1993. I had kept journals once. Until he read them. He being the reason I was here today, in this courtroom. He being my brother-in-law, my sister’s husband. He was looking at me, trying to bore holes into my soul for telling the truth. But yet he looked saddened, most likely because he would lose his job, his heroic efforts in the community, his life.
I looked around the Courtroom. My parents had stayed outside of the room, not because they didn’t love me, but because they respected the private hell that I had gone through, and did not want to burden me with any more guilt, humiliation, and embarrassment than I already felt.
I was scared, it was all surreal. But I had every right to be scared, didn’t I? I was all of 21 years old, soon to be 22. I also had every right to be angry. But Gary, my future husband, 19 years older than I was, he was there for me, a formidable presence, carrying me forward in telling the truth, in answering the questions that were posed to me by the attorney who represented my brother-in-law.
It was my father who had gone to tell my sister. He had gone to her work one day to tell her that this had happened to her little sister, that her husband and done terrible things to her sister. And that her little sister had taken things into her own hands, had met with the District Attorney, had answered all of the questions of the investigators, and charges were going to be brought. That day forever changed my sister’s life, but I would only see it from the outside, because my sister and I have barely spoken to each other since.
1977. We were moving back from Minneapolis, after having spent a year there. It hadn’t been a good year, my parents worked tirelessly from early morning until late at night, to provide for me and my three brothers that had gone with us. My oldest sister was in nursing school, and had stayed behind in Wisconsin. My oldest brother had stayed behind to finish high school, which, in the end, wasn’t the best decision for him. I felt, in later years, that my parents had abandoned him by leaving him behind, and pushed him into his path of defiance. But only they are the ones who know what happened back then, and what led to the decisions that were made. That year is the first I really remember of what constituted my short life up until that time. I was a whole of 7 years old, in first grade. I don’t remember much of anything significant before that time. Oh, I remember where we lived, that my grandparents bought me my first bike, which I promptly fell off of. I remember that I drove my brother’s car into a tree at the tender age of three, after being told “don’t touch anything, I’ll be right back”. Obviously, that worked out well! I remember going to church on Sunday mornings. I remember cutting my foot in a glass peanut butter jar that had been in the sandbox. I don’t remember much of anything else.
1979. My sister married in January, 1979. The abuse started before their marriage. He paid attention to me – and at that time, I wasn’t getting much attention from anyone, as we had just moved back from Minneapolis, my dad was getting back to work at General Motors and being the pastor of a church, and my parents were thinking about building a new house. I don’t remember much of those years, as I know I blocked all of it out. But the abuse continued.
1985. It was the end of January, a blizzard. My brother-in-law had been out on a highway helping a stranded motorist, as sheriff’s deputies do. He was hit by a semi and ended up in the hospital in Madison. He lost his leg. They had two young sons, and my sister was pregnant with their third child. I semi-moved into their home, and cared for the boys. When he finally returned home, and I helped to care for the boys, the abuse continued.
Fast Forward to 1987. It was in my junior year of high school that I was introduced to the concept of journaling. Every day, at the start of Advanced English, we were to write in our journals. Nothing to revealing, of course, as this was something the teacher read. Therefore, you put on a “mask” of sorts, and just talked about the weather. But, this exercise started a spark, a spark of thought that this was the way to explain about one’s life. This was the way to get those feelings out when you couldn’t talk to anyone else about them. This was the way to bring life to your life. The pages of the journal did not judge you. The pages of the journal don’t care whether your handwriting is terrible or beautiful. The pages of the journal just, exist.
What was it those journals had said so long ago? I can’t remember, of course, being that it is already 23 long years ago that I had been in that courtroom. It had to have been at least 29 years since I had burned those journals after I learned that he had read them. How embarrassing. My innermost thoughts, feelings, desires, and secrets were in those journals, and they had been kept in the corner of the top shelf of my closet, only to be taken down when they were to be written in. But I remembered….
