Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Sister of Silence by Daleen Berry: Interview and Excerpt

 


 
 

Tell us about your next release.

 
I’m coauthoring a book about the life of Eloise Morgan Milne. She’s a trailblazer—and with good reason. Milne is a cousin of Daniel Boone, the pioneer, explorer, and frontiersman who became one of our most beloved folk heroes. She also hails from Col. Morgan Morgan’s family, the first white settler in West Virginia.

 
If “Big Red”, as her children fondly call her, had lived in State College, Penn., instead of Preston County, W.Va., Jerry Sandusky wouldn’t have had a chance. That’s because the work of this petite dynamo set a precedent that could be used as a roadmap by any school.
 

Milne worked as director of social services and attendance at the Preston County Board of Education, earning the title “champion of children” by her admiring colleagues. Circuit Judge Robert Halbritter had another name for her: He called Milne “my best bird dog.” That’s because she sniffed out child sex abuse and then went after the abusers with every inch of her five-foot-tall frame, packing a pistol along the way. Eloise Morgan Milne spent her life being a champion for the rights of others.

 
Has someone helped or mentored you in your writing career?
 

Yes, Linda Miller Benson was my editor at The Preston County Journal, my first newspaper job. At conferences where I speak these days, I often tell the audience about her. She saw something in me that could be nurtured. Linda taught me how to do my best in a field that’s both challenging and intensely gratifying. She gave me a weekly newspaper column, and a chance to speak out. Her belief in me allowed me to believe in myself—and it changed my life.

 
At what point in your life did you realize you wanted to be a writer?
 

I can’t remember a time when I wanted to be anything else. When I was eight, I had a weekly Grit newspaper route. I delivered about 50 papers a week and my favorite part of that job was stretching out on my bed afterward. I loved reading the serial installment in each issue, and couldn’t wait to see what happened the following week. That’s when I knew I wanted to be a writer.

 
Entice us, what future projects are you considering?

 
People have been asking for the sequel to Sister of Silence, tentatively entitled To Shatter the Silence. It’s a type of love story, and I hope it will surprise my readers. I’m also trying to finish up Lethal Silence, a nonfiction book that looks at several families where children died due to violence in the home.

 
What do you find most rewarding about writing?

 
I enjoy touching people’s hearts and seeing them respond emotionally. It’s very gratifying to know when I’ve affected their lives for the better—or made them see something in a new way.
 

What is something people would be surprised to know about you?

I have my private pilot’s license, and grew up in and around airplanes because my father was a flight instructor.
 

Is there one passage in your book that you feel gets to the heart of your book and would encourage people to read it?  If so, can you share it?

 

Still in my nightgown, I sank onto the couch, and watched as the room went fuzzy. The tears were right behind my eyes, trying to get out. I wanted to stop them, tried to ignore the utter despair I felt, and to hide my pain from my children. But slowly the tears escaped, forming little trails down my cheeks. Then another fear occurred, a fear of scaring the daughters who played in a corner, oblivious to everything but each other.

I rose and stumbled into the bathroom and out of their sight, turning the lock behind me. Unseeing, I reached for the spigot and heard the water splash against the tub. Somewhere in a coherent corner of my mind, I hoped it would drown out my pain. Sinking slowly down the wall to the cold vinyl floor, I began sobbing, feeling nothing but the pain. Quietly at first, until I managed to lift my arm and pull a towel down from the shower rod, burying my face in it. Sobs wracked my body, and I heard a guttural cry like a wild animal come from somewhere deep within me. With the raw sound came freedom from days, months and years of silent anguish as the bottled-up feelings that had waited for so long to explode flowed freely down my cheeks.

I knew what I had to do. I was going to take my children, get into my car and drive over a cliff. I knew just where to do it and I watched it happen in my mind . . .

 
 


 

Daleen Berry is the executive director of Samantha's Sanctuary, a 501(c)3 charity that was created to help educate and empower abused women and children. Berry has been an award-winning journalist for more than 20 years, and has reported on many cases of child sex abuse and interpersonal violence. She's the award-winning author of Sister of Silence, which is being used in several colleges and universities, including Johns Hopkins. Most recently, she received the 2012 Pearl Buck Writing for Social Change award. She currently freelances, and her work has appeared in The Daily Beast, XOJane, and The Huffington Post



Twitter:  @DaleenBerry

 
 


After a shotgun wedding, the author found herself barefoot and pregnant—and the mother of four babies by age twenty-one. Follow along on Daleen’s personal journey from coal miner’s wife to teen mom to award-winning journalist, determined to break the silence that shatters women and children's lives.
 
