When my sister, Kim, was about 13, if I remember correctly, she and my mom took a trip to Scranton, Pennsylvania. Now, this was five years before I arrived, a few years before my mom even met my father at the pawn shop where they both eventually worked.
By this point in her life, my mom, a divorcee and mental hospital survivor, was searching for redemption. She arranged the trip to meet with a priest, I think. She was working towards her conversion from Judaism, studying the New Testament and Catholic scriptures, as her story goes.
Scranton isn’t all that far from Baltimore, but for my mom it was a big trip. She was never much of a traveler. I’m not sure why she brought my sister along, and I can only imagine what a 13-year-old Jewish girl from a broken home would think of spending a week in a monastery. That’s another story itching to be told.
In any case, Kim was there when my mom received some kind of bad news. Was my Bubbie sick? My aunt? I can’t remember. Something happened that drove my mom to return to Baltimore, alone. Her friend the priest suggested that she leave my sister there with him while she went to sort out the emergency. At least, that’s how she told the story. So she left her 13-year-old daughter alone in a monastery in the care of a priest. Today, the thought of doing such a think strikes me as almost comical.
It wasn’t. Something went wrong, of course. I’m hazy on the details, but my sister spent three days by herself at that monastery in Scranton. After my mom came to collect her, she was broken. Now, my mom used to say that Kim was always a difficult child. She struggled even when she was a baby. But whatever happened in Scranton set her on a downward spiral.
My mom never forgave herself. Her guilt ran so deep that she had another child – me – and dedicated nearly the rest of her life to keeping me safe. For my sister, whatever trauma she experienced in the care of the priest became a pivot point in her life. By the time I was born, she was receiving treatment for bipolar disorder. Later, when things began to get really bad, when she first began to have flashbacks and emerge from her room talking like a little girl or an angry truck driver, the first thing that came up in therapy was Scranton. Scranton. I remember overhearing so many horror stories about Scranton that I came to hate the entire state of Pennsylvania.
I have no idea what really happened there. Could the priest have molested my sister? Possibly. Yet I can’t help but wonder if all that really hurt my sister was fear. Fear – a cold, dark, mysterious monster that invaded a troubled girl at a crucial point in her life. Fear can do terrible things.