My first essay (why do I dislike calling them blogs? That’s what they are!) concerns two childhood events that scarred me deeply. More essays/blogs to follow will be about justice, horses, mystical and metaphysical experiences, horses, birds and other animals, opinions and creativity. And how every one of these subjects relate to my healing journey. And possibly yours. We are all on a healing journey. Some of us have much farther to travel than others. You are not alone. It’s never too late to reclaim that vibrant fearless mind/body you posessed when you were a child. Before life happened. Before shame and conformity happened. You are not weird. You are you. I am trying to plow my way back to health and noting some aspects here and there as I go along.
My first entry into the world of blogdom is called “The Professional Building”
I wonder if it needs an introduction. I name two individuals who abused me as I child. One of these men is named by the first initial of his last name. Not to protect him but to protect his family who still live in the area. I realize that it wouldn’t be that difficult to find out who he is. Go for it. A later blog will address a much more recent event that triggered these horrible recollections. Now these memories were never repressed. They remain as vibrant in my mind as when they originally occurred. Something awful and unjust brought them to the forefront of my mind. But that is a story for a later essay. There is much more to say. Let’s start.
The two men who destroyed my childhood innocence worked in the same building. A square utilitarian box known as the Professional Building on Peach Streeet in Erie, PA. It still stands today , it’s exterior completely unchanged. Not too many tenants inhabit the building today but back in the day (listen to me , all curmudgeonly!) it was mostly medical offices.
The first of the two men was named Dr. James Kerr. He was a pediatric dentist and a violent child abuser. A frightening old man with repressed rage that was hardly contained when he smilingly called children into his dental office. The waiting room was colorful. Brightly lit and cheerfully filled with toys. I had just turned 5 and was happily playing with a plastic tea set when Dr. James Kerr called me into his office. He had a strict policy of no parents allowed in the exam room. “It just upsets them.” he reassuringly told my mom. “It goes so much quicker and easier without Mom in the room. And..” he added “Please don’t ask her about the visit. That upsets them too. Just don’t mention it. We don’t want to make them nervous by going over it.” And with that he led me into his exam room.
The exam room was a stark contrast to brightness of the waiting room. It was dark. Sparse. One far corner held the dental chair where I was never seated. Dr. Kerr walked over to the chair and grabbed the flexible overhead light. He shined that light on me like a big follow spot and the smile instantly left his face. A massive sense of foreboding swept over my 5 year old body. At that age I had never felt that kind of heavy malice. It surrounded me like a blanket of doom. I looked up at him.
“You goddamned little bitch.” He said. And then louder. “You goddamned little bitch!! What the hell did you do to your teeth, huh?” I tried to speak. In my house you always answered an adult when one spoke to you. I had never heard the word bitch before but certainly heard plenty of Goddamns from my dad and knew it wasn’t a good thing. I opened my mouth but no words came out. None of my dad’s angry Goddamns had ever been directed at me and the sensation was new…and frightening.
“Well?!” Dr. Kerr demanded “WELL??!!” I desperately tried to answer him but my throat constricted and still no words formed. I started to speak again but he backhanded me so hard that I couldn’t. I was too shocked and scared to even cry. In my 5 short years of life I had never felt such fear. “You’re bleeding!” he yelled, handing me a tissue. “Clean yourself up, you messy little bitch. Wipe your face right now. If you tell your mother that you were bleeding I will hit her too.”
I did as I was told. A few tears threatened to spill but he warned me that if I didn’t cry I could leave his room, go back to the waiting area with my mom and play with the toys. Did I understand? I nodded and with remarkable self control for a 5 year old I instantly stopped the tears. I was led back to the toys and quickly picked up the plastic tea set I had been playing with earlier. Unbeknownst to me, my mom was scheduling two more appointments.
The second appointment began much the same as the first. A smiling Dr. Kerr beckoned me into his exam room. I dropped the plastic tea set and followed him inside. He shut the door, grabbed me by my shoulders and threw me into the wall. Instantaneous shock racked my little body. The pain of hitting the wall made me want to cry but I quickly remembered his no tears rule. I was about to get up when he pounced on me, pinning me tightly to the floor by grabbing my thighs. It saddens me now to recall how little I was…how his entire hand fit all the way around my upper leg.
I stayed silent and he held me there for a brief moment, also silent. He glared down at me and when he decided I’d had enough of being restrained he then lifted me by my shoulders and dragged me to the side of his dental chair. I suddenly noticed that we were not alone. A little girl lay in the chair her head turned to the side watching us. She was blond, older than I was and lay passively staring. Her face was blank but silent tears streamed down her face one after the other. I was surprised to see her.
