Malignant Memories

Remembering is vital. Because these are people who've been deceived — coerced as children into acting as if nothing happened. Remembering is the first step in the painful trudge toward recovery, a process that begins with shame and ends with a new sense of power and pride.

Recovery is when the person can say: It happened, it was not OK, and it was not my fault, according to Peggy Flascher, who led the Marvellas' group at STAR.

"Unless you've been there, you don't really understand the courage it takes," Flascher said. "It's a tremendous amount of work. A profound amount."

For Ezzie, the memories surfaced when her father died three years ago after she finally felt safe. Her gynecologist suggested counseling after finding her almost impossible to examine.

And for Margie, it's not as if she just realized the abuse happened. She first sought counseling 20 years ago, but quit when her therapist said something like "men will be men." She spent the next eight years drinking herself into alcoholism, putting on weight, letting herself go — not making the connection until this year.

After harboring such an ugly secret for so many years, just telling is healing. But it can cost dearly.

Although all three Marvellas have suffered for bringing up a subject relatives didn't want to hear, Ezzie has lost the most. Her family doesn't believe her:

"You've got a lot of nerve accusing dad of molesting you," her youngest sister wrote last August from Tennessee. "I never want to hear from you again."

She's received similar letters from her mother, an uncle and others. Only her brother, Ernie Logan, is willing to even consider the possibility.

"I'd much prefer it weren't true," he said in a telephone interview from Arizona. "But I just don't know. I can't talk to my dad about it.

"For me, the biggest problem was when she started contacting my dad's sister and brother. Even if he did what she says he did, they aren't a part of it. They don't need to be hurt that way."

Ezzie and her family have disowned each other; now the Marvellas are the only family she has.

These women are driven to transcend the bitterness, but not if it means pretending nothing happened. Most recently, they've been trying to file charges against the men they have no doubts about — even though Uncle George and Ezzie's father are dead. Just having something on record would bring a sense of justice.

Their efforts took them to the Seattle area this spring to confront family and fears, and to be there for each other.

The first attempt at finding Uncle George's place ended in the Big Brothers Bingo parking lot. Could the farm have been paved over? No, this wasn't right. Margie tried hard to remember. The next hill over looked familiar.

Vivian turned the rental car around, crossed over the freeway, took a left at the top of the hill and ended up in the middle of a subdivision.

What now? They drove on.

At the end of the last row of houses was a gravel road. They took it. Halfway down Margie turned white.

"That's it," she said.

Vivian stopped the car at the top of a long driveway. The three of them sat in silence a moment.

"Let's go down there," Vivian said.

Margie groaned.

"We're going," said Ezzie.

Slowly the car headed down the gravel drive. At the bottom, Vivian stopped in front of a little yellow farm house, the kind you'd expect to have an apple pie cooling in the windowsill.

"Amazing," Margie said.

The place was just the way she remembered it. There was the chicken coop. And the old chopping block. And the big pear tree the guinea hens used to roost in. And there, behind the little house, beyond the gate with the "Keep Out" sign, was the barn.

"I don't want to get out," Margie said.

Vivian put an arm around her and hugged her. Ezzie gently rubbed her back.

They all got out of the car.