Jenny pushed my newspaper aside. She held her pen in the air waiting for my input. We were planning a joint birthday party. I hesitated confiding in her about the bomb that just exploded. My Mom sent me the local paper. Jenny and I shared an apartment an hour from home. Mom rarely pushed herself on me, and I was touched by her sending the paper.
It was on the third page. Local Pediatrician Arrested For Battery. Finally, I thought.
Dr. McGill played golf with my dad. Mrs. McGill and my mom were friends.
"Meghan, what's going on?" Jenny said, no longer interested in her party list.
She sat up, scraping the chair as she straightened her shoulders.
"Your parents are friends of the McGills, right?" I said, deciding what to say.
"Not like yours. My dad works so much, and mom hangs out with her sisters."
"Jen, do you have some time, or are you in a hurry?"
"No. No plans. What is it, Meghan?"
And so I started to share a story locked deeply within. My pediatrician, Dr. McGill, abused me, repeatedly. Not in a sexual way. A sadistic, tricky way. A pinch here, an arm bend there. It didn't happen every visit, or I think I would have told my mother. Just when I started to relax about doctor visits, I'd feel the pinch in my bicep, the fingers hurting my jaw.
In the way that children know their parents secrets, I knew dad's being a member of the club was a big deal. I've also perfected the art of eavesdropping, since I could make sense of the words my parents spoke to each other. It was comforting how gentle the sounds were, so unlike the stories in the after school specials....words like 'bitch' thrown around with poor attempts to dub them. I also knew my being an only child was not my mom's idea. My father wanted me to have everything he didn't have as a child.Seeing me sign a slip for a hot dog at the club, put my father close to rapture.When Dr. McGill left my skin or jaw sore, I couldn't bear to ruin things for my parents.
Dad had learned to restrain himself from his caddy stories; working in the heat, his shoulder pain, his counting his earnings with one of his sisters. In our earlier home, in an average neighborhood, my dad was more honest about his family's meager resources.All that changed with the move.
Mom grew up signing for lunch, so the club was just a place to her, not a destination.
My first visit to Dr. McGill scared me because I was afraid of needles. My mother filled out paperwork and the nurse did what nurses do - measured my height and weight, took my temperature and asked me a few questions. I remember Mom reading a magazine in a corner of the exam room. The handsome doctor shook my hand, and made me feel like an adult.
"No needles, today?" I asked him.
"We're just getting you set up for visits," he said.
I noticed little specks of white in his dark hair as I leaned my head back with that thing on my tongue. I remember a lot about what happened in our fancy new neighborhood. Nothing about Dr. McGill creeped me out that first day. I learned to read my mother's reactions early in life, and I could tell she was happy to get me settled with a new doctor.
"Meghan, I can tell you aren't ready to share most of this," Jenny said quietly. I realized I had said very few words to her, and was mostly reflecting on the past. I definitely didn't want to share anything about my father's need for social status.
"Jen, do whatever you need to do. I appreciate your being here, but I've repressed so much, I don't know how to put it." Jenny, an avid runner, pulled her hair into a scrunchie, hugged me, and left me to sort through my memories.
The first memory that popped up was his squeezing my thigh tightly during an exam. He had just done that knee-kick thing, and asked me to look into a light he held. My thigh felt pain, but I figured he was the doctor, and there must be a reason for things. Later that night, I remember bluish marks on my upper right leg. I felt it all afternoon and saw it when I put on my favorite nightgown. I didn't say anything about it, and put it out of my mind until the time he pushed on my jaw. Then I knew there was something evil about Dr. McGill.
Seated comfortably in my apartment, the power of these memories threatened to ruin my sanctuary. Jen and I had chosen our decor with affection. Each piece delighted us, and reflected our tastes, quirks and all. We received tables and dishes from our parents, but we needed the place to feel like us. We had maintained a friendship through high school and college, failed and thriving romances, and a few drunken keg parties. It was our first apartment after college, and neither of us had found the dream job in our field. We were both slinging hash in restaurants, making our home a chalice for our dreams.
Jenny returned from her run with a bag from Bagel Bin, little smeared spots seeping through the white bag. Ever fastidious in her diet, I knew the kindness in that little bag. Also, she wanted to hear about Dr. McGill. And I wanted to tell her.
"One of the scariest times was a pool party at the McGill's," I said, smearing creamed cheese on my raison bagel. I hoped my prepping distracted Jen from my inability to enjoy it right now.
"I heard about them. Dr. McGill donning his chef's cap, flipping steaks, sipping martinis. I think my parents were jealous they didn't make the cut for those," Jen said.
"You were lucky.... Jen,... the man was a monster. The martinis were more for show. Even as a little kid, I knew a drinker from a drunk. Jenny, I hadn't thought of this one until today. Your run gave me time to face some of this stuff. "
"Bagel Bin is not on my route," Jen said, glancing at my uneaten treat. "I'm sorry, Meghan. It's not about me. Tell me about the pool party."
