GOVERNOR DEVAL PATRICK HAS DESCRIBED Senator Scott Brown’s candor about the beatings and molestation he suffered as a boy as “very brave.” Senator John Kerry has said Brown’s revelations in his new memoir, Against All Odds, could help those who have endured similar abuse as children.
[sidebar]Of course, Patrick and Kerry were at something of a disadvantage when they offered their fervent reviews, not having actually read the book. But buyer beware: Brown’s memoir might be a voyeur’s delight, but it has no wisdom to impart. No counsel to offer battered women besides making better choices. No guidance to offer children trapped in violent households besides toughing it out. No example to offer sexual abuse victims besides getting on with their lives.
Make no mistake: There can be only compassion for a boy abandoned by his father, kicked around by brutish stepdads, shipped out to resentful relatives by a beleaguered mother, set upon by neighborhood bullies, and molested by a camp counselor. But the bromides Brown peddles as the lessons to be learned—self-reliance and human resilience—undermine the hard-won recognition that violence and sexual abuse are not private traumas to be overcome by force of will; they are pressing public health emergencies that demand a communal (dare I say governmental?) response.
The stories we tell about our lives are always reconstructions, shaped by the life we live now, by the face we want to show to the world.
Scott Brown wants us to see a brave boy, the protector of his battered mother. “Every time he knocked me away, I’d rush at him again, low and fast, like a crazed lion,” he writes of valiantly battling an abusive stepfather. “He was beating the crap out of me, but I knew I couldn’t stop, and with every blow I grabbed and held on.” Brown was six.
Scott Brown wants us to see a fearless soul, undaunted by the size or the strength of his adversary. “As he closed his eyes, I raised the rock high over my head, drove it down into his face and head, and took off,” he writes of an attempted sexual assault in the Malden woods by a knife-wielding teenager. “I heard him howl in pain but I never looked back.” When the bloodied 13-year-old later turned up on his doorstep, Brown did not back down. “I stared at him and refused to turn my eyes away. I wanted him to be as afraid of me as I was of him.” Brown was seven and a half.
Scott Brown wants us to see a defiant spirit, unwilling to be a victim. “And I looked him in the eye and screamed, ‘No. Get away from me. No, no, no,’” he writes of being fondled by a twentysomething counselor in the bathroom of a Cape Cod summer camp. “I yanked my hands away, and there on the institutional-tile floor, trapped by a sink, a toilet, and a mirror, I stood my ground. I tried to push my way by him, he stopped me, and I yelled, ‘No,’ screaming at the top of my lungs. Up until that moment, I don’t think he had imagined anything other than my giving in.” Brown was 10.