“That happened to me, too,” she whispered, reaching for my hand. I stopped walking and pulled her around to face me. “What?” I immediately looked around, searching for eyes and ears, a chill spreading throughout my body. Somehow I knew my friend was about to tell me something she’d never told anyone before.
The tall, frail-looking woman out on her daily walk passed by my house at the same time each day. I was often outside working in the yard. She wore a baseball cap and glasses that turned dark in the sunlight. I never saw her eyes, but her head remained down; I knew she wanted to stay incognito. Like clockwork, she would return one hour later, eyes still focused downward, heading for home. There was a terrible sadness about her that made me uncomfortable, yet intrigued me at the same time. One day, I got the nerve to say hello. She responded, and we talked a little more each day. I decided to ask her if she’d like company on her walk and she agreed. I had always enjoyed fitness walking, and now I jumped at the opportunity to break out of my own isolated lifestyle, even at a snail’s pace.
Her name was Margaret. It turned out she was in her early 60’s—not 70’s, as I’d guessed. Although married with an adult child and grandchildren, she admitted she lived in seclusion, staying in her bedroom reading and knitting, and leaving the house only to go on her walks. She told me that for no known reason, her body had always been wracked with pain. I had to lean in to hear her when she spoke; her voice trembled as though she shouldn’t be telling me these things. For some reason she trusted me. Was it the wounded recognizing the wounded?
Margaret was the first person I ever told I was writing stories. “Vignettes about my childhood,” I told her, hoping it was explanation enough to mask the dark childhood stories that I was really writing about. It worked. “Oh, how wonderful!” she replied. Without asking for details, she encouraged me to keep writing. Interesting, I thought later, how secret-keepers don’t pry.
It was on one of our walks in the hills above our homes, a forested place free of people and worries, that I told Margaret the truth. That I was actually writing a memoir about my childhood. I hemmed and hawed getting it out, and when I said, “My stepfather molested me over many years, and my mother knew but wouldn’t help me”–that’s when Margaret grabbed my hand.
“It happened to me, too.”
I felt like I’d just been punched in the gut. Margaret? Molested?
“What?” Her moist, rice-paper-thin skin stuck to mine when she grabbed my hand.
“I was twelve. After babysitting for my parent’s best friends, the husband gave me a ride home, only—he took a detour.” Margaret’s trembling voice trailed off, and she stared at the ground.
“Did he do something to you, Margaret?” She nodded. I wrapped my arms around her, and then she told me what happened. The man had dropped her off at her house afterward and said nothing. She went directly to her mother who then went to the telephone to get to the bottom of it. Her mother returned, angry, saying Margaret had lied, that she’d humiliated both families with false accusations. The next day her mother took her back to the man’s home where she’d babysat the night before. She was unable to look her abuser in the eye. She apologized to both the husband and wife for telling a lie, as instructed. They said they forgave her, and the man told her “no hard feelings–you can continue babysitting.” The abuse continued.
Margaret said she’d never told anyone before. Fifty years had passed. She’d been unable to make friends or complete her education, and she had spent much of her life going to doctors trying to find the cause of her debilitating body pain.
Margaret and I continued talking about our childhood experiences over the next few months. Neither of us knew what to do with the information we had revealed to one another. While we both had a need to talk about it, the shame of telling another person became too much. “The world’s gonna come crashing down now” feeling was always present. Margaret eventually stopped walking by my house. Part of me breathed a sigh of relief.
When you’ve been taught not to tell, and then you do, even if it’s to another person who is revealing you their secrets, you beginning wondering if you can trust them.
I would be interested to hear if others have had this type of experience.