DEAR ABBY: Larry and I have been married for 12 years. We have never kept secrets from each other -- but I have one that I have never told him. It happened 20 years ago.
I was a single mom. My daughter and I lived in a poor neighborhood. It was raining and I didn't have a car or money for a bus, so I hitched a ride. A man picked us up. He took us to her grammar school; I thanked him and got out.
After I got my daughter inside, I went back out. The man was still there. He told me to get in and offered to take me where I needed to go. Like a dummy, I got back in the car. He drove to a secluded area, parked, told me he had a knife and said he would kill me if I didn't perform a sex act on him. I complied because I thought he meant what he said.
Later he drove me back downtown and, when he stopped for a light, I jumped out. I never looked back. I never told anyone, not even the police. I was too ashamed. Should I tell my husband now? I don't want to hurt him or our marriage. I feel like such a fool! -- ASHAMED IN IDAHO
DEAR ASHAMED: You're not a "dummy" and you're not a "fool." You were in a bind, you were trusting, and you were assaulted. The person who should be ashamed is the criminal who perpetrated the act -- not you. You were the victim, and you weren't at fault. Victims are never at fault for the crimes committed against them.
Not knowing your husband, I can't decide for you whether or not disclosing the assault would be good or bad for your marriage. However, if you will call the Rape, Abuse, Incest National Network (RAINN), the counselors there will connect you with a crisis center in your local area -- as they do for countless victims of sexual assault all over the country -- and they can help you make this important decision. The toll-free number is (800) 656-4673. Please don't wait any longer to get the help you need to finally close this sad chapter in your life.
DEAR ABBY: Our family just returned from a funeral, and "Aunt Mabel" is enjoying one of her favorite pastimes. She loves to discuss in great detail the survivors' reactions. She will tell anyone who will listen the exact reaction of each loved one when they heard the bad news and how they are "holding up."
I hate the thought that she'll be discussing me that way someday. It violates my sense of privacy for the people she is gossiping about.
This isn't just a nervous reaction on her part. Aunt Mabel will be telling the same stories with relish three years from now.
Is this a common topic of conversation? Are there some privacy issues here? What would be an appropriate reaction next time she launches into her blow-by-blow of grief? -- MABEL'S NIECE
DEAR NIECE: You have described someone who has nothing else to talk about and who takes pleasure in the pain of others. The next time Aunt Mabel raises the subject, tell her that hearing about people's emotional pain depresses you. Then ask her if she's seen any good movies lately -- or the latest episode of "Dancing With the Stars."
For an excellent guide to becoming a better conversationalist and a more attractive person, order "How to Be Popular." Send a business-size, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $6 (U.S. funds) to: Dear Abby Popularity Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, IL 61054-0447. (Postage is included.)
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