I’ve never seen a full episode of “Here Comes Honey Boo-Boo.” I could not pick the various family members out of a line-up. But I do know one thing for sure: the damage Mama June Shannon has done to her eldest daughter, Anna Cardwell, will leave a lifetime of scars, and the journey to healing from a mother’s betrayal is excruciating.
According to news reports, when Anna was a young child, June’s boyfriend, Mark McDaniel, forced Anna to perform oral sex on him. Shortly after Mark was jailed, June told Anna that she did not believe her, and demanded to know why Anna would “do this to her.”
This led to Anna living with a relative and only reuniting with her mother shortly before “Here Comes Honey Boo-Boo” began filming. Mark spent ten years in jail for aggravated sexual assault of a child, and now that he is out of jail, he is in close contact with June and her younger daughters.
The public outcry is fierce: how could any mother knowingly expose her children to a convicted child molester, particularly when she knows what he did to her own child?
I wonder if that’s the question that Anna Cardwell is asking herself right about now. Having walked in her shoes, I’m thinking that she might be trying to find an answer to the same question I tortured myself with for years:
“Why don’t I matter enough to my mother to be protected?”
Similar to Anna, I was eight years old when my stepfather began sexually abusing me. It progressed over six years from fondling to being spied on, stalked, chased, tackled, and raped. All the while, he threatened that if I told my mother, he would leave. I would have to tell her what “we” had been doing, and in my child’s mind, I took on a burden of guilt that bore down on me for decades.
When I was fourteen years old, I broke. I came home from school one late spring day to find my brother and stepfather on the front porch, repairing a window shutter. My stepdad said something to me about the look on my face—I used to get slapped for having what he called a “go to Hell” look on my face—and I responded by telling my stepfather to go fuck himself. I made a beeline for the garage, hopped on my bicycle, and headed for my best friend’s house across town.
It didn’t take long for my mother to track me down. Her voice on the phone was brittle with rage when she ordered me home. My friend’s boyfriend loaded my bike into his car and delivered me back to my front door.
I am forty-eight years old now, and I can still feel the ache in my chest that grew with every step as I walked into our home. My stepfather looked like a satisfied toad, smirking at me from his overstuffed chair in our living room. My mother was in our kitchen, ironing.
I barely gave my perpetrator a glance as I planted myself in the archway between our kitchen and living room, pointed my index finger at him, and declared to my mother, “Since I was eight years old, he has been molesting me!”
Mom paused in her ironing, looked up at me, and it seemed as if the skin on her face was melting.
Meanwhile, it was my stepfather’s turn to jab a finger my way. “I never! She’s lying!”
My voice sounded to me as if it was coming from someone else: “Yes, he has! The first time was in the green chair when we lived in Terrell!”
Six years before, when he thought I was asleep in his lap, my stepfather had felt me up. The next morning, my mother told me that he wanted to talk to me. I went outside, where he was changing the oil in our car. That was the first time he said what he would repeat countless times over the years after he assaulted me in the daytime: “Kiddo, slap my hands.”
NEXT: Part 2 : “Moving to Crazy-Town”
Beth Fehlbaum is the author of the Kirkus- Star Reviewed Big Fat Disaster; Courage in Patience; and Hope in Patience. Hope in Patience was named a 2011 YALSA Quick Pick for Reluctant Readers. Truth in Patience, which rounds out The Patience Trilogy, is as yet unpublished. Following the dissolution of the publishers of Courage in Patience and Hope in Patience, Beth regained the rights to the novels, and she seeks to place the entire Trilogy with a new publisher.
Beth has a following in the young adult literature world and also among survivors of sexual abuse because of her work with victims' advocacy groups. She has been the keynote speaker at the National Crime Victims' Week Commemoration Ceremony at the Hall of State in Dallas, Texas and a presenter for Greater Texas Community Partners, where she addressed a group of social workers and foster children on the subject of “Hope.”
Beth is a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, like Ashley in The Patience Trilogy, and the day-to-day manager of an eating disorder much like Colby's in Big Fat Disaster. These life experiences give her a unique perspective, and she writes her characters' stories in a way meant to inspire hope.