A Haibun: What Lies Beneath

Today at Poets United, Susan is asking to write to the theme of Survival – violence against women, those who survived and those who didn’t.  I am linking there today and will link to d’Verse Poets for their Open Link Night Thursday.  For Poets United, here is the link:  http://poetryblogroll.blogspot.com/2015/11/poets-united-midweek-motif-survival.html

What Lies Beneath
A quiet neighborhood – tall oaks and magnolia trees, friendly lawns, old houses surrounded by box, old roses, gardenia bushes, children out playing after dark – hide and seek, capturing fireflies to put into lidded jars – holes punched in the lids with blades of grass inside – to set by bedsides to blink blink blink until morning when the jar was opened and the fireflies returned to their homes in the grass or bushes. Across the street from us, a Greek family who owned a small restaurant, next door to us a professor of World Literature at Duke, on the other side, a lawyer and his family, a daughter my age – and so on up and down the block. Respectable hard-working, church/synagogue/mass going people. Well behaved children who studied hard and played harder. Doors were never locked. My best friend, Terri, was the eldest daughter of the lawyer and we were together from after breakfast until supper time. My next best friend, Effie, daughter of restaurant owner completed the trio. From toddlers to tweens – through thick and thin.

When we started middle school, Terri grew distant. She told Effie and me she couldn’t play with us anymore that she was grown up now and needed to study for university. She came home from school and went into her house. She came out the next day and got into her father’s car and was taken to school, no longer walking with us. We had suddenly lost our friend. We’d go to the kitchen door and knock. Sometimes her mother but more often, her father told us Terri could not play. She had to study. We knew something was wrong with the sure certainty of children but we could do nothing. Slowly Terri dropped out of our lives. We saw her in passing or in the halls at school. From plump and amiable to thin and tense. She had the eyes of an animal caught in a trap but was too afraid to chew off her leg to escape the trap. When it was time, she went to university, at Duke, a few blocks away. I went away to university and she passed out of my life. A few months before I graduated, I received a letter from Terri. Simply put she said, “I am sorry. I was always your friend. Please forgive me. “ I returned home after graduation. My mother told me Terri had committed suicide. She had left a letter in the mailbox of their priest. Her father had been using her and her ten year old sister as sex slaves. He had threatened them with death and worse if they did not do as he wished. Her mother went along with it because she was so fearful herself. Who knew such a stolid, amiable, respected man was a monster? If houses could speak, they would scream in the night from the nightmares within.

Weeping for a friend
Who loved firefly nightlights – hate
For the man who stole them.

free public domain image


52 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Mama Zen
    Nov 25, 2015 @ 16:06:26

    This just tears your heart out.


  2. Susan
    Nov 25, 2015 @ 16:08:40

    What a hard story to tell! It has poetic moments within it and an amazing ending. WOW! I sense it is true, because I’ve heard to many stories like it. Even one is too many.


  3. Sherry Blue Sky
    Nov 25, 2015 @ 16:10:48

    Whoa, what an incredible punch to the gut this story is, Toni. Picture perfect exteriors hide terrible secrets, everywhere. How tragic. I am glad she told someone, and am so sorry she didnt make it out of that terrible childhood. I hope the father was charged. Regardless, he had to live with himself the rest of his life. A punishment in itself.


    • kanzensakura
      Nov 25, 2015 @ 16:24:27

      I left home soon after that. The priest felt compelled to tell but I have no idea what happened. He was a brilliant lawyer and I imagine, got one equally as good and so it probably just disappeared. If you have money and influence and connections, anything can be done. but my mother told me he and the wife never returned to the country club. She thinks they moved to another state. I have a feeling, he had no remorse.


  4. Sanaa Rizvi (@rizvi_sanaa)
    Nov 25, 2015 @ 16:58:20

    This is so heartbreaking 😦 what a horrible man he must be to have put his family through a nightmare worse than anything we can imagine. So deeply sorry to hear this Toni. My heart goes out to you. Big hugs.


  5. nmykel
    Nov 25, 2015 @ 19:33:31

    I am an incest survivor. Thank you for sharing this story and please check out my site at http://nanmykel.com/.


    • PetruJViljoen
      Nov 28, 2015 @ 02:56:58

      Hi. So am I. Off to your blog now.


    • PetruJViljoen
      Nov 28, 2015 @ 03:38:42

      Nan, on your blog, under Journalling, a sentence grabbed me: ”due to the automaticity of knee-jerk habitual verbalizations. And neither speaker nor listener is mining deeply, except sometimes in a therapy session.”


    • PetruJViljoen
      Nov 28, 2015 @ 03:56:25

      And this paragraph under Our Shadow Selves: ”Then there’s culture’s influence as demonstrated by the Milgrim Experiment (1961) , which spotlighted man’s vulnerability to the power of obedience to unethical instructions from authority figures. The Sanford Experiment (1971), by Philip Zimbardo revealed the extent to which power corrupts (staged experiment involving “prisoners” and “prison staff”.) And too, there’s the bystander effect, as illustrated by the murder of Kitty Genovese in 1964, while 38 people looked on without even phoning the police during a half-hour period of carnage. Someone called, after she was dead. Kind of the reverse of mob hysteria, or mob rule.”


