A terrible burden of silence

Connie K. Walters

October 22, 1991|By Connie K. Walters

RECENTLY TV comedian Roseanne Barr Arnold and others have shared their private fears and horror stories about what happened to them as abused children.

Increasingly, well-known personalities are allowing the children inside them to speak and remember what happened to them during what should have been the happiest, most carefree times of their lives.

I know. I was abused as a child. Not by my parents but by one of their friends. The year I started first grade, this man -- I'll call him "Mr. Ted" -- came into my life and remained there for almost 20 years.

My mother met him at our parish. He was the newly hired maintenance man. And although he couldn't read or write, my mother and father helped him to get a job working for the city as a stationary engineer.

I saw more of him than any relative outside our immediate family during those 20 years. He would come over every Saturday morning, and during the summer he would sit out on the front steps with my parents watching the world go by.

All the while my world got smaller. I used to hide in a closet or in the cellar when he came over. During the summer months, when he was outside, I stayed in my room and read.

I tried telling my parents a few times that he was touching me, but they said I was "taking things the wrong way." They didn't want to hear about it.

Fine. They didn't. And I didn't tell anyone else about it until he had passed away. Then I told my husband and my sister and my own children.

I used to pride myself on being able to block out things that had upset me as a child. I was OK. I was doing well, I thought. Then I listened to Roseanne Barr Arnold and started to put some things together.

The bad feelings that I had kept inside for so many years reflected themselves in ways that I had become so used to I didn't really even notice them anymore. One example was my need to have many acquaintances, but not many close friends. Somewhere I must have felt that "friends" might take over my family and life the same way "Mr. Ted" had taken over the lives of my parents.

I still don't like people to touch me. And my son and daughter, in turn, don't like people to hug or touch them too much, either.

To whom could I have complained, since my parents didn't believe me years ago? Kids can't insist whom their parents should or should not be friendly with. I came from an ethnic family with a tradition that adults were to be respected no matter what. Even now I sometimes wonder why anyone would believe me.

Every year my husband and I decorate our house for Halloween and the holiday season which follows.

"You're making such nice memories for your children," people say. I sure hope so. It's better than carrying around for years the burden of guilt any victim of abuse bears.

It's long past time for today's children -- and the child in each and every one of us -- to follow Roseanne Barr's example and lay bare the fears perpetrated on us by supposedly "OK" family and friends. Life is too short to spend it carrying around such a terrible burden of silence.

Connie K. Walters writes from Baltimore.

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