A VIEW TO THE UNKNOWN
It was midnight when Celia quietly opened the door to her dorm room. She had been studying at the library until about 9 p.m. On her way back to her dorm, she ran into a couple of female friends who were headed over to the Wild Colonial Tavern for a few beers. Now, she was kicking herself for having gone with them. She was tired and feeling tipsy; a physical state she didn’t like experiencing during the school week.
Not very responsible, she thought.
As she entered her room, she could see her roommate, Emily, asleep in her bed, so she tiptoed across the floor, slipped out of her jeans and climbed into her bed. She was about to drift off when she thought she heard someone sobbing. She opened her eyes, propped herself up on her elbows and listened. It was someone crying.
“Emily, are you okay?”
Emily didn’t respond. Instead, she did her best to stop crying and held her breath.
Thinking she must have imagined the sound, Celia lay back down and closed her eyes.
Several minutes went by when, thinking that Celia was now asleep, Emily wiped her eyes, turned over and tried to go to sleep. But she couldn’t. She was still lost in her thoughts as she once more began to sob.
Again Celia opened her eyes and listened. Emily was clearly crying, and it made Celia feel horrible.
Celia and Emily had only been roommates for a few months and hadn’t talked much. Each had her own circle of friends on the Brown campus. Yet Celia could tell that Emily was a sweet person so, as she listened, Emily’s sobs tugged at her heart. She wanted to help Emily if she could, so she turned on her bedside lamp and sat up.
“Emily, I don’t mean to pry, but I can hear you crying. I could tell earlier this evening that something was bothering you.” She paused and then softly and caringly said, “Listen …I know it’s none of my business, but…I don’t know…maybe I can help or at least listen. I’d like to help if you’d let me.”
Emily turned over, threw off the covers and sat on the side of the bed. “I’m sorry I woke you. I was trying to be quiet.”
From the look on Emily’s face, Celia could tell that Emily was in a lot of pain so she took a chance as she got up and walked over to Emily’s bed. She sat down next to Emily and put her arm around her. That’s all Emily needed as she began to cry a river of tears. She couldn’t hold them in.
Celia pulled Emily closer. Overcome by Celia’s compassion, Emily buried her head against Celia’s chest. “It’s okay, "Emily. It’s okay,” she said as she caressed Emily’s back with soothing strokes.
Soon Emily stopped crying and was choking on her tears, so Celia spoke, “Emily, I’m a good listener. It pains me to know you’re hurting. I don’t mean to pry, but I just want you to know that I’m here for you. It might do you good to talk.”
Emily raised her head and stared at Celia. She then told Celia that it all began with a bad dream.
“I dreamt my father was hurting me all over again.”
“What do you mean ‘hurting you again’?” Celia asked as she handed Emily a box of tissues.
Choking on her words, “Celia, please promise me you won’t tell anyone what I’m going to tell you. I have to know I can trust you. This is all still pretty painful, and I’ve only recently realized that I’m still vulnerable.”
The look on Celia’s face was full of compassion. “You can trust me, Emily. I’ve had my share of family problems and sadness. I promise I won’t tell anyone. Besides, it’s none of anyone else’s business anyway.” She still had her arm around Emily, so she squeezed her a little, hoping it would defuse Emily’s fears.
Feeling comforted by and comfortable with Celia, Emily began to pour her guts out.
Celia listened to Emily describe how, beginning when she was six years old, her father had molested her.
“He always made me feel so dirty and guilty. He convinced me that it was my responsibility to keep what he always called ‘our secret.’ But”—several tears trickled down Emily’s cheek— “it wasn’t my secret. It was his. I never ever wanted him to do those things to me. He did everything he could to ruin my life.”
Celia still had her arm around Emily. The emotions Emily conveyed caused Celia to shiver with empathy. She reached behind her and pulled the blanket over as she wrapped both Emily and herself in its warmth.
