“Doctor Burns, I only told my mom I was having oral sex with my Dad to get attention,” she started the interview with this startling revelation. “Well,” I thought, “and that probably was pretty effective. Not the kind of attention we would have hoped for though.” And as I worked through the statement or was that an accusation? I discovered the same elements of fear that I have for many years in my work with traumatized children. She, not the adult, was vilified and called a liar, a dirty liar and a little filthy piece of trash for lying. Not the kind of endearments an eight year old longs for when they finally disclose a sexual relationship with an adult. Not at all.
So being determined to react differently, to gather whatever information I can, even though the retraction had already begun before the telling was completely finished, I proceed slowly and with caution. “You know, I was thinking about oral sex the other day and I was wondering exactly what that is?” “Oh come on Dr. B, you know.” “No I don’t really, I can’t remember if I do.” Knowing of course that if she knew what it was that she had either had it like she originally said, had seen adults having it or had watched pornography. Any of these were more likely than that an eight year old would make up that sort of relationship with her father. That’s a pretty big need for some attention wouldn’t you say?
And so the merry go round I’ve been riding for years and years or is it more like centuries now, rotates once more on its axis. Circling round a beautiful eight year old girl this time who as it turns out knows exactly what oral sex is and how to do what to whom where. Part of me closes off again. I die a bit knowing that it is common fare for children to experience sex with adults. But it is even more sad to know that when a child discloses, they are shut down and turned off and told to shut up with those lies.
This child like 25% of children is being seduced or forced into a sexual relationship with an adult prematurely. It can cause severe scarring and trauma. Sexual promiscuity and sexual attachments become primary as they grow. Cutting, eating disorders, sexually transmitted disease and drug use can result. Dissociation, separation of the experience from consciousness, is another common response. This inability to clearly remember the event allows adults to convince children they are wrong. That the sexual act never occurred. As a result, they indeed feel like “dirty little liars.”
I don’t want to live in a world where 1 out of 4 children are violated sexually by adults. Especially when those adults are most likely close friends or family. I don’t want to listen to my children’s stories and then watch the adults or caretakers in their world denounce them for liars. My brain strains from the refrain they are singing a song without words that I cannot hear anymore. It is as over for them as it is for me, I think, as I leave work once more and write the latest letter of resignation that will last for eternity this time.
For years I was angry with a God that couldn’t do better than one in four. For goodness sake, I could have done better than that, I ranted and raved at the only God I knew. My Creator and Redeemer was creating something I couldn’t live with. He was not Redeeming my little children at all. The more I listened the more bitter and estranged I became. The stories continued and the adults kept on calling them liars because they had once been child victims. They could not face a perpetrator violating their child as they had been violated themselves. And thus, that resignation letter written for eternity rings loudly in our ears, and we all cried together this time too. Here are two short shorts I wrote to mark that forever in our lives.
Severed Spaces and Stripes
Somebody is hiding. She lies there. Body wedged tight, lidless eyes press ironed white sheets. Tiny pink lines, theses stripes sever wide white intervals.
Someone is home. So she is hiding behind the curtain, invisible. Spirits hover and view the beating terror. He enters, though the dresser barricades the opening. Six drawers arise, erect sentries, guarding the secret. The girl conceals her body. She is hiding. She is home. Light filters the crack, pink tattered wall flower exposed as the door groans, and he plunges into a hole, far too fine. As he finds the almost invisible, under the pink and white, ironed linens veil her, and she flees. Fly with her, the passage extends as he unfastens her body.
Depart as the angels fiercely surround the separation, sustain this hidden life. Spin out, out thin and beyond two shapes, wedges smashed, sleep blown backward. Sway away, east lies west. Disconnect from the entry, a filter of golden thread spins you away. This ladder runs moon-beam to garbage dump. Return ticket paid in full, but whirl now into the wider air. Skyfly past the television where brother lies, watching Barney Fife drop his bullet again. Mother lies, sleeping curled in half blank bitterness her only bedfellow. Divide into vapors which flatten, as they splay away. Climb higher than the blades, the lying backpack and dresser leaning on the door, the TV’s hum, and green leaves vibrations. Hang, upside down in their rhythm, swing on the handle of this dipper. Sing with the fish on a star, broken lyrics. And let the song sway, the musical roar separate and sustain the hidden whole.
In the distance, each silent scream reverberates as shattered fragments scatter. Somebody is hiding. Someone is home. She lies in cooling drool, ladened oozing. Ironed sheets, pink thin lines severe clean white spaces. She lives in there.
Bite her and she bleeds.
Julia W. Burns, MD
Litany of the Angels
Where are you going? I am away. I am leaving you behind.
Where are you going? Under the sea in search of a red thread to replace the black stone that sits in my chest where my heart used to be.
Why are you leaving? I am leaving to find another, one who has become lost.
Why are you leaving? I am leaving because no matter where I run, that space no longer contains my body.
When will we see you? At night when the moon is red and the werewolves rip flesh with bloody teeth.
When will we see you? At day when the sun is white and the incubus sleeps in a cave, away from my children.
How will we know you? You will know I am gone as a vapor rises over the garden. Red roses growing in the center will give pure perfume.
Who will check my heart beat? There will be a white coat, steel cold stethoscope with a bell to listen for the beat.
Who will check my heart beat? I will turn my ear toward the wind and listen to know if you are beating.
Who will hear the stories? The angels will hear, the wind will tell and the water will wash over for healing.
Who will hear our stories? The ones with the red thread wrapped around their hearts, beating in the center of the small black stone, will listen and learn from you as I have.
Who will hold our grief? The wailing of the angels will resound around the orb but will never hold our grief.
Who will hold our grief? The weeping of the wind blowing wildly through the meadow will search for the mountain but even that cannot contain our anguish.
Where are you going? I am diving under the sea. I am going to tell the mermaids.
Julia W. Burns, MD