The summer I was 13, I was a live-in babysitter in Golden Valley (a comfortable suburb of Minneapolis – a far cry from the housing projects I lived in).
It was a dismal job. The mother was a control freak, I was paid next to nothing, and had a weekly housework schedule to keep up with in addition to caring for three boys, aged 2 through 9. The family was stiff, repressed, uncommunicative, there wasn’t a thing I had in common with them, and everything they ate came from a package. I had at least two migraines a week. I hid in my basement room most of the time the mom was home. I yearned for home (funny, given my home-life, which I never missed under any other circumstances – ever).
One day the older boy and I built a crude tree house – his idea. It was the most fun I had all summer. When the mom came home, she was all over it – where did we get the wood? (the kid saw it lying around somewhere). Who had gone to get it? (the kid and I). Where had the younger boys been while we went out? (home).
She freaked out, assuming I’d left the younger boys home alone, yelled at me and sent me away. I went to my room and started to get a headache, though I wasn’t consciously upset. I was indifferent to the woman, and knew I hadn’t done anything wrong – the dad was home and had said it was ok if we went to get the wood. It wasn’t my fault she didn’t bother to fit all the pieces together before she started screaming at me. Fuck her, I thought, and skipped dinner.
After dinner she came down to my room and in an almost accusing tone asked why I didn’t tell her the dad had been home and knew we were leaving the younger boys with him. I said I hadn’t thought it made a difference. She said it did, she was sorry she yelled at me, I hadn’t done anything wrong, and she went back upstairs.
I got in bed and tried not to cry. Which seemed weird. Why cry when she forgave me, but not when she yelled? Especially since I didn’t think I even liked her.
It was a greater emotional relief than I was familiar with. I was not used to being forgiven, or apologized to. Redemption was so foreign to me, it broke my heart apart. But I wasn’t going to let anyone see that.
Nowadays, as I go around getting used to sharing my secret – telling people I’m writing a book about having been a prostitute, the same thing happens. I feel protectively indifferent – they can hate me if they want. I don’t want forgiveness or redemption – I will not explain or apologize for my life to anyone. I expect nothing but practice telling.
Strangers and distant acquaintances reactions are all over the place. But among people I know and respect, so far, they’ve been amazing – instantly reassuring, supportive, reiterating their respect for me, their lack of judgment.
I smile, I thank them, I hold back tears. I’m still getting used to the relief, and I still don’t know how to show it.
Somewhere along the way, I became convinced that all that I am, all I contribute, all of my worth is negated by that one ancient fact. I wouldn’t trust anyone who didn’t know. You couldn’t enter my heart without being vetted against that old fact. The conviction was a brick wall between me and most everyone else.
Now, each time I tell someone, one of those bricks is removed, and as that wall comes down, a brick at a time, I feel the pain of separation it created. And an almost overwhelming relief at releasing it.
I have become so identified with my wall, I wonder, lately, who I’ll be without it.