“That’s better,” whispered Celia.
There was a long silence. Emily was staring at the wall opposite the two girls as she began to speak again.
“When I was about to turn twelve, we moved from Florida to Rhode Island. My dad was in the Navy, so we moved every few years. Moving and having no permanent friends only added to feelings of being all alone and isolated in the world. But that changed when we moved here.”
Emily fell silent again. Celia felt Emily’s pain as if it were her own. Hearing what she was telling her made Celia feel very sad for Emily, and that empathy was reflected on her face.
She hugged Emily as she also muttered, “Emily, I’m so sorry that happened to you.”
Emily looked at Celia and smiled faintly. Celia’s eyes were glazed over with tears which helped Emily feel safe.
There was another long silence. Celia was trying to give Emily space and time to talk more.
Finally, she quietly asked, “Emily, you said something changed when you moved here. What changed?”
Emily smiled and softly thanked Celia for listening to her. “I met a wonderful boy named Sean. He’s been my boyfriend ever since. I also met my best girlfriend, Jeannie, who has been more than a sister to me. It was Jeannie’s thirteenth birthday. Sean and I danced a slow dance for the first time. It was the best night I could ever remember when my dad tried to ruin it.”
With pain in her voice, “That night, when Jeannie’s parents brought the cake down to the party, I watched how much love was exchanged between Jeannie and her parents, especially between Jeannie and her father.”
Again, there was silence as Emily choked back her tears. “I always hoped and dreamed that my dad would simply love me like a daughter. As I watched Jeannie and her dad, I felt happy for Jeannie; but I felt so sad for myself. I’ve never known a loving father.”
Once more there was a long silence as Emily composed herself. “Later, after the party ended, Sean and I walked home. We said goodnight and I went inside my house. My father was hiding in the dining room.” Emily had a look on her face as if the thought made her feel sick to her stomach. “He was spying on us from the dining room window. When I came in, he stepped out into the foyer.”
Again, Emily stopped talking as a tear fell to her lap. Celia felt utter compassion for her roommate as she stroked Emily’s back and asked, “What did he do, Emily?” Celia was bracing for the worst.
But Emily surprised her when she cleared her throat and said, “Everything changed that night. I don’t know what came over me; but I think it was the love I felt from Sean, Jeannie, and Sean’s grandmother, Martha because when he began sliding his hand up my leg, I told him I was not going to let him ruin the best night of my life. I went upstairs and told him not to follow me. I remember how angry he became, but I didn’t care. I wanted to hold onto my special night. He didn’t dare follow me up because he knew that Katie, my youngest sister, was asleep in my bed. Months earlier, I bribed Katie into sleeping with me so I could avoid my dad climbing into my bed, which he did a lot. So I knew I was safe for at least that one night.”
Suddenly everything seemed to change in Emily. She sat up, blew her nose, looked Celia in the eye, and said, “Everything changed again in the morning, but that was the day I took control.”
“What happened?” Then Celia asked, “Say, I could use a bottle of water. Do you want one? Maybe we could sit over on the couch. I don’t know about you, but I don’t have a class until noon tomorrow. We’re both wide awake so we might as well get comfortable. I do want to hear the rest of your story.” She said this as she patted Emily’s hand which she was now holding. “Water would be good. My throat is very dry; and, yes, I’d like to sit on the couch and tell you the rest. It feels good to talk to someone about these things. It’s so much to keep inside; and I feel like the more I talk about it, the more I will begin to feel better and stronger.”
The two girls walked over to the small pale green sofa. “Sit down, Emily. I’ll get us both water.” Emily sat down and gave Celia a pathetic smile. She was trying hard to feel better.
A few minutes passed as the girls sat silently covered with the same blanket. Celia was trying to give Emily some latitude. Emily looked over at Celia who was staring at her. Emily smiled, knowing intuitively that Celia was waiting for her to talk more.
