Tag Archives: Childhood sexual abuse

Ode to Billy Joe and the faceless manikins

Tallahatchie_bridge-Hwy_7_MississippiIt was the other day, June 3, 2015 to be precise, when Paul Morris, a fellow MFA Goucher graduate, reminded me of Bobby Gentry’s “Ode to Billy Joe.”  Forty-eight years ago, on June 3, 1967, Gentry penned her masterpiece.  How could I allow decades to pass before revisiting the rhythmic, haunting lyrics depicting the day when Billy Joe MacAllister jumped off the 220px-OdetobillyjoeTallahatchie Bridge?  Gentry and I had a reunion of sorts.  I began listening to a YouTube performance of her “Ode to Billy Joe;” over and over, perhaps twenty to thirty times.  It was as addictive as my Oxycodone pain-poppin’ pills that kept my back from breaking apart in the hills of southern Illinois, some five-hundred miles north of the Tallahatchie Bridge.  Maybe the passage of time has blessed me with a deeper understanding of Gentry’s lyrical gem.  Or perhaps years of therapy has graced my psychic with insights never experienced before.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_T4qsvFAkFM
***

Ode to Billy Joe
by Bobby Gentry

It was the third of June, another sleepy, dusty Delta day
I was out choppin’ cotton, and my brother was balin’ hay
And at dinner time we stopped and walked back to the house to eat
And mama hollered out the back door, “y’all, remember to wipe your feet!”
And then she said, “I got some news this mornin’ from Choctaw Ridge
Today, Billy Joe MacAllister jumped off the Tallahatchie Bridge”

And papa said to mama, as he passed around the blackeyed peas
“Well, Billy Joe never had a lick of sense; pass the biscuits, please
There’s five more acres in the lower forty I’ve got to plow”
And mama said it was shame about Billy Joe, anyhow
Seems like nothin’ ever comes to no good up on Choctaw Ridge
And now Billy Joe MacAllister’s jumped off the Tallahatchie Bridge

And brother said he recollected when he, and Tom, and Billie Joe
Put a frog down my back at the Carroll County picture show
And wasn’t I talkin’ to him after church last Sunday night?
“I’ll have another piece-a apple pie; you know, it don’t seem right
I saw him at the sawmill yesterday on Choctaw Ridge
And now ya tell me Billie Joe’s jumped off the Tallahatchie Bridge”

And mama said to me, “Child, what’s happened to your appetite?
I’ve been cookin’ all morning, and you haven’t touched a single bite
That nice young preacher, Brother Taylor, dropped by today
Said he’d be pleased to have dinner on Sunday, oh, by the way
He said he saw a girl that looked a lot like you up on Choctaw Ridge
And she and Billy Joe was throwing somethin’ off the Tallahatchie Bridge”

A year has come and gone since we heard the news ’bout Billy Joe
And brother married Becky Thompson; they bought a store in Tupelo
There was a virus going ’round; papa caught it, and he died last spring
And now mama doesn’t seem to want to do much of anything
And me – I spend a lot of time pickin’ flowers up on Choctaw Ridge
And drop them into the muddy water off the Tallahatchie Bridge

***

How can a song spur my imagination with so many unanswered questions:  What did that girl and Billy Joe MacAllister throw over the Tallahatchie Bridge?  Perhaps a baby?  Were they lovers?  Maybe Billy Joe had sex with a gay man in 1967.  Could that be why Billy Joe took his life?  And then there was Papa who said, “Billy Joe never had a lick of sense; pass the biscuits please.”  Was Billy Joe’s reasoning, or lack of it, that simple.  So many questions, and many more.  Ms. Gentry, tell me why Billy Joe jumped off the Tallahatchie Bridge, and oh, by the way, pass me the blackeyed peas.

People have asked Bobby Gentry to explain the true meaning of her song.  And to their surprise Gentry said there is no hidden meaning in “Ode to Billy Joe.”  If anything, she once said, it’s about a family of manikins sitting around their dinner table talking about Billy Joe’s suicide.  The narrator obviously knew Billy Joe quite well, so much so that she couldn’t eat a bite.  When Mama told the family about Billy Joe jumping off the Tallashatchie Bridge, they ignored the narrator’s feelings and asked someone to “pass the biscuits please,” followed by Papa telling Mama to “pass the blackeyed peas.”

Foreshadowing is a literary technique of indicating or hinting what might come forth in the next sentence or so; perhaps sooner than later, or maybe not at all. This is how a great storyteller adds mystery and suspense that turns a mundane story into a page burner.  I’ve watched some great movies and questioned the director’s intent.  Oftentimes I was left to fill in the blanks, wanting more.

