I never thought I’d write about my dirty little secret forty years later but the culture that is forming around abuse against women compels me to speak my truth.
It was a warm summer day in suburban New York, the kind of day for halter and shorts and a cooler full of water and juice boxes that accompanied my boys and me to a local park. Suddenly I heard a scream which was undoubtedly my youngest, who had just fallen off the jungle gym, blood gushing from the side of his head. I scraped him up, heart beating, and rushed off to our pediatrician, a mere 4 blocks away. We were ushered into an examining room with the doctor following closely behind. One quick look and it was ascertained that butterfly bandages would do the job. My shoulders relaxed and I stood near the table hugging my baby just as I felt a hand slide under my halter and onto my bare breast. When I pulled myself away the good doctor planted a kiss on my mouth, tongue and all, as I recoiled, taking my baby into my arms. He said something to the effect that it was no big deal and besides he was only honoring how attractive I was. I left in a hurry, not even bothering to stop at the desk where his wife was in charge of accounts.
In retrospect the question became why didn’t I make an issue of it? First of all, I am a woman with compassion and I did not want to hurt his wife who was just outside the folding wooden door. Secondly, my little three year old was on the table of a man who he needed to trust and I didn’t want him to see my anger or fear around the doctor’s perverse behavior.Thirdly, relatively new in town, I didn’t know how to get or even find a new pediatrician that would come as recommended as this one. So I kept my mouth shut and returned time and again, cowering mostly in the corner of the examining room so as to avoid being fondled one way or another.
Embarrassed and actually ashamed (perhaps I had come on to him I wondered) it wasn’t until a year later, while at a cocktail party that the subject of sexual abuse came up and various benign tales were shared. “I can top that one,” I said and blurted out my story. With a horrified husband sitting nearby, suffice it to say it took him not a day or two to have our son’s records changed and off we went to a more professional practice.
Why tell now? So many of the recent “me too” stories have involved women in the workplace being made to succumb in order to keep their jobs. My story is about compassion…a woman’s innate compassion to not hurt another woman (the doctor’s wife in this case) and my desire not to frighten my child by making a scene. Simply put it was easier for me to get over it and bury the truth than make a big deal of it.
But there were deeper issues. Not respecting my body (or myself for that matter) started a long time ago. There was an abuse scene I recall when I was 3, some approaches made by uncles, and gradually a sense that my body was somehow shameful and of little worth. Whether these feelings came from the original abuse or not, the injury has caused me a lifetime of body loathing, hypochondria, and finally therapy to learn respect for the vessel in which I live.