It was almost summer, two days before my graduation from high school. I had slept in, because I was a senior and didn’t have to go to school to take the remaining final exams for my classes. I was done with high school. I only had to go for the practice for graduation. I got out of my canopy bed, which really, I had grown too old for, and went across the hall into the bathroom to take a shower. I was the only one at home, as mom, dad, and Leif were all at work. It was a beautiful, sunny day outside, and my mood matched the bright sun. After my shower, I walked back across the hall to my room, only wrapped in a towel since no one else was at home, closed and locked the door.
I went to my stereo and turned on some music. I went to my closet, and started to open the door. I jumped back and almost screamed. There he was, hiding in my closet. He grinned an evil-looking grin, and looked my naked body up and down. I immediately tried to cover myself, but he stepped out of my closet toward me. “What are you DOING here?” I gasped. He grabbed my arms and threw me onto the bed, then held me down. I struggled, but he was too big to move off from me, despite his injuries and prosthetic leg from the accident while he was a sheriff’s deputy a few years earlier. He didn’t say anything, I stopped struggling, and I told him I needed to get dressed and get to school for graduation practice – though I didn’t need to leave for at least two hours yet. He took up his position with his head between my legs and my mind screamed out “this is so wrong! He is your sister’s husband!” and the other thoughts of “what if we get caught”, knowing that no one was home, and wouldn’t be home.
That was when he told me he had read them. He had read my journals. He knew everything—everything that had been done with his brother, who was also a part of the abuse throughout the years. Every thought I ever had about it. Every thought I ever had about anything. He.Knew.Everything. He laughed at me, in a mocking way, and then he said it. “Don’t you ever share that with anyone. Don’t ever tell anyone about you and I.” I yelled at him to get out. Get out of my room, get out of my house. He turned, and limped out. I sat down on my bed and cried.
This couldn’t go on, it had to stop. I have to get away from here so he cannot do those things to me anymore. Soon enough I can go off to college in Green Bay, and I won’t have him around me anymore, and I can forget about everything and move on in my life.
I quickly got dressed, and grabbed those journals. All of them. My hair was wet and dripping down the back of my shirt, I ran downstairs and grabbed the matches. I didn’t even take the time to put my shoes on, and I ran out the back door of the house, almost tripping down the stairs in my haste, and dropping a few of the journals on the ground. I grabbed the journals, and told myself to slow down. Do I really want to do this? Burn these last two years of my memories? Yes, I had decided. They had to go, in the chance someone else who didn’t belong reading them, found them. Especially my mother. My mother would be absolutely horrified and lock me in my room until I was 30, and then never forgive me. I couldn’t bear to disappoint my mother. Ever.
I strode purposefully to the burn barrel in the back corner of the garden, struck a match, and lit the first journal on fire. I dumped the burning journal into the burn barrel, and dropped the others on top of it, tears streaming down my face. There was more in there than just my brother-in-law and his brother. There was everything from the past two years, and now, they were gone, with no way of getting them back. Instantly, remorse and regret flooded my mind, but I shut those feelings out. This is what had to be done.
Life moved forward during that summer before I went to college. I worked in a law office in downtown Janesville, and enjoyed the work that I did. I often wondered whether I would rather stay and work in a law office for the rest of my life, but I knew I had to go to college, and make a better person of myself.
It was in my sophomore year of college that he showed up. He had a conference for the Wisconsin Clerk of Courts Association in Green Bay during the winter, and he wanted to stay with me instead of getting a hotel room to save money. Males weren’t supposed to stay in rooms with the females, but I snuck him in, determined that he would not in any way touch me during the night. Once in my dorm room, after getting settled in, where he would be sleeping on the floor, and me in my bed, he presented me with, of all things, a dildo. Being a pastor’s daughter, and still a prude regarding such things as sex and anything related to it, I was completely and thoroughly embarrassed, and disgusted. I stuck it in the bottom drawer of my dresser, to be dealt with later, and I knew I would be totally humiliated if anyone had ever found it. I turned out the lights, and we went to sleep, him on the floor, me in my bed, fully dressed. Early in the morning, in sleepy slumber yet, I felt it. I felt him, kneeling next to me on my bed, touching me. “No!” my mind screamed, “I can’t let this happen again!” I pushed him off and said “NO MORE!”
