I was born in Arkansas, a product of the deep south. My family, like most others with whom I was acquainted, was saturated with generations of racial prejudice. I am thankful for one very special lady who saved me from falling prey to a sin so prevalent that its dirty gray pallor was bound to rub off on anyone who lived under its shadow. I don't know her name, and I can't remember what she looked like, but I know what she did for me and I will never forget her.
Many of my readers know by now that I am a survivor of incest. My father was a violent man, a controller who ruled over his family in the old time southern tradition--no one questioned his authority. Few questioned his practice either, of beating his children and molesting his oldest daughter. There were those who didn't know--and others who knew but didn't want to rock the boat. Still others were afraid of the repressed rage they sensed in a man whose fragile ego strength may not have been able to survive exposure--they were afraid he would kill himself and/or his entire family. So they kept quiet and pretended that all was well.
Meanwhile, I was suffering, shriveling up in shame and dying by degrees. First my trust, then my innocence, and they my dignity. One person handed a bit of that dignity back to me--and this tribute is for her.
My mother hired a black caregiver to help out with us six children while she went off to work. My father stayed home and gave us hell. I don't mean to swear, he made life a living hell of all of us.
One day he decided to violate me in the presence of our caregiver. She had worked for us a short time and he, the white-boss-business owner felt sure she would be just as powerless as his twelve year old daughter. She was after all poor, uneducated, and desperately needed her job.
This happened right about the time that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. stood up to Mayor Daley and the Chicago city counsel when he was told that he could lead his followers through the streets of Chicago as he had been promised. Dr. King faced Mayor Daley with these words: "Now, gentlemen, you know we don't have much. We don't have much money. We don't really have much education, and we don't have political power. We have only our bodies..."
She had only her body and she used all her communication skills to tell my father, non-verbally, with her flashing eyes and indignant look just what she thought about him. She looked at me with compassion--and turned her glare on him, condemning him without a word. A few days later she gave up her much needed job in what I belive was a silent protest of my father's depravity. She gave up her job but handed me a small measure of dignity--something worth more than silver or gold to my needy heart.
I don't know your name, dear lady, but I salute you. I have honored you with a picture of what I htink you might look like today in the front of my book, Redeeming Our Treasures/Finding Joy in the Shadows of an Abusive Past. A book that chronicles the depth of my despair and the heights of a survivors job. A book that tells my story, and provides a brief glimpse into yours. I salute you, dear friend, and look forward to the day I will meet you on the other side and get a proper introduction.
You did what you could to intervene in the destruction of my childhood.I will never forget your courage or your compassion.
Linda Settles, MA
Author: Redeeming Our Treasures/Finding Joy in the Shadows of an Abusive Past