Jane Devin

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Outside the Bounds of the American Dream

May 1st, 2007 · 20 Comments


There are predators who can intuitively pick out the insecure and solitary child. The cautionary childhood watchfulness I learned at my mother’s feet had not evolved to warn me of other people’s intentions, only to observe their features and actions with some amount of fascination or horror. The idealistic daydreams I relied on as saving grace and escape did not save me from the actual ill-intentions of others. I was molested twice by the age of ten, and raped twice by the age of fifteen.

There was no trusted adult or friend to confide in and I bore my own secrets uncomfortably, seeking solace from books — from writers who invented tragedy or shared their own experiences. I remember being frustrated in my search. No book I read really captured the futility of a child’s fight against an adult — like a fly trying to push away a bear, and almost none spoke of the days of bleeding, or the excruciating pain. Instead, novels often made rape a bloodless event and sometimes, in Harlequin-type novels, even a desirable one, where brute force and helplessness collided and turned into romanticism.

As a teen, I began to write of rape in metaphors of war and catastrophes, where I could fill page after page with anger, devastation, and pain. In time, my epic poems became shorter and less catastrophic, and I began to heal. My final poem on the subject, “Cousteau’s Daughter”, which I first drafted at fifteen, , is the result of integrating my experiences with molestation and rape into a singular event that I could break away from with hope and imagination.

All at once shamed and seeking, I dropped out of school in eighth grade to work full-time. As a young teen, much of what was previously fluid and difficult to grasp seemed to take on more solid form. My propensity for daydreaming transmuted into an appreciation for creativity, and my mental wandering transformed into earnest idealism. My watchfulness, as well as my aptitude for reading, lent me the ability to learn new tasks quickly, which proved useful in the adult workplace.

A few months short of my sixteenth birthday, I left home in search of the Promised Land where it was said that hard work and ingenuity allowed even those on bottom rungs of society to realize their greatest dreams. My dreams of adulthood were not large or opulent. I wanted to live an ethical, kind, and dignified life. I wanted personal security, good friends, guileless intimacy, and just enough money to pay for the basics and keep the cupboards full. I imagined retiring one day to a small cottage on the water, with a fireplace, a porch, a mahogany desk, and two friendly dogs that would fetch sticks while walking along the beach with me.

I could not be Cousteau’s daughter, but I thought that if I could learn to navigate the adult world –  if I could learn to swim with the tide — I might be able to realize my dreams. One of the premises of American life is that the circumstance one is born into need not be permanent, or determine the future. History is filled with stories of everyday people who overcame huge obstacles and achieved their missions, and poor men who came from nothing and built lasting empires. I was determined to set aside the labels and hardships of my childhood. I gathered my strength and courage and a suitcase full of books, and set sail as an energetic, aspiring, and hope-filled individual.

My journey was a somewhat hobbled, spirited, and often bewildering adventure that took me so many places — places I never imagined or intended. I could never have imagined holding down the dozens of jobs I did to support my writing career — from factory worker to substance abuse counselor to advertising executive — or starting college in my late twenties, or meeting the great number of incredible people I did, under so many varying circumstances.

My circumvention of the American dream was not intentional. Some may argue a case for predetermined or obvious destiny, but their hopes were surely different than my own. As an adult, I’ve never needed more than what I could give myself, and never wanted anything other than a multifaceted life experience.

From the reservoir of childhood pain, a river of words began to flow. From that river came healing, and from healing came the challenge to live my own authentic life. in all its haphazard but veritable glory, even if it’s a life lived on the periphery of American tradition and outside the bounds of social convention.

Jacques Cousteau once said, “From birth, man carries the weight of gravity on his shoulders. He is bolted to earth. But man has only to sink beneath the surface and he is free.”

The father of my imagination always knew what to say to me.

Tags: Child Abuse · Other Writings

20 responses so far ↓

  • 1 More to be // May 1, 2007 at 6:05 am

    You have just broke my heart but the poem was beautiful.

    Thanks for helping me to understand.

  • 2 Rosemary // May 1, 2007 at 12:41 pm

    I’m so sorry that your heart was broken and wish you all the love you need. Thank you for giving so much. This website has been very helpful to me.

  • 3 EJ // May 1, 2007 at 1:13 pm

    What a wonderful feeling packed piece. I am in tears. You always amaze me. It’s a wonderful feeling to post on this site. Peace to you and yours.

  • 4 Carol // May 1, 2007 at 6:15 pm

    Dear Jane:

    Another heart wrenching article. Thanks for sharing your live with us. Sorry for what you suffered in silence. You are a awesome lady.