Emily thanked Celia again, then began describing the day after Jeannie’s birthday party.
“I was all set to go to church with my mom when I came downstairs and found out that not only was my mom physically ill, but my two sisters were as well. My brother had already gone to church with a friend and his family so that left me and my dad. We’re Catholic, which means we are required to go to Mass every Sunday, whether we like it or not.”
Celia rolled her eyes, “I get it. I’m Catholic too. That must have freaked you out to realize your dad was going to take you to church. What happened?”
Gagging on her tears, Emily softly commented, “God, I was freaked out! I was so scared and didn’t know what he intended to do to me. I just knew in my gut it was going to be really bad.” Then, with resignation in her tone, “…and it was.”
Emily described how her dad had driven right past the church parking lot and wouldn’t tell her where they were going.
Again Celia was bracing for the worst. In fact, the knuckles on her left hand were red from squeezing the pillow she was holding so hard and the look on her face was full of horror.
Emily reached for Celia’s hand and lightly patted it. “Don’t worry, Celia. Nothing that bad happened because I wouldn’t let it. He did, however, intend on raping me. I know that in my heart because, for the first time, he wanted to take off my dress; and he’d never done that before.”
“God, Emily. I don’t know what to say. What happened?”
Emily’s tone changed again. It was now full of confidence. “As we were in the car, I began fiddling with a pencil I found in the door pocket. I had no idea what I was going to do with it and really didn’t intend to do anything until he began moving his hand up my bare leg. I just knew in my heart that I wasn’t going to let him do any of that stuff to me ever again, so without thinking, I raised my hand and jammed the pencil into his hand. Then I got out of the car and began screaming at him. At first, he was trying his best to get me to come back in the car. He was angry, but he was also very calm at first. I know now he was trying his best to regain control of the situation and of me. But that didn’t happen. I was done with all of it, so I threatened him by telling him I would not only tell my mom what he was doing to me; but I would tell his boss, Capt. James, who was the commanding officer of the base. When I mentioned Capt. James’ name, I could see everything change on his face. I knew I had scared him. That’s when he began to act differently. He began to stutter as he begged me to get back in the car. The name of Capt. James turned him into mush, and I could see it all over his face and hear it in his voice. It was then that I realized that, for the first time in my life, I had the upper hand so I played my hand. I got back in the car and commanded him to take me home and he did.”
Celia’s eyes were huge as she intently listened to Emily’s story. “Damn, Emily, that was incredibly brave and, damn, smart for a thirteen-year-old kid to figure out. Wow. I’m totally blown away!” After a few seconds, Celia asked, “I’m guessing he drove you home. Am I right?”
Emily spoke with pride in her voice, “Yes, he drove me home, and that was the last time that he tried to touch me! I was only thirteen years old, but I knew in my gut that I had completely taken control of him and my life. He told my mom a big fat lie about cutting his hand on a dirty bottle; but, hell, by that time I didn’t care. I never contradicted his lie. I was just so happy to finally be free of him.”
Celia asked, “Did you two ever talk about any of it? You and your dad, I mean.”
“Yea, we talked briefly the following Christmas. Right before he died, we had a long conversation and actually, I did most of the talking. I basically told him I didn’t love him and didn’t know if I ever could or would. When I left his hospital room, he was crying; but I didn’t much care at that point. Since then, I’ve had some remorse; but I know it’s only because I regret that I never knew a dad who loved me. I’m going to counseling now; and, believe it or not, my mom is going with me.”
Celia coughed and almost choked. She was completely taken off-guard by this new revelation. “What? Your mom’s going with you? Did she know what your dad was doing to you?” Then Celia exclaimed, “God, I sure hope she didn’t!”
“No, Mom never knew. Well, I don’t think she ever knew. Most of my memories of Mom and Dad’s relationship is one of complete dominance. He treated her like shit, and she felt like shit whenever he was home. Things got better after I took charge, but that only lasted a short while because he died two years later.” Then Emily nervously chuckled. “As Paul Harvey says, I guess this is the rest of the story, ‘cuz Mom found out all about it just before Thanksgiving when she accidently discovered my diary I had hidden in the attic.”
