I often wonder whether Mark Twain wrote that statement with a ton of sarcasm. How many of you can remember a time in your life when you found yourself on the wrong side of a distortion of the facts? Maybe a story was spun about something very personal, distorted by someone you knew or trusted. That breaking of your trust can be gut-wrenching, bad enough to bring you to your knees.
As I was writing The Family Secret, a particular memory arose for me, a memory of how deeply the distortion and manipulation of facts can destroy a family. When I thought of everything Iris O’Connell and her kids went through while I was writing the story, I remembered a time way back when I was a teenager, still in high school. A good friend of mine was going through a rough time at home, and she was forced to flee the abuse one night and stayed with another of our friends. Because of the situation and the way it had escalated, she knew she couldn’t live at home anymore. I had just earned my driver’s licence and gotten my very first car, so I drove her back the next morning to pick up her things.
Her mother was there, expecting her, and she even offered my friend a suitcase while we hurried to pack. We were just walking out of the house with her suitcase when her father came home. I had never seen such rage before. It was in his expression, in the way he stalked over to her. Then he was on top of her, hitting her, beating her. This was before cell phones existed, so I had to run to a neighbor. I remember beating on the door, which was opened by a middle-aged woman. I begged her to call the police, saying my friend was being beaten by her father. She let me come into the house, and although she wouldn’t call, she allowed me to. When I called 911, I learned that they had already been called and the police were on their way. Who had called? Later, I learned that it was my friend’s mother, who had been standing over her father as he hit her, telling him to hit her again and again.
After I hung up, the neighbor could see how badly I was shaking, and she told me to sit down, but I begged her instead to come back with me and help. She said no. She absolutely refused, saying the man was her neighbor and she didn’t want to get involved. That was the first time in my life that I heard someone say they couldn’t get involved, but it wouldn’t be the last. The neighbor asked me to stay put and not go back out there, but did I listen? No. That was my friend in trouble, so I went back out myself, absolutely terrified.
I didn’t have a clue what to do as I ran back over, trembling, scared shitless. Not one person from that upper-middle-class neighborhood, as I think about it now, came over to help. I remember seeing my friend on the ground, her father on top of her, hitting her with his fists, her mother standing there. Then the police came in fast, and all I remember is watching the scene with horror. You know that surreal feeling that hits you when you can’t believe something is really happening? I remember crying, because how could this happen? My friend was crying, too. Then we were over by my car, and two cops were there. One talked to us to get my statement of events and then hers, and the other was talking to her parents. I had no idea of what was being said.
I can’t imagine what my friend went through. Maybe the one cop felt sympathy or something, as he loaded up a garbage bag of her things and the suitcase into the back of my car, and we drove away, both of us crying. We were just kids, and this was an emotional situation, seeing that kind of violence during a time when people still wouldn’t admit that abuse happened behind closed doors in a lot of homes. What I never understood was that the cops didn’t arrest my friend’s father, but was that the first thought in my mind at the time? No. My thoughts were more along the lines of What the hell just happened? and Did that seriously just happen?
My friend was hurt, pretty beat up, so I took her to the hospital. She eventually came to live with me and my parents for a while, but that first night, she wanted to stay in a hotel where no one was around. I could totally understand why. So we stayed in a hotel, and while we were there—and I don’t even remember whose idea this was—we called the school cop. Back then, a police officer worked in our high school. He had an office with an open door for all us kids, and he made a point of getting to know us. Let’s face it that as teenagers, we were assholes, but he would be there at any time for any kid who had questions, who just wanted to talk, or who needed someone to care, to listen to them, to hear them. He was there for any kids who were considering doing something stupid, helping kids get out of the jams they found themselves in.
He was a good man. I don’t even remember how we found his home phone number, since there was no internet back then. I’m pretty sure we searched for his name in the big bulky phonebook and dialed, just hoping we were calling the right man. Still in that emotional teenage state, we told him about the entire incident and what had happened. I’ll never forget how he took it on for her. There would have been a police report, so he called her back after talking to the other police officers and getting a hold of the statements, as well as her parents’ story. He waded into it for her even back then, in the ’80s, when laws didn’t protect those who needed it.
What I’ve never understood, though, was the distortion of facts, because whatever statement her parents gave to the cops had been distorted enough that the police were considering bringing charges against my friend. Her parents had the kind of authority, it seemed, to be able to have her charged. Now wrap your head around that, because I never could. But our school cop, a good man, stepped in and made sure nothing came back on her. Unfortunately, he also gave it to her straight and told her she couldn’t charge her father because of the way the system worked. Her parents would charge her if she did, and they could do that. It was a shitty situation, but unfortunately, it happens across the country in different scenarios and way more often than people realize. For my friend, though, and for me, seeing that one cop on her side, stepping in for her, fighting for her and for her truth, was everything.
Didn’t get a chance to read The Family Secret?
The Family Secret
Raymond O’Connell was the love of Iris’s life—from the day she met him, to the day a year later when she married him, to the tragic night before she never saw him again.
Just what is the mystery behind Raymond O'Connells disappearance? NY Times & USA Today bestselling author Lorhainne Eckhart brings you The Family Secret, an O’Connell family novel, when a body is discovered at the edge of town, rumors, circumstantial evidence and a chance for revenge lead to one family members’s arrest, and an all out effort to take several other O’Connells down as well.
Some would say they had the perfect all-American life. Now, eighteen years later, questions arise about the night her husband disappeared, leaving a bloody knife and a letter addressed to her, in which he said goodbye and told her not to look for him, with not even a second thought for her and their six children.
The scandal when Raymond left rocked the community, fueling widespread rumors, from him running away with his mistress to him being dead. But through it all, Iris kept her head down, keeping the secret of what really happened. Although her children often wondered, and her eldest thought he was protecting her from something heinous when she asked him to get rid of the knife, what they didn’t know was that their father wasn’t who they thought he was. Making sure his secret didn’t come out was the only way to keep her family together.
Now, Iris can no longer keep her life with Raymond O’Connell buried, because her adult children are asking questions. The only thing she can think to do to protect herself and them is to enlist the help of a lawyer, her daughter’s husband, fearing that once the truth starts to surface, it could change everything about their lives.
The secret of their father, which Iris has hidden for so long now, has the potential to destroy everything the O’Connells have built for themselves, and once the truth of who Raymond O’Connell really was comes out, it will put a target on all of them, and their lives in peaceful Livingston, Montana, will never be the same.