“I was hoping to meet you in Las Vegas! Where you there?” I asked as Tiffany introduced me to the young woman sitting in front of me. “I was there; I was very pregnant with my 2nd child, so hiding out on occasion,” explained Chelsea. “Gosh, how in the world could I have missed you, especially if you were so obviously pregnant!” I exclaimed in exasperation as I rambled on. “I wanted to hear you speak! I love your blog and wanted to meet you! Lucky for me I’m meeting you now!” That’s the great thing about being a blogger and going to conferences. You get to meet so many fantastic people and Chelsea from Someday I’ll Learn is one of those special people that one hopes to meet in our very short, toot sweet lives.
Chelsea was a scheduled workshop speaker at Bloggy Boot Camp Las Vegas 2012. Why I didn’t meet her in October I’ll never know, but fate intervened and there she was, sitting right in front of me at a workshop at Mom 2.0 Summit in Laguna Niguel in May! I didn’t know it was her until Tiffany introduced us after the workshop ended and said “this is Chelsea” as Chelsea turned around. “Chelsea, this is my Aunt Carole,” she continued with the introductions.
This was the one and only workshop that Tiffany and I attended together at Mom 2.0 Summit, choosing the “divide and conquer” strategy of workshop selection when there are too many choices! Tiffany has met many local bloggers through other local bloggers developing ties in our local community by connecting with other mom bloggers both in person and through social media. She does a really terrific job at this (she wears the hat of Executive Vice President of Social Media at Toot Sweet 4 Two, one of her 1000 Hats as a blogger, a mom, a wife, a friend, etc., etc., etc.).
My point? Not knowing that I was sad about not meeting Chelsea in October, what were the chances that (1) Tiffany had already met Chelsea; (2) Tiffany and I decided at the last minute to attend the same workshop; and (3) that Chelsea would be sitting in the row ahead of me, directly in front of me? So, is it fate that brings people together or is destiny preordained?
I recognized Chelsea immediately – young, statuesque, beautiful and dressed impeccably in high heels and a smart, fashionable frock (frock? Are you kidding me? This isn’t the early 19th century!) and thin! How did she get so thin so fast after having her 2nd baby?
Her blog, Someday I’ll Learn, is similar to Toot Sweet 4 Two in that it doesn’t have a particular focus. She writes about everyday life, as we do; she has recipes, as we do; she has a section on home and garden, as we do; a “kids corner”, as we do (in a round-about, not very obvious way); and an area all about San Diego (as we do – although ours is still in its infancy). What she has that we don’t have are stories of child sexual abuse. Yes, I said those three heinous words – child sexual abuse.
From the time she was 3 years old until she was 12, Chelsea was sexually abused by a predator – her stepfather. At 16 she started counseling, which continued for 10 years. At 27, she has the courage to write heart-wrenching posts on her blog and share them with the world. I encourage you to read them and here are some links:
- This is Important
- I Have PTSD
- Defining Bravery
- How to Help Abuse Victims
- I Am the Same
- Silence is Deafening
By opening up about the trauma of her youth, Chelsea bravely takes us down a road none of us wants to travel. By shining a light on this heinous crime, her hope is that she helps others break free from the torment and torture she endured or helps others break the cycle of sexual child abuse, child abuse and even adult physical abuse. Her willingness to share that dark place is noteworthy and her story matters.
Confident and strong, she carries her battle scars with grace, not wanting to be “that girl; that victim.” And while she might not describe herself as “warm and fuzzy,” I have found her to be just that: a warm, friendly, generous person who wants to live her life fully, in the moment and out loud. And, live a life of forgiveness.
