It was my favorite month, the month of Christmas, December of 1987. The funeral home I had used to bury my fiancé, Chuck, who had died of lung cancer on the previous July 13th had invited me to a Memorial Service. I wasn’t sure I wanted to tamper with the band-aid I had used to cover up my pain but was willing to try anything that could stop the hemorrhaging. It didn’t work. As I drove home a thousand memories assailed me: Chuck and I kissing in the front seat of his car after our first date while rain pelted the windshield, shopping for an engagement ring, buying our new home at Green River, Chuck reaching over to cover me with a blanket as I dozed while he drove, on our first vacation up the northern coast of California, our two year old grandson, Michael, helping his Poppa put a new lawn in our front yard. Chuck’s son had married my daughter, Teri and here we were with a grandson and not yet married.
The window closed on that chapter and a new one opened: The doctor telling me Chuck had lung cancer, being in the waiting room with Teri while we waited for news of Chuck’s surgery, Chuck put on a life support system, the pain and humiliation in his eyes a dreadful thing to see, holding Chuck’s hand as I repeated the 23rd Psalm over and over as he lay dying, suffocating like a fish out of water, having just had the morphine drip taken away. The nurses had made the decision, saying it would a more humane way to die than to let the cancer take him. It all happened so fast I hadn’t had time to think. One minute Chuck was going home with me as soon as they taught me how to use the Hickman Catheter and the next minute he was gone.
All of the memories washed over me, drowning me in sorrow. I could hardly drive for the tears and the trembling in my body. A church; I remembered a Catholic Church nearby. Maybe if I went in and just sat for a while I would find a measure of peace. I had been an on again, off again Catholic for many years. After eighth grade, I had told my father I wanted to go to the convent. Being a nun, serving my Blessed Mother was the only thing I wanted in life. My father went into a rage. No, I could not go to the convent. A few months later, he entered my bedroom in the middle of the night where I slept with a rosary under my pillow and raped me. When my mother found out about my father’s middle of the night raids, she had him beat me with a belt as punishment for what he was doing. For five years, the sexual, physical and emotional abuse was so intense that amnesia covered up the parts that were too horrible to remember. But, I never forgot that first night. At the age of 18 after a beating that almost killed me, I stuffed a few belongings in a pillow sack and ran away from home.
Now, here I was pulling into the parking lot of a Catholic Church wondering what I was doing here. I went inside, realized it was Saturday night and a long line waited outside the confessional. I knelt down in one of the pews and began babbling to God for help. My life had been littered with nervous breakdowns after suicide attempts, weeks in a psychiatric hospital, two abusive and failed marriages, both alcoholics, one a womanizer and a wife beater, too much partying once I was single, sexual addiction and promiscuity, more failed suicide attempts, insomnia, obsessive, compulsive behavior patterns, boundary problems, severe depression and manic depressive behavior. Why would God help me? My shame was so great I didn’t deserve His help. No wonder he had taken Chuck away. Chuck was the first decent man I had known, a man who cherished me, a man who was certain something bad had happened to me when I was a child and he wanted to find out what. I didn’t want anyone trying to pull that wounded child out and confront her demons. I had tried to end the relationship when he delved too far into the truth. He had said no, he would never leave me except through death. And now he was gone. Tears kept pouring as I tried to remember what it was like to pray. All I could do was beg God to help me.
Finally, I made the sign of the cross and headed for the door. A priest stepped away from a table he had been working at and came towards me asking if he could help me. I told him no. He asked if I wanted to go to confession. Again I told him no. He asked if I had ever been to confession one on one with a priest. I thought a moment. Yes, I had, many years previously with a priest in Tucson, Az. It was the night before my baby sister arrived in town to be with my brother who lived there and me. Before getting to my brother’s house another driver ran a stop sign and hit her. She had died a few hours later. I remembered the kindness of that priest. It had been the first time I had been to confession in many years and his continued care and support had carried me through the dark days of the funeral. Maybe I should try it again. Surely, it would bring me the help I needed so badly. I told the priest yes I would.
He took me to a small room where I sat at a table across from him. There I shared all my shame, all my degradation. When I was finished, he gave me absolution and I went out into the church to say my penance. For several long moments, I knelt talking to God who had seemed so far away only a few minutes earlier and now seemed almost to be holding my hand. I didn’t realize how long I’d been kneeling there until I sensed the priest standing at the end of the pews. I looked around the church and saw that it was empty. Everyone had left the church; everyone except for the priest who had heard my confession. I felt bad that I had kept him from leaving, said my sign of the cross and walked to the end of the pew apologizing for keeping him so long. As I tried to leave the pew, he grabbed my arm and said, “You need to take me home with you to spend the night with you. You’re a very troubled woman and shouldn’t be alone.” I was startled and thought that maybe I was misinterpreting his message. I tried to pull my arm back as I told him, “No, thank you father. I’m fine.” He kept a firm grip on my arm as I squeezed past him and tried to walk down the center aisle to the back of the church. He kept reiterating his words. “No, you need me to go home with you and spend the night.” No father, I don’t. I’m fine. Thank you.” It became a tug of war as I pulled and pulled trying to get my arm away. The more I pulled the tighter he clasped. As I got to the back of the church, in a panic by then, I pulled as hard as I could, shoved him and stumbled out the door and to the safety of my car where I locked myself in and began weeping harder than I had before I went to confession. More shame piled up inside of me. What had I done to cause this? It must be my fault. Surely, he didn’t mean what I thought.
After twenty four years I finally wrote my story complete with the priest’s name and the name of his parish and sent it off to an organization called SNAP (Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests), the largest, oldest and most active support group for women and men wounded by religious authority figures. I had gone through a five year period of recovery between 1988 and 1992; I had REPAIRed the damage. Even though it gave me the courage I needed, it was still many years before I recognized that this man needed to be reported. I can only pray that he didn't harm anyone else during those years.