A riveting true story, this memoir demonstrates the astonishing resilience of the human spirit. Kenneth V. Lanning, a retired FBI special supervisory agent who spent more than twenty years teaching about family violence at Quantico, Va., wrote the foreword for Sister of Silence. He says it's "ultimately a story of survival and hope." Dr. Jacquelyn Campbell, a Johns Hopkins University nursing professor and one of the country's leading family violence researchers, calls Sister of Silence "wonderful!" Campbell was the first professor to place the book on her syllabus.
 
SOS is being taught at the University of Louisville; Dr. Jean Shimosaki, LCSW, MSW, a Bay Area therapist, is using it with her patients, as it provides “a step-by-step guide for healing.” SOS took first-place in the Appalachian category at the West Virginia Writers’ Competition, and was banned at Livermore High School in California and removed from library shelves as “Banned Book Week 2011” began. It has been featured at “Hope For the Future: Ending Domestic Violence In Families,” hosted by the AIA (UC Berkeley), on The Bob Edwards Show (Sirius XM Radio), and on In A Word, a literary show produced by TV30.
 
The author is a California native who grew up in Preston and Berkeley counties in West Virginia, and went to work at The Preston County Journal. Among her many awards was one in 1990, when she won a first-place award for investigative journalism. In 1997, she worked for The Dominion Post, covering welfare reform. Among her awards are two second-place honors for her 2007 weekly columns in the Cumberland Times-News, one of which was born from SOS. Berry’s articles about Lashanda Armstrong, the mother who drove her van into the Hudson River in 2011, killing herself and three of her four children, appeared online at The Daily Beast.
 
This is what a few people are saying about this book and this author: “Almost never is an interview subject so open or so candid about the most intimate details of the most horrible moments of her life. Daleen is a very brave women and I hope her story will help other girls and women . . . Daleen you are a magnificent storyteller.” —Bob Edwards (Author of Voice in the Box: My Life in Radio)
 
“In Sister of Silence, author Daleen Berry gently guides us through the dark corridors of her life, so that we can emerge in the light, as she has courageously done, with a sense of hope, authenticity and courage. Sister of Silence is a brave book, written from the heart. It’s a must read for the brave-hearted.” —Asra Q. Nomani (Author of Standing Alone: An American Woman’s Struggle for the Soul of Islam)
 
“Sister of Silence is authentic, compelling and necessary.” —Richard Currey (Author of Fatal Light)
 
“For marketing purposes, nothing better can happen to a book than having it banned. A banned book is a sure sign that you’ve done something very right.” —Lee Maynard (Author of Crum)
 
“A dramatic memoir told in a matter-of-fact, yet strikingly compelling, manner.” —Appalachian Heritage (Summer 2011 Issue)


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My knuckles turned white as I clenched the crib rail. I looked down at my newborn, then leaned over and lifted the sleeping bundle and held it against my breast, feeling the softness of new skin as he pulled tiny legs up against his body. The small silky head turned, and I felt the whisper of his warm breath against the pillow my neck provided.
Cradling him lovingly, I slowly walked over to the open window, held out my arms, and let go. 
“You haven’t had any thoughts of harming yourself, have you? Or anyone else?”
Back in 1984, Dr. Towson had said the unthinkable so calmly, as if it were a routine question. That had to be what it was. Me, hurt my baby? What kind of a mother would do that?
My throat seemed to close up so tight I couldn't have said the words even if I'd dared: Actually, yes, Doctor Towson, I am afraid to venture too close to any open windows while holding a baby in my arms.
“Mrs. Leigh?”
I looked into the well-meaning eyes of my family doctor and shrugged.
“Nothing like that. No, I’m just tired, that’s all. I feel kind of blah. You know, like a black cloud’s hanging over me. That’s all.”
Ashamed of my blatant lies, I offered some words of truth. “I’m exhausted because my husband wants to have sex all the time. Do you think he might have an addiction?”
My doctor, fresh out of medical school, only laughed. “Men would have sex with a tree, if they could,” he said.
He continued writing in my chart, then looked up with an understanding smile, as if he hadn't just blown off my concerns about Eddie.
“I don’t really think you need an antidepressant. You just need some more help at home. Tell your husband to pitch in and give you a break now and then. Have an occasional glass of wine to help you relax. After all, you’re only twenty-two and you have four little ones to take care of, not to mention a house and a husband. It isn’t unreasonable to think you would need some help.”
As always, my smile came easily, and I nodded. “Of course that’s it. I’m sure you’re right.”
He turned toward the door, but then looked back at me. “Better yet, why don’t you hire a sitter and you and your husband go away for a long weekend?”
Then he was gone.
The last “long weekend” had led to a fourth baby.
What if I'd told the truth? Since the birth of my first, that scene at the window had repeated itself in my mind, over and over again. The thought would come to me at the oddest moment, with such intensity I was sure I was going crazy.
What was wrong with me, that I would even consider such a thing?
 
