Tuesday, February 8, 2011

The Thirty Year Secret

I got a call yesterday from a close male friend of mine who wanted to talk about something he'd just discovered about a girl he knew when he was a young man living in Portland and involved in the music scene there.  I know so little about that particular music scene since grunge wasn't music that ever interested me.  I know who Kurt Cobain was and I know who that hot mess Courtney Love is, and only the tinyist bit about their relationship.  That's all I know about the Pacific Northwest's biggest contribution to the music world.  I know grunge was the music of the Gen Xers.  I don't know how generation X got the name or exactly what it meant, but I have a male friend who was there when it all happened and was a musician himself.  He and friends of his knew many of the players in that music scene which in many ways defined their generation.

My friend got a call from one of his friends of that period with news about a lovely girl they both knew.  She'd made the news in a particularly shocking way and what made it big news was the man who sent her spinning off into madness and a life of drug fueled self destruction. The man was Neil Goldschmidt, perhaps Portland's most famous politician.  This is the story that finally hit the local Willamette Week on May 12th 2004.  Old news, right?  Nothing to see here, move along.  It's the story of a coverup that mostly succeeded, and could only have hurt the girl in the story by revealing so little about her, so little about the consequences to her.  Yes, there was much made of the consequences to the famous mover and shaker at the center of this story.  It was a big bump in the road for Neil Goldschmidt but I'm willing to bet he's weathered the storm and is still moving and shaking and making money hand over fist.  But the unnamed girl in the story?  This is what happened to her.  Now she has a name.  Now that she is dead we know this lovely girl was named Elizabeth Lynn Dunham, and her downward spiral and death was an avoidable tragedy.  Elizabeth Lynn Dunham might have had a normal life.  She could have been a girl who wasn't seduced at thirteen by a man twenty something years older than she, a man so famous and powerful his reputation was much more important than her very young age or her possibly bright future.  It was all about him and his very public bright present, past, and future.  And the event wasn't just a one time thing.  It went on for at least a decade or more.  Now that she's dead we'll never know the complete story.  But it's clear that the precipitating factor in her downward spiral was the sexual relationship Neil Goldschmidt began with her when she was thirteen. It's now known that Elizabeth's mother also knew this well guarded secret.  Since the mother isn't talking, it's hard to know exactly when she knew, but that she knew is not in doubt. After her daughters ongoing "relationship" with Goldschmidt the mother got a job in the Goldschmidt camp.  Would he have given her a job if he hadn't been schtupping her underage daughter?  Who knows?

This story has brought up all the terrible events of my childhood.  I kept my families secret for fifteen years.  My father was a psychologist and my mother was his accomplice.  The thing that kept me silent was shame.  Like most very young victims of sexual abuse I was also an accomplice in that I didn't tell anyone.   It took a cousin's suicide when I was twenty one to make me decide to tell my father I knew what he did to me and I needed help coping with the damage.  During that one private confrontation I was told it was my fault.  At age six I was a very seductive child.  I begged for it.  I made him do it.  He was the victim.  And then he threatened to have me committed to a mental institution for the rest of my life.  Did that shut me up?  No.  Because once that genie is out of that particular bottle, truth is power.  But once I'd told my father's sister and her family, I was shunned and then disinherited by his entire family. He returned all the photos of me, every letter I'd ever written him.  It came in a package that might have been a delivery of pornography--in a plain box wrapped in brown paper with no return address.  And that was it.  They were all done with me.

I've been writing this story of mine for the better part of twenty years.  I'm still working on it.

Addemdum: After my father's death I spoke to some lifelong friends of his who knew us all during the years of his abuse of me and the years after he stopped.  They all knew about it.  These are nice, well educated adults with children of their own.  They did nothing.  When I moved back to Salt Lake and into the family home I talked to the woman who was my best friend's mother when we were little kids.  She knew.  They all knew.  And no one did anything.  This seems to be the most ignored crime of all.