The Wall Around the Secret (Miss America by Day Re-Read-18: Chapter 2 – The Night Child (continued))

(The following is the 18th in a series of posts related to my re-reading of Miss America by Day: Lessons Learned from Ultimate Betrayal and Unconditional Love, by Marilyn Van Derbur.)

Continuing with Chapter 2 content that stood our for me, I took special note of Ms. Van Derbur’s description of a “confrontational and humiliating” experience she had as a part of an initiation for her high school’s most popular sorority, in which, after being brought into a dark basement, with 60 girls looking on, a spotlight was shown into her face and she was asked to answer the question, “What is digitational intercourse?” This question, so full of sexual innuendo (though the answer was: holding hands), caused “extreme anxiety” to “well up into every part” of her body:

I couldn’t think. I couldn’t breathe. I felt my heart pounding. My head dropped. I couldn’t move. . . . My mind had completely shut down. I just knew I had to get out of there.

When her silence continued, she was asked, “. . . what is osculation [kissing]?”  Her reaction?

All of a sudden I burst into loud, heaving, convulsive sobs. I had lost control completely. Someone took me to another room where I sobbed to exhaustion.

Her assessment, from her perspective as an adult survivor, of this episode?

I had no idea what made me cry, I had no conscious memories of my nights [when her father would come to her bed to sexually abuse her]. The night was buried so deep. Only something as confrontational and humiliating as this initiation could even begin to puncture the wall I had built around my secret.

Reading about this reminded me of an incident in my own life, following the end of my father’s sexual abuse, in which something in the present triggered perceptions and feelings connected to my experience of abuse:

As I recall, I was ten or eleven years old—within a year or just over a year after my father’s sexual abuse (of me) had ended. It was during the daytime, on a Sunday afternoon, I believe, and I was in my bedroom, sitting on my bed, I believe, and when I looked at one of my big toes, it appeared to me to be raw, swollen, and discolored into various shades of purple. I started screaming in utter terror, at the top of my lungs, which immediately brought frightened calls from my parents, who were sitting in the living room downstairs, asking me what was wrong. I ran downstairs, still screaming—mostly just “My toe! My toe!” as I recall—and reaching the living room, showed it to them. Both of them looked at it for a moment and said, “There’s nothing wrong with your toe.” And when I looked at it myself, it was as though all of the rawness, swelling, and discoloration immediately faded away. Only decades later, after recovering memories of my abuse, did I, remembering this incident, realize that my big toe must have served as a momentary stand-in for my penis, which had become raw, swollen, and discolored during my father’s abuse.

Did this incident, when it occurred, cause my father to remember his having abused me? Or my mother to remember taking me to our family pediatrician to show the doctor the condition of my penis during my father’s abuse (although she didn’t know that he was abusing me)? I have no idea. My father, until his  death, never admitted to having abused me sexually, and I never asked my mother about this incident.


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