Cousteau’s Daughter

I feel like I should give some disclaimer to this piece, some explanation of why, not only because the topic is tough, but also because it’s become a cliche.  Writers, film makers, and students alike have been steered away from the topic of child abuse — it’s been done, the subject is stale, and every story that could be told has been told.

Yet, when I wrote the first version of Cousteau’s Daughter as a teenager, I didn’t care about any of these things.  I was just a girl who had been sent to California with an ex-babysitter and her husband, who spent the summer molesting and threatening me.  That experience was followed by being raped by a seventeen year old boy and a nineteen year old man.  There was no one I felt I could turn to, so I went where it had become natural for me to go — to the world of words, where I could spill my secrets, cleanse my spirit, and maybe make some sense of a world that, to me, was frightening and unpredictable. 

I have since eclipsed the experiences of my childhood, but have found that the responses to my writing about it range from sympathy to disgust.  There are those who, in their compassion, wish to offer some comfort to the child from long ago, or the woman who carries the memories.  Others find something revolting in the telling of the story, believing it signifies a propensity for being stuck in the past, an inability to “get over it”,  or even the making of “excuses” for this or that failure as an adult.  A few have even preached the gospel of forgiveness to me, as if I had the obligation to heal by way of acceptance, or by viewing my experiences as some sort of sideways, God-given blessing.

I appreciate the compassion given the child, but at the same time wish people to know that for the woman, the pain from events that happened almost thirty years ago is distant.  I hesitate to use the word “healed” because I’m not sure what it means in this context.  I don’t know who I might have been or how I may have felt had I not gone through this particular pain as a child.  No experience, much less one that is traumatic, gets to sit outside the tapestry of one’s life, where all things fuse together to create character and personality.  My way of “getting over it” has always been to tell the stories, my own and and those of other children — even in times of resistance.  As for forgiveness, I have none for those who would lay a violent hand upon children, no matter what their backstory may be.  There is no abuse I would ever consider a blessing, no matter what poetic justice might follow.

All that said, Cousteau’s Daughter is still an important piece to me, not because it’s personally cathartic any longer, but because it was written so close to the events.  It is a child’s story, written by a child who, even in pain and turmoil, loved poetry and words, the oceanic world of Jacques Cousteau, and Lucky Charms cereal.

Some of the phrasing was cleaned up as I got older, but not much.  All the elements, including the length, have remained intact.  The length, as well as the subject matter, prevented this piece from being published in literary magazines, but I always wondered if it wouldn’t work better as a visual piece.  A while ago, I put out the call for a videographer on this site, and Elaine Charbonneau stepped up to make it happen.  I thank her for her patience, her care, and the hours she gave to this project.  My friend, artist and photographer Linda Woods, saw my vision even better than I did, and provided photographs to tell the tale.  The only thing lacking was a professional narrator, but I thank my local radio station, KQSP-AM, for allowing me to use their studio.

Stop it Now! is an organization which has done much to bring attention to the issue of child abuse, and I am happy to dedicate this video to them, as well as to all of those who have had to grow up too soon.  The child in me also holds onto some scant hope that someone who is thinking of molesting might watch this, and seek help before they act.  The sexual invasion of a child is not just a physical act, but one that causes long-term emotional devastation.

Does it matter?  Is one more tale of child abuse even relevant?  I don’t know.  I only know that the story of Cousteau’s Daughter has long been in my heart to tell — and now it’s been told.

If it’s relevant to you, or others you may know, please share it.  And please do visit the Stop it Now! website to learn more about what you can do to help prevent child abuse.

35 comments to Cousteau’s Daughter

  • BellaKarma

    Thank you.

  • liz

    your video, your words… it will stay w/ me forever. peace- liz

  • V-Grrrl

    Stuck in the past?!!!

    Life is not a train and we are not passengers letting stations disappear behind us as we hurtle forward. We cannot let that which we don’t want to see or remember be blurred into soft edges, hidden by reflections in the glass. We cannot point our faces forward and pretend nothing exists outside the moment we’re in. We cannot outrun our experiences. We cannot push our baggage off a train and pretend we are traveling light. We carry it all. We carry it ALL.

