Photo Essay

Against the Odds


In the past week, a JPGer, Mike Apice, commented on a photo I posted. His comments: "Interesting, but you walk a fine line here with PS magic and a piece that's overproduced and direction-less. Keep in mind that PS is not going to make a piece interesting if the original is just average. I would like this a lot better if I had a connection with the subjects eyes." I felt that Mike's comments were an impartial and more than fair assessment of this photo. I try to stay objective regarding my images, particularly the portraits because nearly all are family. I know the history imbedded. I know each nuance. I know the subjects intimately and therefore see in each photo what no one else will ever see. And even when I give a bit of history, hidden meanings and purpose are seldom revealed.

After seeing my image through Mike's eyes, I considered writing a photo essay about what has been apportioned to Hannah, my grandniece. Writing such a story is never easy. Not because it is hard to write, but because it is hard to read. The information is personal, it is sexual, and it can easily be regarded as 'too much' information. Given the life I've been apportioned, a mere version of real is unacceptable to me. I lived 'versions' of the truth all my life. These versions were comfortable for everyone but me. These versions gave everyone an out but me and my siblings. We were in pain and no one cared. Versions exist because it removes obligation. The benders of truth are not required to 'do' anything, or say anything, or intervene, or rescue, or save the day. Versions allow people to look away... comfortably.

So yes, I decide, I will write this essay. And, once again, I wrote it, posted it, and removed it within the hour. The message was wrong. The detail was wrong. The purpose was obscured by a sanitized version of what needed to be said. What I had become is just another person with some version of the truth and was amazed by how easily it took shape on the screen before me. To follow is the essay I should have written.

Part of the story is my life. Part of the story is Hannah's life. The two are intertwined. We are bound, not only by blood, but by the abuse and molestation inflicted on us by our biological fathers.

This abuse has dominated my life. It has infected every single aspect of my personality. I started out scared and I ended up raging. I had a mother who knew... I told her when I was 11. She did nothing because she had her version of why it was okay. I had a father with no version... just an insatiable appetite. I had aunts and uncles who knew and a school system that had to suspect. And there were the preachers who knew and oh so many others. It was beyond my comprehension that this was okay with absolutely everyone when it felt so wrong to me.

My stories of these years have little application here. What does have application is what I carried into my life as a result. The most devastating part of it was living as a child in a world that had been sexually defined. I was almost never free from the sights and sounds and smell and taste of it. Sexuality became my obsession and definition. And, though I learned how to use it, I have never known what it was meant to be because I stand sentry over this thing that will never be taken from me again. This part of me was so badly broken it can never be repaired. From where I was tossed, there is no path to normal. This is what stands before Hannah and my heart breaks for her. It was not her father's to take. It was not her father's to destroy.

Those years also ushered in mental illness: anxiety attacks, panic attacks, profound depression, agoraphobia, and complete mental and physical breakdowns that lasted months and months. I have no friends because I trust no one. I have enormous issues with control. I live in dreams and sleep with demons. I process abnormally and inappropriately and therefore have learned to keep everyone and everything at a distance.

Quite predictably, I divorced after 31 years of marriage and moved to Texas. One day the phone rang. It was my brother Tim. His daughter Julie's kids, two boys and one girl, were being brutalized and molested by their father. Tim's approach to our abuse was to leave, stay gone, and pretend it never happened. Now he had no choice. The flight home was horrendous... the memories consumed me and I knew this would, once again, dominate my life.

Tim hadn't called until the whole thing blew wide open, the father had been confronted, a family member turned him in and he was taken into custody. I have always blamed my mother more than my father for the abuse. How do you live under the same roof and not know what's going on. Julie was a stay-at-home mom which made it even harder for me to grasp. So this was my first question.

