I grew up in Keystone Heights, Florida. Growing up in a small town had many positives. There was the Friday night street dance. There was the July 4th fireworks over the lake. There was that Mallards dime store that my Nana took me to, to let me pick out a barbie. I still remember the smell of that store. It is still there. The library had a good old fashioned card catalog and the librarian knew where every book was anyway so you didn’t really need to look. We all hung out in the only fast food parking lot on the weekends when I got older, and always would relocate to a bonfire in someone’s back yard.My guy friends ALWAYS had my back and I think they spent more time at my house than their own. We had one grocery store, Millers.You didn’t go to Millers without running into everyone in the town.
It was a community. Most of us worked at KFC for Shirley who was the greatest boss that ever lived. She was more like a grandmother than a boss. The town had positive. It had simplicity. Everybody knew everybody. If someone got sick then they had meals for a week. We had at least 10 churches on one road and we all went to Sabos or the only other restaurant in town after church. We were prayed for and cared for by the church members and members of other churches as well.
It felt good to be part of such a tight group community. My best friend still lives there. The good,parts, she has told me, still exist. If someone has an illness, tragedy, loss, then there are many who will rally around that person. You can still expect to have dinner brought by many if you have had surgery or a loss in your family.
I don’t forget the good. The good still exists. Always in the face of bad, good exists. I always try to find it. I always try to remember it. I know it was there and I cherish the moments that I had that were truly good moments.
That small town for all of the positives had one huge negative. It COULD have saved a little girl. The people chose not to. Small town gossip exists. Small town secrets exist. It still amazes me how that small town CHOSE to do nothing. With the gossip the way it was and still is, I know people knew I was molested. I know people knew who was doing it. They knew I tried to commit suicide because they all had police scanners and word got around school in a DAY! I even remember the girl who spread it. Like wild fire her mouth just struck the match and tossed it out. So people knew. Later in life I found out more people knew I was being molested. And they did NOTHING. Wild fire spread only when it benefited those who spread it. It would have only taken one person to toss a bucket of water on the fire. No one did.
That small town made a choice. They rallied around the abuser. They deserted the victim… a child… me. Not only did they desert the victim but they buried the secret. When a secret is worthy of some good gossip that flies in the wind.” Did you hear Bethany tried to kill herself last night!”, That spread. When that secret is something that shatters the illusions people have created, it is hidden.
Where was the outrage? Where was the, ” Did you hear Bethany was molested?” Where was the,” Did you know Bethany tried to kill herself BECAUSE she was molested?” Where was the, ” What are we going to do with this MAN? What are we going to do to protect other children?”
No other children were protected. There was not outrage. There was no secret spread about what happened to me. Well, that isn’t completely true. The secret was spread but hushed behind closed doors. It was one of THOSE secrets the had people conjuring up plans and setting up stories to keep it hidden.
No one brought my family dinners. No one checked to see how I was. There were no church members who visited or macaroni salads delivered. No one treated me the way I should have been treated. The town chose to ignore an atrocity. The people of the town chose to continue on like NOTHING had happened. They coddled the abuser. They treated my family as if I didn’t even exist. They stepped around me and talked around me as if I were not even there. IF they had acknowledged me then they had to face the fact that something terrible happened to me. No one did.
I would sit on the end of my dock on the lake that had brought me such joy, and I would watch all the people who I grew up with. The people that I spent every weekend with since I was 5 years old, drive their boats by with their friends and look the other way. All of these people continued on with their lives as if nothing had happened.
I am ashamed of all of them. I am ashamed of the town that i grew up in. I am ashamed of the depth of how each of them were cowards. All it would have taken was one person to do the right thing. One person. But no one did. They could still do the right thing right now. Right this very minute someone could say that what happened to me was wrong on every single level. From what was done to me, to the reaction of those around me. They could hold the man that did it accountable for his actions. They could confront him. They could confront those around him that covered up the secret. They could make the secret NOT a secret anymore.
I think about those people sometimes. I wonder how they live with themselves. I wonder if in the end they will think it was worth it to play the game. They were all just pawns. The abusive king and all of his little minions just stayed right on that board and kept the game going. The queen by his side deeming me to hell for accusing her husband. I think they all think it was easier that way. If you treat life like a game, use your get out of jail free card, it may seem like the easier path. But it is wrong. Know this. It is wrong. All of them are wrong. I have seen and watched people fight to be right. They will fight so hard to be right that they won’t even validate a child who is molested and hold accountable the man who abused her.SHE can’t be right because then their world can’t stay the same. If THEY are right, then they can pretend the child lied, and the man they trusted is still the man they thought he was and nothing has to change. But they were wrong. Their pride kept then for allowing me to be right. Allowing me to be right meant allowing to truth to come forth. They not only abandoned me, pretended like nothing happened, but subjected all of their own children to the possibility of being abused. BUT they HAD to be right, and pretend he didn’t do it, so everything could just go on.It did. It just went on. The town just went on. All of those RIGHT people went on. All of those people are living a lie. And a lie is not an easier path. A lie is not an honorable life. They chose easy. They chose a lie. They chose to live a dishonorable existence.
This pretend world they created was a cover up. Carrying this secret, or this lie, and doing the wrong thing, is not how we were intended to live. They thought the easy thing was to ignore it all. I think it would have been far easier to hold the man accountable who abused me. it seems much more logical to abandon him. It seems much more honorable. How hard could it have been to do the right thing? Was it really the easier choice they chose? I ask you this. Everyone did the wrong thing. And they have to live with that. The hard things are not always the easy ones. But how hard is it to support a child? It seems unfathomable to me that I grew up in a dream town with people who were more concerned with ONE man than with the truth of one child. One bad man. One criminal man. One innocent child. I can’t tell you what the easier choice would have been for the people of the town I grew up in. I can tell you the choice they made was the wrong one.
I remember the good. I remember swimming across the lake from my house to my Nana’s house. She would watch me from her kitchen window. Swimming in the lake was so freeing for me. I would go underwater and the world and me just felt peaceful. I would stay with Nana for a few hours then walk the dirt roads home. It was a mile walk. I loved the clay roads. I loved the orange wild flowers on the side of the road.. I would pet the horses, pick the blackberries, and go home to the best home cooked meal you could ever ask for. It was good. I remember the good because the good was better than good. It was what people dream about.
And the bad…it could have been different. It should have been different. But doing the right thing takes honor and integrity.Something none of them had. Bringing a meal to a sick person is a very simple kind act. Dig deeper. i would rather order a pizza and have someone sit by my side and hold my hand, than have a cold macaroni salad sitting next to an empty chair.