A stark, shocking memoir that offers a look into the mindset of abused children.
When Anderson (The Big Fib, 2010) was very young, a school psychologist asked her if her parents ever hit her. She writes that she told him no, parroting what her “religiously devout slightly psychotic parents” instructed her to say if she was ever questioned about conditions at home: “My mommy and daddy never, ever hit me, except when I do something really bad.” Anderson writes that she was lying, and the psychologist seemed to know it, but nothing came of the meeting. In reality, she says, her parents were regularly beating, sexually abusing, and emotionally terrorizing her and her 15 siblings. Yet the outside world turned a blind eye, and none of the children were capable of betraying “The Family.” Some may find it hard to imagine how such a situation could go unnoticed for so long, but Anderson says that a combination of psychological manipulation and physical terror allowed the abuse to flourish. She frankly describes instances when she says she betrayed her siblings to protect herself (one of her titular 11 regrets) and when speaking up led to violent repercussions. She also captures the complex relationships that children often have with their abusers. Her mother, she says, could show flashes of affection, and she sometimes felt close to her father, who once told her, “Don’t ever be like me.” But these pleasant memories are few. Worst off, she says, was her younger brother, Ronald, the family scapegoat who spent his formative years handcuffed in a shower stall and eating table scraps. Yet even while suffering the most appalling kinds of neglect, Anderson writes, she retained a hope that life could be better. Her descriptions of her struggle to retain a sense of self and dignity are heartbreaking but inspiring. Eventually, she says, she saw a chance for escape and seized it, joining the Army in her late teens. Although the fates of her other siblings weren’t all so positive, this memoir’s ending offers a ray of hope in an otherwise dark story.
A remarkable tale of perseverance and a haunting reminder that abuse can often hide in plain sight.