Jane Devin

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Mothers Don’t Let Your Daughters Read Harlequin

March 25th, 2008 · 20 Comments

I came late into my own sexuality, tumbling into it with all the confusion of a molested and battered child, and the shadowed blinders of a woman who thought her worth, even her ability to survive, was dependent upon making others, namely men, happy.

buster.jpgI never wanted to marry. While other girls were gracefully sashaying their Barbies down the suburban sidewalk aisle, I was dreaming the life of a writer, who had a small beach house overflowing with books, a mahogany desk littered with papers, a warm and tattered gray sweater, and two dogs named Holden and Phoebe. As I grew, so did the dream. I’d have friends, but not so many that they’d interfere with my writing – and I’d have a lover I’d see maybe two or three times a year – but they would be very passionate times, fueled by all the searing love letters we’d write to each other in-between writing Great American Novels.

Funny how things work out. I ended up pregnant and married in my late teens to someone who hated books, dogs, and romantic dreams. As I stood in the Justice of the Peace’s office, eight months pregnant, listening to the vows read by Mildred Pierce (yes, that really was her name), I had something of a breakdown. I began to laugh hysterically and couldn’t stop, a situation which only got worse when Mildred, in a sing-song whisper, sealed our vows with an “Indian blessing” that had something to do with the fruit of loins and a harmonious teepee.

Outside of the birth of my daughter, which was like a beautiful epiphany that reinvented and expanded my heart, the snapshots from 1981-1983 are sad and grainy – full of attempts that never hit the mark, and love that felt wrong and misplaced. I see me standing in the kitchen (wearing a skirt! I hated skirts!) making spring rolls and prime rib, neither of which he would enjoy because the first was too “ethnic” and the second was a waste of money. Me, hiding candy bars in my glove compartment because at 145 pounds, I was too “fat” for his liking. Me, constantly accused of infidelity and being checked on twenty times a day to ensure that I wasn’t fucking one of the neighbors in-between diaper changes, feedings, baths, housecleaning and cooking.

Me, in the midst of some cosmic accident where I ended up married to the enemy, feeling all at once adult and locked into a life of dread and spiritual poverty.

Of course, it ended quickly. The last pretenses were discarded the night he slapped me and threw my typewriter in the outdoor dumpster. I had one of my first freelance writing jobs, and an assignment that was due in the morning. He wanted me to put it away and watch television with him. When I said no, he lost it – and I lost the last of the love, or pretend love, that I had for him. I kept our daughter, and the son that I was two months pregnant with. He skipped out, never saw his daughter again, never met his son, and never paid child support.

It would only be after this, when I realized I was solely responsible for the outcomes of three lives – two of which were totally defenseless and dependent on me – that I was shaken into understanding that I had better learn who I was, and quickly. I could not afford to rent my dreams to the intentions of others, or to pretend my way through an existence with two children.

Sexuality was the reason I got pregnant, and the reason I had married a man I had nothing in common with, and in fact, sexuality had played a huge role in my life since I was first molested over the summer at age 10, when I was sent away by my mother to live with an ex-babysitter and her husband. It was a summer of horrifying and increasingly invasive moves (his) and increasingly creative, evasive tactics (mine), but like many children I stayed silent, fearing my mother would blame me, or that I would not be believed. I also took the molester at his word that he would kill my sisters if I told, so I didn’t. I swallowed the experience, and looked for answers elsewhere – which, in my case, meant books.

Being 10, I didn’t check out proper books on sex and sexuality from the public library – instead I stole them from the “free” book exchange that Washoe County offered in the library entrance. I scoured the jackets looking for any mention of sex, which is how I ended up reading “Last Tango in Paris” under the covers with a flashlight in my fourth grade year.

It’s how I learned that men were brutal and rough, and that women loved them despite, and maybe because of, their brutality. That, according to Harlequin and Harrold Robbins, fear was an aphrodisiac, and a bodice-ripping rape was an exciting and bloodless act that turned a faint-hearted girl into a swooning heroine.

