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This Day in My History

2000:  I Have to Go Potty
2001:  Slogans and Platitudes
2002:  War and Remembrance
2003:  They Just Fall In My Lap
2004:  At Bush's Mercy
2005
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"Sweet Charity"

Books Read in 2006
(Updated 10/30)

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GEMMA

12 November 2006

I couldn't take my eyes off the girl sitting at the table next to us.  She was about 13 or 14 years old, blonde, beautiful skin, rosie apple cheeks and that innocent look of a young woman who is about ready to burst onto the scene, full blown, at any moment, but still in the last throes of innocence.  She looked very much like photos of Elizabeth Smart that were circulated after her kidnapping.

I thought at first the young girl was having dinner with her mother, but as the conversation ensued, it was apparent this was an aunt or a godmother or a family friend. 

We were at Havana, a Cuban restaurant in Walnut Creek, having dinner before going off to the Lamplighter Gala, 2 blocks away.  The tables were very close together and you had to work at not listening to the conversation at the adjacent tables.

On the drive down to Walnut Creek, I had been reading Meg Tilly's second book, "Gemma."  Tilly's two books, both of which deal with exploitation, and molestation of children, are difficult to read, but she has a style that keeps you at it.  I saw her interviewed on The View shortly after "Gemma" was published and she explained that her two books were fiction, but based on her own childhood and the terribly, apparently almost unspeakable things she had to endure.

I'm not too far into the book yet, but 12 year old Gemma has been being raped by her mother's boyfriend almost nightly since age 8 and he has just sold her to a friend for a night of sexual pleasure for the guy, horror for Gemma.

I think what makes these books so compelling is that the stories are told in Gemma's voice, and there is an innocence there, a little girl who can take the $50, her "take" of her night of sexual molestation, and buy a little turtle to be her friend, because she has no real friends of her own.  There is  a sense of hope... in the purchase of the turtle and the aquarium and all the stuff that goes with it while she can barely walk because of all the things that had been done to her body the night before. 

There is hope that her mother will stop drinking and be the nurturing mother she longs for, that "Buddy" will stop visiting her bed at night, that she can escape the obsession of the man who raped her the night before.

I sat there looking at this girl at the next table and I couldn't get Gemma's story out of my mind, unable to understand how anyone can molest these beautiful children, how they can rob them of their childhood and tell them the most terrible lies to keep them from getting help, to keep them enduring it, even though they are dying inside.

I looked up the Elizabeth Smart case this morning.  I learned from Wikipedia, that her kidnapper "enforced a program of coercion and physical force over Elizabeth, including repeated raping of the young girl, verbal threats against her, threats against her family, depersonalization, and constant preaching indoctrination. He kept Elizabeth tied with a cable to a tree or in a hole under boards. After a few weeks, he sometimes let her free, and once, while Mitchell and Barzee were arguing, Elizabeth tried to escape, but was unsuccessful.

"She was kept in isolation and given very little information. For example, despite the enormous search effort, Elizabeth was only partially aware of the efforts to find her and never saw the billboards on the freeways."

Gemma didn't have the advantage of coming from a loving home, as Elizabeth did.  In Gemma's case, she was told that the sexual encounters she was having with her mother's boyfriend were wrong and that if she told anybody, the police would arrest her for tempting men and she would spend the rest of her life in jail.  Ludicrous story if you are an adult, but if you are 8 years old and this has been drummed into your head, you believe it because an adult told you.  So you cry and you take it and you don't tell anybody, and you die a little more inside each time you are molested, but the molest is not as bad as the idea of spending the rest of your life behind bars.  In Gemma's case, this brainwashing sets up the conditions for her kidnap by the man who is obsessed with her (which I have just reached, so I don't know more than just that at this point).

As I read this book, I will continue to think of the lovely smile on the face of the young woman at the restaurant and all of the Gemmas out there, keeping ugly secrets because they have been told they are bad and will get in trouble, Gemmas who live in terror and who have never had a chance to have a real childhood.
 

PHOTO OF THE DAY

Baby at the rehearsal for the wedding...
her whole life ahead of her...

 

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