“MEAN”-ing

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I think back to my life between the ages of 7 and 14. It is remarkable that I survived.

They did not believe me when, as a preteen, I told my parents and my uncle that I was being abused by my grandfather. The abuse had gone on for years. After that, I had to continue to stay at Grandpa’s house numerous times for years. And the abuse continued.

I had to accept it. When you are a child, you don’t have a vote on plans or where you will visit. I accepted that I was in a battle that I had to fight alone.

I felt abandoned and alone, not to mention scared out of my wits. But I carried on, and I survived.

When you muster the courage to cry for help, and your petition falls on deaf ears, it is unlikely, especially as a child, that you will speak up again. The rejection and feeling of desperation and abandonment are too painful the first time. Why try again?

So, I learned to button my lip and deal with it.

I learned how to avoid him. I learned never to be alone at his home if I could avoid it, and I did so at all costs. I learned to stay away from the bottom of the stairs and the pool cabana.

Simultaneously, between the ages of 11-12, I was brutally bullied by a group of girls.

Double whammy.

I became close friends with five girls when we started middle school. We were at the age where we discovered boys and wore Levi cords with combs in our back pockets. Our hair was feathered; we listened to Andy Gibb, and our biggest concern was when our sibling would hang up the “Trimline” phone so that we could make a call.

We rode bikes and went to the library on Thursdays after school. We didn’t go for the books. We went for the boys.

Grade 6 was a different beast altogether.

Things took a turn. It was awful.

One moment, the five popular girls were my besties, giggling during class and sitting together at lunch. We discussed what boys were the cutest and that our Social Studies teacher used to be a nun. Then, the next day there was no seat for me at the lunch table. Later I would open my locker to see one of the dreaded notes, a piece of looseleaf paper carefully folded into a square with the end tucked in just so.

It looked like a compact, hard little square rock and felt like one too. My gut lurched as I unfolded it.

I would read that they had decided, on that given day, that they were all going to be mad at me. There was never a particular reason for their cruelty. They just felt like it.

They would be mad if I got a new pair of chinos, earned a better grade on my science test or God forbid, a cute boy liked me. The duration of the girls ostracizing me could be anywhere from a day to 2 weeks.

My stomach hurt all the time.

One morning I walked into the girls room during the third period and saw my name in black sharpie all over the stall. It still makes me ill to think of the text. It is unnecessary to bring up. You would not want me to.

I don’t know if I will every fully recover from what was violently plastered all over those yellow stall doors. It still haunts me.

By the end of the fourth period, the girls rooms smelled of fresh paint. I never told my parents or anyone other than my teacher, who called the custodian immediately.

Nothing more happened. That was that. The dreary yellow paint masked that blasphemy.

Don’t you think that the school should have taken this one step further? Don’t get me wrong. I did very much appreciate the paint. But as horrific as that writing on the wall was the fact that they ignored the actual writing on the wall was excruciating.

That excruciating pain was reminiscent. It felt all too familiar. Not long before I felt the same way when my parents did not acknowledge my abuse. Now, my school did not acknowledge it either.

Can you imagine how that felt?

I put the thermometer on the radiator the next day and for four days following. You can’t go to school with a fever.

I arrived at school every day wondering what was going to happen to me. My parents advocated for me constantly, but it fell on deaf ears because “Well, that is middle school girls for you!” or “She just needs to toughen up.” The worst was, “Just tell her to ignore them.”

Really? Really.

The situation escalated to the point where my parents pulled me out of public school and sent me to a private school for girls. There were subsequent rumors around that, too.

Sadly, bullying occurs all the time, especially with tweens.

Boys and girls bully differently. Boys tend to bully physically whereas girls bully by exclusion.

Girls are clandestine. Girls bully in packs and frequently, it is over power and popularity. Often it is because they feel threatened.

The term used to define this type of bullying is Relationship Aggression, and my middle school life was a perfect example of it. The hate notes, whispering, unprecedented abandonment and fabricate rumors are all examples of this. The aftermath is devastating. It can cause irrevocable damage.

Victims of bullying are afraid. They feel horribly vulnerable. They feel exposed and powerless. There is an overwhelming sense of sadness and isolation.

I did.

And, these feelings were reminiscent of those of my sexual abuse.

