About two months ago I deliberately walked in front of a speeding bus. Death would have been so much easier. What else is there to do when your family, the brother of your mother, the man who witnessed everything that happened to you over the course of three terrible years, denies what happened to you and calls you a liar. Let me tell you the story.
My mother is bipolar. When she was on medicine life was fantastic. I was loved, cared for, and mothered. That usually lasted about three years until she decided she was cured and stopped taking her medicine. For two months she would decompensate and I was mistreated. It varied from cycle to cycle. Sometimes I was starved, sometimes I was hit, and sometimes I was forced to keep silent in fear of reprisal. Sometimes she just left to have sex with someone she didn’t know. Sometimes she would take me with her. Then she would be hospitalized for two months and I would have my mother back. It wasn’t a bad arrangement. Sure those two months sucked. But I knew that after those two hellish months and two months of hospitalization I would have a Mommy again.
That changed when I was sixteen. Her doctors messed up her medication and she began weaning herself off them. She would fake her way through her psychiatric examinations telling them what they wanted to hear. Eventually she just stopped going. This time she didn’t crash and burn, wind up in the hospital, and come back as my mommy. No, this time she went down very slowly taking everyone with her.
Friday night was when it happened. Friday night was when I stopped talking to my mother. Shabbos. Yom menucha (a serene day) they call it. I came home to a shabbos meal with my mother who was saying kaballas shabbos and singing shalom aleichem. She never did that, but that night she did. I wasn’t sure what she wanted from God to make her act like she was frum that night. But, I guess she didn’t get it. The next week she was back in her room watching TV.
Ever since my grandfather died we’ve lost what it meant to have a shabbos meal like a family. He kept us together, gave shabbos the kedushah it deserved. Without him shabbos just sulked off in the corner while we wished it would just go away. Instead of zemiros and family conversation we all brought books to the table, which is why I was shocked when my mother told me, very strongly, to remove my book from the table that Friday night. Mah nishtanah? When I refused, she proceeded to answer my question of what she wanted from G-d, by screaming at me how she wished I had been aborted, how she wished I had never been born or ever existed because I was keeping her from the man she was having sex with.
After thirty minutes of that vitriol I ran out of the room and out of the house. I ran to my friend’s house and stayed there for a few hours. When I came home I saw her laughing and entertaining guests. I was fuming! How dared she! What I yelled is not appropriate for this blog, but they will always be my last words to her. I have not spoken to her since that night four years ago.
Sunday morning she saw me in the kitchen and asked me if I wanted to go shopping, as if that would make it all better. I didn’t even look at her. From that day forward she used my “chutzpah” as an excuse to abuse me, physically and emotionally, beat me, and degrade me, and violate my privacy as well as my sense of self and identity.
She had some lines she would use to justify what she was doing to me. Her favorite was:
“חוֹשֵׂךְ שִׁבְטוֹ, שׂוֹנֵא בְנוֹ“ (Spare the rod and spoil the child). She was also fond of pointing out that I was her son because she had carried me for nine months. Therefore I had to fear her and I was her’s to do with as she pleased. Thus I was not entitled to possessions or privacy. Whatever she did to me I was morally obligated to bear with a smile.
But what really hurt more than any of the abuse, was my family’s reaction. They knew what was happening; they were over often enough to see how I was changing, how I was utterly not OK! They saw me drop out of high school, refuse to go to beis medrash, and seclude myself in my room all day with nothing but a computer. They saw me install lock after lock on my door. They saw the door frames splintered after my mother busted in. They saw the pain in my eyes, the tears on my face. They heard my screams and saw my pain, but the situation was “complicated” so they didn’t help me.
When I finally came forward to one of my relatives and told him what was happening, he got angry and swore at me. When I went to another and told him what was happening, begging him to have my mother removed from the house so my grandmother and I could have our lives back, he gave me a very sad battered look and said he’d try. A week later he was in my room screaming about how I should be thrown out of the house because I was skipping school and acting like a bum. He never asked “why?”
Fast forward four years. I had a job with my uncle at a shipping company in BoroPark — the same uncle who had wanted me thrown out of the house. It was a good job and I was hoping to land a full time position so that I could finally move into my own place. It’s been quite a process, my healing, but it really is being helped along by Sara, owner and admin of SupportTheSurvivors forum. She has me over with her family every so often for shabbos. I feel safe when I go there; I feel like I’m at home. I haven’t felt that way since…have I ever? She isn’t frum and I am, but that’s never been a problem. Not for me at least. When I told my uncle that I was going to Sara for shabbos, he asked me why I had to go to someone who wasn’t frum for shabbos instead of coming to his house. When I told him I felt safer and more at home at her house, he got offended.
He asked me why I associated with “those people — Survivors. He said that I was so much better than those nebachs, that I wasn’t abused — I had just had a hard life and picked myself up. When I told him that “Yes, I AM a survivor of abuse, abuse that you witnessed and did nothing about” he yelled at me, telling me that I was being a baby about it. I was apparently complaining too much about three years of abuse, making excuses for myself, letting go of my frumkeit because I had an excuse — a poor excuse according to him. For the record I am just as frum now as I used to be. I wanted him to understand, though; I mean, he had been there, how could he be denying what happened to me? He had witnessed it!
But to him my family was perfect, and I was never abused because only they are abused. Not us. It didn’t happen to me because it couldn’t have. So he denied it, told me I was lying. Told me I was making it up, making a big deal of nothing. That I should stop making excuses for my bad behavior and aveiros and take responsibility.
“About two months ago I deliberately walked in front of a speeding bus. Death would have been so much easier, but the bus missed me.
I’ve since realized that I can only do my part. I can bang my head against the wall as much as I want hoping to knock some sense into somebody else’s, but that won’t get me anywhere. I am taking care of myself now. I quit that job, I have nothing to do with that uncle anymore, and my life is very good right now. I’ve started a business, and things are really looking up. I have wonderful friends who love and support me.
People like my uncle don’t know what they’re doing to survivors, they don’t know how hard it is to keep telling ourselves every day that what happened to us was real, and that the pain we feel is valid. They don’t know that when they deny it and call us liars that they are re-victimizing us by forcing us to relive our experiences over and over again just to prove to ourselves that they actually happened and that we aren’t liars. When they try covering it up and stigmatize our pain because they don’t want to see our supposed “imperfections” they don’t see us trying to bury what happened to us and failing miserably. They don’t know the agony it causes us to force ourselves to believe that we’re liars and then reconcile that with what we know is the truth. Or maybe they do. Maybe they know but don’t care. Maybe that’s what does it for them. Maybe they take pleasure in our pain—get high on their sanctimony when they degrade us.
The upcoming trial of Nechemyah Weberman, yimach sh’mo (may his name be eradicated) means so much to me. The victim in this case stands in for many other victims of Weberman and many victims of other molesters. This victim stands in for all the other victims who were intimidated out of testifying. This is also a trial of a system that covers up so many crimes. Willful ignorance is on trial. Collective denial is on trial.
I know the world won’t be perfect after the trial, but it’s a start. Hopefully survivors will find courage in the incredible bravery being exhibited by the survivor of Weberman who is courageously standing up for truth and justice. Hopefully they’ll see that they too can come forward, that they too can be supported.
Who knows, we may even change some of the deniers as well. We may even change my uncle.