It was the holiday from hell. I was 7 years old. I was molested at the Christmas light display in a crowded foyer of the landmark Wanamaker’s store in Philadelphia, Pa.
He walked up from behind me and grabbed underneath. I froze in place. All I saw was the hem of his black coat, I never looked up; could not have identified him.
Thousands gather here every year since the early 1900’s to hear the magnificent pipe organ that was transferred from the St. Louis World’s Fair; installed in the 8 story lobby of the store. The Christmas show featured a choir, the organ, and a light show that was coordinated to the sounds of traditional carols.
It should have been memorable. It was, but for the wrong reasons.
The event was meant to take our minds off of recent tragedy in our family. My mother, still healing from her mental breakdown and hospitalization, was spending some time in the city with her family, and we joined her for a few days of “celebration”, such as was possible.
There were 5 of us at the show, 3 adult women, my older sister and myself. I was the smallest, and maybe the most vulnerable; a likely victim.
What scared me the most was my reaction. I could have screamed, pointed to him, alerted my mother or grandmother, or moved away. I did none of those. I stood silent and terrified for those few minutes. He left. I said nothing. Ever.
This told me, in retrospect, that abuse in any form was normal for me. An everyday thing. No big deal. And that is the horror of it.
The song was “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing”. Three years later, this was the piano solo that was given to me to play in the annual Christmas concert. I did not challenge the selection. I should have. The song still haunts me.
Wanamaker’s is long gone, it is now a Macy’s. The holiday tradition continues. Some family members still in the city have invited me to come in for the show. I always decline.