There is an uncanny parallel between sexual abuse and bullying. The root of both is dominance and power. It is the control over one who is vulnerable and weaker. In both crimes, and they are both crimes, is an active and common thread.

Shame.

A lot of my blog posts address surviving sexual abuse. But can you see how similar these two epidemics are? Bullying is very much alive and well just as is sexual abuse.

It keeps happening because no one stops it. It continues to thrive because it CAN.

Let’s cut it out.

Talk. Listen. Explore. Get involved. Read the signs. Your child’s health and happiness depend on it.

Click the link below for an excellent source on bullying. It was a source of information in this post. Check it out!

That’s all.

tweenparenting.com

 

Throwing Rocks

One beautiful summer morning my brother and I fetched our good friend, Steven, who lived across the street.  We wanted to play. All of us were around 6-7 years of age.

I had a brilliant idea. I suggested we stand on either side of our street, Steven on one side and big brother and I on the other.

The charge was to demonstrate our 7-year-old strength, agility, and skill by throwing rocks OVER passing cars.

We were talented. We were accurate. We were well equipped to handle the challenge.  That was until the ’73 White Camaro drove by.

We calculated, we paused then I hurled that rock. But something happened.The rock neglected to clear the roof of the car. It failed me.

That damn rock whaled itself right into the driver’s side panel.

SCREEEETTTCH!

WHOA.

A thin, stylish young woman  with a large bouffant hairdo, wearing a white mini-dress and white patent leather clunky sandals got out of the car and pointed her long pink pearly fingernail at us and just-

Screamed.

We were petrified. We ran. Big Brother and I hid underneath sofa in our den. The one that had the burlap cushions and the black wood frame with swirls and little pears painted on it.

We hung out with the dust bunnies ’till mom found us. I confessed. She was angry and stern.

But later I heard her on our yellow rotary phone in the kitchen telling our neighbor, Mrs. Nichols what happened.  Mom did not seem so angry, after all.

Sometimes, we think that we have what it takes. We feel overzealous.   But our actions can be destructive even with the best of intentions. Sometimes we think we are a lot stronger than we actually are.

As grown ups, it is hard to keep company with dust bunnies under a retro couch.

I have had my moments of feeling like Helen Reddy. Other times I want to melt away.  I want to quit. And quitting is embarrassing. Quitting requires humility especially when you quit while you are ahead.

I had a crush on my banker.  There was idle prattle each day as I executed my official business banking activity. We learned that we both shared an interest in fitness. Soon after, I learned that he was on some serious, competitive Rugby team. G. Q. had just done a photo shoot of his team all dirty with “”cauliflower” ears.  But I did not know that when I agreed to go on a running date with him.

He invited me to go for a run along Boston’s Esplanade. “SURE!” an overenthusiastic Mary replied. Off we went me wearing my cute lavender/purple matching lycra running “outfit.”  He chatted. I panted

I thought, “How freaking long is this date (strike that) RUN going to last????”

I surrendered myself to a bench. He jogged in place looking puzzled.   Date over.

New bank.

I thought I was invincible. I wanted to impress him. I committed to a “running date” with an elite athlete and believed that I could keep up with him.  I bit off WAY more than I could chew.

And in trying to impress him, in attempting to be someone who I was not, I ended up feeling embarrassed. I did not end up with a second date, either. But that is another story.

That run was much like that rock that slammed into the Camaro.  I did not expect that outcome.  I was humbled. But I went to meet my friends for a beer after that humiliating date instead of hanging out under the couch. That was an uptick.

My girlfriends talked me off the ledge.

Let me share an example of my poor judgment that turned out with a positive twist.

I knew my first husband for many years.  We were acquaintances living in the same Boston neighborhood.  He was attractive and charming.  Over the years, our friendship grew and eventually we started dating.

Our relationship seemed perfect.  We were in the throws of early infatuation then puppy love.  It all seemed just ideal and fulfilling and meant to be, and I was over the moon!

Before long we were saying the L word. Within a year, we were engaged and together we bought a condo in Boston’s Back Bay.

Moving in together was an eye opener.

Our idealistic relationship became real and raw and hard.  What seemed perfect went sour.  I was unhappy. As was he.

We started out happy and loving and kind to one another.  Once the ring was placed on my finger, the tide changed.

Jealousy became poison.  I could not defend myself against crimes I did not commit. We were in constant drama and turmoil.

My stomach was in knots all the time.

