When we were in our mid-thirties, my cousin wrote me and
asked if we could get together for dinner the next time I came home for a visit.
We grew up more like sisters than cousins, and as children,
she knew me better than anyone else.
Her request to meet seemed a bit odd, though, because we had
drifted apart after high school.
Now she was in therapy and had some questions for me. Her
childhood memories were fuzzy and had some blank spaces; she hoped I would be
able to bring clarity to her murkiness and fill in some of the blanks.
At dinner, she asked about one of our uncles. I shuddered.
“If we had known of ‘good touch’ and ‘bad touch,’” she said,
“he would have been a bad-touch uncle.”
As far back as I could remember, I had tried to avoid this uncle,
who liked to bounce me on his lap and “tickle” my still-undeveloped breasts. She
confided that she, too, had learned to give him a wide berth.
Even at a young age we both knew that other adults saw
anything wrong in what he did to us, and no one would stop him.
“What about us?” my cousin asked. “Why didn’t anyone protect us? Why were we left to feel shame for something he did?”
The memory of that dinner with my cousin thirty years ago resurfaced
Lately, I seem to be tuned into the secrets people keep. In
novels—where more is left unsaid than shared—and television detective stories—where
people withhold facts from the police—what goes unsaid has been catching my
Why the hesitation? The resistance? Why not tell all?
The answer frequently is the desire to protect someone.
Perhaps novelists and screenwriters are emphasizing the
things people don’t say as a way of pointing out how common the practice is. Perhaps
they are using their craft to nudge people into greater honesty because they
know how harmful secrets can be, how damaging it is to protect people who are
abusing their power.
Maybe I am more aware of the destructiveness of keeping secrets and protecting people because of what is happening in my church. Those in power seem to be willing to do anything to hold onto their power, covering up egregious acts and maintaining a code of silence. Or maybe it is because of politicians and celebrities demanding loyalty or paying hush money to keep their secrets.
Other than that dinner with my cousin, I have not talked
about my uncle and the impact his actions had on me.
One thing I can see clearly, though, is how this early
lesson helped shape my sense of “loyalty” and my understanding of the need to
protect people who have something to lose—be it their reputation, job or
In the end, the truth usually
comes out. And it often turns out that people already knew, or at least had an
inkling, of the truth.