People ask me all the time how I can be so honest about my life in my blog. They want to know how I can write about marriage, sex, abortions, or running out of money over and over again. It's an endless list really, of the stuff I write about that people can’t believe I'm writing about.
But each of you has a list of things in your life similar to that, it’s just a list you don't want to talk about. I'm not special—I don't have more stuff that is difficult to talk about. I just have more difficulty not talking about difficult stuff.
This is why.
I’m going to start by telling you that I was at the World Trade Center when it fell. I was in a post-traumatic stress support group afterward. People were divided into groups of ten based on their experience at the site—how bad things were for you that day. I was in a group comprised mostly of people who narrowly escaped the building before it fell and, as they were running out of the building, were splattered by body parts from people who were jumping out of the building.
We had individual therapy as well. Here's what my therapist said to me: “Your childhood was so terrible that your experience at the World Trade Center was nothing compared to what you experienced as a kid. Your post-traumatic stress therapy needs to focus on your childhood.”
That was the first time I really had a sense of how bad my childhood had been. I knew everyone in the world thought things at the World Trade Center were terrible. So this must mean that my childhood was really terrible.
I was 34.
When I was five, I knew something was not right. That's when I started therapy. I was never totally sure why my parents were sending me.
When I was seven I knew something was not right because the neighbor came over to our house when my parents were smashing picture frames over each others' head. The neighbor said to me and my little brother, “Come with me.”
Then my memories get blurry. The next thing I remember is my high school homeroom teacher. I skipped a day of school and then came to school with a black eye and a note from my dad that said I had been sick. She said that she was not accepting notes from my dad anymore. She said I could not come back to school the next time I miss a day unless I called the police.
I don't remember what I thought when she said that. Except that I thought, “Does she know what's going on at my house? How does she know? I never told her anything.”
I remember the next time my dad beat me up though. I called the police and they came. Like always. And my dad said nothing was wrong. Like always. And then the police started to leave. Like always.
But then I said, “Hold it. Wait. My teacher won't let me back in school unless I get a note from you that says I called you.”
I don't remember what else happened. I remember the police asking me if I want to leave. I remember my mom saying, “Yes. Please. Take her away. Please.”
I went to my grandma's to live. I spent all of high school living at my grandma's. The school social worker spent the rest of high school trying to convince me that my parents did something wrong. My grandma spent the rest of high school telling me that my parents were completely irresponsible. Except at family gatherings. When my parents were there, with my three brothers, and everyone pretended that everything was normal and that I did not live at my grandma's.
I don't remember very much. I went to college and spent my time trying to sort things out: abusive boyfriends, bulimia, anti-depressants, and cutting. Getting nearly straight-A's for a lot of the time. I sorted very little out.
I went to a mental ward the summer of my senior year. My parents visited me. They told me they were happy I was in the mental ward. My extended family visited me and they did not mention my parents. No one talked about why I might be there. My parents were anxious and loud in the family meetings: Begging the doctors to keep me from going back to their house. But even the doctors could not quite figure out why I was there: I worked on my senior thesis, I was a model patient, and I started dating a doctor right after that.
After I graduated, I moved back to Chicago, where he lived and so did my parents. I couldn't figure out how to support myself and there were so many opportunities for me to try nude modeling jobs. The doctor thought it was ridiculous. He thought I was too uptight to model. I said I probably was, but I wanted to try because it was such good money. I said they first test you out in a swimsuit.
He said, “Don't you need some sample photos?”
I said, “Yeah. I have some,” and I pulled them out of my bag.
The doctor looked. He smiled. He said, “Who took them?”
I said, “My dad.”
The doctor flipped. He went nuts. He couldn't believe it.
I was mostly surprised. I had no idea that my dad taking the photos was weird.
That I didn't know it was weird made the doctor even more upset. I remember trying to figure out why I thought it was okay. Or why he thought it was not okay.
I was 22.
I didn't tell anyone about the pictures. I started having nightmares about having sex with my parents. I started not being able to sleep. I didn't tell anyone though. Because I thought I was crazy.
Then my dad visited me a few years later, when I lived in Los Angeles. He wanted to go camping. I went. I was so nervous about being alone with him that I read almost all of One Hundred Years of Solitude before I went into the tent.
Then he took off his clothes, down to his underwear, and snuggled up next to me, with his arms around me and his penis up against my back.
Then I knew.
Or I thought I knew.
I slept outside the tent. I didn't talk the rest of the time. I don't think he even noticed.
I know the street in Los Angeles we were parked on when I finally asked, “Dad, did you do sexually inappropriate things with me when I was younger?”
He said, “Yes.”
I had no memory of what, exactly, he did. I still have no memory of it. And I was scared to ask him more. I asked my mom the same question. She gave me the same answer.
Both parents have said they were sorry. But that is not my point. My point is that my childhood was ruined by secrets.
In hindsight, so many people kept the secret: my family, the police, teachers before my freshman year. Decades later, when I asked my high school friends what they thought of me in high school, two of them told me that everyone thought I was nuts coming to school beaten up so often.
I'm not kidding when I say that I thought I was keeping that a secret.
So what I'm telling you here is that I'm scared of secrets. I'm more scared of keeping things a secret than I am of letting people know that I'm having trouble. People can't believe how I'm willing to write about my life here. But what I can't believe is how much better my life could have been if it had not been full of secrets.
So today, when I have a natural instinct to keep something a secret, I think to myself, “Why? Why don't I want people to know?” Because if I am living an honest life, and my eyes are open, and I'm trying my hardest to be good and kind, then anything I'm doing is fine to tell people.
That's why I can write about what I write about on this blog.
And when you think you cannot tell someone something about yourself, ask yourself, “Really, why not?”