During the years this was going on, the kids started having behavior problems. And the worse they got, the more protective Julie became. Bedtime was a nightmare. None of them would sleep alone. So Julie would make a palette on the living room floor, tuck them in all around her and sleep with them there. When all were asleep, their father would steal in, pick up the sleeping child he wanted, carry them to his bed and use them until he'd had his fill. As the months wore on, Hannah and her younger brother began losing speech... a sign of profound sexual abuse. Hannah's older brother was the protector as Tim was mine. When Julie was out in the evening and his father would go after the others, he tried to intervene. His father would grab him, throw him against the wall in his room and lock the door. He lives today with seizures from that abuse.

Unlike my mother, Julie did not suspect this. Their father was a preacher's son and a pillar in the local church. So was my father. But predators are sly and cunning chameleons because that is what's required. Julie and I talked about this for many hours. She knew about my history and had so many questions. Mostly she wanted to know what the kids would be up against in the years to come. Her situation was different than ours. The kids were rescued. We were not. I knew this was a plus but I also knew that irreversible damage was done.

In the months that followed, I became as active in their lives as I could from a distance and flew home every chance I got. Little by little, I became a fixture and the kids began to accept me. On one trip home, Hannah ran in and handed me some pictures she drew for me. One was a princess in a ball gown. She had a pointed hat with a veil trailing off to one side, rosy cheeks and china red lips. She also had bindings on both wrists that were connected to chains that ran off the edges of the page. It has never been as hard to keep my composure as it was at that moment.

The princess she drew was nearly identical to the ones I'd drawn as a child.

The other drawing had a huge head up in the sky looking down at five tiny people huddled together in a bottom corner. There were crosses and fire and clouds and a great big sun that didn't fit and the tiny people had no eyes. This is the world that was fashioned for Hannah and her brothers by the man who is their father

With my brother's financial help, Julie was able to stay at home until recent years and homeschool the kids. Public school was not an option given their emotional, psychological, and behavioral issues. Today they are thriving. But the wounds remain. I see it because it is my constant companion. It is a look. It is the inability to receive affection. It is the distrust that flows from their eyes.

I am someone Hannah is learning to trust. Even still, she keeps her distance and we must renew that bond every time I come. Many times I see her gazing off in the distance and know she is 'there' once more. I want so much to tell her I understand, to tell her I know what she is feeling. But I don't. That will be for Hannah to decide. In the meantime, we do our pictures and she waits impatiently at home for the newest collection. And when they arrive, in these moments, there is no gazing... there is no remembering. There is only beautiful Hannah who will figure it out one day at a time... with a little help and against the odds

41 responses

  • Saroj Swain

    Saroj Swain gave props (2 Oct 2012):

    Loved all the pictures .... In shadow shot is mindblowing one!!! The photo essay is original and nice!!!Nominating your story of the week because I loved it!!!

  • Lynn E. Harvey

    Lynn E. Harvey gave props (2 Oct 2012):

    Powerful, courageous, most importantly filled with strength, love and Faith!

  • Bailey Cooper

    Bailey Cooper said (2 Oct 2012):

    Thank you Lynn for understanding what is here and thank you for commenting.

  • Bailey Cooper

    Bailey Cooper said (2 Oct 2012):

    Thank you Sarog, for the nomination and honoring Hannah in this way. Hannah is not disposable. There are people who care and who will help her along life's journey.

  • Fred Moskey

    Fred Moskey said (2 Oct 2012):

    Bailey you have written a story that is impossible to write, yet you wrote it so very well. I would not know what to say to you or Hannah about the ordeal you both have survived. The abuse is all around us, even a retired police captain, who was well respected, has been sent to prison for molesting young boys. The shame is so great no one will speak up, so the offenders keep on committing their crimes, over and over. I am just glad I did not have to deal with this crime while I was working because of what I might have done to them. Thank you for coming forward and sharing this horror with us. Maybe it just might make it a little easier for the next victim to speak up.

  • Jeff Slater

    Jeff Slater (Deleted) said (2 Oct 2012):

    I cannot fathom what you or Hannah have gone through. This is a very powerful story with some very beautiful images. Thank you for having the courage to write the story and share it with us.

