Riptide
by Marion Smith

Chapter 6

[p.41]I think I must be dreaming all of this. It’s impossible that Clint doesn’t exist. When I close my eyes, I see his limp arm falling on the front seat. What I’ve done is eternal. Like the damage he’s done. The children he abused when he was a teenager, his own kids, his nieces and nephews, the neighborhood children, my own youngest daughters Jeanne and Jasmine. On and on.

Lots of times I’ve imagined what it was like for him to be victim and victimizer.

I’ve tried to realize what Clint’s life was like growing up after his parents divorced, when he was five, six? When he became the man of the house? That’s what his mother called him first time we met her. “He’s my man, he’s taken care of me,” she laughed. Chilling.

She called him Clinton when he was little. He changed it to Clint when he was a teenager. As a Mormon missionary, “Elder Clint” was what the girls in Switzerland probably called him.

I imagine it. I imagine this little boy stigmatized in his middle-class Mormon neighborhood because his parents were divorced. Staying home from school sometimes to tend his sister because his mom worked, back then when Mormon moms didn’t work. Grabbing at friendship from anyone he could. Playing with younger kids because he felt more secure with them. Swinging little girls to see their white panties. Playing doctor. Playing dirty. [p.42]Peeing on one girl while the other boys held her down. Locking her in the closet. Telling her some day she’d look like the pictures he showed her in Playboy. And then, when he was older, as an eighteen-year-old boy putting a cigarette lighter up a little girl’s vagina while the others watched and laughed.

This person married my Katherine.

I see this little kid—smart, big for his age, awkward, lonely, scared. Never being able to talk well, to find words. Why would he have any words for his kind of pain and dissembling? Another irony, that he became an attorney, a word-user. This little kid. His mother telling him at night, “If you’re scared, you can come get in my bed.” Dressing in front of him, flinging slips and panty hose around. Finding excuses to bathe him long past age seven or eight. Massaging him when he was sick. Drawing him close at night in the bed. Putting his hand on her breast. Touching him. “Clint, you’re such a good boy. What would I do without you?” Teaching him, training him. Did she know what she was doing? How could I possibly judge that? Why did the father leave in the first place? Who knows? Controlling him. Raping him. Always, always placing her needs above his. Being jealous of the men in the neighborhood who tried to help him. Not wanting him to go on scout outings and finally opposing his LDS mission. Detesting the idea of his getting married.

Clint and she would never have talked about it. All of it in the dark. In some midnight place that didn’t exist. Where he was her little man, taking care of her. And in the daytime he was with his buddies taking care of the other little kids in the neighborhood. How did he function at all? How did he get good grades and play on the church basketball team? How did he go on youth outings and sit around a campfire singing patriotic songs? How did he go to college? How did he enter our family? What does [p.43]that say about us? Duncan won’t ask that, but I have to. “He was a child, too,” I tell Jeanne. “So was Hitler,” she replies.

All the while inside of him were raging fires, and black loneliness. Emptiness. Nothingness. Terror. Tigers in the night. Beyond anything I or anyone I know can imagine.

“He may have multiple personality, but in any event, certainly extreme dissociation,” his therapist had said after the children told. Yes indeed. But his choice was to deny everything and refuse real help or healing.

After I knew him well, his pain was palpable, consuming. But it was there long before, even at Sunday dinners. Sunday dinner with white damask, sterling, crystal, flowers. We can barely fit around the table: Duncan and I, Jared and Rachel, Katherine and Clint, Tina, Jasmine and Jeanne, Nana and Grandpa—my parents who are getting old. Eleven crowded around the table. No grandchildren yet.

The children know my tension as soon as they walk in from church. How to seat? How not to make it look just like last Sunday dinner? So contrived.

I at one end, Duncan the other. Next to him Nana, then Grandpa, on the other side Jasmine and Jeanne. Next to me Jared and Rachel, the other side of me Clint and Katherine. Tina in the middle playing co-facilitator. Some occasional switching is possible as long as Clint is next to me and Nana and Jeanne are at the far end away from him. Nana’s eighty-year-old instinct was keener than we knew. She loathed him at first sight.

