Disclaimer: The following is a work of fiction. More or less. Sort of.
"It sucks to be you," Rebecca Wolfe said laughing as she leaned forward in her office chair. I'd just told her something personal and emotionally charged. I wasn't laughing.
"And I thought you had it all..." she finished.
"Well, people aren't always what they appear to be," I said.
This was a woman in a position of power, and I was alone in her office without witnesses. She'd requested a meeting via email on a Sunday night. She wanted to know if we could meet the next day. I knew it must be serious, her asking for a meeting late on a Sunday.
I suspected she was angry at me, or perhaps disappointed that I'd written a piece about an incident which took place at her business. The incident involved violence against my child.
She had to delay our meeting for a couple of days, which gave me time to become more convinced that this was indeed about my blog. I checked the website for any unusual activity and noticed a significant increase in traffic. I saw a "referral" from Rebecca's business. That was odd, I thought. I labeled it as SPAM.
The next day as I sat in the reception area waiting for my appointment time, I imagined being face to face with Rebecca, her looking down at me from the top of her little empire. I felt strangely guilty for "getting caught." But "caught" doing what? Telling my own story?
To ease my nerves I pictured Rebecca as a floating face, like the holographic head of the Wizard of Oz, except made of glass. I imagined repeatedly smashing this face with a wooden baseball bat. Over and over again, I crashed through her ornamentation, shattered her mask, her fragile front. This uncharacteristically violent reverie built up my courage to face someone I'd actually admired up to that point.
When she finally emerged from her office to escort me back, I noted how briskly she moved toward me, her shoes like heavy metal clogs sprinting over ceramic tile. I mentioned this jokingly, but she didn't seem amused. Her face didn't seem fragile at all. It was hard and fixed.
This was gonna be bad.
Sure enough, I'd been called in about the blogpost. I initially let her do most of the talking, nodded quietly while she told me about incidentally finding my blog (nobody reads my blog). I struggled to keep my facial expression as blank as possible, telling myself to keep nodding, to look down at the table, to avoid making eye contact. I'd rehearsed this, letting her tell a story I'd already anticipated. I'd decided that she probably Googled me out of curiosity, or maybe habit, a ritualistic gathering of dirt to use against those who might transgress against her.
Her story of how she found my blog was different. She claimed to have been looking for information on autism, and lo and behold there I was, keeper of a blog about a Japanese aesthetic. Not a very solid connection.
She was hurt, she said, that I'd written about something so confidential, something that could hurt her business. She asked me to take down the blogpost, which I agreed to do.
What specifically didn't she like about the post?
That it was damaging to her reputation, that it was shocking, that it was true.
"I thought you believed in us," she said. "Don't you trust us?"
I hesitated, glanced left then lied, "Yes." I apologized for hurting her, said that I felt ashamed because she's "such a good person." I'd always needed her approval for some reason.
"No I'm not," she blurted.
Ah yes. People aren't always what they appear to be. Right before my eyes, a former saint became a bully. What I'd felt toward Rebecca Wolfe wasn't admiration; I was intimidated by her. That walk, those shoes, the hard fixed face; the way she sat at the top of the heap. She was a Viking in a dress, driven and on a mission to succeed. At almost any cost, I would later learn.
I'd named no names in the post, and when I wrote it, I hadn't expected any traffic beyond my meager 36 followers, none of whom live in my state much less give a damn about this woman, her heap or reputation. The post wasn't even about her. It was about an employee of hers who broke the law and was quietly escorted out of sight, out of mind. No incident report. No notes. No paper trail.
The only indelible mark was what still remains on my child's psyche. His and mine.
She made the point that people would still know who the post was about if they know me at all, and she wondered out loud again why I would want to hurt "the business." Why write about these things publicly, she wanted to know. "Why not just put it in a private journal?"
I'd wondered that myself. I had no ready answer for her, so I agreed to take down the post.
I would come up with an answer much later, which was that although I've kept a journal for forty years, this incident wasn't something I wanted to talk only to myself about. I needed someplace else, a small quiet corner in space, like a cyber broom closet. Nobody really notices a broom closet, except maybe the few lost souls who open the door by accident.
I hadn't wanted to be alone with what had happened to my son, so I whimpered within this small cyber closet, shared my stained rags and dirty mop water, just me, enough of a nobody to fly under most radars. I named no names in my post. Writing online was about a need I couldn't satisfy any other way. I needed to scratch my message somewhere more visible than a private diary, less visible than a giant billboard; I needed to pour bleach on my wounds in the company of a few disinterested eyes.
Rebecca suggested that maybe I'd been trying to reach out to others in my circumstance, others with children who'd been hurt. Perhaps.
Unfortunately, the incident I wrote about isn't rare.
What else could I have done with this pain? Called the media? The police? My attorney? I'd considered these options at first, when my rage was out of control. Without a doubt I had -- have -- a very strong case (with a five-year statute of limitations, by the way). The guilty employee confessed, in writing. She was terminated for injuring a disabled little boy. At first this seemed sufficient. Then it wasn't. So I shared.
I took down the post immediately following the meeting with Rebecca. I felt better, cleaner, but the next day I felt duped. I'd been silenced. And laughed at. By a bully.
Who and what are we allowed to write about? Who has the right to tell us to take our words down? Someone who quietly shuffles a child abuser out the back door?
I still wake up every morning feeling angry and unsettled, like I failed my child, like I gave away my own power at his expense. The incident is more than three months old. The evil employee was removed from the system, albeit quietly. Why don't I feel better yet?
Perhaps because it's very likely that the incident was never reported to the proper authorities. By law, Rebecca should have called CPS or the Texas Department of Protective and Regulatory Services, or police.
Failing to report this type of child abuse is a misdemeanor punishable by imprisonment of up to 180 days and/or a fine of up to $2,000.
My intuition has been screaming at me: Something's not right. Why did Rebecca ask other employees to keep quiet? Why did she vaguely answer, "It's been handled," when I played dumb and asked how these incidents are reported? Why didn't any staff members suggest that perhaps the increasingly distressing behaviors of the injured child prior to the nun's admission were due to frequent or repeated incidents of abuse? Wasn't that a possibility?
Yes it was. And what do we know for sure? That if this crime wasn't properly reported, the offending employee will go on to work with other children.
I called CPS myself within 36 hours of the incident, then again eight weeks later. I called TDPRS as well, and General Counsel for the _____ of _____ _____. They can't talk about cases, even those involving my own child, but they had no record of any other reports made.
Well, well, Rebecca. Looks like it sucks to be YOU.