Tuesday, July 23, 2019

The End of My Innocence

I have no memory of my parents living together. They divorced when I was 2 years old. 

Mom moved us kids out of an affluent, coastal community in New England to Northeastern, PA so we could be near her brothers, their wives and children. But we never fit in.  

One summer we lived in a house nicknamed "The Wonders of the World" because it had four levels - each painted a different color. My mother went to work in a cigar factory while my sister Norie, twelve years my senior, cared for us.

Next we lived in the shell of a house my mothers brother was constructing. Here, my memories increase. I remember my sister Colleen, 15 months my senior, climbing onto the kitchen counter and eating an entire stick of butter, my mother administering caster oil anytime we sneezed and watching Hatchy Milatchy on a black and white TV. We had a german shepherd dog named King that we chained to a tree in the front yard. When I was 4 years old I snuck on the school bus wearing my red and white striped clown pajamas so I could attend Colleen's kindergarten Halloween party.

My mother was a stickler for good manners. If you didn’t sit up straight during dinner she'd stand behind you and shove her thumb in the center of your back. And if you didn't finish your dinner, she'd put it in the refrigerator and serve it to you for breakfast, cold. "We're poor," she'd tell us, "we can't afford to waste food."

Somewhere between working in the cigar factory and caring for us kids, my mother met a man named Mert and we moved to Mentor, Ohio.

Mert was tall and thin with slick, jet black hair.

His teenage son David, from his first marriage, moved in with us. David was about the same age as my sister Norie. David was tall, and thin with the same black hair as his father. David had a guitar but I don't remember him playing it.

In Ohio, we lived in a house that had a screened-in front porch. This is where we'd wait for the ice cream truck and the Charles Chips truck to come.

Across the street was a large house with lots of kids - girls mostly. 

To the right of us was a house full of boys. During hot summer nights we would camp outside in small green tents. We'd carry flashlights and tell ghost stories. Between our houses is where I'd find an endless supply of fireflies.  

On blustery days, small swirling tornados would form in and around our backyard. Here, tucked behind the tool shed, was our garden. There were carrots in the garden. When I was hungry, I'd pull one from the ground and eat it, never bothering to wash it.

Beyond the garden was a large parking lot. In the winter, plowed mounds of snow were perfect for making igloo forts. 

I walked or rode my bike to school. I had two boyfriends. Their names were Michael Pope and Jimmy Griffin. I gave them each a key to my bike lock and I'd watch them race each other down the corridor, out the side door, to the rack where my red Schwinn was parked. Whoever got there first unlocked my bike and walked me half way home. I knew not to tell mom about Michael or Jimmy. When my sister Colleen threatened to tell her, I hit her with my hairbrush. 

I fell off the monkey bars during recess one day and got a bloody nose. Mom was angry because I ruined my pretty pink dress.

I sang, "I Want To Be Free" by the Monkee's as I held onto the metal fence railing that bordered the schools playground. I sang at the top of my lungs. I sang while the other kids merrily slipped and slid on sheets of snow that transformed the basketball court into a skating rink. I was too afraid of falling to let go of the railing.

I spent a long, steamy summer digging holes in a dirt road that lead to a large gray house I was convinced belong to a witch. I'd filling the holes with rotten food and dog poop - then covered it with leaves and twigs, hoping the witch would get stuck in it. 

My stepfather Mert wore white collared, button down shirts to work. My mother would wash them, put them in the freezer wet, then iron them. In time, his crisp white shirts where replaced with blue collared shirts. My mother did not iron these. One day, Mert no longer went to work, instead he walked the house wearing white, V-necked, t-shirts. 

As the story goes, Mert was once a low level executive but I knew him only as a raging alcoholic who eventually died from cirrhosis of the liver and malnutrition. 

My mother and Mert had a child together - a boy they named Mark. Mark slept in the bedroom with mom and Mert. Norie slept in a second bed room and Colleen and I shared the third. 

My sister Colleen was coined early on as the pretty one. The one with the golden curls and a sunny disposition. I was the loud one.

Because Colleen was 15 months older, she was, in her words, “the boss of me." She got to stay up 30 minutes later than me and she got everything new.

And she got Davy, and I got Micky. They were the best part of the Monkee’s. The Monkee’s were bigger than Elvis and better than Lassie. And we were just sisters, and I was little and she was big. They were the reason we raced each other down our staircase, around the corner, to our black and white TV every Monday night at 8:00 pm.

I was convinced that, if it weren’t for her, I’d have everything I ever wanted. I’d have her side of the room. Davy’s picture would hang right next to my bed. Davy’s face would be the first thing I’d see every morning and the last thing I’d see before Mom made us turn out the lights.

If it weren’t for her I’d have the bigger pillow, the better blanket, and I’d have her “Bummy,” her best friend, Bummy.  Her NOT REAL stuffed bunny rabbit. But I wouldn’t have sucked him till he turned gray. She hugged the pretty pink padding out of him, pulled the tickle of his fur from the tip of his tail.

