About a month ago I got a phone call from my brother. He told me that my ex-step dad, the man who molested me during my childhood, was dead, that he had died over a year ago, in October 2009. This day was one of the happiest days of my life.
My brother forwarded me his obituary. It read that he was an avionics installer and expert, a U.S. Navy Veteran of the Vietnam War and a member of the Hopewell Baptist Church in Savannah, Tennessee. It read that he was married to a woman eighteen years ago. A woman was one of my mother’s best friends just twenty years ago. The obituary read that he was a disaster relief volunteer for Southern Baptist Convention, did local missions work and was active in Media Ministry at Hopewell Baptist Church.
That’s funny, he was Catholic when he lived with us. Even then he was an active member of the music ministry and a regular church-goer at St. Williams Catholic Church – the perfect husband and step-father.
His obituary didn’t say anything about the five or six times that he was married to various women across the country, or how he molested his daughter, his step-daughter and many of her friends. But why would it? Most people didn’t know that about him.
I have no doubt that he pretended to be all of those things that his obituary read. He was a smart man. He even had a PhD. He was a real mastermind, which is how he got away with molesting so many girls.
You can imagine my disgust when I read the obituary, reading about how he was such a noble member of society. But you can imagine what I felt when I read that he had contracted a fungal disease in his lungs on one of his many volunteer trips to help Katrina victims, what I felt when I read that he died waiting for a lung transplant.
I danced. I screamed. I literally jumped up and down in my living room, so much so that my boyfriend’s dog started jumping and barking with me. I don’t remember when I have ever felt so happy in my life. My body was overcome with emotions of joy, and I grinned from ear to ear as I held the phone and continued to listen to my brother. I felt free, a freedom I have never felt before in my life. It was over.
I called a couple of people to tell them. I called Cecilia, and I screamed, “I can go on Facebook now if I want to!” I don’t have to worry about him tracking me down one day and hurting me again. I could not believe the freedom I felt.
Moments later I broke down crying. Emotion just came pouring out of me. It confused me why I would lay on the couch crying so hard, but I didn’t care. I just cried. My life would be so different now.
Over the next week following that phone call, I walked around on cloud nine. I felt like I had been given a new life, and I was free to go and do anything that I wanted. I wasn’t scared anymore. Everything felt new and exciting. But as I continued to live my day-to-day, I began experiencing a whole range of different emotions. I had lived in fear for so long that I began to feel uncertain about what I was supposed to do with this new information. How would this affect how I thought and lived my life now? While he hadn’t been a part of my life for twenty years, the fear and memory of him remains with me everyday. It is a part of me…
Sometimes now, I forget that he is dead. I have to remind myself that I don’t have to be afraid anymore, that life really is different.
I had lived for so long with fear and regret that there was nothing I could ever do to stop him from molesting other girls (after he had molested me and divorced my mom). I had tried to do something. The result – He plead ‘no contest’ to the court and got a year in jail.
He married my mom’s friend, according to his obituary. I used to babysit her granddaughters. She had two of them. They were very young and they spent a lot of time with their grandmother, my ex-step dad’s new wife, because their mom was a single mom. I later found out that their mom worked for my ex step-dad. I was horrified. He would be spending so much time with those two young girls. You can imagine how powerless I felt.
That is one reason why it was such a miracle for me to find out he was dead.
I still catch myself thinking that I see him in crowds or that I hear his voice. I have to remind myself that he is really dead. But in that moment that I am looking around the crowd, I know that so many people continue to be raped and molested everyday. I can only hope that by sharing my story, more girls/people will speak up about what is happening or happened to them.
Just recently, I realized that in order to continue to move forward, I am going to have to forgive myself. I have to forgive myself for allowing it to happen to me and not doing anything to prevent it. To remember that I was only a child and I was not equipped to know what to do. That, for me, has been one of the biggest challenges.