Riptide
by Marion Smith

Chapter 18

[p.157]We’re almost there. My stomach’s doing cartwheels.

“I want to drive, okay?”

We pull over and I slide behind the wheel.

“Vengeance is a dish best served cold.” Who said that? I think it was a Klingon proverb, from Autumn’s Star Trek movies. My vengeance was cold. It had simmered over time like love. Like molten lava buried deep in a mountain, then cooled into an ice-cold block inside me that no diamond could have scratched.

“If they charged me with murder, do you think the time-lapse since Clint’s crimes against our family would be held against me?”

“The fact that the statute of limitations for criminally prosecuting him has run out?” Duncan asks. “Seems to me that’s in our favor. There’s no way law enforcement could act now, unless a child he’s molesting right now talked. It’s more likely they’d try to use the argument about victims having false memory against you. They could say that Jeanne and Jasmine had false memories and so did all his other adult victims who’ve accused him.”

I try to concentrate on his words. I can’t stand being in this car much longer. It’s hard to understand what he’s saying.

“I don’t see how they could claim ‘false memory’ in our case. The grandchildren had no memory repression. Neither did a lot of his other victims. Only a couple of adults had any hypnosis. No [p.158]one responded to suggestions made by therapists. If a jury ever watched someone go through memories from abuse, they’d know it wasn’t false. Nobody wants to remember this garbage. They think they’re crazy and try to keep denying the memories. But the mind won’t let you. It goes off like a time bomb. The number of people who’ve remembered things ‘falsely’ must be a tiny fraction of those with memory recovery.”

“I know,” Duncan says. “It’s the blame-the-victim backlash going on now. Nobody wants to think that the huge number of child victims we’re seeing today means there’s an awful lot of adults out there who were molested when they were little. Our society doesn’t want to believe that. They want to kill the messenger, and the messenger is the adult who was a victim of child sexual abuse.”

“And the so-called ‘unethical’ and ‘irresponsible’ therapists who’ve planted these memories—what a joke! The therapists I know get so burned-out with their abuse survivors, they dread having a client who remembers.”

“Probably some people have been wrongly accused and that’s horrible. But anyone who doubts that repressed memory is real ought to spend time with our family and live through some memories,” Duncan notes bitterly.

“Yeah, tell me how for years they could fake panic attacks, nightmares, sexual dysfunction, dissociation, amnesia, flashbacks, rage, terror, depression; and body memories, like numbness or terrible pain, when there’s nothing wrong physically—the list is endless.”

“Don’t forget eating disorders,” Duncan says. “We’ve seen it all. I guess you’re right. The prosecution wouldn’t get very far using false memory against you.”

It’s light now. It must be after 7:00. Soon the highway will be shimmering with heat waves.

[p.159]“Do you think anyone understands why child abuse causes such awful symptoms?” Duncan asks, in a flat tired voice.

We’ve talked about that a hundred times. Maybe he’s trying to divert me.

“Who knows? Anthropologists say the incest taboo is almost universal. “

“Yeah,” he agrees. “Primates and a lot of mammals don’t breed with close kin, the prohibition is that deep and that old. Do you think that’s why children get stuck developmentally at the age abuse starts?”

“Probably. Something in you knows the adults who are supposed to be protecting you are betraying you. There goes any feeling of safety or trust. Then there’s the guilt and secrecy; children always think it’s their fault, that they’re bad and dirty. ’Cause it’s more empowering to be guilty than helpless. If you’re guilty, there’s the chance you can change things.”

“The therapists said the secrecy’s as bad as the abuse.”

“An invasion of our bodies is different from anything else. Our bodies are our souls.”

Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Jasmine was too little when we let her see that movie. Is it Clint’s body or his soul that’s snatched away? I hope he has eternity to work this out; maybe I’ll need that long too.

“It’s a nightmare,” Duncan says and turns to gaze out the window.

A nightmare. We’ve all had enough of those.

After the grandchildren talked, I don’t think I slept for a year without nightmares. It was the same when Jeanne started to remember.

In one of my dreams, Clint was a monster-size black crab with huge pincers reaching everywhere for all of us. We were tiny, miniature people burrowing in the sand as he slowly crawled [p.160]toward us. There was always a child I’d forgotten to hide, and as his claws picked up that child, I would wake up. Seemed like that dream repeated itself endlessly.

There was another dream where I was looking into a decorated Easter egg, the kind with a little scene inside. The scene was a tiny Peter Rabbit-like living room, knotty pine, burning fire, wooden furniture, pink and yellow and pale blue squares of quilts and wallpaper and braided rugs—safe, cozy, idyllic. I picked up the egg and shook it. Then I was both inside the room being shaken and outside doing the shaking. We flew around the room hitting the furniture and the pink and blue walls until we were bruised and bleeding. There was no noise, no cries or screams, no crackling fire. We kept flying around helplessly. I couldn’t stop shaking the egg. I hated that dream.

Then, there was a dream where Autumn was swinging from a rope from a steep cliff over a dark pool. She swung out several times, then let go. Her toes were pointed, her arms straight above her head, her pony tails flying upwards. She was a missile streaking to the black water below. She dropped into the pool; there were bubbles and circles of current, but she didn’t reappear. None of us could jump to her. We stared at the water and couldn’t move.

My dreams wouldn’t stop. There was a little boy, like Shawn, in quicksand sinking; I had a stick reaching to him from the edge, but he couldn’t grasp it and slowly sank.

Then there were the dreams where I’m watching Clint molest someone and I can’t stop him.

I’m sick of dreaming. I don’t want to dream about being in that car with him and squeezing the trigger.

I want to drop Duncan off in Palm Springs and drive away. I never want to see anyone I know again.