  • Michele Wambaugh

    Michele Wambaugh (Deleted) said (2 Oct 2012):

    I could not read the whole story; I'm sorry Bailey, it's too close to home with my favorite nieces. But it MUST be told. THANK U! Of course I voted for this with my heart!

  • Bailey Cooper

    Bailey Cooper said (2 Oct 2012):

    Fred ~ You're right. It is ALL around us and it is the most under-reported crime of any. Lives are destroyed and, seemingly, no one cares. We see these distorted children in alleys... prostituting homeless junkies and we look the other way. Their bones are discovered in fields and empty buildings. They crowd our prisons and hang for THEIR crimes. Yet we are the perpetrators.... those responsible for what's left. Thank you for reading and understanding the need for this kind of dialogue. These children need a voice. Yours is one.

  • Bailey Cooper

    Bailey Cooper said (2 Oct 2012):

    Jeff ~ Thank you for your positive comments. Hannah will make it. She has strength of character. She is the one who told her mother. It is because of Hannah's strength and the family's refusal to look the other way that she and her brothers have a chance.

    When this went down, Julie had no idea what to do. She had no skills, little work experience and four children to support. The choices she faced when she found out were to not report it and get a restraining order to keep him employed, or turn him in and face living on the streets. My brother and his wife have gone through their entire life savings to put them in a house, pay the bills, buy the food, and clothe them. They are, therefore, unable to retire.

    The ripple effect is all consuming and no one escapes the aftermath. I think we all need to be willing to talk about it and lend a hand, comfortable or not.

    Again, thank you Jeff... another voice in the darkness.

  • Bailey Cooper

    Bailey Cooper said (2 Oct 2012):

    Michelle ~ You break my heart. Your response is the downside to this story. When this becomes part of our lives, directly or indirectly, it is necessary for us to find coping mechanisms that allow us to exist within it.

    There are five of us. Three of us were directly involved. All three of us have adapted in different ways. I became the avenger. I would right this wrong. I would expose the offenders and hold them accountable. But not all hours can be filled with avenging. So I compartmentalized and I fantisized and I acted out, and I projected, and I compensated and I raged.

    My sister became passive aggressive and started wearing masks to hide her truth. She denied, and provoked, and idealized and intellectualized.

    My brother could not bear the memories. He avoided and compartmentalized and disassociated and repressed and sublimated the whole of it.

    Many, many victims choose my brothers coping mechanisms. They must to face each day. So, I understand your words and know that mine have brought you pain which was not my intent. I don't know what the answer is... talk, don't talk... which is and always will be the predator's stronghold.

  • John Linton

    John Linton gave props (3 Oct 2012):

    Voted! I can't image a more deserving Story of the Week.

  • Michele Wambaugh

    Michele Wambaugh (Deleted) said (3 Oct 2012):

    Yes, Bailey the stories must be told & the abusers jailed. I completely agree with John Linton!

  • Suzanne McGeady

    Suzanne McGeady said (3 Oct 2012):

    What a powerful Truth you have chosen to share. What a brave and honest message of utter horror, and despicable torment. You know this and don't need me to reiterate. I commend you and dear Hannah in letting the world know. These evil pieces of garbage should be shown for what they are, and I'm glad you have the fortitude to do this. Kia Kaha (Stay Strong) For in numbers there is strength, the more people hear/see, the more these predators can be found and locked up forever.
    Beautiful images of a beautiful young woman.

  • Bailey Cooper

    Bailey Cooper said (3 Oct 2012):

    John ~ Thank you for your kind words and for taking the time to read and respond. It is very difficult to find constructive ways that are not invasive to support these kids. The photo shoots are something Hannah not only allows, but embraces. Photography makes me smile but sometimes me smiling is simply not enough.