In my early thirties (now 25 years ago; shhhh…I’m giving away my age!), I met a woman about 20+ years older than me through my husband. Newly married to Charlie, I joined a group of tight-knit friends, who’d been friends for more than 15 years. She was married to her second husband, a very good friend and former co-worker of my husband’s, and she and I struck up a friendship after discovering we shared the same birthday (side note: Chelsea and her sister share the same birthday). She had 4 children slightly younger than me, all of them adults. However, in all the time we spent together socially, often at her home in the desert for weekend parties, I never met any of her children. To protect their identity, I’ve named them as follows:
- Casey (my friend)
- Robert (her 2nd husband and Charlie’s friend)
- Victor (her oldest son)
- Tina (her oldest daughter)
- Amanda (her youngest daughter)
- Mike (her youngest son)
- Juliette (her youngest son’s wife)
Thinking this odd, one day I asked Casey why her children never came to the parties she threw. She skirted the subject, making lame excuses, and I dropped it. And, I never asked her again. Eventually, I met her youngest son, Mike, and her youngest daughter, Amanda. I met Amanda at a bridal shower for Mike’s fiancé, Juliette. I guess I really didn’t meet her; someone pointed to her and said, “that’s Casey’s daughter, Amanda.” The stunningly beautiful young woman stayed miles away from her mother, appeared nervous and was definitely withdrawn. I thought to myself, “how sad that this mother and daughter have had such a falling out that they can’t even greet each other at a family party for a future in-law.”
Casey and I were friends for several years. Then, one day, while Charlie and I were on vacation visiting close friends in Texas, I received a phone call from my sister-in-law telling me that Casey had died in a car accident. Scheduled to return to California the next day, we attended Casey’s funeral a few days later. Most of her children were not there; only Mike and his new wife, Juliette.
Many months later, Amanda, the daughter I’d never officially met but saw across the crowded room at a bridal shower, called me on the phone out of the blue. She tells me that she understands that I was a good friend to her now deceased mother and she and her older sister, Tina, would like to come over to my house to talk to me. So, a few evenings later, these adult daughters of my friend came over to my house after dinner. They were nervous and the older daughter, Tina, a woman in her mid-thirties with several children, was extremely shy and withdrawn letting her younger sister, Amanda, drive the conversation.
After about an hour of visiting with them at my kitchen table, getting to know them and hearing about their lives and families (both were married and mothers), I could feel this undercurrent of tension between them, a nervousness that I didn’t understand. Why were these two women, who were close to my age, so nervous? The conversation came to a lull and a deafening silence permeated the kitchen. “You know, I’m really glad to get to meet the two of you and learn about your families,” I said. “But, why did they want to meet me? What is the real purpose of your visit?”
With sideways glances at each other, Amanda said they wanted to spend some time with me, “get to know me” to see if they could trust me.
Then, they proceeded to tell me that they were sexually abused by their stepfather, Robert. They were abused from the time they were young girls (though not as young as Chelsea) until they left home. They told their mother and she did not believe them. They told childhood friends who were not emotionally equipped to help them and didn’t tell their parents. Now in their mid to late thirties, it had been 15 to 20 years since their abuse ended and it ended only because they left home as soon as they were able.
They were telling me now because their mother was dead and their stepfather had a new girlfriend – a woman with two young daughters. They wanted my help in contacting the new girlfriend because they didn’t think she would believe them if they contacted her and they wanted to make sure that what happened to them did not happen to this new girlfriend’s young daughters.
To say I was stunned is an understatement. So many emotions roiled through me. How could I be so naïve and have not realized that something was critically “off” with my friend’s relationship with her children? How could I be friends with a woman who emotionally abandoned her daughters allowing a predator to continue his abuse? How could a mother reject her children in that manner?
I said of course I would do it. I was heartbroken and immensely sad for these two girls, now women with families of their own. They didn’t want Robert to know how I found out, because even now as adult women, they were afraid of him. I said I would keep their secret.
They left and I told Charlie. He was completely dumbfounded. Robert, a friendly, gregarious man with many friends, was one of his best friends and he had known him for more than 20 years. Charlie didn’t want me to interfere. He wanted to maintain his friendship with Robert; keep the status quo. Robert was the catalyst for so many of Charlie’s other relationships that putting a nail in the coffin, by severing the ties to this man, would have a trickle-down effect that would destroy a whole “community” of friendships built around this one man.