The pervasive thoughts remained for many years, for the entire time my four children were too helpless to care for themselves, too innocent to protect themselves from a mother tormented by so many evil thoughts that, had she acted on them, would have instantly put an end to their lives. Yet I never told another human being about them. Ever. I was terrified of the consequences. Afraid they would lock me up in some place where medication turned the minds of crazy people to mush, leaving them defenseless against orderlies in starched coats and nurses with long needles and little pink and blue pills.
I remembered Dr. Towson’s suggestion to have a drink. But I never needed a glass of wine to get me through those mental minefields, when the wrong thought threatened to blow my world to smithereens; somehow I just did what I was supposed to, instead of killing us all. It was at night, when my husband came to me, that I needed the alcohol to drown out what happened whenever he touched me. And it was those times, all those perverse touches that made me feel like a tiny insect caught and held fast, being squished inside a little child’s clenched fist—it was those times that drove me to stand before my baby’s crib, waging a war within not to do the unthinkable.
 
Some people’s problems begin with a shot of whisky or a bottle of rum. Mine began before my birth, inside a beer can. And then another. And another. After I was born, it took me about seven years to realize my father’s drinking colored our family’s life in every possible way—the beer he consumed was more important than we were. By 1972, the beer had become a dangerous tool that transformed him from a sensitive, mild-mannered man into a monster.
I was fortunate. I witnessed it only once, in a scene that played out before me as a child. I locked it carefully away, where it stayed until it was released as a painful memory years later.
Mom had kept dinner waiting on the stove when Daddy didn’t come home. Again. I suspected she knew he was sitting at a beer joint somewhere, since she was always calling them to track him down. So after she packed us off to bed, leaving his dinner warming on the back burner, she went to sleep herself.
The screaming woke me up.
“Get outta bed and make me sumpin’ that doesn’t taste like burnt toast!” My father’s voice came from the room next to mine.
“Dale, stop it. Please, you’re hurting me!”
My mother’s cries.
Other noises, too, sounds of moving around, but I lay petrified, eyes closed, hardly daring to breathe.
“I deserve sumpin’ better’n that crap downstairs,” Daddy yelled. “I work hard all day long and all I won’ is a halfway decent meal when I come home!”
Though terrified, I had to see what was happening. I slid from beneath the heavy blankets and quilts that Mom had piled upon me and peeked around the corner of my bedroom door. Through the darkness, I could just make out my father’s hand, buried beneath the dark silky strands of my mother’s beautiful hair, as he pulled her toward the stairway. The echo of their voices moved along with them, past the faded, peeling wallpaper and out of my sight.
I tiptoed across the old and cracked Linoleum, and watched the breath that came from my mouth turn into a delicate mist, and slowly, stealthily, crept toward the stairwell on tiptoe, afraid a creaking floorboard would give me away. When I looked down, Mom was in front of my father, crying as he followed close behind her on the stairs, his hand clamped tightly around her arm. I don’t know what frightened me more—her crying, or the realization that she could slip and tumble down the steps any second.
When they had disappeared into the kitchen, I sat on a step, partway down. “I hate you, I hate you, I hate you.” I sobbed softly, my face framed between the two ancient banister dowels my tiny hands gripped, my body trembling from fear as well as the frigid night air of our uninsulated brick home.
His yelling gradually grew softer and then stopped altogether. I could picture him sitting in the kitchen, eating whatever Mom had hastily whipped up, while she waited for him to finish so she could carry his dishes to the sink. I wanted to see for myself that she was all right, yet I was too afraid to go down the stairs. Still, I was determined not to return to my room. If he tried to hurt her again, I was going to make him stop. I didn’t know how, but I would do anything I could to protect Mom—Mom, who would hold me as I sobbed, thanks to yet another middle of the night ear infection, gently blowing her warm breath into my affected ear to ease the pain until we arrived at the hospital. At that moment I decided I would do whatever it took, even if that meant beating him off with my bare hands.
My toes turned numb as I sat there for what seemed like hours before my parents came into the living room, looking like they were at someone’s funeral.





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