When I was violently raped at 13, and left to lay in a puddle of blood, there was still nobody to talk to – I was alone in a repressive world where obedience to authority figures dominated any other consideration. I had already had my share of troubles earlier in the year for failing to tow the line, including a six-week stint at Wittenburg Hall Juvenile Detention Center, for possession of my sister’s boyfriend’s marijuana (I wouldn’t narc then, but I think it’s safe now). In my sixth week at Wittenburg, my jaw was broken in eighteen places and my teeth shattered by Dana Stevenson’s baseball bat. (She thought I stared at her boyfriend. I didn’t even know who he was, and was unlikely to be staring at boys in any case).

I bled for three days after I was raped. I took a lot of baths. I was afraid to look in the mirror. I was scared of what the wound might look like, and I was afraid it would never heal.

There was no one to talk to, but people talked to me.

Joy Pribyl and Marlene Cain were two girls Galen Miller told of his conquest, which is what the rape was in his 17 year-old mind. He was proud to have pinned me down to a boulder and taken my virginity, and he was proud of the blood, which he told them about, apparently with great relish and in detail.

“Like a stuck pig,” Joy chanted.
“Now you won’t think so much of yourself,” Marlene said.
“Fucking slut.”
“You deserved it.”

And I wondered, really, if I did. I wondered if reading all those books – seeking them out like I had and devouring their contents – led Galen to stalk and then rape me. Did having all those words and scenes in my head translate into some signal I was subconsciously emitting?

What was it Tom Jones sang? “A woman wears a certain look when she is on the move, and a man always knows what’s on her mind”. Was I that woman? Was I on the move in some way? Were men only reacting to what I had read and learned and had etched into my mind? Even before the age of 10, wasn’t I thinking about things I shouldn’t have been thinking of? What was wrong with me? What did I do to cause this?

I was thirteen then, but I would be tormented by this major mind-fuck until I was in my mid-twenties.

I thought I was alone. I was not, but it would take me — and so many other women of my generation — years to find each other, and in the process, find ourselves.

Tags: Sex/Sexuality

20 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Jeanne // Mar 25, 2008 at 5:39 pm

    Thank you for sharing. It takes so many years and tears to try to figure why an adult man would rape a young girl. And, how finally in my 40’s I realize how the abandonment of my family by the silence deeply affected me. And, still to this day, those close to me are uncomfortable with my need to discuss and cleanse. I’m sorry for the pain you endured but appreciate your openess so very much. Thank you.

  • 2 Sandi // Mar 25, 2008 at 6:55 pm

    The human ability to survive most anything is astonishing. And to share it with others profound.

    Holding you in my heart.

  • 3 LBJ // Mar 25, 2008 at 8:50 pm

    Abused kids are brought up to think that everything bad that happens is somehow their fault, from Dad losing his temper to Mom losing her job, it’s all got to be the kid’s fault in a way, otherwise the parents can’t justify their abuse.

    But even girls who weren’t abused by their parents have some of the same issues. If they’re religious, they think they’re being punished by God. If not, they wonder if their skirt really was too short, or if they smiled too much, or gave the wrong kind of eye-contact, or maybe they shouldn’t have said yes to that date……

    Girls in our generation especially (raised in the 60’s, 70’s) were given mixed messages. We were in between the repression of the 50’s and some enlightenment that was just appearing in the wings.

    I love that you open your blog to such intimate subjects and conversation, Jane. I’ll say it again, you’re brave and through that open doors of expression and sisterhood.

  • 4 Von // Mar 25, 2008 at 10:57 pm

    I think this often. Is child rape really getting to be an epidemic or are we just hearing more about it because of the internet?

    Jane, so sorry that you were abused/tortured as you were. I don’t understand how people can just take from a person in that way. They have no right but they do it anyway.

  • 5 Jill // Mar 25, 2008 at 11:02 pm

    I am sure there are Readers who thought they were alone too, and know now, thanks to this post, that they are not.

  • 6 peejays // Mar 26, 2008 at 8:57 am

    It was very generous of you to share this, Jane. As Jill said, others who have unfortunately been there will feel less isolated. I hope writing about it benefited you somehow. I can’t express how sorry and angry I am that you went through these things.

