What follows I’ve picked up second-hand, unless otherwise noted.
My father got a weekend “pass” out of the nursing home for the New Year’s weekend. Apparently, on Sunday the 1st, a friend of his came to visit him, along with the friend’s wife and small son. Le apparently said something that didn’t sit well with my father, so he picked up the billy club that sits on his desk, and threw it at her, hitting her in the head. His friend protested this treatment, and my father threw his friend out. I’m unclear about anything that may have happened that day after that incident. All I know is that Le took him back to the nursing home on Monday the 2nd.
Later that night, Le and Vanessa were talking. Vanessa floored her mother by asking her “Mom, do you think I could have AIDS or be pregnant?” Le told her daughter that she couldn’t have AIDS or be pregnant because she was too young to have sex. Vanessa asked her “What would you say if I told you I had sex?” She then went on to describe to her mother the things my father had done to her.
Not surprisingly, Le was furious, ready to commit murder. In Brazil (where Le comes from), the police are not good people. She has quite a distrust of police and government agencies, understandably. So, she did nothing about the revelations regarding her husband and her daughter. The next evening, she spoke to my Aunt Wanda, telling her about the conversation with Vanessa the night before. Wanda insisted that it be reported to the police, and arranged to meet Le the next morning (Wednesday the 4th) at 9:30 to go to the sheriff’s office. My Aunt Peggy (my father’s other sister) went with them. At this point, I knew nothing about what was going on.
On Wednesday morning, just as I was pulling into the parking lot for my chiropractor appointment, my cell phone rang. It was my father, wanting to know if I’d heard from or seen Le. I told him I’d not seen nor heard from her since the day they picked Vanessa up from my house. He said he’d not heard a thing from her since Sunday. I told him that I was sure Le had told me that she had to work that week, at the college she was taking classes from.
I tried Le’s cell phone. It went directly to voice mail, indicating to me that the phone was switched off. I suspect she shuts it off while she’s at work, so there’s no distraction. I almost expected that. I decided to call my oldest daughter, who is a student at the same community college as Le to see if she knew what office Le worked in. After getting the name of the office, and a general number for the college, I called and was able to reach Le. She seemed short, almost distant, which is highly unusual for her. She’s normally warm, personable, and chatty. I just assumed she was uncomfortable with talking on the phone while she was at work. I told her that my father had called me, said he’d not heard from her since Sunday, and I merely asked her if she was okay. She said “Yes, I’m okay.” I left it at that, asking her to call me later when she got out of work.
After I hung up, I started to dial my father back but decided against it for the time being. Instead, I called my Aunt Wanda to see if she knew anything about why Le hadn’t seen my father since three days before that, and if there was any reason that I should refrain from telling my father I’d spoken to her. If you heard a loud “THUD” last Wednesday (the 4th) around 9:00 AM, that was my jaw hitting the ground when my Aunt Wanda began to lay out for me the events of the previous two days, as she’d heard them from Le. She was insisting that Le fill out a police report and obtain an order of protection, and wasn’t going to take “no” for an answer. They were due at the sheriff’s department at 10:00 AM. Like me, Wanda is a survivor of childhood sexual abuse by a close family member. She knows what scars are worn, what psychological effects this has on its victims, and she was not about to let Vanessa’s extraordinarily bright light get dimmer.
So, I waited to hear. And waited. And waited. And waited.
And little niggling doubts penetrated my brain. Would Le have put Vanessa up to this? Would Vanessa have made this up? Is my father really capable of this deviant behavior? I suppose I was in denial, looking for ways to explain a possibly innocent touch, or rationalizing that Le’s spoken English isn’t all that good, and maybe Wanda misunderstood something she said. Anything but the truth. In the end, I decided that it was too risky a move for Le to put Vanessa up to this. And, being a child, Vanessa had too many details that she was way too young to have any knowledge of (based on the limited information Wanda gave me). In the end, acceptance came over me and I waited for the call.
It came in at 7:30 PM Wednesday night. An Order of Protection had been drawn up and, because it would not be in place that night, an order was given to the VA Center Campus Police to ensure that my father did not leave that hospital for any reason that night. Asking Le to deliver to them my father’s computer and all peripherals and storage media for that computer, they were planning to file charges the next day.
There was an extensive interview with the sheriff’s investigator and, after Vanessa got out of school, she was picked up, taken to the sheriff’s department, and interviewed extensively by Child Protective Services with the investigator present. The details were sufficient enough, and credible enough that the sheriff’s department acted quickly and decisively. I spoke briefly with Le, told her she had my support and to not be bashful about calling if she needed anything. I promised to check in with her the next day, and hung up.
I fell apart that night. How could he snatch away that exquisite innocence from that beautiful little girl? How could he assume that she was his to do whatever he wanted to? How could he do the things he was accused of doing, and still look his wife in the eye every night? How could he? This is an old wound for me and, as I fell apart, I raged at all those sick fucks out there that destroy the promise of an innocent child’s life. I raged at my father for the betrayal. I raged at my stepfather for the cruel acts he performed against me. I raged at my mother for either not seeing, or not wanting to see. I raged at God for letting this happen to any child. And then I looked at myself. Were there signs I should have seen? Things I should have picked up on? Had I done enough with the knowledge I had to protect that child?
I realized I was going in the wrong direction and that this wasn’t about me. And then I realized that I have something to offer that child – based on my own experiences. She was concerned that, if my father was no longer going to be her “dad,” would I still be her sister? And, while my Aunt Wanda assured her that I would be, I knew she needed to hear it from me.
The next afternoon, I called Le to see how she and Vanessa were getting along. They were both in surprisingly good spirits. Le described Vanessa as “relieved” to have finally gotten it off her chest (and my father off her body), and that she was very proud of her daughter. I asked to talk to Vanessa and, when she got on the phone, I could hear from her voice that she was okay. I told her that I was very proud of her and that I just wanted her to know that she would still be my sister, if she wanted me to be hers. She quickly said “YES!” I think she was relieved to hear that, as well. I told her I love her, and asked her to put her mother back on the phone.
I asked Le if she and Vanessa wanted to come up to my house for the weekend – sort of get away from all the “asshats” that have been popping up around here throughout this whole thing. She calmly and matter-of-factly thanked me for the invitation but declined, saying that she wanted to get my father’s personal things together over the weekend. I asked her if she wanted help (as I was scheduled to be off the next day). We agreed to meet at her house just before Vanessa’s bus was due to drop her off from school. Le told me that my asshat nephew (son of my asshat brother) had been to her house, demanding the keys to the GMC Jimmy that my father owned. When Le refused to turn them over, Bobby (asshat nephew) got belligerent. Wanda was there when this happened, and she got between Le and Bobby (Wanda’s 72 folks…remember this), put one hand on his chest and gave him a slight push backward toward the door. He lunged forward menacingly and, as he did so, Wanda stood her ground, lifted her chin and said “Go ahead, hit me.” Having served a few months in the county jail for drunken behavior as well as terroristic threats, Bobby apparently decided that he’d seen enough of the inside of the county jail, and backed down.
After I hung up with Le, I called Wanda to see if she wanted some company the next day until it was time for me to meet Le. She knew I needed to talk, and I think she did, too. I told her I’d be down Friday at about 10:00 or so.
More still to come