  • 5 jimi // May 1, 2007 at 7:13 pm

    My dear friend, I am crying as i write this. your heart was broken as a little child.. wounded both mentally and physically. how did you cope???? I can only imagine…blocking, creatively blocking ..the pain you experienced is the very pain that has set you free.. and others too, dear Jane. God Bless you for sharing.You do not realize it , but you have set into motion the healing process for others.J

  • 6 Jane Devin // May 1, 2007 at 7:14 pm

    Perhaps it’s odd, given all of your statements, but I actually didn’t mean this article to be so sad — I wanted to express that out of all of that came an appreciation for living life independently and authentically. . .of creating my own version of American dream, even if it’s slightly out of bounds.

    I think there’s more of us who do that, in one way or another, than are ever acknowledged in literature. The trauma of rape is often whitewashed by authors, but at least it’s spoken of — meanwhile, there are entire lives and sets of experiences that are hardly ever given a page, much less a book.

    A public library’s fiction section is usually brimming with the stories of fashion models, heiresses, politicians — social super-successes and other rarified existences. The stories about “everyday people” and their experiences hardly fill a shelf, yet those experiences are ones many of us could relate to — and in my opinion they’re every bit as valuable as the fantasy literature that’s marketed to us.

    Some of the “everyday stories” of literary fiction became more popular as a result of Oprah WInfrey’s book club, but if you’ve ever read some of those stories (like The Book of Ruth), you’ll see that nearly all of them have some sort of manufactured and unrealistic happy ending. Almost as if the writer or publisher was afraid that nothing short of a redemptive miracle at the end would make the story worthwhile.

    :-) What I mean to say is — redemption is not always perfect, and it rarely comes from miracles. Usually, we find redemption comes from living the life that truly fulfills us, and not the one conscribed to us by past circumstance or society’s expectations.

  • 7 Jane Devin // May 1, 2007 at 7:16 pm

    And also — I appreciate you all. Your views and unique perspectives often help me see things that escaped my own vision. Thank you.

  • 8 QV // May 1, 2007 at 7:17 pm

    Dear Jane,
    I don’t have the words, but I have the sentiment. You are one of the most courageous women that I have never met. A force to be reckoned with. One of the few that have broken the cycle of abuse and are brave enough to tell about it.

  • 9 My mothers daughter // May 1, 2007 at 7:25 pm

    Dear Jane:

    Once again you have left me speechless, with tears in my eyes.

    The gift of you sharing your heart, soul and life experiences with us shows your readers where your compassion and integrity developed through out your life and it is a gift we will not take lightly.

    Exposing your inner soul as you have done teaches and humbles us, and we become better people because of it.

    I am so sorry that you had to go through so much pain in your life. A lot of times, life just isn’t fair and we are unable to comprehend why. My heart aches for that small child and I wish I could take away all the pain you endured, but what an extraordinary adult and person you have become.

    You have become a safe haven for so many of us and I thank you with all my heart.

    May you be blessed with only all that is good and have peace of mind.

    All the best.

  • 10 Danigirl // May 1, 2007 at 8:25 pm

    Jane… you touched a place deep inside of me that seldom see’s daylight. We don’t know each other face to face and yet our own personal journey’s have made us sisters, almost twins.
    Some of us fold under the weight, some of us acquiece to the notion that there is something wrong with us, some of us grow bitter with time, some of us fantasize a whole new reality and then some of us go through all of these stages. Ultimately we find that spark deep inside of our souls that refuses to allow us to believe that we are a product of what others have done to us or others expect of us. We swim against the stream and become stronger with each stroke. We strive to live every day to the fullest and one day our lives become “more than” anything that traumatized us. We become independent women with so much to offer and in sharing our story we build up the entire sisterhood. Thank you for sharing. Love ya..dani

  • 11 DonnaM. // May 1, 2007 at 10:42 pm

    I understand everything you’re saying and I admire your courage for sharing with us.
    Taking the road that leads to over coming our past can be filled with many emotional obstacles.
    Some never reach it, others, try as they might, just can’t seem to dodge the road blocks.
    Your words are inspiring to many who read them while thinking of their own past experiences.

  • 12 Jane Devin // May 1, 2007 at 10:44 pm

    I received a moving letter today from someone who asked me about the healing process. I wanted to share a slightly revised answer here.

    “I think Danigirl may have said it best. . .

    “Some of us fold under the weight, some of us acquiesce to the notion that there is something wrong with us, some of us grow bitter with time, some of us fantasize a whole new reality and then some of us go through all of these stages.”

    And for many of us, those stages repeat themselves in circular fashion until we’ve exhausted them. . .and find ourselves at a point in time where those stages become more of a conscious choice, rather than an emotional reflex.