We were co-dependent.  It was not good.

As a perfectionist, failure was not an option.  I could fix it. I could make him love me if I just loved him BEST and BETTER. I could teach him not to be unjustifiably jealous.

I could change him. I knew it.

All you need is love, right?

I took off my engagement ring about two months before we got married. When I learned that I was pregnant just ten weeks before our wedding, I saw it as a sign and put the ring back on my finger.

I decided that  I had enough love to save US.  I was certain that we would live happily ever after.  We would have a beautiful, perfect life with our condo in the Back Bay and our baby.

Boy was I wrong.

Three days before we said, “We do” we had our first appointment with the OB.  It was not good.  There was no heartbeat. I  miscarried.

His family was arriving from Ireland while I was in the hospital.  There was no turning back. Or so I thought.

I think he would agree that we both should have legged it from that altar.

A year later I was pregnant and nine months later had a gorgeous boy. Blessed.

But my husband and I never made it.  It was a struggle from the start. It was a hard six years.  It ended. But we had our joy, our son, which made it all worthwhile.

Here is the takeaway.  We all aspire. We have the best of intentions. But you know what? Things do not always go as planned.

We are not always capable of what we think. And that is a beautiful thing, kids!

At the end of the day, that just says that we have a high opinion of our power. Of what we are capable.

It is ok if you cannot hurl that rock over the Camaro.  The part to focus on is that you believed in yourself. You took the chance. You look back and see that your choice may not have been a wise one, but you lived through it.

And eventually, Sugar, you crawl out from under that couch, wipe off the dust bunnies and say, “Onward!”

Failure is an option.

And the strength to accept it, accept yourself as a human being with the delightful ability to be less than perfect is just, well, perfect.

Now, shake things up, honey, and have some fun.  And please, for the love of Pete, quit beating yourself up.  We can’t always clear the Camaro with a huge rock.

That’s all.

Collected Thoughts

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Trust your gut.

Money isn’t everything. And in many cases, it isn’t anything.

Wear clothes that fit.

Don’t squeeze yourself into a 4 when you are a 6. Wear an 8 and look like a 2

Polish your shoes.

Your dress size and your self-worth are measured on two completely different scales.

Your ego can be your best friend or your worst enemy.

No date is ever more important than your best friend in need.

Women must depend on each other for their emotional needs.

Tell the truth.

Believe that everyone is doing the best they know how and accept that with a loving heart.

Believe that others have good intentions.

Offer the benefit of the doubt.

Make eye contact with a warm smile as often as possible.

That’s all.

eye lock

I was 15 years old and in my freshman year at Ursuline Academy. My home room teacher was Sr. Ursula. She also happened to be my Latin teacher. I loved her.

But I did not love Latin.

Sr. Ursula took attendance on one cold and dreary December morning. When I uncharacteristically mumbled a quietly “here,” she looked up at me, paused and walked to my desk. She took me in her arms and after a few moments she asked,

“Mistress Mary, what troubles you so?”

I fell apart.

Nana had suffered a stroke the evening before.

Nana was on life support. My mother and her siblings and spouses gathered around her hospital bed. My brother and I were the oldest of her seven grandchildren and the only grandchildren present.

My mother spoke to Nana as if she were conscious. Mom encouraged my brother and me to do the same.

I did as told. I prattled to Nana about my cheerleading practice that I’d had earlier that day. I told her I did well on my math test. I couldn’t think of anything else to say as she laid peacefully with the ventilator doing its job.

I shifted from one foot to the other. My brother and I continued to catch eyes. We knew it did not look good.

Nana passed away the next day.

My Nana was a kind and special lady. She touched many lives. It was not surprising to see such an outpouring of people gather to offer their condolences at her wake.

But.

It was disarmingly surprising to look up and see my three cousins standing in that funeral parlor clutching their mother, my Aunt Betty.

“Surprising” is the understatement of the century.

I am referring to The Aunt Betty. The Aunt Betty who called my grandfather out on sexually abusing my cousins. The one who ensured that her children would never, ever have to see that monster again.

That one.

There in the parlor stood an incredibly brave woman embracing her three beautiful daughters as if she were their coat of armor.

The moment the family noticed her, the energy in that room filled with disdain. In their eyes, she was repugnant. The divorce of my uncle and her was atrocious. But that wasn’t the real reason they loathed her.