Everyone knew she loved Bummy more than me.

Just outside our bedroom door, in the open hallway at the top of the stairs, is where David slept. He got to stay up as late as he wanted but instead David waited for me in his bed. He kept a flashlight and a red rubber ball under his blanket. He called it his fort. We played games in David’s fort while mom and Mert watched TV downstairs.

When we were in the fort, David would tell me to find the red rubber ball hidden in his underpants. He kept a bat and baseballs hidden there too. He wanted me to play with his toys but I had to be quiet or I'd get in trouble. We'd both get in trouble.

We didn't stay in Ohio very long. We were back in Pennsylvania in time for me to attend third grade at a co-ed catholic school. But I got in trouble when I brought a green gardener snake to school and was told I couldn't return. Both David and Norie moved away. I don't know where David went but Norie married and moved to Cleveland. 

After graduating from high school, I moved back to Greenwich, Connecticut where my father lived and built a business.

My son was born when I was just 19. His father was 12 years older than me. We never married. His drinking reminded me of Mert. My daughter was born 12 years later. Her father was gentle, soft spoken and hard working. Nothing like Mert. Our marriage lasted 7 years.

Shortly after the birth of my daughter, I was at home caring for her when an episode of Oprah came on the TV. She was talking about an uncle who molested her when she was a child. It was the first time I had ever heard anyone speak openly about child molestation. Images started to form, one slow motion frame after another. Memories I had suppressed for more than two decades. I cried for a very long time and then I called my mother. I was certain she would comfort me. I was wrong.

"That's impossible," she said, "It never happened."  It was just part of my overactive imagination.

Later, my sister Colleen called and scolded me for upsetting Mom. She told me never to speak about it to anyone but her. She told me I was not alone in David’s fort. Mostly we were together, sometimes it was just her. More memories to process. More tears. 

I listened to my sister and kept our secret until 2011, when I published a blog post titled “1961 to 1966.”

Most of my family stopped speaking to me after that because “you never air your dirty laundry in public” but my readers were supportive. One of them was Marilyn. She told me she dated David in high school and that they remained friends. She told me she reached out to David and that he confirmed the abuse. He also told her he was sorry. He was young and he was troubled. 

My mother continued to welcome David into her home. I have not confronted or spoken to David Hoffman since memories of his sexual abuse first surfaced. 

I had no idea what happened to David until Sunday night when I saw Marilyn’s post on facebook.

"Friends for life are always there when you need them. House is finally getting painted. With awesome Dave Hoffman."

When someone asked how she got him to paint her house she replied, “God is good!”

I don’t know how to describe the pain I felt when seeing David Hoffman’s pictures but it was just as fresh and as cutting as it was 30 years ago. On top of that, I feel betrayed by Marilyn, a woman I know as kind, compassionate, and caring. A woman I considered a friend.

I don’t understand how anyone welcomes an admitted child molester into their home. I know I would not.

I contacted the police department where Marilyn lives, and was told I need to contact the police department in the town where the crime took place. When I called the police department in Mentor, Ohio, I was told I need to know the address where we lived. That, I don’t have. All I have are photos of the house we lived in.  I have contacted several real estate agents in the area hoping they can help me identify the neighborhood. The police also have copies of the photo’s along with the photo’s Marilyn posted on facebook. The police assured me they will do all they can to help me. I have also reached out to several advocacy group including RAINN (National Resources for Sexual Assault Survivors and their Loved Ones).

David Hoffman robbed me of my innocence and left me with wounds that range from guilt and shame to insecurity and self-loathing.  He should be punished. He needs to be registered as a sexual predator. It doesn’t matter how long ago the abuse happened. There may be other victims.  I hope to God there are not.

According to statistics…
1 in 10 children will be sexually abuse before their 18th birthday.
Of children that are sexually abused 20% will be abused before the age of 8.
60% of sexual abuse victims never tell anyone.

If you or someone you know has been sexually abused, there are resources that can help. Speak out and begin the process of recovery and healing. It is never too late.

Love, Light, Peace, MonkeyME

June 5, 2009 

Oh Shannon,

David called again!... I reminded him of why we broke up, and he finally apologized.  I told him that he owes you one, too.

He said that all he remembers is waking up one morning to find he had a new family, and they were all strangers... his father was never around, and he was angry.  So, he would leave and go to his mother's until she would try to rein him in, then he would come back to his father's.  Whenever he couldn't get his way, he would just find somewhere else to stay...  He said, again, that he was very sorry, that he was out of control, and that he wished his parents would have been a bit tougher on him.  He was apparently really acting out when he hurt you...