Return to 1993. It was finally over, the questioning. I certainly didn’t feel strong during that time. There was a point where even his attorney asked if I needed a break. I knew his attorney, he worked in the same building where my mom had worked for another attorney, and he was known to be crude, but he was a good defense attorney. I didn’t cry, but I was close to crying. I left the courtroom after the judge said that he was to be bound over for trial.
My parents were waiting for me right outside the courtroom doors, and warned me immediately that reporters were there. My heart sank. This was to be secretive, that no one knew who the victim was. My father assured me that privacy would be kept, that the reporters would not tell who the victim was. A reporter then stuck a microphone into my father’s face, and being a pastor, he quoted scripture. I can’t remember what scripture it was that he quoted at that time, but it ended with “we have no further comment”. We all left the Courthouse, my knees were weak and I felt drained. Gary and I drove back to Green Bay in silence.
I had to return to Janesville a few weeks after the preliminary hearing, after I learned that a plea agreement had been reached. He was to plead guilty to fourth degree sexual assault of a minor, and his sentence was yet to be determined. I met with the victim witness coordinator on a sunny day. The victim witness coordinator asked me questions, I don’t remember much of those questions, but it was at that time that I learned, for the very first time, that two of my brothers had also been abused by my brother-in-law. I was downright shocked, to say the least. Why hadn’t they ever said anything? I thought back to times when he would have had access to my brothers, and I did remember one time that he was in Layne’s basement bedroom, with the door locked, and told me to go away once I had knocked on the door. I figured they were looking at porn material together. Little did I know…
And little did I know how their abuse would affect their lives years later. But I was the one who brought the abuse to light, I was the one who stood up and was strong, I was the one. Why was it me? I would suppose that male abuse of another male is even more humiliating and embarrassing that male abuse of a female.
He received a sentence of five years in prison. Every year, I was notified by the Department of Corrections that a parole hearing was coming up, and every year, I wrote a letter to the parole board telling them how his abuse affected my life. How I had to meet with a counselor to get over my anger. How I had to work at bolstering my self-esteem, to feel that I was worth something in my own mind. How I was scared to have children, wondering whether I would become an abuser, or whether I would be so overprotective so as to stifle them. Whether I would see the signs of abuse if my children were abused. How I had forgiven him for abusing me, but how I would never forget. It is all as vivid to me today as the day it first began.
I have kept journals since, though I didn’t while I was married to Gary. Gary, he was good to me, other than at the end of our marriage. It actually felt as if he were my shining knight who rescued me.
I started keeping the journals again after we were divorced in 2002. I did not expect to be divorced, especially at the age of 31, but I knew, I had to let him go. There was no keeping him, he would no longer allow me to love him, as he had found someone else that he loved.
So I wrote about everything in my journals, about how there was a reason I had met him, how he helped me to do what I needed to do to relieve myself of the guilt and shame of my abuse, to bring it out into the open and do something about it. I wrote about how I named Little One, Hope, because it is my hope that she had a better childhood than I did in this respect. I wrote about how Gary left me for another woman, and how later he took her life and his own, leaving his children without a father. But that is another story of my life.
I keep the journals locked away in a safe, where only I know the combination. There still remains fear, and that fear keeps the journals in the safe. That fear that my journals will be read, I know, is only in my own mind. To this day, I still believe that I will be humiliated and embarrassed once again as I was that one time long ago, if anyone were to read what is written in my journals.
I joke that there are at least eight Lifetime Movies in my journals . The life I have lived would make a good movie, it would make one laugh and cry, and a range of other emotions.
I wonder often how I became the strong woman that I am. It is because I have a strong faith in God, and because I have had to be strong all of my life.
Love to you all! ~Erika~.
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