She was the one who exposed our grandfather for sexually abusing two of her daughters.

The girls looked horrified, frightened and as if they were trying to melt into their mother. Aunt Betty held them tightly. Very tightly. So much so that the four of them looked like one.

My eldest cousin, with eyes, averted to the floor, buried herself into my aunt’s left arm. My youngest cousin, only waist-high to her, buried her face into her mother’s hip.

Then, there was Laura. Laura leaned into her mother’s embrace with her left leg planted on the floor, and her right crossed behind it.

At that moment, Laura and I locked eyes.

She smirked. Not a mischievous smirk, Not a disingenuous smirk or glib smirk.

It was the same smirk that both of us wore in our school photos that were taken around the time we were being abused by Grandpa.

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It was a knowing smirk.

Those moments were profoundly impactful. She and I connected on a very intense level. I will never, ever forget it.

There stood a very brave woman. She dauntlessly brought her girls to say goodbye to their Nana, whom they loved. That took such strength in a room filled with such disdain.

But she did it.

Just as she had the courage to stand up for her daughters.

She had guts. She had gumption. She had MOXIE.

That was the last time I saw Laura. We never spoke the words of our abuse to one another.

But that look, that eye lock, said it all.

And 35 years later we have made up for time. We face it. We talk about it. We compare notes and share similar stories of how our lives have played out.

We continue to heal together.

That was the connection that my cousin Laura and I always had growing up together. We understood each other. We knew each other. And sadly, tragically, even, we lost many years.

Reuniting with her has been a blessing. It has been easy. And you know what? Our reunion feels like slipping into my favorite and most loved slippers.

That’s all.

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October 25, 1984. My Dear Mary Beth,…

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“Drinking beer and telling lies” as Dad would say (at the 2004 World Series)

It is Father’s Day. This is the fourth Father’s Day that has arrived since my dad died. I still miss him every single day.

One good thing is that this is the FIRST Father’s Day that I did not cry when I went to the card aisle.  That has to count for something.

Recently, I helped my mom clean out her attic.  I found a box of my old stuff.  In it, I discovered an envelope with my name written in my father’s notorious script.  It was one of the Palanka letters I received on my Junior Retreat.

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Here is what he wrote down.

October 25, 1984

My Dear Mary Beth, This is a difficult letter to write because I try to tell you as often as possible how I feel about you, and something new is hard.  I’ll try not to be too long-winded.

Every day I pray and thank God for you, for you are the most wonderful gift that I could receive from Him. You are my joy and my happiness.

I know that I ‘m not as patient with you as I should be.  I know that I’m short with you, and I regret it every time.  I hope that you know it’s because I want you to be everything you can, and I seek your happiness always.

No man could ask for more than you are in a daughter. You’re a good girl yet full of fun and life. You’re a mover and a shaker who loves God and is loved by God very much (look at the mother he gave you.)

Thank you, Mary, for never giving me a worry or a care about what or who you are. Thank you for being a truly beautiful person. Thank you for all the happiness, joy, love, fun and pride you have given to me.

Thanks for understanding that your daddy doesn’t want you to grow up and understanding that I’ll always need to have you as my little girl.

Thank you for talking to me more. Thank you for being kind to others. Thank you for being nice to Gram. Thank you for making your mother so happy.Thank you for being such a good friend and sister to your brother.

But I supposed that I thank God for you so often that I should say thank you for being you. I could go on and on.

I could go on even longer about the things you have forgiven me for and how you still love me. Thank you.

When we found out that you were to be born, I was as happy as I had ever been.  When you were born on December 31 and gave me a tax deduction for the whole year,  that was a sign of the beginning of all the good things and happiness that your brought and are still bringing to us all.

My dream for you is that you be as happy and fulfilled as you can possibly be.  I pray that God allows you to be as happy as you have made your family and me.

I pray that Jesus takes you in his arms and protects you forever.

After that, I pray you have all that you want and that you have children that make you as happy as you have made me.

Mary Beth, you are a beautiful woman with charm and grace, blessed with intelligence and wit as well as an inner glow that makes you shine.

I thank God for allowing me to be your father. It’s a high gift.

I truly love you now and forever – no matter what.

Daddy

I loved my father dearly. But I am the first to admit (as would he) that our relationship was complicated.  That is not to say that it lacked love.  Quite to the contrary, we adored each other.

