Reclaiming Magdalen

Synopsis . . .

At twenty-seven, when the label “incest survivor” first crash-landed in the author’s awareness, she was living the perfect suburban life—the one that was supposed to make her happy, content. And for a while it had. But more often than not, she was running. Running from a truth that crept around the shadows of her mind: the trauma of early childhood sexual abuse.

Retracing the steps of her rebellious youth—including encounters with bikers, prostitutes, and rock ’n’ roll musicians—the author shifts into the role of healer, gently retrieving and welcoming lost aspects of her young psyche. With evolving mid-life wisdom, and practices ranging from dance to meditation to training with a jungle shaman, the horrifying truth is uncovered.

Told with wry humor and deep compassion, this remarkably candid memoir culminates in a spiritual homecoming: the author’s communion with her Magdalen self in the truest experience of “grace.”

An Excerpt . . .

“You’ll have to pull your pants down,” Kenny informed me. “We’ll all go up on my hill, you’ll pull your pants down, and I’ll give you the red dot.”

Kenny probably expected me to say, “No way.” Or giggle and blush. Any sane girl would have done exactly that, but belonging was more important than modesty that summer. And besides, Janet agreed it was a necessary step.

“Come on. Do it. I’m a member.”

Thinking back, I wonder about the validity of Janet’s statement. This same group of kids had my brother believing in the ivy monster, a malicious green beast that would leap out of the vine-covered yards and eat him alive. However, as I said, belonging was important, and I hadn’t yet developed a capacity for discernment.

“Okay. I’ll do it.”

Kenny set the date. “This Friday, three o’clock. We’ll meet here, in front of my house.”

I felt nervous, but I wasn’t going to chicken out. At “almost twelve,” acceptance was worth a little embarrassment, but only a little. Because my teenage hormones had recently kicked in, I’d sprouted my first pubic hair. No way I was gonna leave that coarse black oddity for public viewing, so come the big day, I snuck into my mother’s bathroom and used her tweezers to pluck it out.  

The still, dry afternoon gradually ticked by. I passed the time riding my bike in a large loop, slowly and steadily pushing away the adrenaline flowing through my veins.

At the appointed hour, the boys, ranging in age from ten to thirteen, emerged from their respective houses. I rode over to Big Kenny’s driveway and climbed off my three-speed, solemnly pushing the kick-stand into place. We were all restless and for a moment paced around like a pack of hyenas waiting for the kill.

“You ready?” Kenny asked in his best commanding, though still little-boy, voice.

“Yes,” I replied in a rough croak.

One by one we filed down the concrete walkway to the left of the garage. First Big Kenny, then me, then Doug, and finally Little Kenny, weaving through garbage cans and assorted junk strewn along the way. After crossing the equally cluttered back patio, we started up the brick stairs covered with lichen.

I kept my gaze down, not only to focus on the faulty and neglected steps, but to avoid any eye contact with the boys. After about thirty feet of upward climb, our path changed to dirt and headed off into the dense brush.

At this point the boys were careful to avoid coming into contact with the red leaves of poison oak. Immune to the rash-inducing oils of the plant, I showed my bravado by holding back vines that leaned into the narrow trail.

Despite my outward display of calm, my heart was pounding. A couple of minutes later I heard another set of footsteps crunching dried leaves as Janet ran to catch up with us.

“Sorry I’m late,” she said as her Keds fell into place behind mine. Leaning in close to my ear she whispered, “You don’t have to go through with this.”

“Too late now,” I grumbled.

When we got to the appointed gathering spot, a small clearing surrounded by Valley Oaks and scrubby brush, each of my witnesses took a seat, forming a circle around me.

Big Kenny’s solemn words began the ritual, “We come together to make Debbie a member of the Red Dot club. Now take off your clothes.”

I stood up, took a deep breath, and pulled my blue and white striped tee-shirt over my head, passing it to Janet. The hot air felt chilly against my perspiration-covered and now bare chest. Next I unzipped and slid down my orange capri shorts. Unfortunately, the legs were too tight to slide easily over my shoes, so I stumbled and wobbled around, then lost my balance, landing with a plop on the sharp oak leaves.

Laughter broke out among my audience, but I was determined to keep what little resolve I had left. I wiped the dried foliage away from my butt and continued disrobing, first removing my navy blue sneakers, then stripping off my previously clean white socks. Once again I stood up, this time wiggling my tight shorts down and off. All eyes were riveted on my nearly naked white torso.

I took another deep breath and slid my thumbs into the sides of my plain white cotton underwear. They were mid-thigh when the hushed silence was broken by a booming male voice.

“What are you kids doing up there?”