Of course I love the pulsating rhythms, the poetic prose, and the mystery of Gentry’s song.  But that’s not what moved me so, grabbing my soul and giving it an attention-getting twist.  It’s the faceless manikins sitting around the dinner table that day in Carroll County Mississippi.  Hell yes, those people drive me fucking crazy.  I’m a victim of childhood physical and sexual abuse.  And I’m not alone. Most of my fellow abuse victims share similar feelings: Manikins don’t care if we’re left to wallow in our misery; hey, maybe the rapes were our fault; don’t air our dirty laundry; perhaps they feel uncomfortable talking about such things, and possibly lack the emotional depth.  And worse yet, what if they don’t believe my story?  Now that drives me so fucking crazy that I want to join Billy Joe MacAllister and jump off the Tallashatchie Bridge.

Facebook World — Heroin in a Mousetrap

The Newest Book from Larry L. Franklin
Mnemosyne: A Love Affair with Memory

It was another session with Olivia, the therapist who brought me back from the dark side of childhood sexual abuse.  Although I am in a relatively good place, a little tuneup is needed now and then.

“I noticed a significant decrease in the number of blogs that you have written,” Olivia said.  “How do you feel about that?”  Olivia knows that without writing I tend to lose my way, allowing depression to slide under my door.

My eyes stared at the floor.  “I don’t feel good about it.  With my back pain and a bit of depression, I am not motivated to write.  But I need to write.  I can’t imagine my life without it.”

“So what have you been doing?” Olivia asked.
“I’ve been spending some time on facebook,” I answered.  “But that’s not without its problems.”
“Tell me about it,” Olivia said.
“Sometimes I get sucked into a pointless political discussion.  Reading some far, right wing post pushes my hot button and I feel compelled to respond.  Its always a pointless discussion with no resolution.  A total waste of my time.  Stupid stuff.  A real downer.”

My remarks were followed by silence.  There’s always the quite moments when Olivia leaves me to think about what I just said.  (Its like she is saying, hey buddy, you need to figure out some of this shit yourself.)

“Okay, ” I said.  “Let me use a metaphor to explain what is gong on.”  I feel like I’m a mouse stranded in a large maze with multiple hallways and individual rooms.  Each room houses a friend who shares emotional contact with me, but no physical interaction.  It’s an attractive way to spend idle time away from the stresses of life and, oh yes, my nagging back pain.  But there is a down side to the pleasantries — the mouse trap, a dark seductive device.  I take a stroll down the hallway to visit a friend, and “lo” without warning is a mousetrap topped with a chunk of blue cheese emitting a fragrance that I cannot resist.  I know, as certain as I know my name, Mickey, this is a trap that will kill me, slow or fast, my certain death.  So far I have pulled away at the last moment, but I don’t know how long I can resist?  If I put heroin in the mousetrap I have my story.

“Well, this is certainly about facebook,” Olivia said.  “Sounds like you are bored. Although you find the political discussions pointless, your curiosity is challenged.  Maybe it is trying to take the place of your writing.”

“Wow,” I said.  “You cut to the point, hard and fast, like a box cutter slicing through a cardboard box.  You’re right.  I’d better be careful or I will become a political pundit instead of a writer.”  The two of us laughed followed by silence.
“So, what can you write about?”  Olivia asked.
Silence again.  “I know what I’ll write,” I said.  “I’ll write about facebook and how I feel like I’m being stalked by a mousetrap.”

Hence,  Facebook World — Heroin in the Mousetrap

 

Cowboys & Indians, to Gangsters, to War Games, to Stand your Ground.

