She Had No Idea
She had no idea how sexually frustrated her husband was even though she had agreed to go to a psychoanalyst with him in double sessions every two weeks, ostensibly for marriage counseling. This was a half day commitment, a two hour drive to downstate Illinois and two hours back and required finding a baby sitter. Yet, uncertain as to why they needed counseling, she had agreed as a good Christian wife should.
She recognized they had not been getting along but assumed theirs resembled all other six year marriages. She was not particularly worried. They rarely argued and never did so in front of their four year old son and six year old daughter. Then, quite unexpectedly after their move into their dream home he had said, “I think we need to go see Milt.”
Milt, who would become their psychoanalyst, was also his hunting-buddy. After listening to people’s trials and tribulations day Monday through Friday Milt managed to salvage his own sanity by shooting pheasant and quail on the weekends. Her father-in-law was a skilled coon hunter well acquainted with the best places to hunt so the three men had developed a relationship around hunting. She, however, had only been introduced to him once before their therapy began.
On this most recent session Milt had asked her,
“So tell me why you are here today and how you want to use this time.” Why he turned to her was mystifying. Her husband was the one who wanted this counseling, not her. But she decided this was his officially beginning of the session since the men had already had a brief exchange about the success of their last hunting venture.
“I guess we should just talk like we did last time. My husband seems unhappy still.” She said hoping to shift the attention off herself. This whole counseling thing was new to her and the previous sessions had felt as if they were talking in circles.
“We should just talk about things that would make us get closer.” Her husband said.
What in the world does he mean by that? She thought to herself.
“I don’t like it when you are unhappy.” She said. “Is that why you are unhappy, we aren’t close?”
“Can you tell her a bit about what is troubling you?” Milt asked her husband.
“I would like to just be closer.” He said.
That is certainly saying nothing. She thought still mystified as to what exactly was bothering him.
“So intimacy is an issue then.” Milt said.
“Yes, I think so.” Her husband had responded.
Slowly the conversation shifted to the ways they were intimate and what prevented intimacy. After a while it seemed to her as if both Milt and her husband were expecting her to talk about something but she hadn’t a clue as to what it was. Then at one point, seemingly out of the blue, Milt said,
“You know some people are put off by the smells of body parts. But in actuality those smells are a real turn on.” She was stunned. What did that have to do with intimacy? They hadn’t been talking about body parts. For the first time it occurred to her that her husband and Milt might have talked about her while they were hunting. Since she didn’t know how to respond to this bizarre statement she said nothing and the conversation shifted along different lines.
But, as before they spent the two hours talking about things that eluded her. She discovered however that since the subject was how to be more open, at least with Milt present, they were learning more about one another. Her twenty six year old husband had never been able to be open with his mother who had revered and idolized him and now at the age of twenty four she could admit that by the age of eleven she had shut out her own parents realizing they were too busy to give her the attention she craved. All this was interesting but, she thought, certainly did not justify the time and expense they were investing in these sessions.
Four months prior she had been surprised by her husband’s suggestion for therapy. She had thought he would be happy after their sacrifice of moving their Illinois family to Kansas for a year and a half so he could pursue his graduate degree. Now, with degree in hand, he had two jobs he enjoyed, being a part time clergy and a full time social worker for the State of Illinois where he placed abused or neglected children in the foster care system.
The two of them were clearly living a comfortable white, middle class existence having returned to a new home in Iroquois county in northern Illinois. When they realized their new home they could buy actually had a swimming pool in the back yard she thought this was a clear sign of God’s blessing. Because by all outward appearances they were making a great life together his suggestion for therapy was disconcerting.
“But I thought this is what you wanted.” She said referring to the latest move and career change.
“Well, I just think Milt could help us.” was the only thing he would say. She knew her husband well enough after six years of marriage to recognize he was still restless and dissatisfied all the turmoil of the last two years had changed little for him. And, while she was not sure if she was particularly content in her marriage, that was not her priority.
It was true that she was deeply lonely and depressed but this was nothing new. She had been dogged by depression at least since her teen years. But now she was living the Christian housewife dream that every young, devout Christian girl aspired to live. Her life as a housewife had become a busy marital haze of worship services, bible studies, women’s groups, choir singing, and nursery teaching and, of course, mothering two beautiful children. Except for the depression that haunted her when she was alone, she thought she was happy.
But, according to her Christian upbringing when the husband is unhappy, this is a problem for the wife as well. They had to do something. Marital ruptures and unhappiness were not appropriate in the Christian life they were creating for themselves as a minister and his wife. So, of course, she had agreed to therapy and assumed he would be happier with a little help from his therapist friend.
On this day however as they were drove the two hours toward home they timidly reviewed the therapy session. As a rule they seldom talked deeply after a therapy session. They both felt far too vulnerable. Yet, for whatever reason this session had made them more willing to be open and candid. When the topic skirted the issue of their sexual past she heard herself say something, much to her surprise, that she had never told anyone; Uncle John.