  • Felicia

    Felicia gave props (3 Oct 2012):

    I commend you for your bravery and honesty... Sadly when growing up at least 7 out of every 10 girls I knew had been violated in some way by family memebrs or trusted family friends. The degrees of abuse varied but the amount of people affected by this is so widespread it's disturbing. All too often the child feels they have no one to go to because the one person who should stand up and protect them (their mother) doesn't believe them or takes no action. I saw a photo posted on this website that disturbed me to my core and the sad thing is it had over 100 views. (I flagged it and his profile seems to have been removed) It just scares me to think how common it is. Thank you for sharing...

  • Bailey Cooper

    Bailey Cooper said (3 Oct 2012):

    Suzanne ~ I agree that the sharing is good and necessary. I also believe that those who suspect should act. You are SO right... in numbers there is strength. Thank you for reading, for commenting and for your support.

  • Bailey Cooper

    Bailey Cooper said (4 Oct 2012):

    In one of my responses above, I talked about my coping mechanisms. I called myself ‘the avenger’. Unlike my sister, I couldn’t passively accept this as my life. Though I started out as a clinging, fearful child, I learned pretty quickly that it was me against the world. Over the years many people have said, “You were always the strong one”, like I picked it. The fact is it picked me. This was the personality embedded at birth. It is the response that comes instinctively, not honorably. Talking about it is one of the ways I am able to live with it. I understand that this is only one response, one coping mechanism… no more or less worthy than any other. However, thank you for the personal support.

    I know your statistics are fact and the numbers are staggering. A JPG buddy sent along a link for a research article that discussed the increase in abuse over the last 12 years. Much of that can be assigned to government’s hand in the treatment of these kids. There is NO MONEY to be made helping them. Much better spent on green energy and Wall Street bailouts, or so they say..

    Your words about the mothers in these situations are dead on the money. Ignoring or not believing is an escape hatch. They don’t want to face the fallout of confrontation and exposure. So much easier to look the other way. The skewed thinking that results from such an abnormal response creates vulnerable, fearful children, children who absolutely believe anyone can do anything they want to them and they just have to take it.

    Finally, what you said about the photo posted does not surprise me. The number of viewers surprises me only because it was as low as it was. One reason I had to think hard about writing Hannah’s story is because I knew there would be readers using the story and images sexually, no different than the 100 viewers of the image you flagged. Disturbing? More than a little. I applaud you for calling it out.

    Thank you Felicia for your feedback and thoughtful commentary.

  • Mike Melnotte

    Mike Melnotte gave props (5 Oct 2012):

    This is very brave of you to talk about, Bailey. The enormity of this issue in your life adds much to the images in the story. Be well...

  • Bailey Cooper

    Bailey Cooper said (6 Oct 2012):

    Mike ~ Thank you for reading and for your words. Until this essay, my images of Hannah were nothing more than pictures of a pretty girl. As Mike Apice said, a photo should stand on its own. If its worthy, nothing more is required. I love the images of Hannah. But I am partial... because I know why these exist and how each may help Hannah redefine herself.

    I am a writer who also enjoys photography. A few months after joining JPG, I started viewing the photo essays and did a bit of research to see how my writing and images might be joined. Most of the articles stated something like: "Now more than ever, the power of storytelling ought to be harnessed. But telling a story with photos takes more than just a skillful photographer. An impacting photo story can only be developed by skillful photographers who understand the emotions and concepts behind each story."

    Once I understood the purpose of a photo essay, I found it was a natural fit for much of what I choose to shoot. The information in this essay is not beautiful, it is not paletable, it is considered something that should remain hidden. But, as you have so eleoquently stated, the story adds much to the images. To take your statement a step farther, I believe the images also add to the story. Hannah is real as is her story. When we are able to connect to the reality, through words and through images, what follows is a heart motivation to get involved.

  • JPG

    JPG gave props (7 Oct 2012):

    Congrats on getting the story of the week!

  • Bailey Cooper

    Bailey Cooper said (7 Oct 2012):

    Thank you JPG for 'getting' it. You said, "Hannah matters". You said, JPGMAG supports this type of dialogue and these kids. I am pretty much speechless... for a change. You guys rock!!