"The bastard tried to drown me!"
"Get out! How did he get away with it?*
"How did he get away with any of it? Jen."
"It was late afternoon, and we were playing 'Marco Polo,' quietly. We knew to keep our voices down. Dr. McGill eased into the water. Heads were bobbing 'Marco,' 'Polo,' and I felt a hand holding my head down until I struggled to break free. Jen, it was a bunch of really popular kids, and I didn't want to miss out, so I let it happen more than once."
"Ashley Baxter's crowd?"
"I don't remember who, but they weren't worth dying over."
I then told Jen about the hate in his eyes as I looked up through the water, pleading for mercy with my eyes. When he released me, his teeth were big, his smile malicious. It was our last encounter, as I insisted on going to my parents' doctor. Still protecting my dad, I remember making a big adolescent rant about being too mature for a kid's doctor. The details are foggy, but I know I was never in his company again.
And now this. It was time to take a stand against him, if I were needed.
Our land line rang and I checked the caller ID. It was my mom.
"Meghan, did you see that story about Joe McGill?"
Wanting time to think, I pretended I hadn't seen it.
"Mom, Jen just brought home bagels, and I'm about to read the paper you sent. I love getting it. Thanks for sending. What's up?"
"Meghan, people will do anything these days. They're saying Joe abused kids. Can you imagine?"
Knowing my mother could read me, even from afar, I needed to explode a bomb of my own. "Mom. I will drive down to see you and dad soon, and we'll talk about everything," I said. Confident in her affection, I knew a visit from me would dispel all other thoughts from her mind.
"Hank, I mean Dad and I were just saying it's been a while since we saw you, Meghan. When will you arrive?"
"Mom, I just thought of it now. Maybe this weekend if I can get my shifts covered."
The dead silence that followed reminded me not to mention my job. I made the little circular finger motion to Jen to call my cell. She did, and I told Mom I'd get back to her soon. Needed to take this call.
"Meghan, I never thought you'd ask for the cell phone bit with your mom. "
She guided me to our comfy couch and handed me a pillow to hug, our ritual in tough times. "I overheard you tell your mother you'd visit soon. Maybe I'll join you.Go see my family."
"I'd be happy to drive, unless you'd need a car at home," I said.
"We'll work out the details, but first we have to get our shifts covered."
Jenny leaned back on the couch, stretching her long legs under the coffee table.
"Meghan, the statute of limitations on most crimes is short. Except for murder. Think about how far you want to go with this thing, before you do anything. I haven't seen you like this since your break-up with Justin."
"This is pretty lame, but I always thought Dr. McGill was a creep," Jen said, as she got up and did the full leg stretches she must have missed after her run. She got back down on the couch and turned to me. "All of this is off the record till you decide what to do. Let's get our shifts covered and ride home together this weekend."
Neither of us could find subs for Sunday brunch, so we decided to drive home Thursday. Jenny could borrow her brother's truck to get around town.
After working lunch Thursday, we packed my SUV with enough clothes for a cruise around the world. Jen's eyes caught mine, as we loaded the trunk. "One thing I don't miss about Justin. By now there would be a lecture to pack lightly. 'Meghan, five pairs of shoes?' "
We had perfected the route with the least rush-hour traffic for our jaunts home. The moon was bright, and as round as a plate. Jenny googled it, and found it was due to be full tomorrow. We spoke no further of Dr. McGill, enjoying the quiet of a long friendship.
After I dropped Jenny off, I opened the windows and sang. As I turned into Mystic Cove, Officer Jackson stepped out of the gate house to see me. I got out of my car. "Beverly," I said, my cheek brushing her name plate, "So good to see you. I'm surprising them, so please don't call."
They knew I was coming, but thought it was tomorrow. If they were out, I was free to let myself in with my key. I parked up the street next to the bench, book-ended with sculptured angels. Figuring they would be out back, I made my way there, having left my bags in the car. My mother's voice was shrill. "Hank, you knew?"
"Marcie, I didn't know, I just heard things."
"When he was still Meghan's doctor?"
"I didn't believe the rumors, Marcie."
"Oh, Hank...Our little girl. If there were any truth...Were socials at the club more important than Meg's safety?"
I then heard the first slammed door in my home, my mother too furious to speak.
I tip-toed back to the bench to give myself time to calm down. My instincts were harassed. A cloud passed over the moon, as I sensed the fiction of my life, the fiction of my father's protection. The tainted image smeared my memory of the little things - Dad in his Santa suit, which never fit. His patience when he taught me to ride my two-wheeler. I knew I wouldn't confront him, the memories already softening this blow. But I would do whatever I could to stop this hurtful doctor. As I looked at a fountain near a putting green, I knew my mom would have collided a few planets if she had known, the force of her love propelling me to my trunk, to gather my bags, to honor her strength, to become a woman truly worthy of her.
Edith Gallagher Boyd is a graduate of Temple University. She lives in Palm Beach County, Florida.