The Newest Book from Larry L. Franklin
Mnemosyne: A Love Affair with Memory

Oh my, where have the years gone?  I’m 71 years old and have seen lots of stuff:  good, bad, and some that I can’t talk about.  But with the help of a good therapist, and a load of self exploration, I believe that I have grown both spiritually and intellectually.  Too bad I can’t  say that about our society.  I’m reminded of Richard Semon, a 19th century scientist and one of the characters in my latest book, “Mnemosyne:  A Love Affair with Memory,” who believed that while 19th century science had advanced by leaps and bounds, society’s spiritual growth remained dormant.  Centuries later, I’m thinking the same. As a child, I played cowboys and Indians.  I was the cowboy who shot the Indian.  Boy, did I fuck that one up.  Eventually I learned that the Indians were the good guys.  Then came the detectives against the gangsters.  Except for Bonnie and Clyde, I always shot the gangster.  As time passed, I moved into war games where I was an American soldier who shot anyone who didn’t look like me.  In all of these adventures it was understood that they were games, consisting of toy guns and make-believe deaths, and a good versus evil theme throughout.  It wasn’t real.  It was “child’s play.”  But for Jordan Davis and Travyon Martin, it was not “child’s play.”  It was murder. When did we decide that it was okay to carry a handgun and ignore the need to step back from a perceived danger?  Illinois, the place I call home, has become the final state to approve “concealed carry,” and many other states have approved the “stand your ground” law.  “Concealed carry” is when your handgun is hidden from plain site.  The “stand your ground” law states that you can use deadly force and that you do not have a duty to retreat if  you reasonably believe that such force is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to yourself.  Now I’m not against hand guns.  I completed two eight-week classes at a local community college on the defensive use of handguns.  Both were excellent classes which stressed safety, shooting technique, and defensive plans to protect my family against home intruders.  In fact, I enjoy shooting my handgun and do so to maintain my skills.  I’m all for the 2nd amendment but things have gone crazy.  I don’t feel like I should always carry a gun and grow an extra set of balls.  Hey, that’s not me.  I’m a writer and one set of balls is fine with me. When did “child’s play” become real life?  When did we decide that it was okay for George Zimmerman to stalk Trayvon Martin, get into a confrontation, kill him, and then say that he was just defending himself.  Oh, I forgot.  Trayvon was a black teenager who wore a hoodie in the dark of night.  OMG, he wore a hoodie.  And I almost forgot that Trayvon had been to the store, bought a bad of skittles, and was walking home.  Now it makes sense — black teenager, hoodie, bag of skittles.  We all know that Trayvon’s death could have been avoided.  Zimmerman was found not guilty. What about Jordon Davis, the latest tragedy which caused me to write this blog?  Jordon was another black teenager who was shot to death by a white man.  Jordon and three other black teenagers were in a black SUV socializing as most teenagers do.  Their car was sitting at a gas station while they chilled out listening to loud, bass thumping rap music.  We’ve all heard it, and yes, it can be annoying.  Michael Dunn parked his car next to Jordon’s while Dunn’s finance walked into the station to make a purchase.  Now the story is beginning to make sense — black teenagers, black SUV, loud bass thumping rap music.  Now that would scare the hell out of any white dude.  Dunn rolls down his window and politely asks the occupants of the SUV to turn down the music.  Well, that’s what Dunn said.  The black teenagers turned down the music, but after some discussion they increased the volume of that loud, bass thumping rap music.  Now we had a pissed-off white man and a car full of loud black teenagers.  Dunn said that he was disrespected and that Jordon was beginning to step out of the SUV, and appeared to have what looked like a shotgun.  Dunn retrieved his handgun from the glove compartment, and quickly fired several rounds into the SUV.  And as the SUV sped away, Dunn fired the remainder of his 10 round clip into the SUV.  Jordon Davis died from gunshot wounds.  Dunn said that he feared for his life and no son-of-a-bitch was going to kill him.  No gun was ever found in the black teenager’s car.  Let’s see, how does this work — concealed carry, stand your ground, an extra set of balls, and no one is going to fuck with me.  The jury was unable to decide whether Dunn’s killing of Jordon was self defense or murder.  We ended with a hung jury. Where does all of this leave me?  I like most people, in fact, I love several of them.  I have more than one handgun to protect my family, and would shoot someone if it was absolutely necessary.  But I consider myself a tolerant person and don’t feel threatened when I see a black teenager wear a hoodie, or a car load of black teenagers play loud, bass thumping rap music.  I sometimes wear hoodies and sometimes have my car radio turned up, and yes, my wife says that I play the music too loud.  I believe that it’s okay to sometimes step back and walk the other way.  Killing someone is a heavy load to carry.  But hey, that’s just me.  I’m a writer and I only have one set of balls.

There’s no rosin on my bow.

The Newest Book from Larry L. Franklin
Mnemosyne: A Love Affair with Memory

I ran across this brief essay that I had written at the time of the 9-11-2001 tragedy.  This came at a time when I was heavy into psychotherapy for childhood sexual abuse. Reliving my experiences caused me to make a comparison between the misery of 9-11-2001 and childhood sexual abuse.  I’m sorry if I offended anyone involved in the New York City tragedy, but if I’m afraid to write something that is uncomfortable, I shouldn’t write at all.
***
So metronomic, like the orderly flow of a Mozart symphony.  A masterpiece of design; an act of evil.  At 8:48 a.m., on september 11, 2001, the opening movement:  a Boeing 767 fully loaded with fuel, crashed into the north face of I World Trade Center.  An explosion, clouds of smoke, and flames blew upward as tremors rattled the structure.  Fifteen minutes later, the second movement:  a Boeing 757 was eaten by II World Trade Center in one giant bite, only to be regurgited through a projectile vomit of flames and debris.  Civilians ran for cover and rescue workers ran inside and people jumped from the 80th floor.  They fell like apples.  The south tower suffered a breakdown and dropped to the ground.

