bikes down the road and back. When
I wanted to play basketball, he dropped whatever he was
doing to practice shooting with me. He encouraged me to
work hard and play hard, and he was my biggest sports fan.
I always knew that he believed in me, and that gave me the
confidence to try anything.
This was Vince's second marriage as well, and his
three children visited us frequently. Our healthy, loving
relationships could have served as a model for other blended
families. It was akin to The Brady Bunch-only without the
maid! My stepsister Steph and I were the same age and best
friends. She spent every weekend and most of the summer
Of course there was also the extended family: grandparents,
aunts, uncles, cousins. Our house was where everyone
whenever there was
a reason to throw a
party. The family album
bulged with photos of the
annual Fourth of July birthday
party, where my cousin Mandy, my
stepsister Crystal, and I were the guests
of honor. At Christmas and sometimes at
Easter, our home was the scene of two family
dinners, one for each side of the family. The aroma
of homemade rolls drifting from the oven, the taste
of freshly baked pies, and the warmth of a close-knit
family left everyone longing for the next occasion to make
When I was little, I wanted to know everything. I
couldn't understand why I had to wait to know what everyone
else already knew. When I was three, I begged Mom to
teach me to read; she finally taught me when I was four. I
couldn't figure out what the holdup was. Why did I have to
wait so long?
I remember spending hours following along with
the pages as I listened to books on tape. These weren't the
ones you can find at the local library. These were homemade!
Mom would record a cassette tape of herself reading one
of my books, and when it was time to turn the page, she recorded
herself ringing a bell. She must have been obsessed
with bells, because she also had a dinner bell she rang every
night to call us in to eat. I never knew whether it was time
to read or time to eat!
In first grade, my teacher gave each student in our
class a paper to fill out for our first visit to the library. It
asked what kind of book we wanted. If we found it, we were
to write down the title. I was looking for a book that would
tell me "all the stuff that grown-ups know." After searching
shelf after shelf for this book, I finally gave up and wrote,
"They didn't have a book like that." At the bottom of the
paper, my teacher wrote, "That's too bad!"
I now know that it was a good thing there wasn't
a book like that. From all outward appearances, I had the
perfect family and the perfect life. But behind the blue
shutters of my perfect home, I was learning things no child
should ever know.
I learned a lot from my stepfather. He told me how
to build a bluebird house, but he also told me dirty jokes. He
showed me how to use a clutch to shift, but he also showed
me pornographic movies. He taught me how to grow a big
vegetable garden, but he also taught me how to stimulate a
man. He made me believe that it was safe to tell him anything,
but he also made me believe that it was never safe to
tell anyone "our little secret."
OUR LITTLE SECRET
As I grew, at times the memories of my stepfather's
abuse had a dreamlike quality that made it difficult to know
whether it really happened. Though some memories are still
shrouded in clouds and mystery, I remember some events as
clearly as if they happened yesterday.
One day when I came walking up the driveway after
school, I didn't see Mom at the door. I remembered her telling
me that she might be late because she had to go to town
for groceries, so I headed to the big rock in one of our flower
beds where the spare house key was hidden. As I bent over
to move the rock, my stepfather came out of the house. I
wasn't expecting him to be home early, so he startled me. He
told me that the customer he had called on was working out
in the fields, so he had decided to meet with him the next
I went inside, plopped my books on the dining room
table, and got myself a bowl of ice cream to eat while I did
my homework. Vince wanted to play slapjack, my favorite
card game. I was only in second grade and didn't have much
homework to do, so I agreed to play. He wanted to make up
a new rule and asked me to come up with one. I didn't have
any ideas, so he said that whoever won a hand got to tickle
the other person. I hated tickle games, but I loved playing
Vince won the first hand. Then the second. And the
third. The more he won, the more uncomfortable the tickling
became. After the fifth game, he grabbed me from behind,
pulled me onto his lap and put both of his hands on my
chest. I tried to pull away, but he was strong, and he held me
tighter. I screamed for him to stop. He laughed and said, "But
I won! I get to tickle you until I'm done." Then he let go.
I didn't want to play anymore, but he said that if we
played one more hand and I won, I could do my homework.
He let me win the last one, but when I reached for my math
book, he grabbed my hand and told me I had to tickle him.
I didn't want to tickle him, and I barely touched him. I felt
like throwing up.
Vince got mad at me and when Mom came home, he
told her that I was acting cold toward him and that I'd hurt
his feelings because he thought I would be excited that he
was home early. Even though I hated the tickle game, he
made me feel bad for pushing him away. I had wanted to
tell Mom how I felt about the tickling, but not after what he
I also clearly remember one night when I was about
nine or so. For fun our family would throw empty aerosol
cans into our outside firepit. (Obviously, there wasn't much
to do in our small country town!) Then we'd run for cover and
listen. Pretty soon we'd hear it-pop! One evening, Vince
came into the house to tell me that he had some aerosol cans
to throw into the firepit. Mom was working on her crafts,
so I went outside alone with him. He gave me a can to
throw, and as soon as I did, we ran as fast as we could
into the woods behind our house.
Usually a can would pop in a matter of
seconds, but this one didn't. Vince told me
to sit down on the ground with him and
wait. He sat behind me, with his legs on
either side of me and his arms hugging
my shoulders. We giggled and whispered,
trying to be quiet enough to hear the pop.
Still nothing. He kept talking about why it might
take awhile for the can to get hot enough.