But there were hurts. There were disagreements.  We had our share of impasses.

The thing is that our relationship was always REAL.

This letter is invaluable to me.  I will hold it in my heart forever. It is a gift better than any other he had ever given to me. I treasure it.

So on this Father’s Day, 2015, I don’t feel quite so sad that my dad is not with me, grilling a steak and drinking a beer or hitting some golf balls as we used to do.  Because you know what? He is right here.

Happy Father’s Day.

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  To learn about palanka click this link http://www.ehow.com/how_8088924_write-palanca-letter.html

Chicken “Marysala”

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Here is my Culinary -“ARTS STUDIO.”

My bestie, Clare, has always said that I could make a few pieces of lettuce look delicious on a plate.  She is also the friend who lets me wear neon bike shorts in high school and let me marry my first husband.  But those are stories for another day.

I started placing said lettuce on that plate back when she and I were around 15 years old. I have come a long way, Baby.

I caught up with Clare tonight.  We live insanely crazy lives. But no matter how busy we are, she and I always carve out time for each other.

Because that is what best friends do.

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She has always stood up for me- both at the dress rehearsal wedding and this one, the main performance.

Clare keeps me grounded. She talks me off the ledge, encourages me and always has my back. She and I have been friends since 1982. We have had some serious run time.  The way I see it is that if she hasn’t dumped me by now, she probably won’t.

And I have forgiven her for the neon bike shorts.

She is exhilarated and exhausted by her new job.  She is trying to find the balance. She wants to crawl into bed at night and relax.  I SO get it.  I feel the same way. And I told her I could relate.

Clare said, “Mar, of course, you’re spent.  It’s not like you are writing about how to grow tomatoes.”

She was so right.

I am writing about my life. I am in a place of vulnerability. That is hard to turn off.

But, when my tank is empty, cooking fills me up.

One of my great passions is cooking. With or without tomatoes, it is as therapeutic as writing or going for a long run or organizing the sock drawer.

I read cookbooks the way some read novels. I devour them. They inspire me. The pages of my favorite cookbooks prove that they are loved by the smudges and smears of past creations. That may sound gross, but it is usually just the remains of some innocuous ingredient like olive oil. Don’t worry.

There is a process.

First, I hunt.

I get jazzed about reading a few recipes by my favorites, Julia, Ina, and Tyler.  Then,  I transform their ideas into my creation.  I encounter success and, on occasion, the big FAIL.

Then, I gather.

I am a grocery store aficionado. Maybe it is the agility with which I push my cart through the aisles.  Maybe it is the comfortable conversation I have with my favorite butcher, Douglas.  Who knows?

Trust me when I say that people randomly approach me in the aisle and ask me where to find the fish sauce or the golden raisins. It is as if I have a neon halo above my head flashing “pro-shopper” in two-second intervals. Yesterday, a dear elderly lady asked me where to find the bread crumbs.  We were standing right next to them.

Then, I create.

Creating can be messy, but it is rewarding. The transgression from “mise en place” to “TA AAA DAH!” evokes success. It brings joy and a feeling of accomplishment.  Best of all, cooking makes the people I love happy.

When my marriage was falling apart my past husband and I were disconnected and miserable, cooking became a coping mechanism for both of us. I did the cooking. He did the eating.  What a perfect arrangement.

At the time, our son was just a toddler who consumed so much time and energy, as wee ones do.  My ex and I both worked. We were always tired. At night, there were stories and prayers and tuck-ins (usually more than one.) Then, we were alone.

“Alone” and “us”:  not a good combo.

My former husband took to watching TV.  I took to the kitchen.  I would start cooking at 8:00 P.M. and usually somewhere around 10:00 P.M.  I would serve dinner in front of that TV.

It was our only semblance of togetherness. And at that time it worked. The TV held power over the dinner conversation. That made it easier for both of us.

In cooking, I found comfort.  It was my escape. It was the way he and I avoided one another, and it worked. I was so comfortable in the kitchen. I was having a fling with my cutlery and my copper core pans.

It sort of saved me.

My marriage ended, but my cooking was just the beginning of a whole new world.

My love of cooking started in my childhood home. My mom taught me well. I loved standing on a chair watching and helping as she cooked dinner on many nights.

