In our tiny upper flat, I took all the vitamins and folic acid tablets never available to my pregnant foremothers. I ate well, our table a rainbow of green, orange and yellow every day. I drank a concoction called Tiger’s Milk, thrilled to nourish the growth of my child within, a baby I loved with all my heart.
One sunny day, while Stan, my then-husband, subbed for the Toronto School Board, I sat on the carpeted floor near our tiny attic window, a pillow to my back, and gazed at an astonishing Time Life photo of a baby inside a mother’s womb. I had no idea how it had been taken, but it inspired me to draw a woven basket so full of colorful spring flowers they toppled over the sides, a welcome home card for my soon-to-be-born baby. I was lost in art when the phone jangled.
It was our local priest, a cleric we’d met at his parish soon after we arrived in the neighborhood.
“Is your husband home, Eleanor?” he asked
“No, shall I have Stan call you, Father?”
“Actually, I was hoping you’d answer. That’s why I’m calling now.”
I wondered if the padre wanted to book the baby’s baptism.
“There’s been a complaint from the parents of a little girl in our First Communion group,” he said.
“The one Stan is volunteering at?” I asked
“Yes, well,” Father hesitated. “His service is now, most clearly, at an end. The child told her parents that Stan touched her private parts.”
“Yes, fondled her inside her underwear when he took her into the washroom to pee.” He blundered on as though my heart wasn’t beating a mile a minute, as though I was the police officer he should have contacted — not Stan’s wife. “Your husband,” he emphasized our connection – somehow implying my guilt, “had no business escorting the little girl to the washroom. There was a female volunteer close by. He should have deferred to her.”
“Yes.” I watched my belly ripple.
“Please have your husband call me. I’ve some suggestions he might want to follow.” I watched my stomach undulate. I waited for Stan.
“What a foul-mouthed liar! It’s not true!” Stan roared two hours later. He was outraged. “That priest suffers from an authority problem! My success with the kids in the First Communion program chafes him. It bothers him to have, right inside his church, the competition of a Ph.D. and former seminarian from a prestigious order, not an uneducated, dime-a-dozen country frock like him!”
“Stan, did you take a little girl to the washroom?”
“You never lived in residence with seminarians like I did,” he continued, jabbing his finger, still talking about the priests he once lived with. “Playboy magazines under beds, clandestine dating, and oh yes, the call girls, slutty prostitutes secreted under cover of the night right into the residence bedrooms! Oh yes! Believe me. I had to live with that blatant immorality, night after noisy night! And no one liked me. Why? Because I made waves, because I reported their screwing around! And here, a priest is accusing me?”
“Stan, why didn’t you ask the woman volunteer to take the little girl to the washroom?”
“Because I didn’t think of it! It simply didn’t occur to me! And it’s not true! I did absolutely nothing wrong!” Stan began to cry. He sat on the couch, covered his face with his hands and wept genuine sobs, an undeniable testament to his innocence. Who can generate real tears, unbidden?
“Let’s go then, Stan. Let’s discuss this with Father and the girl’s parents.”
“No! We’re not going near that filthy liar! I need you to believe me. Is that too much to ask of my own wife, my own spouse?” he asked, tears streaming down his face. “I would never, ever, have done what he accused me of, never, never, never, never. It’s just not true. The oldest of a family of ten kids,” he added, “I was always taking someone to the toilet!”
Stan’s back and shoulders shook as his tears fell onto his shirt. I’d never seen him this upset. “I’m a good person,” he cried, the corners of his mouth flecked with white foam. I had no further questions about why a grown man would steer a little girl into the woman’s washroom, or think that he must have made sure the coast was clear, chosen the moment his co-volunteer was busy, just as his mother had been occupied in the past, and my mother, fast asleep.
“I believe you, Stan,” I said. “I believe you.” And I did. I’d learned not to question early on. While it is grueling to stifle such inquiry early in life, eventually, with practice, rationality subsides.
“That’s all I need to know, then,” he said. He stood up, sighed several times, deep breaths of relief. “All a man needs to know is his own wife backs him up. That’s all he needs,” he said. “I need a walk in the park,” he said. “Thank you, Eleanor, for your confidence in me. I married the right spouse.”
When I called Father back and begged him to come over to our flat and speak to Stan personally, perhaps with another priest, he refused. “Stan can present himself at my office space. I will see him here. Otherwise, I have only one suggestion for you, Eleanor, that you tell your husband to seek therapy immediately.” When I, secretary for two men, relayed the message Father could not bring himself to deliver, my husband also delegated a message, again through me. He told me to call the priest and recommend similar therapy.
Both religious men, I realized much later, seemed to prefer psychological recourse than spiritual communion.
“That country frock is still an outrageous liar,” Stan bellowed after I reported my last call to Father. “You also come from a big family, Eleanor. You yourself also escorted kids to the toilet all the time, didn’t you? Anyway,” Stan said as I nodded my agreement, “now that you, my own wife support me in the truth, let’s leave this alone. We have a baby coming into the world now. Let’s focus on that joy in our lives.”
In the dozen grueling years to follow, during which time I slowly fit the puzzle pieces into a conscious and terrible reality, Stan sexually molested both of our children.