I sat there quietly, holding that soft molasses cookie in my hand; feeding it to you bite by bite. When I stopped at Starbucks earlier that afternoon, I saw the cookies and remembered how much you always loved the flavor of molasses.
“Why not take Grandpa a treat?” I thought. So, I found myself breaking off pieces and gently placing them in your mouth, bite by bite, while you sat there—immobilized by Alzheimer’s Disease—unable to feed yourself and unable to recognize me. The same thoughts kept running through my mind.
“Do you remember that day, Grandpa? Do you remember the shame and the guilt that settled on me that day? Is it fair that you get to retreat into mental oblivion, while I play the scene over and over in my mind? It’s a broken record of shame and guilt always playing in the background like a sick theme song—my secret song.”
I remember everything about that day. We had just returned to your house from a driving lesson. I had my permit and was eager to get my license. Mom was busy, so you offered to teach me to drive. I remember the warm summer air and the breeze moving through the kitchen; the smell of food in the air; the sound of your work boots, as you walked down the short hall from the back door to where I sat at the table, reading something. I remember I was wearing tennis shoes, shorts, and a light blue baby-doll style blouse. My blouse was loose-fitting, so it was easy for you to reach beneath it and run your hand up to cup my breast; your other hand was on my shoulder—holding me in my seat. I remember your whiskers against my cheek and the feel of your breath as you spoke in a low voice next to my ear.
“You’ve grown up into such a nice big girl, haven’t you Sandy?”
My thoughts were paralyzed. My voice was choked. I could barely take in shallow breaths. In a few minutes, it was over and I was alone in the kitchen again.
“Surely that hadn’t just happened. My own grandfather didn’t just. . .”
But, I knew it was true. Somehow, this had happened to me and now I had to figure out how to handle it. I pulled myself together. I reminded myself that I was strong and smart. I developed my plan for how to handle this new reality. My plan couldn’t involve Mom. She already had enough to worry about. I was tough. I could handle this on my own.
I knew he and I could never be alone together again. Ever. Definitely no more driving lessons. I rationalized that having a driving license was overrated. (It would be 3 more years before I would get my license, at the age of 18.) I would always make sure that someone else was with us. If Grandpa entered a room that I was in alone, I would leave and go to where there were other people. Besides, I would be leaving for boarding school soon, so this should be pretty easy to deal with. I could handle this on my own.
And I did. I don’t think anything like that ever happened to me again. But, sometimes I do wonder if I just decided to not remember.
I also became acutely aware that these parts of my body—my breasts—were a source of attraction to boys and men. My posture suffered, as I stooped in an unconscious effort to diminish others’ awareness of that part of me. I grew to hate what guys seemed to love. I could see it in their eyes when they spoke to me, but didn’t make eye contact with me.
Not long after that day, I decided to change the way I spelled my name from “Sandy” to “Sandi”. I might not be able to take back that day, but I could move forward as a new me.
But Sandi could not escape Sandy’s secret song. The song of my worthlessness resonated in my heart—the unshakable belief that I didn’t deserve to be treated better. It clung to my soul for years—until I took control back through forgiveness.
So there I sat. Feeding a cookie to the grandfather I forgave many years before that day. The grandfather who never acknowledged what he did—even when confronted a few years later.
This man stole my soul’s simple song of innocence and my trust, and replaced it with a secret song—a song of shame.
This man didn’t even know who I was anymore.
This man got to forget, while I could still remember.
And I found myself wishing that it was the one thing he couldn’t forget, either. That it was the one thought that tormented him.
I could forgive, but I couldn’t forget. And, I hoped he couldn’t either.