This is myself and my brother, the only surviving members of our nuclear family, and prime pedophile objects. The photo was taken in 1948. We didn’t know anything about pedophiles. There were always moms watching. The newspaper was mute on the subject. This was about the time that our teenaged boy babysitter hanged himself in Macleay Park but we knew nothing about that. There was only a Grimm’s fairy tale aura that sometimes crept along the street, a sense of darkness. We didn’t think of Evil, but we were a little wary.
About this time there was a PTA meeting at Vernon Grade School about a case that upset the parents. A representative of the police department would be there to discuss it with parents. My mother was the president of the PTA and she felt she HAD to be there but there was no babysitter available. She took us. With a big stack of comic books and strict instructions to sit in the back row of the auditorium and read -- NOT pay attention. Of course, we were all ears.
What registered with me was not the content, which had been the molestation of a little girl -- fondling not technical rape -- but the extreme discomfort of the police officer. I didn’t know much about police officers, so this great big strong man in uniform being so ill-at-ease was fascinating. A few dads were in a rage and my mother had to work to keep things under control. There was a lot of talk about underpants. Later some people, including my father (he was on the road at the time), questioned my mother’s judgement in taking us along, but no one offered to babysit us in another room. As an adult, I wonder why it was so important to my mother. Was it the hanged boy? Was there something deep in her own childhood? Was it her lifelong drive to fix things -- which I also have?
Not that I’m any good at it. In the Sixties and early Seventies there were many situations that demanded action because of suffering on the part of children this age and then older. I didn’t do very well and now I wonder why. In a spirit of objective research, I can list the following.
1. Ignorance. I could tell something was wrong, but not what it was or what to do about it. For all my reading, I knew little about real life.
2. Distrust of authority figures. Not that I thought they were malevolent but I thought they were powerless and irrelevant. Youngsters today are often full of hatred, fear and contempt for ALL authority figures, but esp. police. And they will say over and over that grownups just don’t know anything. I’m inclined to agree in view of the above.
3. Lack of entitlement. I was married to a grandfather for four years during a decade-long relationship with him. I was the third of four wives and because the first wife married multiple times and had children who married multiple times, all with a little thread of alcoholism, depression, violence, cancer death and other tangling forces, I was never sure when I was entitled to interfere and others couldn’t figure out what to do with me either. If someone brings a teenager to emergency and is the ex-step-grandmother from ten years earlier on an Indian reservation who is now standing there in a dogcatcher uniform, what would you think? In order to get school people to pay attention, I had to dress up and wear heels.
4. Both knowing too much and knowing too little. Too much Krafft-Ebbing and not enough Social Work 101. What do you do with a teenaged girl who flees from her home because of abuse, because her father and stepmother are alcoholics, who takes refuge with a classmate whose apparently generous and honorable family turns out to allow drinking parties and sex while not admitting even to themselves that anything is happening? What if none of the legal parents involved will act, all of them depending on denial and talking libel. The law requires “standing” to interfere in matters legally but I had no legal standing -- just emotional connection.
5. Issues of class, race, and conflicting moralities made it hard to figure out where the other involved people were coming from. Virtue confused with sentimentality, disobedience considered as Sin, reform contaminated by endless punishment. Everything I said made it worse.
6. Lack of intimate experience. I never dated at all. When I was 21, I picked out the man I wanted to be in relationship with, jumped into it completely, and never really left, though the sex eventually ended. (He's been dead thirteen years.) Faithfulness and tenacity are strong non-negotiable values of mine, but they can be anchors around one’s feet. Otherwise, I could just break off ties and walk away. I can do that with institutions -- then it’s easy. (Corporations are NOT people!!)
7. Fear of traps. I did NOT want to have children, did NOT want other people living with me once I was divorced (legally, not emotionally), did NOT want surprise bills and emergency calls at 3AM, and so on. I wanted grad school. I do not drink or smoke, don’t want to deal with the cost, mess and danger of them. That’s not even mentioning hard drugs. Or staying on a diabetic diet, though that didn’t apply then.
8. Lack of money. If I’d been a millionaire, I could have bought help, rented separate apartments, paid for someone else’s baby, flown cross-country to the rescue, gotten us all good educations.
9. Too much caution. I worry too much, imagine too many scenarios, try to anticipate to the point of paralysis, and obsess about irrevocable consequences or unintended damage to people I didn’t know about in situations I didn’t understand.
10. Playing Lone Ranger. It rarely occurs to me that someone else might be willing to help or, indeed, be an effective helper. It’s a grandiose arrogance to think this.
Some people think that blogs are gut-spilling confessionals and probably to them this one seems to be an example. But you might recognize yourself; it might be a way to help. We weren’t an extraordinary family. In 1948 in Portland, Oregon, things were quiet and a little sad. We lived in small houses and my grandparents had to have financial help from their children. There were not so many mutilated soldiers as now because in those days they just died, so it was the families that were mutilated. The post-war prosperity had not started up, but the war industries were closed down.
In 1948 “The Red Shoes,” fairy tale romance ballet movie, was released and I saw it. That same year “Sexual Behavior in the Human Male” by Alfred C. Kinsey was published. My father bought a copy. I read it. I didn’t comprehend either one very well, but they remain useful reference points for thinking about sex. Neither had much about pedophiles directly. Indirectly? Quite a lot.
I’m 73 today. Done a lot of living since I was 8. I remember those shoes. They weren’t red, but they were patent leather with ankle straps. It was my hair that was red. Today it’s white hair and I’m happy to wear rubber Crocs. Think anyone ever had a shoe fetish about Crocs?