  6. oldegg
    Nov 25, 2015 @ 19:50:37

    As the father of two loving daughters I wept at this overwhelming story of abuse. Thanking you for writing and posting it.


  7. Grace
    Nov 25, 2015 @ 21:13:08

    What a tragedy ~ Who knew such things can happen to one’s friend and neighbor ~ So sorry to hear this Toni ~


  8. Mary
    Nov 25, 2015 @ 21:34:02

    Oh, Toni, this breaks my heart!! Painful to read……and I am sure this experience will stay with you for life.


  9. Björn Rudberg (brudberg)
    Nov 26, 2015 @ 05:06:52

    I have tears in my eyes and feels that as a man I should speak even louder.. the snide remarks is not enough. I have no children of my own, but feel even stronger for every child and woman who’s trapped with such a monster. I just wish that they had dared to out him without killing herself… and the fact that it’s the truth make it all the stronger.


  10. Jae Rose
    Nov 26, 2015 @ 08:44:48

    A powerful write – and yet i admire Terri for leaving that note for her friends ..it was the right people to leave it for..although sad…i hope they found comfort in that


    • kanzensakura
      Nov 26, 2015 @ 09:15:44

      It has caused guilt through the years that we didn’t know, couldn’t help. I was guilty for years thinking of the hurt and anger I felt at what I thought was a betrayal by a friend. I’ve thought of how she watched us playing and going about a life she was no longer part of but how she she still loved us. For a long time it was almost unbearable.


  11. writersdream9
    Nov 26, 2015 @ 11:13:50

    This same desperate and tragic scene plays out every night all over the world. Thank you for giving her such a fine voice!


  12. http://vivinfrance.wordpress.com
    Nov 26, 2015 @ 17:06:59

    You have told us such a sad history probably more common than we realise. I ache with sympathy for those damaged – the victim and her friends.


    • kanzensakura
      Nov 26, 2015 @ 18:16:16

      To have lost my friend, first when her father cut her off from the world, then to lose her again years later was heartbreaking. The guilt I felt knowing she was being treated as she was, so close to us, was terrible. Being sad and angry at what I first thought was a betrayal of friendship turned to guilt all those years later. Around thanksgiving, I especially think of her. She so enjoyed the pick up football game the kids in the neighborhood had after the meal and how the three of us would get together that evening at one or the other’s home to start our dreaming of Christmas holiday and what we wanted for Christmas….so much stolen from all of us by her father and again, the guilt.


      • PetruJViljoen
        Nov 27, 2015 @ 11:01:08

        Kanzen Sakura, the guilt should not be yours. The grown ups around you children at the time probably realised what was happening, could’ve guessed, and didn’t say or do anything. It’s an equal crime. That you aired your emotions probably took some courage. Pity the adults at the time didn’t have the same courage. Well done. As to putting a stop to it according to the comment by macjam47: how do you propose we go about doing that?


        • kanzensakura
          Nov 27, 2015 @ 11:59:24

          I can’t by myself put a stop to anything that has been going on for centuries. Until people themselves have a change of heart within themselves, nothing anywhere will change. Teachers in public education systems have been more educated to look for signs of all kinds of abuse and to report it. it is easy for someone who didn’t know her, didn’t live in the times to say to feel no guilt. it is easy for someone to say people probably knew. I know my parents didn’t have a clue. I guess because they were not monsters and wouldn’t dream of treating a child in such a way. As we say, hindsight is always 20/20. I do feel guilt on many levels and probably always will. Personally, I wish people who do such things would be executed slowly and painfully. A coward who bullies children is deserving of no sympathy. It is just sad such things still happen just as they have for centuries.


          • PetruJViljoen
            Nov 28, 2015 @ 03:08:22

            Maybe individuals in any given society can take it on themselves to go for training on how to spot child abuse, what signs to look out for, and how to go about reporting it. Sport clubs, social events, any platform where people come together should have a component for discussion of these matters, exactly because it is so prolific. Recently, while doing voluntary work at an orphanage, I had to raise hell before anyone was prepared to listen – and take action – about a case of abuse. I’m not allowed to give details, but it was astonishing how educated people with good standing in society can choose to turn a blind eye. It took about two months of nearly daily badgering before something got done. After they were finally compelled to do something, I was not allowed back. I could’ve taken the matter even further but by that time was so tired and traumatised that I left quietly and had to be satisfied that some awareness were raised.


  13. Snakypoet (Rosemary Nissen-Wade)
    Nov 26, 2015 @ 17:55:48

    A terrible story, which your friend did not survive. The closing verse encapsulates all the sadness.


