My extended family has spent Christmas Day together for as long as I can remember. There are 32 of us grandkids, so it’s quite a crowd. My Aunt Carol and Uncle Mick’s house was centrally located and big enough to host a huge group, so that’s where I spent nearly every holiday as a child — and always Christmas.
Uncle Mick is a child molester.
The victim, his wife’s little sister Shelby, ran away at 17. She had fallen in with a rough crowd, and we were told she was living on the streets in Las Vegas.
Her absence ensured her silence and everyone else in our extended family seemed perfectly comfortable just pretending they didn’t know why.
We all had busy families and lived scattered throughout the midwest, so we didn’t get together often. But every holiday, my Grandma N would insist we all get together. She was feisty and demanding, so it wasn’t really an option.
And every year, Grandma would force me to give Uncle Mick a hug and a kiss on the cheek for hosting the family.
I always wondered why my parents wouldn’t allow me and my siblings out of their sight when we were at family gatherings, or why my mom escorted me to the bathroom well into my teens. Or why she spent every Christmas morning crying and starting some silly fight with my dad by making rude comments about having to go to see “his family” again this year.
It was a family tradition, and I didn’t know why she got so worked up about it.
When I was 18, my mom finally told me more about my Aunt Shelby.
About 15 years after she skipped town, my parents were finally able to find her. She had been in and out of jail for years and spent a lot of time in shelters and on the streets. It wasn’t easy to get in contact with her, but with the evolution of the internet, they were finally able to track her down.
My dad missed his baby sister. He wanted to see her and hoped she would come back home with them and accept their help.
When they found her, they finally learned why she had run away and all the reasons she would never go back. She explained that she had tried to tell her mom, her sister, and a handful of cousins and friends that Mick had begun molesting her shortly after he and Carol met — which meant she was around 13 when it began.
Grandma didn’t believe her, because Grandma really didn’t want to believe it could be true. She told Shelby she must be mistaken or that she had given Mick the wrong impression. She convinced her that telling anyone else would mean she was actively trying to break up her own sister’s marriage. Grandma made it clear that no matter if it was true or not, Shelby would keep her mouth shut and never speak of it again.
No one ever bothered to ask Mick about any of it, and two weeks before her 18th birthday, Shelby left town for good.
On my parent's bus ride home from visiting Las Vegas, they put together a plan to go straight to the police station when they arrived home. First, they would march right into my grandma’s house and confront her.
But, Shelby made them promise they wouldn’t say anything.
She didn’t want Mick to go to jail or “ruin her sister’s life.” She knew he and Carol had three children now, and that her mother would never forgive her if she broke up her sister’s family.
When my parents arrived back home, they kept their promise to Aunt Shelby and stayed quiet while deciding what could be done.
A week later, they got a call from the Las Vegas Police Department notifying them Aunt Shelby had died of an accidental overdose.
The drugs may have killed her, but they knew Uncle Mick and the subsequent response she received from those she trusted had set the wheels of addiction in motion.
Every year, my extended family still gets together for most holidays — and always for Christmas.
They eat, drink, and exchange gifts like one big, happy, family.
Grandma N still tries to make all of the kids, grandkids, and now great-grandkids hug Uncle Mick and give him a kiss on the cheek to thank him for hosting.
My mom, dad, and siblings stopped playing along with their fucked up perfect family facade after Shelby’s passing.
We quickly replaced her as the black sheep of the family. But that’s okay, we would rather be alienated as outcasts than held ransom by the horrifying family secrets they still refuse to acknowledge.
Attitudes and ignorance about any kind of abuse can be passed down through the generations. It is important to our healing that we sort out the belief systems we adopt; belief systems that were taught to us and because they are so full of lies, they lead to all kinds of depressions, addictions and other struggles while we try to cope with the manifestations of the problems instead of the roots of the problems. — Darlene Ouimet
Did you know that every 73 seconds, an American is sexually assaulted? And every 9 minutes, that victim is a child?
To learn more, please visit RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network), it’s the nation’s largest anti-sexual violence organization. RAINN created and operates the National Sexual Assault Hotline (800.656.HOPE, online.rainn.org y rainn.org/es) in partnership with more than 1,000 local sexual assault service providers across the country and operates the DoD Safe Helpline for the Department of Defense. RAINN also carries out programs to prevent sexual violence, help survivors, and ensure that perpetrators are brought to justice.