Mom is an amazing chef who taught me, amongst other things, that cooking is chemistry. I thought I was screwed. Oh, how I struggled in Sister Robert’s chemistry class!

But as long as I was not required to balance any chemical equations, I was ok.

Mom’s Chicken Marsala was the bomb and became my “go to.” If I wanted to impress, I pulled out her recipe.  You know that “man’s heart and stomach” thing?  Chicken Marsala became my secret dating weapon.

Her recipe was decadent and delicious.  It was time-consuming as well but still worth the effort especially when love was at stake.  I cut, chopped, dredged, buttered and sautéed my way to the masterpiece (or heart-attack) on a plate.

It is funny, but I never cooked Chicken Marsala for My Michael until after we were married.  There has to be something subliminally psychological with that one, don’t you think?

My Michael sits with me as I cook, keeps me company and is my official taste-tester.  What a difference from my past days as a solo chef with no taste-tester.

Now, cooking brings our family together. It is not a means by which I isolate myself. Our routine is to come together at the table, break bread and break the news of the day. It is fun. Also, The Three Musketeers (A.K.A. our boys) provide our nightly dinner entertainment.

About a year ago one of my personal chef customers requested Chicken Marsala. Although my mom’s recipe had always been the gold star,  I decided to shake things up.  I studied a few recipes, and this is what I turned out.

It takes half the time as my mom’s delicious recipe as well as half the butter. They loved it!

So today, I wish to share a recipe with you.  I have cooked Chicken Marsala many times. Over time, however, it has evolved and become a newer version.  It has become a symbol of how I have created myself and how I have evolved, too.

So, enough of the cushy stuff.   Let’s get cooking, friends!

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Chicken “Marysala”

  •  4 skinless, boneless, chicken breasts (about 1 1/2 pounds)
  • All-purpose flour, for dredging
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 Tbs. Bacon fat (I keep a mason jar with pan drippings on hand in my fridge. It is worth the calories.Trust me)
  • 8 ounces crimini or porcini mushrooms stemmed and halved 
  • 1/2 cup sweet Marsala wine
  • 1/2 cup chicken stock
  • 2 tablespoon  butter
  • 1/3 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley

Directions

Put the chicken breasts side by side on a cutting board and slice diagonally so that you have thin slices.

Lay a piece of parchment paper over them (or use paper towels if you prefer); pound with a flat meat mallet, until they are about 1/4-inch thick.

Put about 11/2 cups of flour on another piece of parchment paper and season with about 1 Tsp. of  Kosher salt and 1/4 tsp of pepper. Mix well to evenly distribute the seasonings

Set aside.

Heat the oil over medium-high in a large skillet (I use my grandmother’s cast iron skillet that quickly conducts heat evenly.)

While the oil heats, dredge both sides of the chicken cutlets in the seasoned flour and then shake the excess.

Place the cutlets in the skillet and fry for 4-6 minutes on each side until golden, turning once.

Do not crowd the pan; you need to be sure that there is space between the cutlets for them to cook properly.

Remove the chicken to half-sheet pan (a cookie sheet or oven-proof platter will do) which has been covered with foil of parchment paper. This makes the clean up much easier.

When all the cutlets are cooked, place in a 350-degree oven for about 10 minutes.

Lower the heat to medium, and add the bacon fat to the drippings in the pan. Saute for 1 minute to render out some of the fat.

Add the mushrooms and saute until they are browned, and most of the moisture has evaporated 6 minutes or so, season to taste with salt and pepper.

Pour the Marsala in the pan and increase the heat to high. Boil about a minute to cook down the alcohol.

Add the chicken stock and simmer for 2 minutes or so to reduce the sauce slightly.

Stir in the butter until melted.

Place the cutlets back into the skillet.  Simmer gently for several minutes on medium low.

Season with salt and pepper.

Plate the chicken and garnish with the fresh parsley.

Serve with rice pilaf or risotto.

That’s all.

What about the girls?

Before I begin, kindly allow me to clear the bile from the back of my throat.

Ah-hem.

I am intensely pained by what has been exposed concerning the “19 and Counting” Duggar family.

Let me open by stating that I am not assuming,  I only imagine what it must be like in the lives the girls who were the victims of Josh Duggar’s abuse.

I have been raised in a family that takes modesty to the extreme.  Girls are not allowed to wear skirts above the knee, and must be chaperoned during courtship. My family does not go swimming because other men might look lustfully at women wearing swimsuits.