I juggle roast beef, green whipped-cream Jell-O, browned carrots and potatoes, rolls for Jasmine, home-made raspberry jam, chocolate mousse for Jared made from Clint’s recipe from his Swiss mission. How long had they been married then … two years?

Rachel and Jared a year. Katherine is pregnant.

[p.44]So how does this gathering go? Better if Duncan would help with the conversation. Grandpa helps. He asks Jeanne about her new horse. Nana is horrible, nothing’s right, her neck is tight. Clint and Katherine and Jared and Rachel talk about someone from church preaching food storage before it’s too late. I ask if eschatological is the right word and try to distract them with quotes from Will Durant’s Age of Faith—an appropriate title for our dinner table conversation. Clint pours water; he always wants more. Katherine had to pick out extra big goblets for her wedding crystal. Tina is tormented by his invasive questions about her boyfriends but will never react directly. She laughs and blushes. No one deals with anything about him except Nana who glares. I’ll shove her out the front door the minute the mousse is consumed. Jeanne reacts. Her silent hate for him floats over us like the odor of the rare beef. She refuses to sit by him.

I look at Clint. He’s wondering why Duncan never asks him to say the blessing on the food. Duncan doesn’t know why his prayer assignments are biased. I watch. All I feel is protectiveness. I must protect Katherine from what’s really going on at this table, and I can’t let Clint know of his own pain. That’s what I work at along with clearing dishes and bringing more potatoes. The blankness in Clint’s eyes is so great—it will consume us all.

There’s no room for Jasmine or Jeanne. They’ll escape soon to the trampoline and Duncan to the dishes. Grandpa and Nana will be expelled. Rachel and Jared will go into the family room and look at snapshots of our trip to Mexico. Katherine and Tina and I will be left with Clint’s eyes. We’ll try valiantly to fill them up.

Stories take on a life. This story … maybe I’m not remembering it right. Who can tell for sure?

Moonlight sparkles the black pinion pines. I’m shaking now; my eyes are bleary. The dashboard lights are fuzzy, greener than [p.45]they should be. St. George is still eighty miles. An arrow points the way to Kanab and the Grand Canyon. I need someone to talk to. I’d talk about the Grand Canyon.

Have you seen the Grand Canyon at dawn? I would ask. It’s not red sandstone cliffs at all. The sun faintly blushes the upper rocks, but the immensity is almost all purple and gray shadow. Darkness. Deep caverns.

Once I lay on its edge at sunrise. I was fifteen. The world turned under me. I could feel it turning. I couldn’t tell where the rough molecules of sandstone ended and my cheek began. Perhaps once I truly was a stone. Perhaps lying there alone at dawn was the best single moment of my life.

In my head I see the path through the Kaibab forest leading to the North Rim. There are flying squirrels in the Kaibab. Did you know that? Those squirrels live nowhere else on earth.

Over and over during the past seven years, I watch myself walk that path. A dirt path, narrow. Indian paintbrush and wild columbine and bristlecone pines thousands of years old. I can’t look at them. There’s no hurry, but I have to keep moving: I go to the rim and its purple shadows. There’s no fear or pain in that. I don’t want to die, but perhaps there’ll be no choice. One step and I’ll be part of the shadow. It feels good to have that option. It’s my biggest comfort. I must go to the very edge and look down and then decide. No one can come near me there, alone. Two German tourists disappeared from that path this summer. I envy them.

Over and over this scene is my escape. It’s beautiful and awesome and obsessive. Sometimes it’s irresistible.

I know I can’t turn around on the path to the canyon. I can stop on the edge but not turn around. I try hard to think if there are other choices. I concentrate while I look at the ever-changing light and shadow.

[p.46]I don’t know what I’ll do. I like not knowing. I like the power of my own control. I like the wild columbine and the purple dawn.