    You give me far too much credit if you think I’m totally healed, friend. I’m not sure that any abuse survivor is ever totally healed. Well, you’ve been battling cancer — if tomorrow all your cells returned to normal and you were absolutely assured there was no possibility of reoccurence — would you not be changed by the pain and anxiety you’ve gone through? Even though this would mark a wonderfully happy, positive direction, you would still have been significantly altered by the original experience. You will always carry the knowledge and emotions that came with being a cancer survivor.

    As for abuse, I would say that whatever healing I had was always in small stages, often with setbacks inbetween. For instance, when I was a new mother I was overjoyed — I never imagined I could love anyone so much. At the same time, the experience of motherhood made me revisit my childhood in the most painful way. Once I understood what holding my own baby in my arms for the first time felt like. . .it was painful to understand that my mother did not feel the same way about me.

    And occurences like that are frequent, aren’t they? You see a child being hit at the mall, or another one being treated with love — and in either case, there’s the opportunity to reflect on your own experience. It takes a conscious effort pull yourself back into the present, where love and warmth and nurture actually do exist.

    I suppose then, if I had an answer, it would be that knowing love, being able to both receive and give it, is the situation that ultimately brings the most healing. It changes your emotional, and sometimes even your physical reflexes. Instead of stepping back out of fear, we lean forward for that embrace. Instead of jumping in fear when someone unexpectedly walks up behind us, we laugh.

    This type of love — the kind that promotes healing — simply cannot exist in a toxic environment. But once it exists, among your own family, or your family of friends, its tendency is to repel rather than to accept pain and punishment.

  • 13 Barbara // May 2, 2007 at 5:48 am


    What a truly heartfelt story. We all have to endure hurdles in life, some we have not asked for, some we have, but somehow those hurdles can indeed drive us to a ground we did not realize existed. Drive and opportunity only opens up for us when we are prepared.

    Family disappointments and rejection can reel against us if we allow them too. It appears as though you did not do what you believed you “should”, instead you pursued what you believed. That is a truly a brave choice.


  • 14 Kristin // May 2, 2007 at 7:47 am

    Dear Jane.
    This is off-topic, so forgive me.
    But I would like to remind you and all Howard K Stern supporters to go vote for him at http://www.cnn.com/showbiz.tonight
    Naturally his detractors are out full force and the results are 2 to 1 against him.
    With your permission, i would like to post this reminder here, twice.
    Thanks you!

  • 15 joni // May 2, 2007 at 2:47 pm


    I have been reading your stories and poetry. I especially liked “Cousteau’s Daughter”. It was so sad, so beautiful and so poignant.

    What a gifted writer you are.

  • 16 lynda // May 2, 2007 at 4:37 pm

    Dear Jane: I will forever be in your debt. I have a story that very closely resembles yours. I too have been following ANS story. Because of illness I can’t champion causes in person. After listening to you I see that not every one is ready to jump to conclusions about people without facts. I continue to check other sites and post after I have heard some of the evil things people say. I feel it is important to stand and speak for others, even if only one other hears you. Your integrity demands that you do.

  • 17 squeaker // May 3, 2007 at 7:00 pm

    Dear Jane,
    Every post I read of yours keeps me in awe of your talent. The words, the sentences, flow so effortlessly and hold so much emotion. I am fairly new to your site and have been extremely happy to have happened upon it. I look forward to you occupying my mind with meaningful words and sentences. You have brought so much pleasure into my dreary life and more than once you’ve brought a smile to my face and happiness to my heart.
    Thank You for your kindness and for sharing your wonderful talent, i greatly appreciate it.

  • 18 A. Bar // May 3, 2007 at 8:41 pm

    Oh Jane, what a touching tale you tell. It is amazing and admirable that you turned a youth, filled with tragedy, around. You became a strong, compassionate person despit the possible odds, for that you deserve much credit. I am in awe of your wisdom, your strength and your ability to write so beautifully. Thank you for sharing with us, I feel priviledged to be allowed a glimpse into your rich life.
    Thank you.

  • 19 Kristin // May 4, 2007 at 3:24 pm

    Dear Freida,
    I read your posts here as well as at Q.V.’s A Mother’s Last Wish, and I am so touched.
    And I am grateful to Jane Devin and Q.V. for allowing ANS/HKS/DannieLynn supporters to vent their sorrows and frustrations — … about this world we live in, which is spinning out of control ….
    What is particularly hurtful, is to watch Larry Birkhead flaunt his baby as if she were some trophy he’s won after climbing tall mountains and crossing shark-laden seas.

  • 20 Kristin // May 5, 2007 at 7:06 am

    Dear Jane,
    Deeply touching and brilliantly honest.