All Celia could muster was a surprised, “Really?”
“Yea, and I guess this is the good stuff, ‘cuz things have changed all over again.”
“I can’t wait to hear this part!”
Emily got up, “I need another water. Do you want one?”
“Yes, please. I got a little drunk earlier tonight, and the water seems to be helping me.”
As Emily handed her the water, she said, “The water is rehydrating you. Alcohol dehydrates you. Jeannie is the one who told me that the day after I got completely polluted!”
“Jeannie sounds like a good friend. I’m glad she’s been there for you all these years.”
Emily smiled. “She’s a wonderful friend. Maybe you could go out with us one night so you can get to know her. She’d like you a lot. Jeannie’s a lot more gregarious than me, but she also has a huge heart!”
“I’d like to meet her. She sounds like she does, but right now I’m anxious to hear more about your mom finding your diary. I’ll bet that freaked you out too!”
“Well, believe it or not, it didn’t. I have these realistic dreams now and then; and one night just prior to her finding it, I dreamt my grandmother came to me and told me that Mom was going to find my diary. I forgot to bring it with me when I left for school and planned to retrieve it over Thanksgiving weekend. Mom accidentally found it the Saturday night before Thanksgiving. She had been remodeling my grandma’s bedroom for me when she bumped into my hiding place in the attic. Martha called Jeannie the following day because Mom was totally devastated and totally freaking out. Jeannie came to bring me home. They were all scared I would drive home and have an accident. They had no idea that I was actually expecting it.”
Celia was so enthralled with Emily’s story that she wanted to hear the rest. First, however, she said, “Hang onto that thought, Emily. I have to pee really badly. I’ll be right back, okay?”
“Go pee. I’ll wait here for you. I do want to tell you the rest, ‘cuz this is the good stuff!”
About ten minutes later, Celia came back into the room and plunged down on the couch. “Phew, I almost didn’t make it down the hall. I was trying to hold it in so I could hear the rest. Okay, I’m ready!” Both girls laughed as Emily grabbed Celia’s hand and squeezed it.
“Thanks, Celia. I really appreciate your friendship. Now, where was I? Oh, yea, it was Sunday when I came home. Mom was so upset and blamed herself for what she called ‘letting my dad do those things to me,’ but I did my best to assure her that she hadn’t and reminded her how poorly he had treated her. I felt so bad for her and she was devastated for me. Martha …God, I love that woman! She and I did everything we could to hold things together so we could have a nice Thanksgiving. My brother, Paul, is in the Navy; and he was coming home for Thanksgiving, so it was touch and go that entire week.
We were doing a good job of keeping up the appearance of normalcy until my middle sister, Lily, put Dad’s picture on the dinner table. I had set the table earlier and, thinking we’d all appreciate seeing his picture, she rearranged the place settings to make room for his. The picture sat on what would have been his plate. No one noticed until Mom asked Paul to say grace. That’s when Katie innocently announced Dad’s presence, and that’s when all hell broke loose!”
“Wow! That’s crazy. What happened?” Celia’s mouth was wide open, and her eyes were bugging out of her head.
“Mom totally lost it and asked what the fuck his picture was doing on our Thanksgiving table. She got up, grabbed the picture, and threw it on the floor, smashing the glass to smithereens. Then she stormed out of the room, went to her bedroom, and locked the door. Poor Lily couldn’t understand what she had done wrong. She was crying and so was Katie, and Paul was grilling me to tell him what the hell was wrong with Mom. Martha was freaking out too.”
“Weren’t you freaking out as well?” asked a very curious Celia.
