'They'll ruin you'
Be careful!" My grandmother would caution. "You don't want to get stuck in that park. They'll catch you and ruin ya!"
As my daughter and I make our drive home through the park, I tell her about the words my grandmother would often utter when my mom would make a similar drive through the same park years earlier. The park, a shortcut from my mom's house in Delaware County to my home in West Philly, takes a mere six minutes off of my drive and is about a mile long but that mile is darkened by unlit street lights, overgrown with out of control hedges and shrubbery and generally looks abandoned as we make out late night treks.
My sister and I would giggle at these words but really Grandma's words of caution are born from her experiences as a young woman brutally attacked during a time when it was definitely the woman's fault and her shame made her cautious.
A traumatic revelation
The day my mother told me about my grandmother's attack I was about eight or nine and at the time I can remember being afraid. Afraid for my grandmother's younger self, afraid for me and the "they" that would get me and afraid that I would never be safe. For years I have hated that my mother felt the need to tell me this story. I am sure she thought she was doing me a service and that she was keeping me safe but I have always resented her telling me this thing. This attack that left my grandmother ashamed and estranged and left my family with a legacy or wariness around men.
There was always the double standard when it came to men. "Be careful! They will ruin you!" was often followed by, "Why don't you have a dude?"
And the endless teasing about liking someone? Forget about it.
I can remember the secret shame of a first crush. If I told someone, I would be teased but I didn't know what to do with these feelings. Men were the devil, were they not? Evil doers, only after one thing!
I've felt such ambivalence when it comes to men. I love me some him, but to admit it would invite trouble…right?
This time around…
A few weeks ago I confronted my mother. Not really, but we were watching something on television with my daughter and niece and she brought up my grandmother's attack.
"Mom!" I sorta shrieked, "Stop."
Mom, my kid and my niece looked at me like I had grown a third arm. I lowered my voice and asked Mom not to tell that story just yet. When my daughter and niece wandered out of the room to get something to drink I shared with my mother why I reacted in such a way.
"Mom. When you told me about Grandma's attack, I was scared, I felt bad and I felt like something was taken away from me. Please don't do this to these kids. Or if you do, let's try and give them a better way to cope with the story."
My mom considered what I said and agreed. She shared that when she was younger, she felt the same way but there wasn't a away for her to even know how to deal with her thoughts.
We chatted a bit more and I went home and cried.
Cried for my grandmother, cried for my mom, cried for every person who is made ashamed when they were victimized.
I still cry but I feel better prepared to tell my daughter that while someone may be out there thinking "they will ruin her," she will never be alone.
Rachée Fagg is a Delaware County, PA mom. This post was adapted from her blog, Say It Rah-shay. A feature of the blog is “Write a Review Wednesdays.”