  14. thotpurge
    Nov 26, 2015 @ 20:15:52

    Such a sad tale and yet as many have pointed out, it happens more often than we might think. What the girl must have endured, one can only imagine. Wish there are more survivors who are able to call out these perpetrators and have them punished.


  15. ghostmmnc
    Nov 26, 2015 @ 21:03:31

    Such a tragedy. So sorry for the circumstances that led to your friend’s death.


  16. macjam47
    Nov 26, 2015 @ 22:42:30

    Such a sad story. Monsters like her father exist everywhere.


  17. MarinaSofia
    Nov 27, 2015 @ 01:31:44

    I can imagine how heartbreaking it must have been for you her friends, to feel you did not know and could not help. A tragic story, and indeed, who knows what unspoken horrors lurk beneath that apparently calm facade?


  18. insidetheclock
    Nov 27, 2015 @ 06:00:21

    This made me weep. Hit so, so close to home. I have a similar history as Terri’s, and I can tell you that you never know who is a monster, even when you are the monster’s plaything the monster himself may manipulate you into thinking he is nothing but a good man. I’m sorry Terri could not make it, she deserved much better. Sending you lots of hugs!


  19. kaykuala h
    Nov 27, 2015 @ 08:57:20

    The turn of events is totally sad. Such a pity a young life is so tormented. On hindsight an adult, the mother should have made a bold decision. Since she was helpless he should have sought external help right from the beginning.Great haibun Toni, an eye opener!



    • kanzensakura
      Nov 27, 2015 @ 20:54:40

      Back in the 50’s and 60’s, one just didn’t say to someone, help me, I’m being molested by my father. She did what was expected of her and kept silent. And who knows what other pressures her father put on her to not tell? The atmosphere these past few years have been more conducive to victims asking for help and, teachers are trained to look for signs of any abuse and required to report any suspicions. Forty and fifty years make a difference in perception and how we deal with such things


  20. Trackback: Survival – A Dada poem | pviljoen
  21. Glenn Buttkus
    Nov 27, 2015 @ 13:30:59

    Wow, lots of darkness shattered by the sharing out here on the trail. Too many of us have our own tales to tell. My stepfather was raping my little sister for years & none of us had a clue; she got pregnant at 15 just to get out of his grasp. Incredible haibun for sure.


    • kanzensakura
      Nov 27, 2015 @ 15:39:25

      It is indeed terrible that such things have occurred for centuries and still do. And people ask, why didn’[t someone know? Why didn’t they tell? How could such things go on under people’s noses? They just really don’t have a clue. We didn’t and they lived a half yard and drive away from us. The father was genial, outgoing, member of good clubs, long family membership in the country club, did pro bona work….his wife quiet but did some things in society. So who would have a clue? It was common practice back in the Victorian times if the wife died and left a daughter behind, many times, she took the mother’s place with the father and was one of those who “stayed home to look after Papa and never married” types. I had to, at one time, do audits for Medicaid on home health care. Found out in the western part of our state, it was common practice for fathers to be “father/grandfather, brother/father, uncle/father” with all the inherent congenital birth defects that went with it. I’d walk into a home with the home health nurse and we’d see these little kids with buck teeth, crossed eyes, and chronic IBS – and too young to be the children of the deceased mother. Clearly children of the eldest daughter and the father. The poor tykes knew no better. The men didn’t consider themselves monsters – only they were using what was theirs. It just makes me crazy sometimes Glenn, the things people accept and don’t blink.


  22. Bryan Ens
    Nov 27, 2015 @ 18:17:08

    a beautiful mask
    slowly slips off of a face
    a demon revealed.


  23. PetruJViljoen
    Nov 28, 2015 @ 03:12:37

    An idea: Do you think the father could be traced, if he is still alive, and show this to him, the person that did this?


  24. PetruJViljoen
    Nov 28, 2015 @ 04:59:54

    I’d like to share an incident about which I’ve felt enormous guilt for years. That I didn’t do anything at that time spurred me to break through the enveloping silence around these events in later years:
    I was employed to do a survey, which involved knocking on people’s doors, going into their sitting rooms … I found a house: the young daughter and her friend playing, and the man of the house, sitting leering. Some things one realise psychically only – the mother/wife in the kitchen, waves of vibrations from her through the open door. I was so, so sure that he was an incest offender and yet didn’t say or do anything. Why not? This was about 20 years ago.


    • kanzensakura
      Nov 28, 2015 @ 10:09:12

      Thank you for all of your comments. This haibun has appeared to have touched you deeply on many levels. Perhaps you may want to consider getting the comments you have made together on your blog and writing about them, discussing them. I think there are probably many more people out there with whom you could further dialogue. A woman who is an incest survivor posted her link in my comments section. You may also want to visit her website to see what she has posted and those discussions.


    • kanzensakura
      Nov 28, 2015 @ 10:12:24

      This is something you need to explore within yourself. Everyone has their own reasons for not reporting or their own survivors remorse. I know I have the guilt/remorse and it is something I frequently feel within myself.


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