I’m not on the road to the Grand Canyon. I’m not at a dinner table. I’m on 1-15 barely out of Cedar City trying not to drive over sixty-four.

Seventeen years ago, where was I? Thinking about going to graduate school, worrying about my teenagers, driving Jeanne to dancing, serving on the United Way Board.

Seventeen years ago I could have looked at my youngest child. I could have said, “Jasmine, my baby, is five years old, in kindergarten, singing, ‘Who has new shoes, pretty, pretty new shoes, who has new shoes on today? Jasmine skip around and play.’”

They’ve asked her to be Mary in the Sunday Christmas pageant. I’m making a royal blue long dress, and she’ll wear my light blue chiffon scarf over her blond curls. None of my other girls was ever Mary.

Last Mother’s Day she sang a solo in church: “Mother I love you, Mother I do, Father in heaven has sent me to you.” She licked the microphone before she began and sent a rasping noise through the chapel. Everyone laughed. Then she sang, right in tune, loudly, bravely.

She’s five. We adore her. When she broke her leg on the trampoline last summer, she’d go out and jump on it, cast and all. She’s very brave.

In seventeen years I’ll find out what Clint is doing to her little body, what he’s doing now. In seventeen years she’ll start to remember. She’ll go through her own hell, like all the other prematurely aged five-year-olds.

But now she’s going to be Mary. My Mary.

Is it possible what I’ve done? His shattered brains and flesh?

[p.47]When I said I could kill if it were necessary, no one believed me. They thought it was melodrama. I knew that I could.

When Tina was a tiny baby, her legs were bowed outward. Cowboy legs. The bones were so pliable, they could gradually be bent and straightened. When she was about two months old, the doctor cast them for a couple of months. Before that, the doctors said, bending her legs would help the most. Someone had to do that if she was to have straight legs. That’s what they said. Medieval medicine. Who was worrying about her feelings, her mind? They showed me how to bend them. I held the tiny leg in my big hands and slowly, as gently and gradually as I could, bent it inward. When she cried, I’d know I’d bent it enough, they told me.

Twice a day. Never mind that I was the person she trusted and was most bonded to. Duncan couldn’t bear to be in the room. Even my tough old mother left, although she’d have done it herself if she’d had to. I bent my tiny baby’s legs until she screamed. I thought I had to. I thought it was necessary.

Am I saying killing Clint was necessary? The answer changes too fast to get hold of it. The hate I feel can be tolerated for only seconds at a time. But sometimes there’s a compassion for Clint so overwhelming I have to push it away. The easiest way would have been to say I couldn’t judge him. Him or anyone. Instead I said, “If it’s necessary, I could kill.” They didn’t believe me, but I knew. The planet was too small to hold us both. Now his legion of victims has stopped growing.

There are a few drops of rain, but the windshield will smear if I turn the wipers on. That’s all I need—a bad storm. If I used cruise control, I could stretch out my right leg. But I don’t want to use cruise. It makes me feel out of control.

I still can’t believe the apathy, the inaction of my church. After Elizabeth and the other children told about Clint and the others, we went to the bishop. No response, no help. Duncan was [p.48]fuming that the church wouldn’t respond. He said it was all because the daughter and son-in-law of a Mormon apostle had been named as perpetrators. No one believed the children. The police quit investigating then too. Almost overnight they dropped our case when they learned that the apostle’s family was implicated. “Total cover up,” Duncan said.

So we tried going to other church leaders. We went to the newly appointed bishop in Jared and Katherine’s old neighborhood where the apostle’s daughter and her husband still lived.

“Bishop,” we said, “children are being destroyed.”

“That’s your opinion,” he said, “but it’s not my responsibility. You could go see the stake president.”

We went to the stake president, a kind, cheery man with words for every occasion. “President,” we said, “children are being destroyed.”

“That’s terrible,” he said. “I’ll see what I can do.”

He phoned us later. “My superiors won’t let me touch it. I’m sorry. But I know God will take care of it. Let’s stay in touch.”

