What would be best is if, when I parked on the street, a tunnel would appear, connecting the driver’s door of my car to the balcony door of my house. A two-way waste chute, really, through which I could rise and fall, unseen by neighbors. Neighbor. The one who, as I was walking up my front steps, pulled me into her tractor beam by shouting “you called CPS” and “I will punch you in the face” and “mind your own business,” though when your business is interrupted by the sounds of a child being beaten and screaming, it’s difficult to mind.
Nevertheless, when my roommate heard it, she shouldn’t have told me, who shouldn’t have called CPS, who shouldn’t have come to their door; the neighborhood commandment of “you should mind your own business” must not be broken. Oblivious to such an argument, or accustomed to it, a child tapped me. “You haven’t been outside,” he said. “Yes, I have,” I replied, almost adding “but I won’t be anymore.”
The morning after the confrontation, I left for a wedding in upstate New York, at an hour similar to the one before God created the universe. It was so early that, in the airport terminal, there was no light through the windows; they were like the fake kind on a big box store, opaque, dark, void.
“The system is just broken,” my fellow traveler, a friend who was abused as a child, said. “When a CPS employee showed up at my house, I just wanted them to leave, I was so scared of being punished. When a teacher asked me if everything was alright at home, I said yes, but I kept thinking, can’t you make it stop? Whether you report it, or you don’t, it’s terrible.”
“My father forced me to fight competitively,” a young man told me at the reception, arranging and rearranging the food on his plate, “and you have to maintain a certain weight, so I’m mindful of calories. I still eat like a fighter.” He was thin and smiling through a wiry beard and lipstick that matched the color scheme of his sister’s bridal party. I wanted to feed him.
“You did the right thing,” a friend with children said over the phone.
Blocks before the neighborhood, my heart pounds like a headache. At the end of the street, I try to see who’s on the porch next door. I park the car in front of my house. I keep my sunglasses on. I don’t look around. I look down. I look at my keys. I open the door.
Yes. As a parent, and as a victim. Yes. There’s such a paralyzing fear that the consequences of speaking far outweigh the consequences of suffering on that to be silent feels like the only true option. THE TELLING by Zoe Zolbrod was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to read. It was physically painful at times to read. Yet it was cathartic, too. To know someone else has been asking herself the same question: “Why didn’t I tell?” for years. To know someone else squashed it all down until adulthood, when life seemed to drag it out against her will.
And now I have to be the one to let it out for others to see: my family. Your neighbor cursed at you; I foresee my family doing the same.
Ben, you did the right thing. Thank you for taking the heat from the neighbor. Maybe some of it will wear out on an adult with words, rather than a child’s body. Thank you for being strong for that child.
I read this a few days ago and was both grateful for your inclination to do the right thing and at a loss for words. I wish could say that the situation at hand will work itself out, but it doesn’t always go that way. The world is full of so many tragedies, and justice doesn’t always prevail, at least not in this world. Let us hope it is otherwise in kingdom come.
In the meantime, there is dignity in standing up for what is good and right simply because it is good and right. Not everyone has the courage to fight for what should be, but it is an admirable thing to do and an example for the rest of us.
This is an important piece for many reasons. You put into words what we were all feeling, what we were experiencing. And like the ending, there was no closure to be found at the house. Only lament. Thank you for sharing this as difficult as the experience was.