When I was growing up, no one ever talked about “bad touches” or any other kind of child abuse. If those kinds of things happened at all, which seemed doubtful in everyone’s mind, they happened in New York projects or Los Angeles tenements. It certainly didn’t happen in the Midwest, in small town America, in a farming community where everyone knew everyone and almost everybody went to church on Sunday…or had to explain why they didn’t.
My parents were of the few who didn’t go to church. And they didn’t do any explaining. But they were still respected citizens. My mother was born only 5 miles away and grew up there, graduating from the same high school I attended. My father was a teacher in a nearby city with a population of 120,000. He was envied for his position in that larger school district and he was grudgingly respected for his educational degrees. Maybe that’s why they got a pass.
On the outside, this small community where I was raised was the heartbeat of America. Hard working farmers. Bailing hay. Tending to cattle. You could buy milk or meat directly from those cattle farmers. Then there were the produce farms. And there were several locally owned orchards scattered around the outskirts of town. In the summer and fall, people came from miles away to buy apples and apple cider, watermelon and strawberries, fresh peaches and homemade jam, along with corn, squash, peas, potatoes, green beans, rhubarb and tomatoes. Life was good. Or it looked that way.
Most of the residents lived outside town on those vast farms or orchards, so there were abundant country roads, most of them paved, where kids could ride their bikes and explore for hours and hours on end without ever encountering a vehicle. There were creeks to wade in and trees to climb. Or you could walk to the grocery store on the town square and get an icy cold bottle of pop from the metal cooler by the cash register, freezing your hand as you felt around in the depths of the ice and melted water to find the flavor you wanted. Summer, when parents were at work, kids walked or rode their bikes far from home without fear or restriction and without any supervision. The worst thing you had to worry about was a dog chasing you as you rode by someone’s property. We flew our kites, ran and played in the sunshine, bought penny candy at the Dime Store when we had a nickel or two, played in the park, wandered wherever our curiosity led us and came home when we got hungry or it started getting dark.
This is the lost America.
But it is also the America that never was.
Because, you see, if you peeled back the veneer, child abuse existed. Even there. I know because it happened. To Me. In the Midwest. Small town America. In the heartland of the good ole USA.
For a long time, I thought I was the only one. The only one who was abused. Because it was never talked about. Never even acknowledged. And I thought it was my fault, that there was something wrong with me, because otherwise, why would it be happening if I didn’t deserve it?
I didn’t need to fear strangers as I wandered the fields and roads miles from my home. I knew the monsters who haunted my nightmares. My abusers lived in my house. They were my parents. My parents who were respected in the community. Who were supposed to protect and nurture me. I had nothing to fear until I went home.
We put on quite a show. No one ever suspected. Or maybe they never bothered to question.
In my alternate reality, the reality behind the facade, behind the heart-of-gold, honest and caring, salt of the earth respected professionals, I was being destroyed, sexually abused, beaten, broken and torn apart by my mother and father. They pretended to be good parents. Outwardly. But behind closed doors, the façade was stripped away and the truth was revealed. At least to me.
The America we lost was never there to begin with. It’s just that some people got to live the illusion as a child before the masks were torn away and the monsters were exposed. They were always there, behind closed doors. But no one believed in them.
So little girls like me kept secrets and lived in a world no one else could see. We rode our bikes far away from home because home was the place where we encountered our worst nightmares. We lived in the real world while others embraced the facade, holding it close and cherishing all it stood for. But we who lived in the alternate reality knew. We knew it was a lie. We just couldn’t tell anybody. Because no one would listen. No one would believe us. No one would acknowledge we, the abused, even existed.
We lived in an alternate reality. We were and are trapped there, in this place no one else can see. We live there still. There is no escape.