  • 7 Doris Rose MacBean // Mar 26, 2008 at 10:57 am

    Wow. Once again you have peeled back a layer…and hearing your words and seeing that child, I still find it incomprehensible that human beings can manifest that kind of violence on one another. And I am too old to be that naive.
    If there is a bright spot– you are a Writer, you have always been a writer and I for one, am glad.

  • 8 freida // Mar 26, 2008 at 11:38 am

    Seems I fooled with fate a couple of times.

    I’ve been lucky.

    So, I wish I felt fortunate, but I feel guilty.

    I was so damn curious.

  • 9 Elf // Mar 26, 2008 at 4:41 pm


    Wow u said a mouthful, i was one of those great catholic girls, thinking (and sometimes still) that i was the cause of my classmate being hit with a wooden cane by our teacher(a nun),or that my parents had their arguments because of me, and i am at fault for my mother blowing her top and beating me from one end of the house to the other,until i talked with my daughter about it the other day and realized hey it’s not me! Amazing, this country(Developed), still puts children on the back burner. Yes, we’re young but still living in the 1800’s u’d think all the money we have we could keep up with the other (Developed) countries, Europe(Switzerland, France,Germany) Austrailia. I now go to a church that doesn’t allow women to vote or make decisions, (Lutheran and no violence or sex surprises)but is this is progress? In Europe if one goes to a Lutheran church you are heard, and same with the catholic church here its all the same. In God
    We Trust, still waiting

  • 10 rachel whetzel // Mar 26, 2008 at 4:42 pm

    Very Raw… I can’t imagine a childhood with such burdens. I’m so sorry that you don’t have to.

  • 11 Elf // Mar 26, 2008 at 5:03 pm


    Thanks, and Jane Happy EARLY Birthday, i think E. :) kids reminded me of this..

  • 12 Patty G. // Mar 26, 2008 at 5:11 pm


    Not only are you peeling back pieces of your life, you are also peeling back pieces of mine and so many others as well.

    As I read the story, I was seeing me and my past in so much of what you were written. It was words I so wanted to write and put out for the world to see.

    I did copy the story and placed it on my My Space page with you “clearly” as the author. I have a few friends on my MySpace that have also faced molestation, rape etc., in their lifetime and your story will certainly help them along the way.

    I am hoping one particular MY Space friend reads it as she is still so young (mid 20’s) and suffering so much because of her past. She is well known and sometimes I feel she is not heard.

    Thank you and so looking forward to more ….


  • 13 Donna L. Faber // Mar 26, 2008 at 5:31 pm

    Wow … you blow me away. Your honesty is brutal … and moving.

    Sharing this was very courageous …

    Thank you, Jane.


  • 14 jimi // Mar 26, 2008 at 6:23 pm


  • 15 dee // Mar 27, 2008 at 5:11 am

    Dearest Jane;
    I am so sorry this happened to you. I am sorry that it happens at all. You my friend are a brave woman.

    You are here and you are loved and you are appreciated. Thank you for your trust and honesty. Wrapping a little hug around your pain.

  • 16 Patty G. // Mar 27, 2008 at 10:43 am

    Hi Jane,

    I see you have my name “Patty G.” under “Blog Friends” but my link is not working. Would you kindly add it again. If you can’t see my website address, kindly send me an email and I will give it to you.

    Thanks so much.
    Patty G.

    Done, Patty. :-) - Jane

  • 17 Patty G. // Mar 27, 2008 at 4:58 pm

    Thanks Jane! :)

  • 18 Paige // Mar 27, 2008 at 5:20 pm

    I hate whenever a childhood is stolen. My heart aches for you.

  • 19 VIVIAN // Mar 27, 2008 at 6:00 pm

    Jane, as you know I have walked down that same road, from husbands of the one i baby sat for, to a hero brother , home from the war, and yet, to this day I have never told anyone I know. I also read harlequin romances, trying to find out how to find that one who could not live with out me. I was also 10 when it first happened, and I am still ashamed , that I must have said somerthing or done something to make these things happen to me. But in my heart i know it was not me, and i can now live with that. Love you my friend, forever

  • 20 Jane Devin // Mar 28, 2008 at 10:50 pm

    Thank you all for your comments and support. They are much appreciated, and always inspiring.

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