I’m tired. How many dirty dishes, how many loads of laundry, how many pancakes flipped and turkeys basted? How [p.161]many beds made, dogs fed, sweaters bought? How many business dinners with Duncan? How many stories, songs, spelling lists, papers typed? How many balls thrown to Jared, piano scales endured for Tina?

It comes to nothing in their minds. Duncan never thinks about the hours spent matching socks, any more than I do about his hours on the phone selling securities or looking for new business.

Human aspirations are never fulfilled. But we keep on having them or we die. They give our lives meaning, I guess.

Viktor Frankl said that people can manage suffering as long as their suffering has meaning. He said that, after everyone he loved had died in concentration camps.

“Duncan,” I look at him. “What do you think Clint’s death means?”

He reflects a moment. “It means another burden we’ll have to carry. It means the world’s a little bit better place; some children won’t suffer like ours did.”

“Why is it a burden if the world’s better?”

“Because we’ll always live in fear.”

“So it’s the consequences to us, not the immorality of the action?”

Duncan considers. “It’s both. You always have to wonder what God will say.”

I’m sickened by this god who won’t help us protect little children. Then it dawns on me what Duncan has committed because of me.

“Have you jeopardized your soul for me?”

No answer. Then, “Not for you. I didn’t do it for you. I did it for revenge and to protect future generations. It will always haunt me.”

He jeopardized his soul because I asked him to, because he [p.162]couldn’t abandon me. Yet he would kill in war, or if a prowler broke into his house. Why is this any different, any worse?

I never should’ve told him.

I have to find my own meaning. Create it like Sartre said. Duncan can’t help me.

Okay. What are my possible positions?

Morally, would any traditional mandates say I’m justified? Use Christ’s words: Clint’s death is something I’d want for myself if I were him. I did it unto Clint as I’d truly wish for me. Or be utilitarian. This is the greatest good for the greatest number. No problem there. What would existentialists say? That we each must act out of our own integrity and emotional intuition. I pass. Or there’s Kant and his categorical imperative. My act could be repeated universally given what Clint was. Suppose we’re all connected to each other, so that anything done to one affects the rest. Can violence to anyone be reconciled with that? Non-violent resistance, even with Gandhi and King, still ended in bloodshed, as they had to know it would. If you take responsibility for any action, you include the potential for harm in that responsibility. Then there’s “an eye for an eye”—the foundation for our whole legal system whether we like to admit it or not.

Even if I believe I can’t harm any living thing without hurting myself, did killing him harm him?

If I’m so moral, why am I haunted? Is it the Christian ethic I was raised in?

“Father, forgive them for they know not—” There’s the rub. I don’t know if Clint “knew” or not. I don’t know how accountable he was. I’ve deprived Clint from working out his own salvation, and I can’t know for sure that he never would’ve done it. Have I become what he is?

I sound like Hamlet. Only after the fact instead of before. I [p.163]wonder if it will end like Hamlet … ? “If you execute revenge, dig two graves.”

What would I say to Duncan if I could tell him what I feel? How do I express the meaning of my life? Our lives are stories of searches for meaning. Metaphors.

I live in a metaphor. It’s hard to communicate the image; it’s who I am. By changing my metaphor, I can recreate my life. No one wants to see my image, no one asks. It’s’ mine.

I’m a large, beautifully colored moth like the ones that get stuck on the black paint of the stairs at our cabin. Maybe I’m a gypsy moth, I’m not sure of the name. I’m not on the steps. I’m camouflaged in soft earth. The dust allows me to sink as deeply as I need to. There’s a pile of gray cinder-block bricks placed on top of me—neatly stacked—no one knows that I am here. The blocks are identical and hand-made. Some are heavier than others, but all are placed precisely so they won’t topple. These blocks have names: Jeanne, Chris, Jared, Rachel, Jasmine, Katherine, Tina, Shawn, Elizabeth, Autumn, Melinda, Alisha. None of the people who made these blocks intended to make a pile of them. They never chose to smother anyone.

Duncan stands close. Although he has no block, there’s a boulder balanced precariously above him. It’s been there for a long time and seems stable, but who can ever know how safe it is to be under a balanced boulder? He wants to run, but his legs won’t move to safety.

None of these people wants to trap a moth. They like moths. But they have other things to carry, and it’s only to be expected that they should put down blocks wherever they can. The bricks are treacherous, for if they put one down, they all still hold its double.

It’s a lot of weight for a moth, but the ground gives way [p.164]enough that I’m still alive. I’m afraid there’ll soon be no oxygen and it’s dark except for small cracks of light.

I’m sorry for this moth. I want everyone to be sorry for it, else why am I telling this long story? Not knowing for myself the weight of all the loads they carry, I think I’d rather be one of the people carrying bricks.

Because the ground is soft, I know I can wiggle a millimeter at a time toward an edge of the pile where I can emerge, but it takes colossal strength and I don’t know for sure. If my wings get torn or broken, I’d just as soon stay here waiting for the oxygen to slowly drizzle out. After all, I knew what I was doing when I chose this earth to settle in, a place where blocks can fall.

I don’t want Duncan to see me. I want him to know my story without telling him. I need to change my metaphor.

He’s searching the radio for the morning news. Why do I expect an item on a murder in Utah? Who in L.A. would bother about a killing in Utah?

“Duncan, I want to fly home this morning. No one will ever know I’ve been here. It’s ridiculous to have you involved in aiding and abetting. One of us is enough.”

“Come on, Laurel. I know what I’m doing. There’s no way I’ll discuss it.”

“That’s what I want to do. I mean it. Think about it. It makes more sense for everyone.”

“Let’s just get to Palm Springs. You’ll feel better after some food.”

Will I?