Why didn’t he just say, “You’re on your own.”

This was all we got from our church, “the one true church,” “the only church led by Christ.”

Now I’m thinking maybe I’ll call up God like in the Judy Blume books Autunm reads. He might have a deal where Jasmine and Jeanne can get off the hook. I’d offer anything for that. Homemade bread, iced herbal tea, wearing Mormon underwear. I could manage most anything for that.

Am I bitter? Did our church leaders do the best they could? Duncan says I’m not hard enough on them. He says, “Wait till they’ve been sued for child abuse. Then maybe they won’t protect church officers.”

He’s angrier than I … he still believes. He still …

[p.49]What’s the flashing light? I haven’t been speeding! They must know!

Pull over. Just pull over and stay calm. I’ve never been so scared. What can I say?

He’s gone by. Right by me. I’m shaking so hard I can’t breathe. He must have been chasing that little car that passed me. This is worse than when I did it. ‘

I can’t do this. I’m shaking so hard I can’t move; my heart is thundering.

Sit still. Just sit still. You’ve got time. Deep breaths. It had nothing to do with you.

I’m so tired. It’s too hard to lift my foot from the brake to the gas pedal; too hard to make my arms turn the wheel. Maybe I’ll sit here and close my eyes a while.

This exhaustion is defeat.

How could things have gone so wrong? Where did we begin to take the path leading to this desolation? Twenty million Russians died in World War II and that doesn’t count the purges. What’s my pain in the face of that? But I can’t help it. Privileged or not, it’s mine.

I dread being vulnerable to feelings I don’t want. I dissemble daily and hide from pitying eyes. If only I could claim the horror and allow myself to feel it, maybe I could get through it. I don’t know what’ll happen. I’m numb. Like I was with dad.

Dad was eighty-three and I knew he was dying. The doctors hadn’t diagnosed the cancer yet. Sick as he was, his struggle with Mother played on. Mother was a master of altruistic control. As she got older, she expressed baffled rage that her world and the people in it didn’t behave as they should. She spoke in platitudes: “If we just replace unpleasant thoughts with happy ones, everything will be fine.” Our response was silence. She left no space in the empty cardboard boxes of her words for dispute.

[p.50]And now my father was going to die. I was blank. Their pain, anger, fear and bewilderment that they were old, which they’d never intended, disguised itself in constant bickering over whether the chicken was cooked enough, whether to have potatoes or rice, when the only relevant question was, “What’s wrong? Why can’t he eat? Why’s he so weak?” The question Mother in her terror resisted asking with all her strength and soul.

My uninvolvement was a sin. All I felt when I was with them was vague foggy hopelessness. There was his last birthday family dinner. He faltered in blessing the food and his family, his voice trembling and choked with piety and emotion. The pity I felt was unbearable. I would’ve run from the room if I could have. I sat in that dining chair confused and ashamed in a strange juxtaposition of victim and judge, while Mother said how wonderful it was that he was feeling better. “His old self,” she said. I couldn’t trust her world of let’s pretend. Is this why I clung to the security of the church and what the Greer family offered over my own? Why did I never tell Dad that I knew how terrified he was? If I knew that we were play-acting, why couldn’t I have rung down the curtain? If Mother wrote the scripts, I delivered my lines on cue. Children do, I guess, but I was an adult.

I can drive now. I’m back on the freeway facing the lights of oncoming cars. I think I can make it to St. George.

There are a few times I remember in detail about being little. Holidays, like Christmas and Easter. My doll Goldenhair was an Easter present. Goldenhair was new, clean, and so beautiful. She was my most loved possession. She was cloth, with a painted face and black button eyes. I don’t know the origin of her name because her hair was actually medium brown yarn. Perhaps it was wishful thinking. She wore white pajamas with blue polka dots and string ties on the shoulders.