At 9:40 a.m., the third movement:  a Boeing 757 struck the western part of the Pentagon.  And finally, the fourth:  a Boeing 757 that through the heroic efforts of a group of passengers, averted its target and was forced to crash in an unpopulated field outside Pittsburgh.

People in agony:  their faces in contorted expressions never experienced before. Some estimates show hundreds dead and 6,000 missing or presumed dead.  Every image, every sound, was seen from New York to the Philippines to Kuwait.  No one could deny the magnitude of misery that sprung from nowhere and pulled a hunk from our side.  We were injured.  Over the next few weeks, the major news outlets deluged us with stories about victims, survivors, heroes, and men sitting at Elmer’s coffee shop in midwestern-Illinois discussing how this will effect the price of beans.

Now we have the threat of Anthrax and worry how our bodies may be eaten alive, leaving only a remnant of rubble, a pile of powder, or a slab of slime.  A fog of depression covers the horizon and lingers as America struggles for ways to live with a new epidemic called misery.

CNN, ABC, CBS, NBC, and the Fox news service explore each threat, some imaginary, some not.  How do we protect ourselves?  Will we live?  Will we die?  And if we die, will it hurt?  Our politicians are scared.  I read the other day that the governor of New York said he wasn’t going to be tested for Anthrax but he and his staff were taking Cipro.  Now that’s kind of like receiving rape counseling before you’r been raped.

As America struggles with this new phenomena called misery, me and my fellow abuse victims meet in coffee shops and whisper our concerns, “I don’t want to sound cold,”  I whispered, “but why are people so vocal about what’s been going on?”

“I don’t know,” my friend replied.  “It’s like they’ve never experienced misery before.  Maybe they don’t know how to deal with it.”

“We can’t say anything,” I said.  “People will think that we’re sick, bitter, or just don’t care  And that’ not the case.  I do care.  Still, I’m bitter.  But, mainly, I just don’t understand.”

Why would Americans be more upset about our recent misery than other atrocities that have and continue to occur?  That seems to the question.  Lets take a look at the numbers.  According to the findings of the Third National Incidence Study of Child Abuse and Neglect (NIS-3), 1,553,800 children in the United States were abused or neglected under the Harm Standard in 1993.  The Harm Standard is relatively stringent in that it requires that an act or omission result in demonstrable harm in order to classified as abuse or neglect. Broken down, the figures for 1993 include 217,700 sexually abused children, 338,900 physically neglected children, 212,800 emotionally neglected children and 381,700 physically abused children.
***
It all seemed real, as most dreams do.  I was playing second violin and sitting in the back row just in front of the timpani.  It was an evening concert; penguin-like men, and women draped in black filled the stage.  I felt the tightness of an undersized collar and the warmth of spots that beamed brightness from ceiling heights.  The first oboe sound an A. Each musician entered the fray, searching for the matching pitch, playing an occasional scale, arpeggio or other pleasing note.

A tapping sound, then silence.  From the wings, the conductor and guest violinist walked across the stage and took their positions.  A downbeat, and we were into the allegro movement.  The soloist was on tonight.  Each phrase was clean and powerful and enhanced by the near perfect acoustics of the hall.

I moved my bow in long slow strokes, taking advantage of the brisk tempo.  I watched the audience from the corner of my eye.  Each face told it all.  The passion;l the attentiveness; the tears; it was all there.  I couldn’t help but wonder how it would fee to be heard by so many.  Oh how I’ve yearned for such a moment.  And then, as if directed by God, the soloist turned and looked m;y way.  It’s you turn, he seemed to say.

I sprung to my feet and pulled the bow across the strings while the fingers of my left hand pushed firmly against the board.  This was my chance.  But the strings stood still.  My eyes looked downward across the bridge and watched the bow hair brush past each string.  My right hand gripped hard and pushed the bow hair downward, harder and harder.  Still, no sound.  Just silence, followed by tears.  I want to be heard.  Oh God, I thought, there’s no rosin on my bow.

I’m only a gnat in the forest.

The Newest Book from Larry L. Franklin
Mnemosyne: A Love Affair with Memory

I find myself reflecting on the life of Nelson Mandela as I hear one story after another flash across my television screen.  Mandela was one of the great leaders of our time; someone we should try to emulate.  But as hard as I try, I am only a gnat in the forest.  I write compassionate and compelling stories, hoping to give a voice to those unable to speak.  I throw pebbles across the still water and watch ripples scoot across its surface.  Maybe one ripple will reach another, another, and so on.  How many my message reaches, I’ll never know.  You see, I’m only a nat in the forest trying to do the right thing.