Wed 7/24/2019 3:52 PM

...Dave has always had his own deep struggles, which he has apparently been working on for decades.  Abandonment and emotional issues can be draining for us all.  As we near 70, his heart health has really deteriorated.  He had to stop driving, which he loved, started classical house painting five years ago, and called me for the first time since as he was doing a house in PA... He offered to take a look at my place, which was perfect timing as I am tied up with so many other projects...  If you remember,  Dave was sent to a military academy in VA as a teen by his mother.  He learned much, is currently married, and has many children/grandchildren of his own who he tries his best to help.  He is a workaholic, and is so thin you would not even recognize him. His work here is simply work, and I have been impressed.  He has helped me much, and we have remained friends...

Wishing You Well.


Saturday, March 23, 2019

Irish Eyes

Tomorrow is the annual Greenwich Saint Patrick's parade. I will not be attending. I'm not boycotting anything. I'm not against drinking, parading, good luck, leprechauns, pots of gold, or lewd behavior. This year, even though the weather forecast looks FABULOUS, I will be hiding at home as I recover from yet another round of anesthesia. A sedation vacation as they say.

I thought about dusting off my leprechaun costume (yes, of course I own one) and sporting a ginger beard to hide my face in progress but I don't own a red beard, (a black one, yes) and even if I did, it might aggravate my inflamed face.

Unlike some people, who deny or deflect any admission of cosmetic enhancement, I am flaunting it.

In June, I will be celebrating my 60th year on earth. It's been an interesting time here. I've overcome and grown a lot..... BUT, my face shows it. Besides, I often find myself attracted to (much) younger men and I'm tired of saying I'm 8 years older than I actually am just to hear, "Damn, you look good."

This is also the year I discovered I have a double gene mutation called CHEK2 that makes me susceptible to a multitude of cancers. I won't mention any of them specifically because I don't want to give them power. Besides, they already know what a proactive, bad-ass I am.

It took me a few weeks to process the information. I joined a group of us weirdo's on facebook. I notified my family (as directed), even the ones that won't speak to me. I met with my oncologist and forwarded my genetic reports to all sorts of cancer databases.

When I finished all that I decided to stay calm, carry on, and LIVE BIG. It's pretty much been my plan all along but there is still some tweaking to do and I'm on it!

When it comes to the issue of WHY ME, a question cancer patience often obsess over, genetics make up only 5 to 10%. The CHEK2 mutation is rare. A double strand is even rarer. So far, I haven't found anyone who has the same double strand as me. If you know me, you should not be shocked. I'm odd.

I imagine that when I do find that person with the same CHEK2 double mutation strand, he will be a handsome, successful, hilarious, seriously scarred man (internally and externally), and together we will live a somewhat shortened, yet deliberate life together.

WARNING: I do not give you permission to turn this post that is MY LIFE into a harlequin romance novel, or a major motion picture, or anything in between.

The good news is, the root of my 6 cancer diagnosis's has nothing to do with Jesus punishing me (as my sister informed me with the utmost certainty). It's not about my lifestyle choices, prolong exposure to playa dust, standing mindlessly in front of the microwave, or hours basking in blue rays that bounce off my computer screen. And to my surprise, it has nothing to do with the fact that I once "dated" two men on Good Friday (not a good day that fell on a Friday, the actual holy holiday).

I've made a deliberate decision to stay focused on living and part of that, for me, means putting my best face forward.

This gene mutation thing came shortly after my third melanoma diagnosis. When they told me they had to go back for a third operation because I wasn't healing and they weren't sure why, coupled with 6 new pre-cancer spots on my face, I elected to do a CO2 laser at the same time as the surgery. I had the option of having some sort of boring laser which would have eradicated the pre-cancer and was covered by insurance OR, the CO2 which removes the pre-cancer and has cosmetic benefits.

I thought about this for about 15 seconds and went with the CO2.

Because I'm odd (see how I'm repeating myself), I fell into the small group of people who developed a reaction to the CO2 laser that is similar to shingles. Besides the pain and blistering, I have a red rash around my mouth that makes me look like a bad clown.

I am now on medication that makes me weepy and tired. Here is the worst part... wine aggravates it and Vicodin gives no relief.  So while you are out there, living it up, think of me... clown down in the confines of my condo waiting, patiently for my new face to arrive.

Because I go big, I included a few other cosmetic procedures in this new, about-to-be-60 face, and I'm happy to tell you what they are, but I'm going to make you guess first. So, when you see me out and about, please play along. Winners get the name and number of BOTH my cosmetic surgeons.

One cancer perk is that you meet a lot of doctors and quickly learn how to weed out the good from the bad. These two, highly skilled, humble surgeons agreed to share me. One took the left side, the other the right.

Even today, in my vulnerable state of recovery, when I stand naked in the mirror, I see a fierce, brave, bold, Irish lass. I know my father is proud. And I know, in the end, I'll have no regrets.


xo, MonkeyMe

Thank You For Encouraging My Joy of Writing

Thank You For Encouraging My Joy of Writing

Shannon E. Kennedy


Photo by Joan Harrison