Brandy was petite, with fiery red hair, a generous laugh, a quick tongue, an agile mind.
A spitfire. She fairly sizzled with energy, this woman I first met over the phone when I called the game on my child-molesting dad.
I had waited until my children were in school to make the call, my hands shaking uncontrollably, but resolve thrummed through my very bone marrow. This was a first step in a journey I intended to follow through to a conclusion.
I thought I had a pretty good idea what it would take. Boy, was that downright wrong.
I think it’s fair to say that had I known, I doubt I’d have had the courage for the enormity of what was to come.
Or, maybe I would have simply been even more shaken than I was right then on the phone. I had never been surer of the rightness of my decision to protect my children.
I was also clueless. Naïve. Still holding out hope that somehow these devastating predators would miraculously find a conscience. Would turn around and say, “I’m sorry.” Talk about a fairy tale.
“Brandy.” Statement, no question.
I stammered, “I need to talk to someone about my father.”
“Don’t we all,” Brandy said with strength and a hint of wry empathy. “Which part about your father do you want to talk about, and let’s see if we can help.”
I paused a very long moment.
“I don’t believe I got your name,” Brandy said. “What’s your name, sweetheart?”
Oh, dear god, kindness undid me. I forced back a sob and whispered, “Laura.”
“Okay, Laura, I’m here. Take it slow,” she said gently.
I couldn’t think what was most important. Which part should I tell first?
So, I managed a verbal vomit of information: “My older sister had my dad’s baby. He’s molested us all. Now he’s playing a game he used to play when I was a kid – it’s called ‘tiger’ – with MY kids. It’s just all hit me. He can’t be near my children. My mom’s in on it too. I’m scared to death because he’s played the same game before!”
I can’t imagine that regurgitation making sense, but Brandy said, “You know what? You and I DO need to talk. What a bastard!” (I liked her a lot for that.) “Would you be willing to come in and spend a little time with me? I need to know more in order to help you think through next steps. We’ll need to play this well. Statutes of limitations are rotten, but let’s see what we might be able to do. First though, I need to make sure we get your kids protected. When can you come in?”
Brandy was the first woman who actively went to bat for me. I liked her “in your face” firmness, her fierce dedication to truth.
She backed down to no one, but was civil about it. Imagine that! She got me the people I needed to take us out of our hell into health. She walked the entire six-year war with me.
When I moved to another state, and David (my ex and my children’s birth father) brought suit again for custody, my entire team of experts flew up and bore witness for me and my children, again.
Brandy’s strategy was a brilliant double bind for David. Get healthy and you will see your children. Or, choose not to, and you won’t. This time, we got it done. Brandy and the team did that for me. Wow.
She’s not the first woman who loved and supported me. That would be my grandma. Nor was Brandy the first woman I’ve admired or who was kind to me. I’d had one best friend, an Ethiopian girl.
But this woman stood with me in my truth. Shoulder to shoulder. She had a whale of a lot more life experience than me, had done her own “getting healthy” work and was now giving back. To me. And my children.
Decades ago, I decided to stand in my truth. Brandy already had.
Each time a woman stood in her truth, said “Hear Me. See me,” we added to a sisterhood that began a movement toward solidarity.
I imagine each of us, side by side, forming the foundations of pyramids allowing more women and children to rise higher than any solitary voice.
Because we gave voice, stood for truth, those alongside or stepping tentatively forward, could now have a path to equality as human beings.
We, of an enlightened age and first-world country, still hold a staggering statistic: There are 42 million of us out there in the U.S. today who were abused as kids. Whose little childlike voices wanted to say, “Hear me. See me. Love me.”
The confusion in their faces a perfect reflection of their hearts when a trusted one hurt them. As children, when an adult crosses the abuse line, we’re like a puppy spanked for something it doesn’t understand. And, of course the question comes, “What did I do?”
One woman, Brandy, started me on my journey to safety and peace. A small cadre of friends stood with me in the halls of justice bearing witness to me as a good woman.
I am now part of the most breathtakingly beautiful sisterhood, across a broad spectrum of interests and passions, with whom I laugh, cry, joke, love and find infinite connection.
On International Women’s Day, I stand with, and honor women of any age, in any country as they seek balance in equality. Balance is better.
And, I would be remiss if I did not also thank the good men, who have listened well, loved well and actively supported those of us who sought equal footing.
And so – give. Give back, if you are one who has transcended trauma. Or, if you enjoyed a childhood without trauma, give as a way of honoring those who raised you well.
There are those who need us.
Editor’s note: This article is part of a series for International Women’s Day (March 8). The previous articles in the series are:
Why You Need to Say the Other F Word in Church by Meredith Stone
Allowing Sexual Abuse Survivors to Find Their Voice by Pam Durso
She Matters: Providing Hope, Opportunity to Women Globally by Jennifer Lau
Examining Trends in Theological Education for Women – Part 1 by Eileen R. Campbell-Reed
Examining Trends in Theological Education for Women – Part 2 by Eileen R. Campbell-Reed
Laura Landgraf, author of “The Fifth Sister,” is a social activist, retreat leader and motivational speaker. Her TEDx Talk is “Razed by Lions: A New Way to Think about Healing after Trauma.”