“You haven’t written much on your blog this week,” a friend said to me. “What is it you aren’t saying?”
The weather here has turned dark and cold: the sunny days of summer are gone. We’ve had our first snow, although it melted quickly. Students are tired and stressed. Most of my fun trips – retreats and get-togethers with friends – are over for the season. Red-haired Sister canceled her visit because of bad driving weather. Boy in Black and Shaggy Hair Boy’s Ultimate tournament was canceled because the fields were too wet.
But that’s all a normal part of seasonal change.
The bleak news this week has to do with the little neighbor kids, the ones who visit every day and spent hours this summer playing on my front porch. Little Biker Boy is the eight-year-old who knocked on my door on a cold night last April, in bare feet and boxer shorts, asking me to call the police because his mother’s boyfriend was in a drunken rage.
In the intervening months, I’ve talked to social workers at Child Protective and at the local women’s shelter about the family. Their power was shut off for several weeks this summer because the bill had not been paid. Even worse, another man moved in. The kids kept saying they liked Man With Green Pick-up, but then they told me about an incident in which he was abusive to their pet cat. I know from the many stories I’ve heard that a man who abuses a cat will abuse a woman or child. I talked to the social worker at Child Protective to alert the agency that another abusive man was living in their home, but of course, they can’t do much without proof.
We’ve given the kids a safe place to come to here at my house, but there has been little else we could do. It’s frustrating as a neighbor to feel so powerless. The two kids can be difficult to deal with, but these last few months, Little Biker Boy has really been acting out his anger. He’s a child with deep pockets of rage. And Ponytail will dart into our house like a scared animal, refusing to leave. “I wish I could live here,” Little Biker Boy always says. It’s heart-wrenching.
This week, the police have been back to their trailer again, this time to arrest Man With Green Pick-up. He had been sexually abusing five-year-old Ponytail Girl. I first heard the story from Little Biker Boy, who told me it all in a numb, matter-of-fact way. The elementary school has been alerted, and they’ve set up counseling for the kids.
I’m not sure what will happen next. Child Protective may well step in and put the kids in foster care. Their mother loves the kids, but her own childhood – in which she was abused and she watched her mother being abused – affects how she views the world. It’s as if the red flags that are so obvious to me are invisible to her. Totally invisible. And like most victims of abuse, she is vigilant about keeping secrets, about keeping out the community that could help her. She would punish Little Biker Boy if she knew that he was always telling me everything, and she would forbid the kids to come over here if she knew I was talking to social workers at Child Protective. She loves her children, I have no doubt about that, but she seems incapable of protecting them. She eventually did make the call to the police about Man With Green Pick-up, but so much damage had been done first.
I’ve watched this cycle of abuse in my own community. I’ve watched it in my online community. I’ve read narratives in books and listened to poems at readings sponsored by the local women’s shelter. I’ve watched the pattern repeat itself: the child who is abused grows up to think abusive relationships are normal and learns denial as a survivor skill. Survivors of abuse are masters at pretending that everything is okay. I do have friends who have broken the cycle, usually with a network of support that includes professional therapists, a twelve-step program, a strong community, and healthy friends. But they seem to be exceptions to the rule.
I continue to write about abuse on my blog because I know that silence is not the answer. Silence does not protect the victims: it helps perpetrate the cycle. I don’t know what the answer is — I feel helpless and powerless this week — but I do know that we have to keep talking about abuse, keep analyzing it, keep at it until we do come up with solutions. I do know this: a five-year-old girl should be safe in her own home.