The Little Cloth Secret Keeper

It was a damp and dreary autumn evening when I finally decided to clean out our dreaded hall closet. I turned on some 80s music and began sifting through old board games, puzzles with missing pieces, and scarves. I was officially a clutter collector. Beneath all the jackets, coats, and a few forgotten shoes, I discovered a small cardboard box. Inside was my childhood treasure: matted red yarn hair, scratched black button eyes, and a crooked stitched smile. My sweet Raggedy Ann was the little sister I never had. After all these years of going away to college, traveling, and employment relocations, Raggy never left my side. It pained me to find her here, abandoned in this box.

I held her clubbed hand, cradled my cotton sister, and began to cry. I was a 32-year-old mother to a sweet son, holding an old doll and sobbing in the closet. My body convulsed as I recalled the sexual abuse of my childhood.

I dubbed him The Monster. Others called him Father. He was a close friend of my parents and a frequent guest in our home. He seemed to be as tall as he was wide, with a head of slicked ice-gray hair and silver-rimmed glasses. His face was rough like a prehistoric crater. Upon his arrival at our home, a snack tray with potato chips and pop was promptly placed in front of him as he settled into his favorite vinyl chair.

As a precocious three-year-old, I danced and performed around the living room, and he beckoned me to “come sit on my lap.” The day I finally did, the twirling stopped and the terror began. While I bounced on those thick dinosaur legs, his hands hurting me under my dress, my parents would ask if he needed anything. I assumed they must have known what he was doing to me. After all, he stayed for a delicious dinner.

Over time, the chair game was no longer sufficient. The Monster and I would leave the house and take our “special trips.” In desperation, I reached for Raggy and took her along, though she was never able to protect me. We were both too small.

His car had one long, flat front seat. I would lie still and squeeze my eyes closed. I hoped he would stop if he thought I was sleeping. In my little girl gut, beneath my floral cotton sundress, I screamed at him to go away. Raggy stayed close, and my tears soaked her dress. As the gravel crunched under his tires, his face bloated like a toad, he would turn to me and firmly state: “Do not tell anyone. No one will believe a little girl. And if you do tell someone, I will find you and kill you.”

Shortly after my sixth birthday, my living nightmare suddenly ceased to exist, and finding the perfect box, I reached for Raggy one last time. I hugged her so tight, her black button eyes seemed to bulge. Twisting her red yarn hair in my fingers, I held my pinky to Raggy’s crooked stitched mouth and asked her to keep our secret safe in her little cloth heart. I folded her in half and laid her gently down. Sighing, I carried the carton up to our attic one slow step at a time.

The crack of thunder and my dog’s bark brought me back to the moment. Sitting cross-legged on the wood floor in our hallway, a mixture of scarves and shoes scattered, I gently gave Raggy one last hug. Realizing all I had been through made me the person I am today, and for that, I am grateful. Pressure is a key part of what turns carbon into diamonds. And like a diamond, I will continue to shine.

This article first appeared on Women For One and is featured here with author permission.


Laura Gray
Laura Gray
Laura is the Founder/Executive Director of IPride, a self-esteem, empowerment program for youth which she created in 2015. A published author, living kidney donor, and a fervent advocate for sexual assault victims, Laura is a proud mother of 3 sons and 3 dogs. She strives to live each day with a grateful heart and feels especially connected to herself and God when she is in nature. For additional information on IPride, please visit Educations and Certifications; Bachelor of Arts in Communications, Bowling Green State University; Professional Life Coach, IPride Life Coaching, World Coach Institute, Miami FL; Social Emotional Learning and Mindfulness Teaching, Breathe for Change, San Francisco, CA.; The Science of Well-Being, Yale University; Personal Trainer, Athletics, and Fitness Association of America. Highlights; Living kidney donor, 2021; Featured author, “Mayhem to Miracles”, Sacred Stories publication, October 2021. IPride YouTube Channel, IPride in 5: Peace In, Peace Out; Presenter, Youth Leadership Summit, 2018, 2020; Panelist, “Sexual Assault: The Conversation Continues”, Bowling Green State University, 2020; Featured Story, “Seen + Heard: A series of photographs of men and women ending their silence with regards to sexual assault”, 2017. Published, “The Little Cloth Secret Keeper”, Women for One: Truthtellers 2017 Published, 3 poems, Luna Negra, Kent State University, 2012.

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  1. Hi Laura,
    You are most courageous in sharing your story of horror. You crafted a beautifully written tale revealing the child’s ability to create a place or companion of safety. As you noted in a comment on one of my articles, your journey of healing and recovery has brought you to this place of centeredness now. Your creativity has continued to evolve as displayed in this haunting tale. Thank you for sharing this.
    With a smile,

    • Darlene, thank you for taking the time to read this piece and for your kind words. I truly believe we can only create from a place of wholeness. Sharing this story, in a sense, sealed the crack in my foundation. I am whole. I am grateful.

  2. Wow… Laura, thank you for sharing that powerful personal story. I love how you identified that we are the sum of our experiences — they make us who we are. Having read your bio, there is no doubt that this early nightmare is what has given you the strength to help so many through their own. Grateful to you… Shine on, indeed!

    • Thank you Melissa. I enjoyed meeting you today and look forward to learning more about you both in your writing and our continued conversations.
      “I choose to make the rest of my life the best of my life.”

      – Louise Hay.

  3. Laura…thank you for taking such an enormously brave leap to share something that no one, NO ONE, should ever have to experience. I am so very sorry that monster stole from you and violated you in so many ways. This is such a powerful and personal piece that broke my heart for you and yet here you are, this gorgeous, whole and beautiful women whose heart is so open that by sharing, you not only heal yourself over and over again but also help others heal. Thank you Laura. Thank you so much.

    • Thank you Shelley! Our meeting today was so serendipitous. From the “Are You There God…connection on. I am so looking forward to reading your book, “Weird Girl Adventures” and our continued shared energy!

  4. Oh Laura. Thank you for your vulnerability in writing and sharing this piece. You are a brave and wonderful woman. While I know this series of events doesn’t define you, I also know that it played a part in shaping you.

    I look forward to reading more of your story and supporting you along the way!

    • Thank you Joanna for taking the time to read this piece. Yes indeed we all have a story to tell and fortunately this is only one chapter! I am grateful for all that I have, all that I am today and who I am becoming. I look forward to reading your work as well!

  5. Laura,
    On most day my words flow freely – in this moment I cannot find any words that feel right.
    I am filled with pure rage and horror at the thought this happened to you.. to any young girl.
    Breathing… Breathing… Breathing.
    You are a survivor, a warrior and a champion – “Pressure is a key part of what turns carbon into diamonds. And like a diamond, I will continue to shine.” May your light continue to shine brightly for those who need your light the most. Welcome to this amazing community – always a safe space.

    • Thank you Carolyn for taking the time to read this piece. I am so grateful for having discovered and been accepted into this safe space. My words will now have wings and that makes me happy. I am looking forward to reading your work as well.

  6. Laura, I was both moved and horrified by your story. You’re an extraordinary human being. To have suffered such hideous and evil assaults and come through that to a life and career helping and encouraging others is in itself remarkable. Whilst your reflections were hard to read, I can’t begin to imagine the physical and mental pain and anguish, I admire your courage and feel truly humbled. Your writing expresses real emotion and you are a real wordsmith. Thank you for sharing such a personal story.