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Lenten Trillium

Lenten Trillium

If somebody were to ask me which weekday was most significant in my life, I would reply, “Wednesday, hands down!” Please note that I said “most significant” and not “favorite” or “most enjoyable.” Yes, Wednesday has been an important day in my life, but that does not mean I have fond memories of the day.

So why does this day of the week stand out as being significant? I was born on Wednesday, for one thing—“Wednesday’s child is full of woe.” Remember that old nursery rhyme? Also, my favorite season of the liturgical church year is Lent, the season of personal change and of turning away from darkness and turning toward the light. And Lent is ushered in by Ash Wednesday. And finally, it was on the Wednesday of Holy Week, 1981, that my daughter and I visited the Centralia Police Department so she could give her statement to the police regarding the sexual abuse she had experienced. When I returned home from the police station, I wrote down notes so that in the future I would not forget what happened that Wednesday so long ago. Below is an abbreviated account of our experience that day.

At three o’clock we were ushered into what I can only surmise was an interrogation room, a starkly bare room containing four straight-back wooden chairs, a small wooden table, and a shaded light bulb that hung down from the ceiling. A uniformed male detective entered the room carrying a portable tape recorder which he told us was defective. I wondered to myself why he was using the recorder if he knew it didn’t work properly, but I kept my mouth shut.

The detective’s first question was, “What did your daddy do to you?” My daughter could only sob and was incapable of speech. After repeating the question several times and getting no answer, the detective took a different direction and asked her how often her daddy had abused her. Again, all my daughter could do was sob.

The detective returned to the first question, and my daughter did her best to reply, revealing, at the detective’s insistence, the most intimate details of her father’s demands. When she finished, the detective told us that the recorder had not picked up her answer and that she needed to repeat it so that he could be certain to record it. She tearfully complied, and I began wondering if my husband had been treated this roughly at the police station. Why was my daughter being treated as if she were the criminal?

Promptly at 3:30, the door to the interrogation room opened and a new uniformed male detective walked in and took over the questioning. He also took over the defective tape recorder and began the questioning from the beginning. The same questions again! My daughter was exhausted, and so was I, but we had no choice but to endure the interrogation. The social worker said nothing to the detective about my daughter’s condition, nor did she intervene when the questions were repeated. When the detective asked my daughter, however, if she had liked what her daddy did to her, she broke down and sobbed. The detective realized he would very likely get no more information from her, and the interview was terminated.

After the grilling, the detective told us that the material on the recorder would be transcribed and in a day or two an officer would drop by the house and ask my daughter to read her statement and sign it if it was accurate. With that, the social worker took us home, we ate a late dinner, and then, exhausted, we fell into our beds.

Words don’t accurately express my feelings regarding that visit to the police, and for the past thirty-some years the dark, seething anger I felt that day toward those detectives and toward the entire justice system in Lewis County has been trapped in the pit of my stomach or wherever within me all my memories of injustice and victimization lie in ferment. However, until this past Ash Wednesday, March 5th, 2014, I had not experienced that anger as being separate from the anger and pain I have associated with my former husband’s behavior. Now I can separate the experience at the police station from the experience of my former husband’s abuse; not only can I do that, but I can also forgive the police detectives for their behavior so long ago. How did I arrive at this point?

Ash Wednesday of this year, 2014, was another overcast and drizzly day here in the Chehalis Valley, one of a string of overcast and drizzly days. Bleak, wet, and cold. I forced myself to get up that morning at seven a.m., not knowing why I was getting up, but knowing I had a reason. By ten o’clock, I knew the reason: today was the day I was going to pay a visit to the Centralia P.D. and talk to a detective who interviewed child victims of sexual abuse. I wanted to let the detective know what the experience had been for my daughter in 1981, and I wanted to know if the interviews were done any differently now, in 2014. That was my day’s mission.

I arrived at the police station shortly after twelve noon not expecting to find anyone available to talk to me. After all, it was the lunch hour. I stated my business to the receptionist and then was surprised to be introduced to a detective immediately. I told him why I thought I was there, that I wanted to know if interview techniques are any different now from what they were when my daughter was interviewed. He read my description of the 1981 interview and began to talk to me.

As he talked, I realized that not only have the interviewing techniques changed over the years but the detective speaking to me possessed both sensitivity and empathy. In fact, this detective revealed to me that he made the effort to put himself in the places of the young victims and feel what they felt as they told their stories. He realized, he said, that no matter how much time should pass, the abuse experience would never completely disappear from the memories of the child victims he interviewed. This police detective is one of the few people I have ever encountered who truly understands the devastation wrought by sexual abuse. For this reason, he is dedicated to doing his absolute best when he interviews the kids.

In the course of our discussion, this detective did something absolutely wonderful: He gave me his sincere apology on behalf of the Centralia Police Department for the way the detectives in 1981 had treated both me and my daughter! He also pointed out the flaws in the way our case was handled and told me how it would be handled today. What’s more, as we said goodbye, he told me he would be happy to talk to my daughter if she thought it would help her!

As I rode the bus home, I understood that I had had an Ash Wednesday experience: The detective had given me a gift, the gift of a heartfelt apology that would lead me toward change during this season of Lent. I have, in fact, already forgiven those involved in my daughter’s interview. I realize now that they were ignorant as to the differences between interviewing children and adults. They needed information in order to pursue a case against my former husband, and they went about getting it as best they could at the time. As the detective told me, despite their techniques, the men who interviewed my daughter did not intend or want to hurt her or revictimize her. They were doing their job as best they could in the context of the times, in other words.

Yesterday as I walked to the post office I saw white camellias beginning to open to reveal their yellow centers, tiny pink blooms unfolding on the ornamental trees along the way, and brilliantly yellow daffodils bobbing on their slender stems alongside concrete foundations. By Easter Sunday, the valley of the Chehalis will be different from what it was on Ash Wednesday—brighter and more beautiful. My heart will feel brighter and more beautiful, too.

A Scottish blessing for this season of Lent:

May the blessing of the rain be on you—
the soft sweet rain.
May it fall upon your spirit
so that all the little flowers may spring up,
and shed their sweetness on the air.
May the blessing of the great rains be on you,
may they beat upon your spirit
and wash it fair and clean,
and leave there many a shining pool
where the blue of heaven shines,
and sometimes a star.

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