    Thank you for giving this experience a voice…

    In my stable, middle class, white bread life, I have known seven women who have been raped. SEVEN WOMEN, ranging in age from 15 to 60-something. One gang raped and left in a coma for months, one raped by her boss at a Fortune 100 company, one raped by a clergyman who was a friend of her father’s, girls raped by ex-boyfriends seeking revenge and drunk guys at parties, an older woman raped by a 16-year-old stranger in her own home.

    I’ve gone to court with a rape victim to give her courage, taken a woman who was abused into my home for a few days. I’ve never had to face a child.

    I have a ten-year-old daughter. I cannot IMAGINE…

  • Kristy Christopherson

    Beautifully done and so moving. Thank you.

  • Gia

    Jane, your art, your words have penetrated my soul deeper than the wounds left so many years ago. You never offer a bandage to hide it…but instead, you offer it wings. thank you.

  • Neil

    Jane, how powerful. Can you also send me a copy of the original poem because I want to see the words on the page as well.

  • Gia

    I was thinking the same thing Neil. I wanted to see the written word…

  • Marcie

    Abuse has qualities similar to experiencing the death of another only this time it’s a part of you. No one quite knows what to say or do. They only know they feel badly and, to ease their own discomfort, wish to say or do something. Usually something inane or inappropriate.

    My sister-in-law (married to my brother since 1967) says that all four of us children were abused but verbally. And it’s just as life changing as physical abuse just no one can see it.

    When our son was killed in a drunk driving accident at 19 in 1994, he was the drunk driver and this is why I don’t laugh about being drunk or drinking. I did learn what to do when death of a physical or emotional nature occurs. I give hugs and I say either “this is a bitch” or “this sucks” or “this is a fucking bitch”. I’ve never had a grieving person be offended. They’ve all nodded their head and say yes, it is. Stating the obvious truth gives them permission to agree instead of being nice for the other person.

    Jane, it’s a fucking bitch that this happened to you.

    Peace out.

  • Kate McLaughlin

    Brilliant as a child.
    And as an adult.
    Brilliant, bright, shiny, illuminating Jane.

  • Terry

    It does matter. It is relevant. And you’ve said what so many don’t have the words for. Brava.

  • Danny

    Wow. That was POWERFUL.

  • Donna L. Faber

    Echo-ing those comments above … we cannot and do not put these things aside. Those of us who must create to live, come to terms with it, own it, and thus it becomes part of the tapestry of our lives … and quite unavoidably part of our creativity.

    Simply … it is what it is.


  • Karen Dinino

    Ah, Jane, you turn your pain and your growth into gifts, yet again. What a wonderful gift this is!

  • Pirate Queen

    Catharsis. Cathartic moments. Any action that gives voice to, or shines a light into the darkest shadows of souls and memories brings strength.

    Forgive and forget? Bullshit!

    Catharsis and truth laid bare? Paradigm shift!

    Kick the door down, Jane!! I’m right behind you. And what a great circle of friends you surround yourself with to produce this piece. The combined efforts bring resonance to the message.

    Sensory overload–video was great idea, and medium, for this piece, Jane.

    I am so stark raving PROUD of you, Woman!!

  • Julia

    Dear Jane,

    Thank you for having the courage to share your pain and gifts with us. I found myself in tears as I listened to your sadly oh too familiar story. I used to work as a counselor at a shelter for battered women, and abused children. It was almost 20 years ago and I still find myself thinking about some of those little girls and women. I had such a hard time not wanting to wrap my arms around each one and run off with them screaming all my hatred at their abusers and protect them from the rest of the evil doers of the world. Thus I don’t think I was ever a very good counselor really.

    Jane, I marvel at your ability at such a young age to be able to express yourself, the pain as well as your ability to dream is amazing. Even as a child you knew your voice and how it was speaking the truth.

    This piece is a lasting gift to the world. Words are so incredibly powerful, but to add your voice and the photography really made an impact.

    Thank you!