I didn’t care. I felt a passionate, righteous indignation about what had happened to these women, these young girls now adults, with deep, unfathomable scars and haunted spirits. This man was a despicable person that should be in jail. He had already ruined several lives (he had a biological daughter, too, from whom he was estranged – now I knew why) and I couldn’t, I wouldn’t stand by and let him destroy other lives if I could help it.
So, I called Juliette, Casey’s daughter-in-law, the wife of the youngest son, Mike. I’d gotten to know her over the past year she’d been married to Mike and although she was young (about 19 or 20 at the time), found her to be a strong, caring, and passionate young woman. If she knew about this, she’d tell me the truth.
Juliette answered the phone immediately and I asked her point-blank if it was true. She took a deep breath and said yes. She told me, too, that her sisters-in-law had told her that they were going to tell me. My mind swirled with so many questions that I knew Juliette could not answer – she was young, she was new to the family, she’d only recently learned about this from her husband.
In a bizarre way, the boys were victims too. Aware of the abuse, they were ill-equipped to handle it, even as adults, choosing isolation from their mother and stepfather rather than confront the monster that everyone loved. I can’t either condemn or sanction their conduct. Although they were both big, strong adult men now, they were afraid of their stepfather.
I told Juliette that I was calling Robert as soon as I hung up talking to her. I said I was going to tell him that I knew and if he didn’t tell his girlfriend, I would. And, that’s exactly what I did. I called Robert and told him that I knew and if he didn’t tell his girlfriend I would. Then, I hung up and burst into tears.
For the next several hours, I called various friends that were part of this “community” of desert campers built around Robert. I told them and I asked if they knew. I was shocked and surprised that several knew or “suspected.” They knew and chose to do nothing. They knew and chose to keep the terrible secret because they didn’t want to “blow up” the fun they had as a group of desert camping friends.
I called the police. I spoke to a detective who told me that pedophiles can’t be reformed. Also, he told me that there was nothing they could do unless the victims came forward.
The next day, Robert’s new girlfriend called me. She was there when Robert got my call and his face had turned ashen. She asked him who was on the phone and he told her, and then proceeded to confess to his past. She left him and took her daughters home (they lived in separate towns and would travel back and forth between their two homes to see each other). She assured me that Robert had not (yet) touched her daughters. She was still in shock and didn’t know whether to thank me or not for blowing up her relationship, so I gave her the phone number of the police detective that I had spoken to so that she could get the information directly for herself.
Over the next few months, our “community” of desert camping friends dissolved. The unspoken vow of silence that was now shattered and “looking the other way” was more than this band of friends could overcome. The stain of shame carried by this collective group that did nothing for 15+ years shattered relationships forever. I learned about a year later that Robert had sold his desert home and moved with a new girlfriend out-of-state. He has since died.
Do I regret what I did, even though it meant we lost a bunch of friends? No. Would I do it again? In a heartbeat.
I have since lost track of Amanda and Tina, but I’m eternally grateful to them for reaching out, breaking the silence and protecting another generation of young girls. Their bravery that day at my kitchen table is something I’ll never forget. So, I thank both of them and I thank Chelsea, too, for sharing their painful stories because their stories matter.
Today, I look at my 3 beautiful great-nieces (Princess P, Princess Sweetie Pie and Princess Sweet Heart) and can’t even wrap my head around something like this happening to one of them. If you suspect a child is being sexually abused or physically abused, speak up. Save them from what Chelsea, Tina and Amanda endured.
Silence is deafening…break the silence.
Until Next Time,
(other Your Story Matters posts)
- Bloggy Boot Camp Revealed
- Perspective: December 8, 1941
- Salted Maple Pecan Pie Bars from Pinch of Yum