I was baffled as to what to bring with me to the LDS Relief Society dinner Kimmy invited to. In her telephone message, she spoke hurriedly over the background chatter of her daughter urging me to bring a stuffed animal. The LDS Relief Society was hosting the dinner for an organization that conducts interviews for children who were sexually abused. The thought if it made my stomach turn.
I dug through a small pile of old stuffed animals I brought with me from South Carolina when I moved to California in 2008. Each one outstanding in some way due to distant memories attached. One of them is Marvin the Martian from Looney Toons. I got him in the fifth grade when I started to become interested in space and theoretical physics. Then there is an angel bear that was a gift from my grandmother and a small dog I used to play with as a little girl. Rummaging around for a good thirty minutes, I saw a small plush bird tucked in the back of a shelf. I instantly recognized it as the bird I bought at a card shop several years ago after learning that my grandmother was in the hospital gravely ill. I remember that day- the hot, sticky humidity in South Carolina made me feel like I was engulfed in a wet towel. I went to the post office and mailed it to her with a card, except that by the time the bird package arrived she already passed on. I went to Pennsylvania a week later to attend her funeral and that is when my grandfather returned it to me. The little bird rode back home lonesome in my black suitcase and has since existed in the shadows of a crowded bookshelf.
PRESS HERE said the sticker on its back. I pressed lightly and it started chirp. The sound of a computerized bird call filled my bedroom. I decided to take it.
It has been nearly two years since Kimmy, a Latter Day Saint, brought me into the LDS community. I have since attended several relief society events with her. I am not in any way put off by the religious aspects of the group. I find them to be kind, welcoming people and the Relief Society to be a group of very dedicated and giving women. In fact, I appreciate the sense of community there.
Arriving at the dinner event I saw rows of plush animals lined at the edge of a stage. These were the gifts for the sexually abused children. Each appeared to possess its own ambiguities; as if the adorable button noses and black threaded smiles concealed dark secrets hidden within their stuffing. Suddenly, looking at them was equivalent to seeing a war crime scene in a movie with O Mio babino Caro dubbed over the screaming. I remembered some of the stories I heard from the women I interviewed about their experience with sexual abuse brutalities. I shuddered and walked away to play with Kimmy’s daughter, who busied herself coloring a cartoon monkey in her coloring book and repeating various English phrases she has learned in he last few months. A tiny hurricane of energy, Jiu Jiu has the face of a delicate china doll. Brought to the United States just a few months ago from rural China, she is adjusting to America rapidly and is a joy to be around and interact with. I love her energetic, inquisitive approach to the world.
I watched her tiny hands gripping crayons and recalled the first say I met her after Kimmy’s return from China: it was a chilly evening on a local playground and I was rather underdressed for the weather as I waited for them to arrive. From behind I heard glorious shrieking and giggles several yards away. It was Jiu Jiu, pulling another blonde toddler by the arm and narrating to her in Chinese. I fell in love with her. I watched her and Kimmy play on the swings together. “Mama! Mama!” she shrieked excitedly and would collapse into Kimmy’s arms. I remember realizing in that moment that motherhood means so much more than the traditional view; that although Jiu Jiu was adopted, it appeared her and Kimmy were always connected somehow. This is the theme I desired to capture though Kimmy’s story in “50 Women”.
My memoirs were interrupted as a woman from the organization began to speak about the interview process for the sexually violated children. The rows of plush animals had doubled since I arrived and the stage front was blanketed in an army of dinosaurs, dogs, bears, cats and birds. I located the tiny bird to the left. I could see the PRESS HERE sticker on its back from where I was sitting. It was much smaller than the other animals. As she spoke I imagined the children squeezing it, giggling at the chirping noise then squeezing again.
The speaker continued, explaining the warning signs of child sexual abuse: loss of appetite, appears distracted, mood swings, drawing and child play with sexual overtones, thinks about their body as repulsive, and the list goes on. Her voice was like honey- a gentle soothing lullaby ready to coax cloaked and stabbing secrets from children. With that beautiful voice, I could certainly see why they trusted her.
The plush animals will apparently serve as gifts of reassurance for the victims after their interview with social workers and police officers, the speaker explained. The children are permitted to choose one and take it home in addition to a fluffy handmade blanket. Hailing from homes beyond the description of broken, in many cases- it’s their only possession.
Child sexual abuse disgusts me to the core. I have interviewed several women from different countries who were violated this way. Each of them never really overcame the acts, describing to me thoughts of suicide, self-mutilation and one of them even went as far to say that she had no feeling below her waist. Each of them reported to me an absolute disgust and discomfort with their bodies and extreme trauma associated with sexual acts extending into adulthood. I know I should be sympathetic to all living things, but sexual abuse perpetrators and rapists are exceptions. It is my personal opinion that all of them should be burned alive. Harsh words? At least I am being honest. These are not even humans in my mind- they are dark spirits. They do not deserve an ounce of sympathy or compassion.
These are reasons I am grateful to organizations like the LDS Relief Society because they are a group of women who unite for the purpose of supporting such worthy causes. I am not an LDS church member, but as a woman I can join their community in these efforts. As women we are all in this together.
I walked out the door that evening realizing I’ll never see that little bird again. Fly bird, fly.