In a few days, you’ll strike up an after dinner conversation about “body safety,” because you’ve been scouring the internet looking for the answers your six-year-old isn’t capable of giving you. You’ll gently probe about his friends, and a slow story will begin to pour out about two of his classmates who played a game about private parts with a babysitter. But you’ll know it isn’t about his classmates — it’s about him — because he’ll offer a startling level of detail, from the time of day it happened to the car she drives to where precisely in the house they were. When he tells you it happened in the bedroom, he’ll point directly upward. (That’s where his bedroom is.) A few moments later, he’ll say, “I think it is going to happen again here.” The word here is mumbled with his face pointing downward, but there’s no mistaking what he’s said.
You’ll think, “I’ve dropped into the middle of an episode of Law and Order SVU,” and — disassociating yourself — you’ll marvel at the psychological phenomenon of disassociation that you read about in college. You’ll step outside of your own body and watch yourself talking to your son, battling between the drive to want to keep him talking and learn as much as possible and the knowledge that nothing he’s telling you is reliable, because he’s a child and you’re his mother whom he loves and wants to please.
When he goes upstairs to bed, you’ll scurry off to your computer to write down your contemporaneous recollection of everything he’s said. You’ll forever think of it as your “Comey memo,” and you’ll call it that when you’re trying to introduce some levity into this horrible situation.
You’ll wake up in the morning, get your kids off to school like normal, then spend the rest of your day holed up at home on the phone with detectives, psychologists, a child abuse expert, and the school counselor. You’ll make countless excuses to your work colleagues on this day and for many days and weeks to come, walking the tightrope between vague and ominous. Your aim is to preemptively shut down inquiry, because at the end of this all, it’s not your story to tell. It’s your kid’s, if and when he ever wants to tell it.
At the school counselor’s urging, you’ll tentatively explain to your child’s teacher what has happened, and she’ll cry with you. She’ll pause for a moment, then tell you that your child wrote down the work C-L-I-T when tasked with generating a list of words that rhyme with “it.” You’ll feel like you might throw up.
The next few days will pass by in a fugue, every fiber of your body clenched in anticipation of your child’s imminent forensic interview. When the time comes, he’ll hesitantly enter an unadorned room with an investigator. (You’ll find out that the room is bare of any toys or games because to prosecute effectively, there can’t be any element of fantasy in the room.) You won’t be allowed to be present or to watch, but the two detectives assigned to your case will observe a live video feed of the interview from another room.
You’ll pass the next 75 minutes in a room with a warm and solicitous woman whose job appears to be helping parents survive their child’s forensic interview. You’ll wonder if part of her role is to gauge parents’ reactions to identify if one is a perpetrator, because after all, 34% of all child sexual abuse is committed by a relative.
This thought will send you again down the spiral of blame and doubt, and you’ll wonder — not for the last time — when you’ll stop assessing everyone around you to figure out if they’re a child molester.
When the detectives and investigator finally return, they’ll tell you that your son didn’t disclose anything about a babysitter or abuse. You’ll walk out of the building feeling worse than you did walking in, not just because the uncertainty and cloudiness are wrenching but also because you’ve just seen in real time how easy it is for predators to get away with child abuse.