I want to be angry. I want to hate the teacher that gave me that bunny. I want to hate everyone that turned their backs on me and stayed silent.
But I can’t be angry, and I can’t hate. Because I, too, stayed silent.
When I was in Catholic elementary school, students were encouraged to serve the church as altar servers (basically, assistants to the priest). I didn’t do it because I enjoyed it or wanted to be a good Catholic; by then I had already turned away from God. I actually did it for the money (altar servers were paid to serve weddings and funerals).
One day after mass, the priest told the other server I was with to stay back (we were supposed to go back to class), and they went back into the rectory. I didn’t understand what was so important that he had to go back to his room, but I shrugged it off and went back to class.
And then it happened again. The same priest, the same boy. At first I was mad, thinking that I was missing out on something. My instinct led me to follow them to the back, but the priest turned around and stopped me. I told him I wanted to go, but he said it was a special thing for boys only.
In that moment, I knew. Those words he spoke were words I had heard before. But I didn’t say anything. I left them alone and went back to class as if nothing had happened. I never told anyone what was going on. I stayed silent, just as everyone else had stayed silent. That boy was much younger than me and I failed to protect him, just like others had failed to protect me.
But how could I have known? I grew up in a family that taught silence. I was raised in a religion that promoted secrecy through its own action (and inaction). I attended schools where the tuition not only paid for education, but for silence as well. Speaking up would be too much of a financial risk. One allegation and the student gets pulled out of school, along with the thousands of dollars per year in tuition. It’s much better to turn the other way and ignore it. Just pray about it. Jesus will help.
Jesus didn’t help me, and Jesus didn’t help that boy. Prayers don’t stop abuse. Plush bunnies don’t keep children safe. Silence isn’t the answer. Yet people keep choosing it. I keep choosing it.
And now I am left with unresolved emotions.
I am left with anger I’m not sure I deserve to feel. How can I be angry at others for doing the same thing to me that I did to that boy? Every time any inkling of anger rises to the surface, I can’t let it out, because being angry at them means I would have to be angry at me. I can’t put someone down for the same sins I have committed. That would make me a hypocrite. So what can I do? I want to be angry, but I can’t. It’s not that simple.
I am left with tremendous guilt. I think about that boy, about the other boys that could have been hurt. All because I chose to be silent. If I had just spoken up, it would all be different. No one else could have been hurt.
I think about the children my mother could have hurt. If I had just spoken up about her, she would have been stopped. I wouldn’t have been hurt anymore. Others wouldn’t have been hurt. My mother would be sitting in a prison cell, unable to hurt anyone ever again. But I didn’t speak up. Instead I let my mother continue to destroy me. I chose silence.
And now I am the one paying the price.