I have the honor of posting Frankie’s story. I hope you find her tale enlightening, inspirational, and moving. Here are her words:
My name is Francesca Gilberts or Frankie for short. I was born in the mid 70’s to a lower middle class family in the suburbs of a major metropolitan city. My father was a tin knocker (read HVAC mechanic) and my mother stayed at home with my younger sister and me. We lived in a one story single family home with painted white shutters, perfectly trimmed hedges, a rolling front lawn, and swing set in the back. It was a cozy neighborhood and on a quiet street. Most of my neighbors were senior citizens when I was little, but as I grew up that started to change with younger families moving in and the creation of a brand new elementary school. Sounds like an idyllic start to life doesn’t it? Well, it wasn’t. Now I know appearances are deceiving and what looks so pretty and clean on the outside can be ugly and dirty deep inside.
My whole family belonged to the Jehovah’s Witnesses religion, two generations deep. I add this to give you some perspective of the culture and environment I grew up in. My earliest memories are of proudly watching my father speak to the congregation and of being terrified of the basement. The basement in our home was like the modern-day family room. The only television set we owned was there. My play kitchen set was there and my toys were there. The piano was there too. I spent a great deal of my childhood in that basement; my little sis and I played there, my extended family would gather around the piano and/or the TV there, and less formal religious meetings were held there. I was also sexually abused there.
I’m not certain how old I was when it started, but I must have been around preschool age. This old man, who was part of our congregation, had the shared responsibility with my father for religious publication inventory stored in a partitioned off area of my basement. He would ask me, and later my sister too, to help him in the room with the books or keep him company by doing a song and dance routine for him or whatever one of the many other rouses he came up with. Once in the room alone with him, my memory is sketchy as to the exact approach used, but the end result was having to perform oral sex on him. I have vivid flashbacks and body memories of urinating in my undies and vomiting all over the floor to this day. I remember one when I had wet my pants again and my parents noticed. My mother asked me what happened and through my tears tried unsuccessfully to explain it to her. When my father questioned the old man, he explained we were playing hide-n-seek and that he scared me and felt awful about how upset I got. I don’t recall being scared so much of the old man as much as I was that room in the basement. I have memories of the old man bringing me ice cream and dolls when we were at other locations. My family, and even the entire congregation, praised this old man for his generosity and his kindness. But I kept trying to tell my mother about the old man and his big worm, over and over. This pattern repeated itself as the years went by and soon I entered third grade at the brand new school a few blocks away. This was a significant event for me as, until then, my school teachers had all been female. I was a good student but quiet and withdrawn. My mother always told the teachers that our faith mandated that we only socialize with others in our religion and held me up as a fine example of that indoctrination. I didn’t celebrate any holidays, salute the flag, or attend recess with the other children as a result of their beliefs. So, in third grade with my first male teacher, I would stay in the classroom while the other kids were on the playground. That is when it happened.
This teacher was very kind, and looking back now did his best to get me to engage with others. At the time though, I didn’t know any better. I thought he liked me. I thought maybe he wanted to give me dolls and ice cream too, just like the old man did. Innocently enough, one day during recess I told my teacher I wanted to eat his worm. I shudder at the thought now even as I am telling you this. Of course, he had no clue what I was talking about so I led him to the coat room. Once there, with its dark closed in basement like feel, I attempted to unzip his pants and grab his crotch. His look of utter astonishment is one still burned into my brain today. But he was my savior. I might not have realized how bizarre my behavior was, but he sure did. He immediately ushered me to the nurse’s office. I was crestfallen as I thought I had done something very wrong, that I was very bad and in big trouble. Worse yet, I was convinced he didn’t like me when in reality, he rescued me.
I won’t tell you that what followed was all lollipops and unicorns, because it wasn’t. I won’t tell you that my father and mother believed me, because they didn’t. I won’t tell you that the old man was prosecuted or punished, because he wasn’t. But I will tell you that after the age of 9, I was no longer sexually abused. And that was alright. I still struggle with the lingering effects of the abuse, the fracture it created in my family, and my relationships with men. But I am alright. I am mostly grateful, joyous, and reveling in all the little magic moments that happen each and every day. And that’s alright.