Saturday, September 11, 2010

The Keeper of Childhood Secrets

Over the years I've heard most of the secrets of the childhoods of my friends.  The good, the bad and the ugly, I have always been interested.  The following story appeared in my old blog and I still get emails about it to this day. Thinking that it contains good insight and a lesson or two, I have decided to re-post it here today.

I've been thinking a lot about a story I heard that happened over 40 years ago. A young girl, around 13 years old and just this side of puberty, was shopping in one of the local discount stores with her father. She was a pretty little thing with blue eyes, blond hair and a long-held secret of extreme shyness. While her father wandered off to whatever it is that dads wander off to, this young girl was trying on shoes for her first day of school. She was alone on a shoe aisle when a man came up to her and stating chatting with her about the shoes.

The young girl heard the alarm bells in her mind the minute the man started talking to her. The conversation was innocent but it did not sway the fear that was slamming her into almost breathlessness. There was something wrong with the man.  She continued to try to ignore him but he kept up his barrage of compliments and encouragements to leave the store with him. She tried to tell the man that her father was in the store. The man paid no attention and pushed the conversation further, asking the girl to go have coffee with him. Assuring the girl that it would just be for a few minutes, he placed his hand on her arm and started herding her towards the front door. As the alarm bells got louder in her head, the girl began to cry -- with panic sending her right to the edge of hysteria. Heads started to turn, conversations stopped, people began looking around and the man quickly left the store.

The girl's father hurried over to the girl, demanding to know what was going on with his young daughter. As that young girl turned toward the sound of the man who should have been her hero, trembling with fear and tears streaming down her face, her father began to get that look on his face. The look that said she was making a scene. As she tried to explain to her father the unimaginable that had almost happened, he just got angry.   He wanted to know what all the crying was about.  His response to her after she managed to get the whole story out was to tell her to stop crying, to stop over-reacting.

No reassurance, no comfort, not even a hug. Just a father curiously infuriated at his frightened child.

I wonder if my friend's father ever knew what he did to his daughter that day? In telling me the story, I knew that was the day that her feelings, fragile as they were, finally shattered as she became aware that Cinderella was just a fairy tale and there was no white knight coming to the rescue. Growing up in a home where discipline was handed out with slaps and belts and even moments when things went way too far, I knew she battled depression long into her adult years.  I thought about the men she dated and even the man she married, realizing that in her search for Prince Charming, she was actually replaying that young girl over and over.  Where was her hero?

This woman of delightful laugh lines on her face and a touch of gray in her hair believes that if that man had gotten her out the door that day when she was so young, she wouldn't be here today. She wonders out loud if her perception was off and perhaps she was being too dramatic.  I don't think she is being melodramatic -- I believe very much it was an attempt by a pedophile to snatch her. I am grateful her intuition is so sensitive. I am grateful she is here.

My friend's father is much older now, in failing health and memory.  There can be no attempts at coming to terms with a traumas of long ago between this father and child. She can only try to get on the other side of her fear and anxiety with a therapist that has finally heard this secret. I will continue to hold her hand and listen whenever that young girl needs to cry. I hear as the keeper of her childhood secrets.

I am here my friend. I am listening.  Are you?

In every man there is something wherein I may learn of him, and in that I am his pupil.
Ralph Waldo Emerson