When I was in first grade, my teacher gave me a small plush bunny. She told me to hold on to it, that it would help me feel safe. And I did. I held on to it for years. I never thought anything of it.
While I was shopping in a store awhile back, I came across a small plush bunny. The bunny looked just like the one my teacher had given me. I remembered. I remembered everything. Then I immediately pushed it all away.
It was not the sweet childhood memory it should have been. It was much more complicated than that. And I didn’t want to bring it all up, so I pushed it back down and buried it and pretended like that memory didn’t exist.
Until the memory came up again. I was sitting in therapy, trying to think of childhood memories, and that memory popped through once again. I smiled at first because I felt the care I was given when my teacher gave 7 year-old me that bunny. Then my smile disappeared and I remembered things I didn’t want to remember. I had thoughts I didn’t want to think about.
I wanted to bury it all again. I didn’t want to think about what that memory meant. I didn’t want to feel the pain in my heart. But I did. And all I could do was cry.
Why did that teacher give me that bunny? Why did she tell me it would help me feel safe? Why did she think I needed to feel safe?
Those were the questions I thought of when that memory first came up, and I immediately pushed it all back down. In my adult mind, I knew the answers, and they were the answers that I did not want to hear. They were the answers I could not handle. And here they were, coming up again. I didn’t want to go there. I didn’t want to face the reality of what it all meant. The possibility that my teacher knew the truth, that she knew I was being abused.
My child self may have thought that bunny helped, because my child self didn’t know any better. But my adult self knows that a bunny wasn’t going to help me. A bunny wasn’t what I needed to be safe. A bunny wasn’t going to stop my mother from hurting me. I needed someone to help me. I needed someone to be my voice. Instead all I got was a plush bunny.
That teacher wasn’t the only person to stay silent. There were others: teachers, family members, family friends. Some of them admitted that they knew something was going on but just didn’t want to get involved, they didn’t want to cross any lines. Then there were other people who had to have known, but just ignored the signs.
It hurts. Sometimes it hurts worse than what my mother and father did to me. I think that it’s hard for people to understand. It doesn’t make much logical sense. How could being ignored hurt worse than the actual abuse?
It’s a different type of pain. It’s not the sting from a cut or the ache from a bruise or shooting pain of a broken bone. It’s a deep pain in your heart. The pain of being invisible. The pain of being unworthy of anyone’s love or attention. The pain of being so worthless that no one would help you.
My parents always told me to stay silent. Did they tell all of those other people, too? Why did no one speak for me? Why didn’t they help? Why did they stay silent? How was I supposed to know I mattered if no one ever acted like I mattered?
I was a child who held out hope that someone would save me. I needed to matter to someone. I needed to be seen. But time and time again, people turned their backs on me. I wanted my parents to be wrong. Instead I grew up believing they must have been right.
4 thoughts on “The Cost of Silence, Part 1”
That is awful!!!!!! You DIDNT need a bunny!!!!!, that bunny should have been a rage full protector there to take you away from the bad! Those who did nothing do cause terrible pain. For me, some days it’s equal to the crime itself
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Yes…equal to the crime itself. That is how I feel sometimes. It shouldn’t be that way.
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I had that same thought as soon as I read that this teacher wanted you to have it “to feel safe.” If she knew, or even suspected, that you weren’t safe, she had the obligation to report that. Of course it’s awkward, uncomfortable, or even scary. But we depend on the professionals who work with children to speak up if something seems to be wrong.
I am not sure, but I can imagine that most people who keep silent are afraid. They are afraid that they are wrong and will ruin a family’s life. They are afraid that the parents will “get back at them.” They are afraid of stirring the pot. They are afraid it will be time-consuming and complicated and don’t they already have enough stress in their lives? These aren’t really good reasons, but I think if we recognize that these are some of the reasons that people don’t speak up, then we could help counter them. For example, teachers could go through a training on warning signs and on appropriate ways to respond (gifting stuffed animals to an abused child would not be on the list of appropriate responses). Principals would be trained to support and protect teachers from any backlash.
I ache for the little you that needed more than a plush bunny. And I would like to see the system changed so this is not repeated in thousands of classrooms all over the country.
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I agree with your points.
I’m not sure if this has changed (I am hoping it has since I’ve been in school), but private/religious schools had a tendency to stray away from any controversy, and unfortunately that meant ignoring obvious things like abuse. I’ve connected with people over the years who had similar experiences in Catholic school settings.
But even overall, as you said, there needs to be more training overall.