You can’t know what you don’t know. Part II

The Newest Book from Larry L. Franklin
Mnemosyne: A Love Affair with Memory

“You can’t know what you don’t know.”  That’s what my therapist said as she sat in her chair, waiting for my response.  I scanned my mind looking for clues to explain my past behavior.  When I was a boy growing up in the baptist church I was taught that we have free will — we know the difference between right and wrong, and it is up to us to make the right decision.  It sounded so simple.  Now I have a different view.  Our behavior is based on a combination of our biological makeup and life’s experiences — nature and nuture.

Nature tattoos us with a genetic makeup, DNA, that determines who we are in many fundamental ways.  Nuture is a product of what we see, hear, smell, and touch, and the countless life experiences that mold our core.  Developmental biology tells us that we are a combination of the two.  From the beginning, we are organisms with a genetic blueprint that continually interacts with our environment, causing change to occur as we move from conception, to childhood, to adulthood, and finally to death.  In her book, “The Biology of Violence,” Debra Niehoff says, “Even the most unrepentant assailants, the most cold-blooded murderers, the most sadistic of serial killers, were once infants.  There was a time when they could barely hold a rattle, much less a gun; when they smiled for Christmas portraits and giggled at peek-a-boo; when they were afraid of fireworks, needed help to feed themselves, and wore shoes no bigger than ring boxes.  What happened?  What inner or outer factor — parents, schools, genes, morals, abuse, television, neglect, stress, attention deficits, self-esteem, temperament — has the power to transform innocence into violence?  The answer provided by modern neuroscience is ‘all of the above'”

“It was the childhood abuse that caused me to act in a certain way.  I’m certain that I knew the difference between right and wrong.  All of the abuse programmed me to think and act in negative ways.  It’s my DNA.”  That’s what I told my therapist.  We agreed that it explains my past behavior.

I think about this therapy session when I examine my life, and when I wrote my two books about two female prison inmates.  Both inmates participated in violent acts.  And in each case, each person has a history of physical and sexual abuse.  There are so many inmates who committed acts of violence that were “programmed” to behave in a certain way.  I’m certain that a lot of them knew the difference between right and wrong, but their “programmed” ways overpowered and concept of “right and wrong.”  It doesn’t excuse their behavior, but it certainly explains it.  You can’t know what you don’t know.”

You can’t know what you don’t know. Part I

The Newest Book from Larry L. Franklin
Mnemosyne: A Love Affair with Memory

I was a young boy, six-years old as I recall, and about to enter the first grade at the DeLand Elementary school.  This was a big day for me, a chance to show my older brother and his friends what I was made of.  The older boys had physically and sexually abused me and I wanted to be just like them.  (Sounds crazy doesn’t it.)  My plan was simple.  I would act up in class until the teacher took out the paddle and spanked me.  (Spanking was common decades ago.)  My young teacher kept telling me to stop but I was persistent.  Finally she removed the paddle from her draw and with tears in her eyes, she spanked me.  (I later wondered if I was the first student she had ever spanked.)  I couldn’t wait until school was out so I could tell my brother and his friends what I had done.  But much to my surprise, they turned and walked away as I was sharing my experience.  I believe they said that I was crazy.

Fast forward several decades later when I had been diagnosed with PTSD brought on by memories of childhood sexual abuse.  I was talking with my therapist about my past behavior.  Of course I had more troublesome experiences than my first grade spanking.  “Why did I do such things when I was younger?” I asked.  I was ashamed of my past behavior and didn’t understand why I had committed such acts.  “How could I have done such things”

“You can’t know what you don’t know,” she said.  Simple and powerful, that was her statement.  I sat quietly as I reached for a response.  It was obvious that my therapist wanted me to discover the meaning of her statement.  This was the key to my past behavior.

(Part II will be coming soon.)

A special thanks to the Longbranch Coffeehouse & the Daily Egyptian

banner-working-file1.pngI want to thank the Longbranch Coffeehouse for inviting me to participate in their author series.  The book reading/discussion was held before a lively audience who offered up several interesting questions.  My book, “Mnemosyne:  A Love Affair with Memory,” has served as a vehicle for discussing one of society’s biggest sins — childhood sexual abuse.

I also want to thank the Daily Egyptian, the Southern Illinois University student newspaper, for writing a story about my book reading/discussion at the Longbranch Coffeehouse.  The story can be found in the Daily Egyptian newspaper.