Jessica Stern

Readers Respond to “Denial”

Jul 10, 2010

Ms Stern,

Thank you for Denial.

I was abducted, raped and beaten by a stranger in 1976. I was twelve. I have made my way in the world largely disconnected, succeeding in a career where performing well in chaos is rewarded.

The fellow who hurt me used a weapon I thought was a gun, then a knife. When he let me go and I learned it was a carving fork, I was devastated. Who the hell gets abducted at forkpoint? When I read the gun used to intimidate you into compliance was a cap gun, I could sense the shame. We wear it like a scent we cannot wash or weaken.

My rapist (I loathe taking ownership of him and it like that, but it is the truth of it, I reckon) abducted dozens of young girls in New York, was convicted of hurting three, served about eighteen years of a twenty-five year sentence, was granted conditional release and re-offended. He is out now and I am participating in a restorative justice process in hopes that I might meet him so that I can ask him questions that only he can answer.

I wonder if all children who are hurt by strangers carry with them the desire to know their tormentors. Those who hurt us so deeply that way leave their mark boldly, indelibly. Like you, I worked so hard to be “not a victim” as I understood that concept through my adolescence. I grew distant even from myself and oh, so cool and free of emotion. You are right about the intimacy . . . violence is such a strange intimacy. It was he who saw me at my most vulnerable. It was he who saw me when I was preparing myself never to go home again. It was he who saw what I was like when I believed I was going to die. Ouch. That makes me closer to him than I have ever been to another human being. I hate that I am closer to him than any other … and closer than I seem capable of being. I just completed the final chapter today and I understand fully that the deepest wound might in fact be lacking the capacity to love. While I recognize it is compromised, I have high hopes it has not been stolen. I have made my way in the world feeling so very small and alone. Your book is heartachingly brave and I want to thank you from a very deep place for showing me that I am not all alone and completely nuts.

When we were kids, people did not talk about the sexual abuse and assault of children. Hell, they rarely talked about sex. I was admonished against strangers. But the strangers I was ready to repel were the kind who would offer me candy, drugs, or money to go with them. Nobody told me that a grown man on foot asking for directions was more dangerous still because it seemed to me that it was he who was vulnerable. I am sure that kind of thing happened way too often. Why did nobody tell us?

Thank you again for taking what seems to me a much greater risk than meeting with terrorists. Thank you for meeting terror and having the courage to express what it is like. And thank you for suffering this interruption. But I could not let the day go by without trying to find the words to demonstrate my gratitude for your effort, your honesty and your great risk.

** 7 of 7

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