“Not really. I guess over the years I just learned to deal with things best when they seemed out of control. My life was always out of control, and it turned me into a very inventive person. I’ve always felt like I could win an Academy Award for being the best-molested daughter on this planet. Anyway, I took control, and right out of the blue, I invented a perfectly believable story thinking I was stitching everything back together so none of my siblings would learn the truth. I’ll tell you, this one lie I told was a whopper. I was even surprised by my inventiveness!”
Celia had the funniest look on her face as she anxiously waited for Emily to tell her what happened next. “Tell me, tell me …what did you tell everyone?”
“I told them that Dad had cheated on Mom ten years prior. Who knows? I wouldn’t be surprised to find out that he actually did cheat on her a lot, but it seemed to do the trick, ‘cuz Paul completely bought the story. I told them that Mom had found letters from Dad’s girlfriend and was having a hard time dealing with what she now knew to be true. The lie would have worked too, but Mom had had enough of all the lies and—” Emily’s eyes filled with tears at the recollection— “at my having to be the one to tell all the lies so no one would find out what a hellhole I had lived in most of my life. Mom saved me from having to continue to keep the secret, and now I’m so damned relieved I no longer have to live a fake life.” This caught Emily off-guard and she again began to cry.
Yet Celia was right there for Emily. She wanted nothing more than to console the person she now felt very close to. “Oh, Emily, please don’t cry. God, this is one of the saddest, yet most amazing stories I’ve ever heard in my entire life. Your story makes all my family problems seem so small and insignificant. You’ve been through a hell of a lot, and honestly, I have no idea how you’ve done it. You should be a bitch or a basket case, but you’re neither. You’re an amazingly nice and decent person. I’m so glad you’re my roommate ‘cuz I could have wound up with a bitch or a basket case. Please don’t cry. It sounds like everything’s going to start getting better. Am I right?”
Celia’s compassion was calming Emily down as she stopped crying, grabbed several tissues, and blew her nose. “Yes, everything’s going to get so much better. Mom told me she would make sure that my three siblings would never, ever feel anything other than love for me. Mom was amazing that night. She could have easily cowered and gone along with the new lie, but she didn’t. In fact, she had Martha take little Katie home with her so she could sit down with Paul, Lily, and me in order to tell them the entire truth. Mom threw off all her weakness that night and declared to be the mom I always knew she could be.”
Emily paused, then smiled a lovely smile. “Mom became the mom I always saw when Dad was away at sea and she was in charge. She rescued me that night, and I will always love her for what she did because it took a lot of guts to do. She’s my surprise hero!”
Celia couldn’t help her curiosity. “How did Lily and Paul take everything?”
“Well, Lily…and this was a shocker…already knew. She had found and read my diary several months prior to that night.”
“WHAT?” Celia exclaimed.
“Yea, we were all surprised; and, even more surprisingly, she was doing okay with it. She’s best friends with a girl whose stepdad had molested her. He was caught molesting a neighbor girl when Penny, that’s her friend’s name, told her mom what he had been doing to her. Penny’s mom stepped up too by helping the neighbor prosecute her own husband. He’s in jail right now. Being able to watch what Penny had been going through helped Lily cope with what she learned about Dad. She’s completely amazed by both Mom and me. We’ve never been very close, but this has drawn us closer, and I’m learning that I have a pretty nice sister in Lily.
“Paul, on the other hand, took it pretty hard. Dad was Paul’s hero. But Mom and I had a long talk with him before he went back to Norfolk the Monday following Thanksgiving. When he left, he told me how much he loved me and respected me for being as brave as I was. He even took a book I’d read about molestation back with him and promised to read it. I think both Paul and Lily are forming different opinions of our father. Paul promised me he would seek counseling when he got back, and Mom told me he was now seeing a counselor.”
“And now your mom is going to go to counseling with you. Wow, that’s really awesome!”
