This may be a triggering post for anyone who has been impacted by sexual violence. If you feel like that could be your experience and reading this would not serve you and your health, I encourage you to instead do something you love that warms up your heart <3 Sending you love.
When the world knows your family, things shift. Your perspective changes, that's for sure, and sometimes you feel like you're watching things happening from a removed place. Not out of body but also not in body.
We are coming up on 1 year of the release of The Keepers, and for those who do not know, Jean is my aunt/godmother. Those were my uncles and aunts on screen. The Mike and Jean love story everyone's heart filled and broke for, that was my favorite love story. His death was my first experience with paralyzing loss. My family, yes is the greatest and strongest support and love someone could ever know.
I never planned or wanted to write anything about The Keepers because to be perfectly honest, it's not my story to tell. I felt woefully unqualified to comment on it other than to rage when certain organizations sought to discredit the documentary and those in it, and to agree when someone would say how strong Aunt Jeannie is. But yesterday I was having a conversation with a mentor of mine from graduate school. I hadn't settled in with her and had a long chat since before The Keepers was released.
A lot of times when people realize who my family is and they've seen the documentary the response is shock and an explanation to others around us what the story is. I often times say very little because the social situation isn't open to talking about systemic, prolonged sexual violence and the aggressive silencing and the further trauma that followed. Also if I'm not prepared to talk about it to people who don't know very much about it, I get red in the face, stutter a lot, and sometimes start crying.
So my mentor and I were chatting and she said she realized who I was and my family and my aunt was when she was watching the documentary and saw me running around in a family video. I was shocked. In that video I am about 4 years old, had a short bowl haircut, and am sprinting/dancing around with one of my cousins. The fact that she could pick me out of that video was impressive. We went into it a bit and she said something along the lines of "Oh you're here for a reason," talking about our field public health and advocacy. I agreed with her but told her I hadn't figured out much more than that because it was difficult to talk about. Her response?
"Oh but you need to talk about it."
That comment punched me. It nuzzled into my brain and set up camp. It spread out and wrapped it's arms around all my other thoughts. Twirling in whenever it felt and nudging me to take her more seriously. It was the opposite of what I have always told myself. It contradicted what felt normal. I always saw my role as loving support. Another layer in the family who was there to listen when needed and shit on shitty people when the mood called on it. I never gave myself permission to address it as a family member.
So here's what I would like to say.
Things don't always happen for a reason. It's an off hand comment people love to say to push them through a time. That overly simplifies and allows people to remove themselves from the pain and suffering people are going through. No amount of heroism and advocacy and conversation could ever make what happened to my aunt and all the other survivors worth it.
Every adult who knew what was going on, who could have stopped it, who could have helped Maskell rot in a prison and instead chose their own selfish gains? They're responsible. There are a lot of spineless people who are sitting comfortably in a seat of power. Think about who you elect. Think about who you support. There's a reason things continued for so long and didn't go to trial.
Jean is more amazing than you think. We all love her and know her and have grown up with her guidance and support and for that we are better people. Her strength is staggering and her laugh contagious.
Some people are evil and that's it. I spent a lot of my childhood and young adulthood trying to figure out why someone would want to brutally harm and traumatize another human. It came down to the fact that some people are fucked up. You cannot put reason on something so horrific. You can't slap a "everything happens for a reason" on it and call it justified.
There are real people behind the podcasts, series, movies, and documentaries we're slurping up as a culture. People seem to be living in a moment where someone elses pain and suffering is becoming their evening entertainment. We all have the best of intentions and it's very natural to talk about stories we watch or hear that just seem too absurd to be true. But remember there are actual people. Actual mothers and sisters and brothers and children behind those stories. There are families who had to reorganize and re-calibrate. Faiths and foundations were shattered. Yes, they were rebuilt, but just keep in mind the human capacity that went into every moment. Don't filter it down to an hour of your day filled with "so crazy" stories and move on.
Ryan and Jess are kick-ass people with enormous hearts.