We were driving to the Midget Waffle one Sunday evening [p.51]to get our usual treat: fried eggs on sugared waffles with hot chocolate. It was a lovely summer evening when dogs and five-year-olds hung from car windows. Goldenhair was swinging happily from my hand, her body bounding in the wind. Daddy said if I dropped her he wouldn’t stop. I did. He didn’t. I knew he was right, his wisdom was absolute, I was bad to have lost her, abandoned her to tires or dogs. I didn’t blame him, didn’t argue or cry, even though I knew Mother was angry with him for such discipline. I didn’t lose things out car windows again. Goldenhair was still my most beloved doll. My father I never quite forgave; but most of all I remember the helplessness of not being able to affect or even approach the total power of grownups. Goldenhair was gone, and there was nothing I could do.

Was this anything like the helplessness Jeanne felt when she was little? It had to have been enormous. Complete, awful helplessness in the face of grownups. Complete abandonment with no one to tell. That’s what all sexually molested children share: total abandonment. Every moment I thought I was there for them. Every moment they faced total abandonment. I thought Duncan and I were creating a family life that was somewhere between Father Knows Best and The Brady Bunch. But our youngest children were living in a horror movie. Can that really be true? I don’t know anything for certain anymore. Nothing is what I expected.

The pines and moonlight are beautiful. I can’t bear to look at them. How long? Twenty, thirty miles.

Over and over I’ve asked myself, how could I not have known about Jeanne’s and Jasmine’s abuse? When the grandchildren talked, the spinning record in my brain played endlessly, “If Clint touched my children, I’ll kill him.” But I didn’t. How amazing that I didn’t right then when Jeanne finally started to remember two years ago.

[p.52]Adults in therapy groups almost always say they’d kill if anyone abused their child. They mean it too. Do they have any idea what killing a person means? One mother shot the molester of her children right in the courtroom last year. Did she agonize first? Did I? Enough?

Jeanne and Jasmine will do whatever is required to heal. But the why will never stop. Nor the anguish of our family. How much of this total screw-up of my life has been caused by Clint? And how much worse will it be now?

Duncan always quotes the Rubaiyat. “Loaf of bread, jug of wine and thou …” In reality, there isn’t much wine or singing. You’re lucky if you have bread. A world without thou—is that what I’m entering?

The summer Jeanne began to remember, she didn’t cry in front of us. Every day I wondered how Chris could bear it—her pain—her distance—her self-absorption. So different from the girl he met in college. I remember thinking every single day, Jeanne doesn’t cry in front of us. She sits in the hammock in the glowing green garden where new ducklings are hatching. She pushes the hammock with one long leg. She weeps. For months and months, she pushes the hammock with one long leg.

She reads Nausea and The Brothers Karamazov. She weeps. The ducklings peep. She protects them. She weeps. When she tries Hamlet, she changes the words to “Break my heart, for must I hold my tongue?” The irises change to peonies. She pushes the hammock. She weeps.

She looks at her reflection in the pool. The ripples distort it and she can’t make it out. She sits in the hammock in the green garden and the shadows stretch long across the lawn. She weeps.

When Jeanne was little, she couldn’t talk about it. She [p.53]would’ve died before she’d have exposed Jasmine to the threats Clint made. Her task in life became to keep Jasmine alive. She told no one, not even herself after a while.

When she began to remember, she couldn’t breathe. Over and over there were moments, hours, and days when she fought for breath. It wasn’t only because he’d stuffed pillows and his temple garments over her face and mouth, and her body remembered the fight to live; it was also because if she breathed, she might talk.

And then, miraculously, Jeanne began to talk—privately, carefully, slowly. It was when she was twenty-four, after she married Chris. Measured, courageous risking. Jeanne didn’t die. Clint had lied to Jeanne. Jeanne knows now that Clint lied, but still she searches for the words and still she doesn’t breathe. Every day I want to call her and say, “Jasmine isn’t dead.” Instead I’m meeting her and Duncan in Mesquite, not too far beyond St. George. She’ll drive my car back to Salt Lake in the silence of not breathing.