We moved from Baltimore to a small suburb in Pennsylvania when I was 7 years old. I remember the day my mom enrolled me in public school. I was upset. I wanted to go to Catholic school like my friends and cousins back in Maryland. Today, I understand. My mother is one of the women featured in the latest Netflix crime saga "The Keepers." She was sexually abused by A. Joseph Maskell, the former chaplain at Archbishop Keough High School in Baltimore, and a string of other men to whom Maskell gave access.
The trauma she and his other victims suffered is unspeakable. But that trauma has had a ripple effect, often overlooked, affecting their friends and families. We are the sounding board for victims even when we don't want to be. Even when we believe we are incapable of it.
My family has spent the last two and half years hearing about "The Keepers" in its various stages, giving my mother space so she can be filmed with no pressure from the family, driving her to Baltimore for various meetings, and just listening to her talk about her abuse. What probably does not come across in the docu-series is that the sexual abuse that was committed against these girls at Keough in the 1970s is a 24/7 reality for them. It affects how they act, think and communicate. My mom does everything in a guarded manner. No amount of money, prayer or time will change her life now. Because of my mother's abuse, she has only ever been able to be a friend to me, and a distant one at that. This may seem fun growing up, but children need parents, someone to set parameters and guide them.
My mom and I sat down a week ago Friday, the day "The Keepers" premiered, to watch it. We were excited to see our friends and cousins on Netflix, despite the gravity of the topic. It was funny to us that these very not famous people were on TV. We watched the entire series together in one day. Sometimes an expletive would fly, and sometimes there was radio silence in the living room. About three hours into viewing, I logged onto Facebook to find hundreds of messages of support from around the world. I told my mom and she broke into tears: "No one ever believed us before!" she said.
My parents protected me from knowing about my mom's abuse as best they could. When I was in my mid-20s, they revealed it to me. To their surprise, I already knew. I'm not sure if that came from a child's intuition, or from eavesdropping on adults. But I knew.
To date, my mom has had a stroke and more heart attacks than I can count. She smokes, even though she knows she should quit. As I was growing up, so was my mom. We initially entered college together, finishing our different degrees at different paces. As I continued to mature, I noticed that my mom did not. She seemed to be stuck in an adolescent state. So as I continued to grow older, we grew apart.
In all of her efforts to protect me from being sexually abused as a child I wound up experiencing both it and domestic violence. When I returned home, it seemed that the pain of my abuse reopened her wounds. She became more guarded and more in need.
So, because of our abuse, I have a rocky relationship with my mother. We sometimes enjoy time together. But most of the time we bicker over things.
My mom had nowhere to run when she was a child. She could not tell on Maskell, who died in 2001, because he threatened her life to stay silent. He put a gun in her mouth and promised he would load it if she ever breathed a whisper of what was going on. She was terrified. The Baltimore Diocese has done the bare minimum in helping her heal. They gave her a small sum of money and offered to pay for the counselor of her choice for a short period of time. They have never offered counseling to me, my brother or my father. They have never apologized to me for taking away my mother before I was born.
I don't expect our relationship to improve anytime soon. But I will say that after watching "The Keepers" I have come to a profound understanding of her pain. The wall between us seems lower.
Jerri von den Bosch is a theology student in Pennsylvania. Her email is Jwarad@gmail.com.