At the same time he was whispering to me, his
right hand was going down the front of my pants and into
my underwear. I froze. He was touching me all over down
there. I couldn't breathe. I prayed the can would pop so we
could go inside the house. I tried to get up. He told me to sit still
and enjoy it. I didn't enjoy it. I didn't even know what "it"
was, but I wanted whatever it was to be over. I pushed his
He told me that it was our little secret.
As we walked back into the garage, he told me that it
was our little secret and that if Mom ever knew what we did
together, she would be very jealous. When we reached the
steps leading into the house from the garage, he made me
stand on the second step. Then he lifted my shirt and put his
mouth on my breast. I felt so dirty. After forty seconds that
seemed like an eternity, he reminded me how important it
was for me to never tell. He said that if I told and Mom
divorced him, it would be my fault and she would never
want to see me again.
I turned around and walked into the house, acting as
if nothing had happened. Vince came in a few minutes later,
doing the same. But whenever he caught my eye, he would
wink at me. That night my fear and confusion kept me from
telling my mom, and because I kept silent, my stepfather
continued to abuse me.
As a child, I believed that Vince loved me and that
he would never mean to hurt me. Yet I still felt scared and
confused, and I remember times when I wondered if what
he was doing was wrong. He kept telling me that I was very
special and that what he was doing was okay. He was my
stepdad, and I trusted him. I also remember that whenever I
became angry with him and pushed him away, he wouldn't
talk to me for days. Sometimes it seemed that he was nice to
me only before he molested me. Then he would say things
like "If you love me, you'll let me." I did love him, and I
didn't want to upset him or make him sad.
Vince was a very smart man. He was very careful
about the kind of activities and groups we were involved
in. Though we were Christians and committed to our faith,
there was an unspoken law in our home that we weren't to
go to church.
My mom became a Christian when she was eight years
old, and my stepdad when he was a young adult. During his
first marriage, Vince was a leader in his church. But after his
divorce he felt a lot of shame and anger. I think he felt judged
because of the divorce, so he basically abandoned the church
community and tried to live the Christian life on his own.
While I was growing up, we were always conscious
of God in our daily life. Our entire family belief system was
based on the Bible. We applied it to our lives. We prayed
together and tried to live a Christian life. Family friends and
kids at school always considered my family Christians, and
even as a little girl I was very conscientious about setting a
At the time, I was never sure why we didn't go to
church, but looking back, it's clear that Vince considered
church a safe place where our little secret might slip out.
Unaware that he was abusing me, my mom went along
because she didn't want to rock the boat. Vince directed
every moment of her life. He guarded her time more closely
than he did his own. She had to account for everywhere
she went and how she spent every minute of her day. She
felt as if she was always walking on eggshells around him,
and she didn't want to do anything to disrupt what she and
everybody else considered our perfect family life. Mom told
me that there were times she wanted to tell him she was
going to go to church on her own, but she was scared of how
he would react.
Like my stepdad, abusers are characteristically controlling
and overprotective not only of the child victim,
but also of the nonoffending parent and anyone else in the
child's circle who might one day spill the beans. They often
isolate their victims to keep them from realizing that other
families don't do these things.
My father, Gary, and my stepmother, Kathy, married
when I was six. They have two children: my sister, Amber,
and my brother, Garrett. I love them all dearly and enjoy
spending time with them at their farm. However, that wasn't
always the case.
When I was little, my stepdad often told me that my
father was a bad dad and that he didn't really love me as
much as I thought he did. He said that the custody rights
could be changed when I turned twelve and that my father
was going to try to take me away from my mom as soon as
my birthday came. Vince did everything he could to make
me think that my father didn't care as much about me as he
did about getting back at my mom for their divorce. He tried
to keep me from spending too much time with my father
and made me feel guilty for wanting to go to his house. As I
grew older, I began to accept these lies, just as I accepted his
lies about the abuse.
One day when I was in fifth grade, the local sheriff
deputy came to show our class a video. It was a cartoon. It
might sound strange that she would come to a school library
to watch cartoons with a bunch of ten-year-olds. But the
cartoon wasn't really funny at all. It was about an uncle who
took his nephew on a fishing trip. While they were in the
boat, the uncle said strange things and touched his nephew
in places that made the boy feel very uncomfortable. The
deputy emphasized that what the uncle did was wrong.
My stomach was tied up in knots. I felt uncomfortable and
scared, just like the boy in the video. I really wanted to talk
After the video ended, we lined up to go back to class.
I cut to the front of the line and whispered to my teacher,
Mrs. Webber, that I wanted to tell her something. But then
I said, "I'll just wait and write about it during journal time
When Wednesday rolled around, I wrote a poem
about a bear named Mr. Stutter who liked peanut butter.
It seemed obvious to me that Mr. Stutter had nothing to do
with what I wanted to tell her, and I decided that if my
secret was really that important, Mrs. Webber would
follow up and ask me what I wanted to talk to
her about. But weeks went by, and Mrs.
Webber never asked. And I never told.
I remember feeling that I
had no choice and no way to
get out of my situation. I
forced myself to believe
that it wasn't that big
of a deal. I would just have
to suffer through it and not tell
anyone. I thought I had to protect my
mom and keep our perfect family together.
From looking at me, no one would ever
have imagined how much turmoil was going on inside
me. Nobody could have known that ! was longing to be
someone else, trying to figure out how I could run away
from home, and sometimes even wishing my life would end.
I was plagued with horrible nightmares, and I would often
wake up crying. I was miserable, and I was scared.
Keeping silent was taking a terrible toll. Nevertheless,
I thought I would have to live with this deep, dark secret for
the rest of my life, for I was too afraid to tell.