  • Maria

    Powerful. So powerful. Thank you for sharing your story. A tear could not hold its peace any longer. Okay, a few of them. And I hope the whole world gets to hear your voice. These words are meant to be heard…Linda’s photographs were an amazing match. You two are a perfect team! Sooo, so powerful!

  • Amanda

    Beautiful Jane! The subject matter may not be beautiful but your courage in expression is.

  • Doris Rose

    dear jane, thank you for sharing your dark and your light and for trusting us.

  • Ann Parker

    Jane, I too am unable to forgive them for what they did to you.

  • Elaine Charboneau

    When I was working with Jane on this, the thing that struck me most was, when knee deep into it, she told me what the “fireflies” were.
    I stopped and went whoa…the memories that must have been conjured while doing this must have been pretty jarring. is a great place to start of you are interested at all in the subject. It is dark, and sometimes hard to take, but it is very real for some people and the education needs to continue to happem.
    The good news is that I feel like I made a friend and hey, Nice job directing Jane! : )

  • LBJ

    In the Elephant Girls, you talked about how strong women transform pain into art. You have done that Jane, in spades.

    I was so moved by this, and the images and words will stay with me for a long time.

    I only wish more people knew where to find you. I think you could help so many girls who are struggling.

  • Liz Ness

    I found you by way of Linda Woods. Here’s what I said on her blog:

    “Thank you so much for sharing this; for making it ever more profound with a merging of words and image. I’m awe struck and compelled. All at once.”

    Now, I need to add that your voice (written and in the video) is powerful. You are a warrior, casting light where there is darkness. Thank you for your light, Jane.

  • Laurie

    How eloquent…..thank you for giving voice to this.

  • Mary

    It’s relevant. It will always be relevant and always be incomprehensible. Always, always, always indefensible.

  • Haviland

    Jane, thank you for being so brave.

  • Jennifer H

    Tell, tell, tell.

    I haven’t figured out yet why it’s important (to tell my own stories), but the best reason I can think of is to convince other people to step in when they suspect that a child is being abused.

    That was so powerful.

  • KellyW

    I came to your blog a few days ago, read it, watched the video, was speechless. I guess I needed time to absorb it all. Now I am back to comment. Beautiful. Touching. BRAVE. Raw. Honest. Just a few of the words that come to mind.

  • Cara

    Thank you for giving your words a voice …
    for Linda’s photos giving such astute imagery…

    there are no accidents…

  • Thank you to everyone who responded. And thank you to Linda Woods for sharing her many readers with me. Your words, and the time you took to share your thoughts, were very much appreciated

  • Lesley

    Simply beautiful, heartbreaking, and uplifting all in one. I am in awe of the hopefulness and strength of the younger you and the strength and amazing abilities of the you now. It gives me hope that I will find my strength and abilities beyond my experiences. Thank you…just thank you.

  • kris D.

    wow! so powerful…i have to watch and listen a couple more times…you are an amazing individual Jane.

    i could say so much more but my head hurts and i don’t feel like i would do justice with words right now.

  • Pamela

    This is a powerful piece. Raw honesty is a healing art - you’ve presented the raw here. Emotionally this is heartbreaking and inspiring.

    Technically - I love the use of photos and the rhythm of transition - the three of you have done a great job presenting this piece with gentleness.

    Thank you for sharing,

  • Laura Aguiar

    I was a Children’s Social Worker for a few years and like Julia (comment on Sept 23rd) I wanted to embrace and comfort and protect all the children whom I served, from the seemingly never-ending vicious cycles of abuse.

    My mother, my heroine, was victimized…her sister was, too.

    Thank you for the resiliency, the commitment, the courage, the love that made you/inspired you to share this with us. I will do my best to translate this into Spanish for my mother and share it with her when the time is right.

  • Mel.

    Thank you for giving words for the pain that so many of us have not. Bringing up the topic opens you to so much verbal abuse, but you were compelled to speak nevertheless. I aspire to speak/write all of my truth so that others will not hesitate to in the future. Thank you for the inspiration. -Mel.