“No, it doesn’t. This kind of secret hurts. It crawls inside you and eats at you. It makes you scared, and it makes you guilty. The ones who want it to be secret use that – the guilt, the fear, the shame. The only way you can fight back is to tell. Tell me who raped you.” ~ Lieutenant Eve Dallas to a murder witness from Naked in Death by J. D. Robb.
In this book, the murderer is a powerful politician who also happens to be the first victim’s grandfather and the witness’s father. It was first published in 1996, two years before I read it and the other four books available in the series at the time. As I think back to 1999, I realize that a lot happened to change my perspective and my future choices between 1998 and 1999.
I had my first big rebellion that year. My closest aunt died of cancer in spring of 1999. One week later, I took my SATs. The nightmares got worse. I started having intense abdominal and knee pain that made me physically ill and miss a lot of school. The rebellion ended, and I started taking driving lessons.
Then I read that book. And my world turned upside down. But I did not realize it at the time. All I knew was that the rage and grief from my aunt’s death let out monsters in my mind. And those monsters sometimes took over and used my body to rage against the world. It was high school, though, so everyone blamed the mood swings and lightning changes to hormones from a 16 year old.
But those words haunted me. I tried to find someone to talk to. But the grief counselor didn’t help much. And the donors did not like what she was bringing out in me. As for everyone else, they wanted to hide me until I stopped blurting out whatever was on my mind when certain topics came up – topics that had a pat response to uphold and polish the family image – and embarrassing everyone.
The one thing I do remember my aunt telling me before she died had to do with security. She told me that I had to do well in school instead of laughing it off. Get a job that pays well and offers benefits and security so no one can take that away from me. She didn’t, got C’s and D’s and skated her way through college and grad school. When her divorce was final, the only thing that kept her afloat and had the judge rule custody in her favor was her professional degree and years of working before she stopped to raise her kids. She knew, even if she never admitted it out loud, what happened to me at home.
So I switched my concentration in high school from art and biology to chemistry and pharmacy. Not that it did much good. But the advice came in handy when I made my escape 13 years later.