I couldn’t stare at her for very long because Kerr demanded that I look at him. He asked me a series of questions about my teeth but I cannot remember them. They sounded as if they were coming from an echo chamber because he had shaken me so hard that my ears rang. He ordered the girl in the chair to stay quiet. She looked at us and seemed to decide that the struggle was too much. She turned her head upwards to face the ceiling obviously unable to watch. Maybe she was pleading with God, as I was, to protect her. To make it all stop. I often wonder what became of her. Does she remember watching me get smacked around by that monster? Was she beaten by him too? Did she become a frightened little girl? Did she feel that God abandoned her?
The third and final appointment never really happened. It was going to happen. It was scheduled to happen. My mom brought me to the Professional Building. We made it to the door of Dr. Kerr’s office. Before my mom could even open the door I was told (I have no recollection of this) that I uncharacteristically peed myself. My mom was astonished. After all I was way too old for that sort of thing. Something clicked in her mind. She thought about the bruises I’d had after the last appointment and told me I didn’t have to go in. She claims she told me that I never had to go back to Dr. Kerr. It must have been true for we never returned to his office. Unfortunately for me another monster layed in wait only a few doors down the hall.
My esteemed and well respected pediatrician had an office in the Professional Building. Dr. D. was a man whose face was never without a condescending sneer. In fact something in his countenance reminded me of Dr. Kerr. An authoritarian smirk that barely hid furious contempt. He always looked down at you from beneath his dark rimmed glasses as though he was disturbed that you had bothered him at all. He was a domineering man who spoke very gruffly to my mother. And she was extremely intimidated by him. She was a young, fresh off the farm unsophisticated, nervous new mother and he was a bully who hated women. Although we very rarely saw him (I was a pretty healthy kid) he never missed a chance to chide my mother for her nerves and the fact that she had wasted his time even contacting him at all. She took his bullying with the belief that her childrens’ health depended on her being entirely submissive to this older professional, highly educated man.
I shudder when I recall the harshness of his touch. How he pushed me to move or turn around without even asking as though I were a recalcitrant horse who needed swatted on the shoulder to move out of the way. Dr. D. did not, as far as I know, deign to actually speak to his young patients. At least not ones that were brought in by irritatingly naive uneducated working class moms. Dr. D. seemed to enjoy deliberately frightening my mother once he saw how cowed she was by his authority. It’s sad to think that she believed that keeping her kids healthy meant weathering this contemptible old man’s gruff putdowns.
Dr. D. seemed to see right through me. My shy demeanor coupled with the fear of men that was firmly put into place by Dr. James Kerr set me right in Dr. D’s predatory sights. Even at 8 years of age I knew that he had sized me up as an easy mark. And that is when he made his ghastly move.
“A routine checkup” is what my mother had told me days before the appointment. She knew I was afraid of him and wanted to prepare me ahead of time. She assured me that the appointment was nothing to worry about. No shots, no medicine, just a checkup. I was dubious. Already a cynic at 8 years old. And rightfully so.
I will never forget the smell of Dr. D’s office. The vinyl chairs, the alcohol, the Cepacol mouthwash used to disinfect the thermometers. I always felt instantly smaller when I walked into that office. As diminished as a small child can feel. The fear, the lack of control, the adults telling me what to do…it all made me feel inconsequential. As though I had no voice.
That morning Dr. D. pushed me down onto his exam table as he always did, wordlessly and brusquely. But this visit didn’t go as previous checkups had gone. This “routine” exam took a frightening unexpected turn when Dr. D. abruptly yanked down my panties as I lay prostrate on the table. I gasped, startled, and immediately moved to sit up only to be roughly pushed back down. He said nothing. He made no eye contact with me, but then again, he never had before.
I felt my heart beat faster. I felt the beginnings of what I now know is a cold sweat. Can such a young child feel foreboding? Definitely, and it’s a feeling that should never be in an 8 year old’s emotional repertoire. My sweaty palms gripped the paper that covered the exam table. It was then that Dr. D., without speaking, inserted his fingers into my vagina. I stopped breathing with the shock of that sensation. It hurt terribly. His fingers were so big and I was so tiny. I was being invaded and not understanding. When I at last caught my breath I managed to to squeak out a feeble whimper. He drove his fingers in further and the pain shot through my entire body.
I lay back, gripping the paper even harder. Waiting and praying for it to be over. But it didn’t end quickly. I do not know if the stabbing pain made the entire event seem prolonged in my young mind or if (as I am guessing now as an educated adult)Dr. D. sadistically enjoyed my terror and suffering so much that he was loathe to end it quickly.
When the pain became too much I begged him to stop. “But it HURTS!” I recall saying at least 3 times. Each time I spoke his fingers probed rougher and harder. He finally pulled out and relief flooded my body so intensely that I couldn’t even cry. The relief was instantly replaced by shame. I cannot recall a time where I was ever so totally consumed by humiliation. The shame actually felt physical. I was diminished, smaller, weaker and voiceless.