There is an element of great shame around sexuality.

I am a young girl, part of an enormous family, whose show has been aired on television for years. My family is the epitome of Christian values and faith and God’s love. I am pure. I will be chaste when I marry the one man I will be with forever. Sharing myself with more than one man is a sin. Doing so would make me impure and undesirable.

But.

My brother destroyed that path. He took that from me. In the eyes of my family and God, I am forever marred. That is what I have been taught. According to my family beliefs, I am tainted and impure. I reached out to tell my parents about my abuse but either they did not believe me, or they choose to ignore it. I live with it. I have lived a lie on that television program for years, wearing a mask and going along with it.

It is a crime.  It is a tragedy. It is heartbreaking.

These girls, along with others outside the family, have lived with this for years, alone, ashamed and hurting. I have had a visceral reaction to the news about Josh Duggar, and rightfully so.

In hearing this story, I have re-lived what happened to me as a girl.

Sexual abuse is happening everywhere. It is happening in both the most affluent and the most poverty-stricken neighborhoods and every one in between. It is happening within a family whose Christian lives have been televised for over a decade.

Here is a family devoted to God and Faith and Goodness. Their eldest child has admitted to sexually abusing girls, including his sisters. Now, he is sorry. He and his family believe that God has forgiven him. God is merciful.

I am a Christian. I believe in God’s love. I believe that, most importantly, there is God in each and every one of us and that we all come into this world good. I believe in forgiveness.

BUT
 this hypocrisy is staggering.

There was more than one occasion over several years when the victims came forward and exposed the crimes to Josh’s father, Jim Bob. Their pleas were ignored. Finally, Jim Bob took this “family matter’ into his own hands and dealt with it in his own way. He enlisted the help of the church elders, a construction company and a Arkansas state trooper who he knew personally.

And that trooper is now serving a 56-year prison sentence for child pornography, by the way.

Now, years later, this comes out.

Josh committed a crime. This was not a “family matter.”

Let’s get beyond the statements we have seen by Josh, his parents, and his wife, Anna. I have read their press releases detailing how sorry they are and that God is Merciful and has forgiven them. They are so thankful.

I believe that God is Merciful.

But what about the girls?

There is a great focus on God’s forgiveness. It is easy for God to forgive. That is who God is. Again, what about the girls? What does the apology look like to them? Have Josh and his parents  approached the victims for their mercy and forgiveness?

We have read that the girls forgive them. I respect and honor the victims’ privacy and understand that may have, in fact, forgiven them.

But what does forgiveness mean, anyway?

I have struggled so to forgive those who discarded my plea for help. No one believed me when I came forward about my abuse. It has been brutally difficult. I struggle so.

It takes enormous courage to step up and tell your story. It took everything I could muster to tell my elders that I had been abused. I don’t think I could have brought it up without the springboard of my cousins saying the same thing.

Only one out of six adults believed my cousins and me. My cousins never had to see our grandfather again. I did. I had to return to that hell over and over again. I continued to suffer, but I learned how to cope.  I learned how to hide from him.

Being disregarded was almost more traumatic than the abuse itself.

Josh’s victims were also disregarded.  They had to repeatedly to ask for help. What was it like for them when they told Jim Bob? In a family that believed that sex is not to be discussed, that must have been excruciating.

I hope that they are getting the help that they deserve. I hope that they feel comfort in knowing that the world knows now and that there are millions who are on their side.

I need to clear my throat again and take a few Tums.

So.

The best I can do from my removed place is to share a message with these young women.

Dear Beautiful Girls,

I am so, so sorry that this happened to you.

You are not victims. You are survivors. You are strong. You are beautiful. You are loved.

Although I do not know you, I know your pain, and I share in your hurt.

You did not deserve what happened to you. You had nothing to do with it. It was a horrible, horrible injustice.

It’s NOT your fault.

Josh committed a crime. He should have suffered the consequences. He did not.

My cousin Laura and I reported our abuser, our grandfather, 35 years after he abused us. At that time, he had been dead for 17 years. The police took us seriously. They launched a full investigation. They believed us.

Hundreds of thousands have read our story online, and countless survivors have said, “ME, TOO.”

You are not alone.

You will get through this.

I believe you.

Love,

Your Sister in Surviving,

Mary

That’s all.