“Yes, it is pretty awesome,” answered Emily. “Mom’s willing to take responsibility for whatever happens. She’s scared she may have known but never tried to find out if that makes sense, but she’s willing to face the truth because all she wants is for me to be happy and to stop hurting. I’ll tell you, Celia, life is so full of twists and turns. I’m just so thankful that Dad died first and Mom has a chance to make things right for all of us, including herself. My life would be so different if she had died and Dad had been left to keep a lid on everything and keep me lying about my life. I feel now I have a real chance at happiness because all the lies are over and done with, and it feels like the weight of the world has been lifted from my shoulders. Oh, I know I have a long way to go, and that damned dream I had earlier is proof that I have a long way to go; but at least I’m on that journey and feel hopeful I will get through all of it. I’m determined to be happy, and now I have everyone I need working to ensure that happens. I am very, very fortunate!”
Celia was listening intently to Emily as she thought about her own cousin. “You know, Emily, it sounds like your life is taking a dramatic turn; and I understand what might have happened if your dad had been the survivor. I have a cousin who was molested by her dad, my uncle!” Celia now had a look of disgust and anger on her face as she continued.
“Your dad’s dead and your mom has stepped up. Margaret, my cousin, still suffers and I’ve always felt bad for her. She used to babysit me, and a year ago she told me about her dad. She’s been physically ill for a long time and won’t tell anyone what he did to her or even confront him because her dad is paying all her medical bills, and get this …he keeps her quiet by threatening her that, if she ever tells, he’ll stop paying her bills. She’s thirty-five now and still scared to death of her father. It makes me sick to my stomach because Margaret is one of the sweetest people you could ever meet. She’s always been so good to me. Phew...as I was sitting here listening to you, Margaret’s face just kept popping into my head. I wish she could be gutsy like you because your story makes me realize that she actually is in charge. He’s a bigwig lawyer whose career would blow up in his face if she ever told. She actually has him by the balls and doesn’t even realize how powerful she is. Your story makes me realize that she is the powerful one here.”
Celia paused, then exclaimed, “Wow! My family life isn’t the greatest; but, God, I’ve never had to suffer anything like you or my cousin. In fact, now I’m realizing my family isn’t so bad after all. You’re amazing, Emily. I can’t even begin to tell you how much I admire you. I feel honored to be your roommate!”
Emily was smiling. “Oh, Celia. Do you realize how amazing you are as well? You’ve sat here for several hours listening to me pour my guts all over the floor, and not once have you complained or become bored or asked to go to bed. You’re a very compassionate person, and I feel very honored and lucky to be your roommate as well. If you ever need to pour out your guts about something, please promise me you’ll pour them out to me. I want to be there for you just like you’ve been here for me tonight. Will you promise me, Celia?”
The two girls hugged tightly. “I promise you, Emily. Thanks for trusting me. I feel as if you and this evening have changed my life. I’m so proud to be your roommate!”
“Well, I’m proud to be yours as well. I felt so sad earlier, but now I feel as if I can get back up swinging; and you did that for me, Celia. I’m thankful you’re my roommate!”
Then Emily noticed the clock across the room. “God, it’s almost 4 a.m. We probably should turn in. Thank God we can both sleep late. I don’t have a class until 2 p.m. I think you told me yours wasn’t until noon, right?”
“Yes, noon, and now I’m completely hydrated and ready to go to bed. Thanks for telling me about the water and alcohol. I’ll remember that ‘cuz I hate hangovers!”
As the two girls hugged, Emily said, “Boy, so do I.”
The girls hugged again, turned off the light, and climbed back into their beds. Emily immediately fell asleep. She felt another load had been lifted off her shoulders. It was good to tell someone else her secret. Emily even felt proud.
The more people that become educated about child molestation, the more vigilant people become, she thought as she drifted off.
It took Celia longer to fall asleep. She was totally blown away, yet amazed at the story she had just heard.
Damn, you just don’t realize how good your life has been until you hear how horrible someone else’s has been. I like Emily.