“Uncle John?” he asked. “What about him?”
“Oh, he molested me when I was young. I don’t remember how old I was.” She responded.
“He did what!?” exclaimed her husband, this social worker who was making a career rescuing sexually abused children. He looked over at her from behind the steering wheel in utter amazement.
“What did he do?” he asked in a stricken tone as if he didn’t want to hear the answer.
She immediately saw his overreaction to her simple statement and was confused. She had not meant to create panic for him yet it looked as if he were ready to stop the car. She had, after all, forgotten most of the details and had moved on. Her life was fine. It was nothing to get deeply concerned about.
“Don’t worry. I am fine. It wasn’t a big deal. And I don’t really remember much. It was only a little abuse.” She said reassuringly. As far as she was concerned the case was closed. There was no need to talk about what happened so long ago.
It was only a little abuse.
The words hung there unanswered. Her husband sat there in stunned silence unable to respond. She was glad he was silent. She did not pick up the conversation thread nor did she want to discuss this topic. In the stillness of the car the summer sun shone on the soybeans and corn in the fields as they drove past the farmland on Interstate 57.
What a beautiful afternoon. She thought feeling the sun’s warm rays on her arms as they streamed through the window glass. Yes, it had been a good morning. She tried to summarize that morning’s therapeutic experience as she had packed up the previous sessions into a compartment in her head. If nothing else, they were getting better acquainted. She wondered if her own parents ever tried to talk deeply about themselves.
Now, in the car she was surprised at her husband’s response to what she had blurted out. While she had never fully forgotten about those encounters with Uncle John she had never revisited them and had no interest in doing so now. There was something deeply shameful and very wrong in those tawdry memories, so why think about it especially when it made her feel badly about herself?
It was only a little abuse.
Years ago she had filed those unwanted memories deep into the back of her mind in a folder marked, “Useless: Do Not Revisit.” But now something had happened in this therapy session that had removed the file folder from its protected sanctuary. The words had unexpectedly tumbled out in a rather matter-of-fact way. It was her truth to be sure, but it was rather benign. It was over and done with years ago.
However, as she gazed out the window thinking of her unexpected revelation she realized there was a problem. She had heard herself say, “It was only just a little abuse.” That sentence made little sense. She wouldn’t allow one of her children to come to her with a bloody wound to say, “It is only a little hole in my body.” Every mother knows that blood pours out of a huge gash or a smaller puncture wound and both are equally dangerous. She knew the idea of “a little wound” or “a little abuse” had to be re-examined.
And so, as she gazed out the window she did not see the flat farm land that stretched across the unbroken horizon. Instead, she tried to figure out what she had meant by saying it was only “a little abuse”?
Well, it did not go on for years and years. she thought. How long had it gone on? She asked herself. I have no idea and I don’t want to know. She dismissed the thought.
Besides it wasn’t physically painful. She added as an afterthought. Some things had felt quite nice. But no sooner had that thought entered her mind than she pushed it away. She didn’t want to think about that either. It wasn’t supposed to feel good.
He is still a nice guy. He is not an ogre. He has a good sense of humor. All of us cousins enjoyed playing with him. Somehow that thought did not bring her comfort. She found she didn’t want to think about him at all.
Well, that must be it. she thought. She decided that all these statements qualified it as “a little abuse.” It didn’t last very long. It didn’t hurt. And he is a nice guy.
Besides, she reasoned, I have seen the fear and fragility of timid foster kids when their safety was compromised by their mother’s predator boyfriends or the inappropriate behavior of their dads and step dads, and grandpas. She had heard the foster parents talk of the children’s trauma of being removed from their homes in the dead of night because of this family drama and real danger. None of that describes me. She thought.
She was never fearful or fragile and had never felt in danger of her life with Uncle John. She liked him still. Surely, this was just a little abuse, right? And, surely she could forgive him for this, right? In fact, as a good Christian woman she had to forgive him or else she was sinning, right?
But the memories had been stored in an Aladdin’s lamp marked “childhood,” and, like the genie from the fairy tale, once spoken aloud they would resist returning to the safe confines from which they came. As yet she could not yet see the mischief of the hidden genie’s secrets. In trying to make her husband happy by accompanying him to therapy, she had unknowingly released into her consciousness a vague and uneasy truth she did not want to see.
She had no idea this was the beginning of a convoluted sexual and spiritual journey where her religious trajectory would be challenged and her God would morph into something quite different. She would never suspect that sexual healing is arduous but that healing can be found in unconventional and unexpected, if not scandalous, ways. Indeed, whereas her social worker husband might eventually have intuited such a secret, he now had evidential support for a key element in their own relationship. Yet she had no idea secrets hide as well as create sexual wounds. She thought she only had a few unwanted memories that could be safely ignored. She thought her life was carefully built in strict biblical conformance with exactly what God wanted.
But she simply had no idea.