As a child you don’t realize what’s abnormal. I came to believe that Dr. D’s molestation was a normal part of a physician’s visit. I became terrified of him and did everything I could to avoid a visit. Drastic steps for a child to take. I suppressed and hid any symptoms of illness. I went to school with awful colds. I held back coughs. I taught myself not to vomit. To this day I still cannot throw up. I never got a pelvic exam until well into my adulthood.
It was also unfortunate that my fear of Dr. D. led my mother to the ridiculous idea that she should not inform me of impending appointments. I fought her so hard when she tried to bring me in for a doctor’s appointment that she decided witholding the information until the very last minute was the best possible option. I remember being at school only to be pulled out of class in the middle of the day and not informed that I was about to be taken to Dr. D’s office until I was in the car. I felt betrayed and shanghaied when this would happen. Hot tears would run down my face as I begged my mom to turn the car around. I shook violently. This would always lead to an admonishment to stop crying and get myself together before we arrived at our destination. My mother’s firm belief was that you NEVER betray your emotions in public and crying was not to be done in front of others.
Future visits with Dr. D. were unavoidable. To be fair, he never molested me again. I did keep a death grip on my panties during each subsequent exam. He snickered at this. It was the only time our eyes ever met, his and mine, and I knew with every fiber of my being that he understood why I would not let go of my undergarments and got a huge fiendish kick out of it.
“We like to get rid of them when they’re 12.” Dr. D. callously told my mom in my 11th year. Now I understand in a way I could back then. Back then I only felt immense relief. The burden of having to pretend I wasn’t ill when I actually was now left my life. I was finally too old for Dr. D. Pedophiles have an age limit. They place themselves in professions where children are abundant. This was only recently pointed out to me by an excellent therapist.
Not long ago I was at the beach with my 8 year old niece when I spotted a male acquaintance. I was about to introduce my little niece when she confidently stepped forward and did the honors herself. She extended her hand and proceeded to tell my gentleman friend all about school, ballet class, girl scouts and her new baby sister.
As I watched this conversation I was surprised to feel a lump form in my throat. I embarrassingly blinked back unexpected tears. With shame I realized that what I was feeling was a deep stab of jealousy. When I was my niece’s age I had already been robbed of the capacity to deal with grown men. I would have cowered. Kept silent. Adult men became suspect in my 8 year old mind. I had even taken to avoiding the harmless adult men in my childhood. I hid from my uncles. Stopped sitting on my beloved grandfather’s lap. Innocent men who loved me very much and were no doubt confused at my sudden withdrawal from them.
I have no idea what has become of Dr. Kerr. I’m guessing that he is dead. I hope his tortured life is over. He leaves a legacy of many beaten children . I have met several of his former patients over the years. It stands to reason. Erie is a small city and for a time he was the only pediatric dentist in town. I went to high school with a girl who proudly told the story of how she kicked him square in the nuts and ran screaming from his office. I asked her why. She told me that he had threatened to hurt her mom. I wish I would have had her courage. That I could say I trounced this violent jerk and made a daring escape. Instead I am somewhat shamed by the knowledge that I folded like pill bug.
Dr. D. is apparently long retired and living the good life in Florida. At least that is what the local society page says when he makes an occasional return trip to Erie to visit his children and grandchildren. He is usually referred to as “beloved” and “esteemed”. Those words don’t bother so much as the fact that he is visiting grandchildren. I hope they are over the age of 12.
I do not have any idea how many other children were affected by Kerr’s violence and D’s molestations. I am positive that there had to be many others. I hope life has been kind to those anonymous others. That they had enough support and kindness to live a life without fear. I think of them. I wonder about them. Are they haunted by the memories? Have they reclaimed their lives?
In a later blog I will write about an incredible healing experience that led me to forgive Dr. James Kerr. Dr. D. may never be forgiven by me. Very un – Christian I know. It’s difficult to even consider absolving a man who invaded a sacred space with such malice. Dr. D. disregarded a child. He is a disgrace to his profession. A healer who wounded rather than cured.
But maybe our journey isn’t always about forgiveness of others. Forgive is a hugely popular self help buzzword. Forgiveness of even the most monstrous wrongs done to our person is alleged to be powerfully healing. I propose that idea to be false. A silly notion put out there by the myriad of ” happy happy joy joy positive attitude everything is rosy when it really isn’t” self help crowd. Why don’t we start our healing journey by concentrating on ourselves. Healing from the abuse. The betrayal. The pain (physical or psychic) caused by somebody else when we were too vulnerable to avoid it. Reclaim your body. Reclaim your mind. Reclaim your sexuality. Reclaim your joy. Can it be done? I’m not sure. I’ve seen glimpses of it. Let’s take this journey together.