  • Davide Simone

    Davide Simone (Deleted) said (8 Oct 2012):


  • Carol Arntsen Masiak

    Carol Arntsen Masiak gave props (8 Oct 2012):

    Congrats - so well deserved all around

  • Ted Anderson

    Ted Anderson (Deleted) gave props (9 Oct 2012):

    These words and images speak of immeasurable pain and tremendous inner strength, Bailey. Bless you for being there for Hannah and many others, and for sharing your art and soul with us.

  • Roxana Brivent-Barnes

    Roxana Brivent-Barnes said (9 Oct 2012):

    I wish I could cover life with Roses, but thorns are tearing out blood when ever I try to hide memories. The beauty of Poppies with their delicate petals, transparent veins, but still poisonous seeds come out to light.

    Life is cruel, and many times I do not understand it, especially Mothers who do not protect their own most precious gifts, their children who look up to them for protection, and love.

    Your story made me cry, and I appreciate your honesty once again, I wish I had more power to help, how? I do not have a clue, but here I am, reading and crying, powerless.

    Keep being strong, you are a wonderful person. By Christ I wish I could give you a hug, and also to Hannah. Still, I can send you my love, to let you know by simply writing this message, that you are not alone.

    Thank you for sharing,

  • Robert Versteegen

    Robert Versteegen (Deleted) said (10 Oct 2012):

    good picture's like it

  • Bailey Cooper

    Bailey Cooper said (10 Oct 2012):

    Davide and Carol ~ Thank you for taking the time to stop and comment. Much appreciated as always.

  • Bailey Cooper

    Bailey Cooper said (10 Oct 2012):

    Ted ~ Beyond the obvious, one of the things I hope to accomplish with this photo essay is for readers to go beyond a 'face value' response to people who are different. All too often, there is buried personal history that is driving the behavior and responses... history that they do battle with every day.

    Quoting Phaedrus: Things are not always what they seem; the first appearance deceives many; the intelligence of a few perceives what has been carefully hidden.

    Thank you for your kind words and kind heart. And, thank you for your beautiful images that grace JPG.

  • Bailey Cooper

    Bailey Cooper said (10 Oct 2012):

    Roxana ~ A friend here on JPG and I were recently discussing the magnitude of this problem. A muted sisterhood and brotherhood exists within the ranks. Few talk, but there is always instant recognition of one another. We are 'specifically' different in our behaviors and responses. Therefore, before we are told, we recognize each other and know that our number is evergrowing. Yet, this sea of people remains impotent because of our refusal to reveal it and the refusal of others to accept us once it is discovered.

    When the truth comes out, we are assigned a one-dimensional identity... defective. It becomes our sin to bear, not the perpetrators. We are judged because of it and in spite of it. C. S. Lewis said, "Experience is a brutal teacher, but you learn. My God, do you learn". In sum, we've become the great pretenders.

    Speaking out is never easy. So I thank you for your words, for your tears, for your love and for your support. Always remember, "Man, when he does not grieve, hardly exists" (Antonion Prochia).

  • Bailey Cooper

    Bailey Cooper said (10 Oct 2012):

    Katherine ~ As I said to Michele, the last thing I ever want to do is to open old wounds or create pain. Okri once said, "The most authentic thing about us is our capacity to create, to overcome, to endure, to transform, to love and to be greater than our suffereing". In spite of it all, some survive and we change our destinies. No matter how this has come into your life or the life of someone you love, you are embracing the good that can flow from it with your words and your tender heart.

    Irving said, "There is a sacredness in tears. They are not the mark of weakness but of power. They are messengers of overwhelming grief and of unspeakable love". Thank you for your tears and for sharing with us. You are loved.

  • Bailey Cooper

    Bailey Cooper said (10 Oct 2012):

    Robert ~ Thank you for your comments. So glad you enjoyed the images.

  • John Linton

    John Linton gave props (11 Oct 2012):

    Congrats on making Story of the Week!

  • Bailey Cooper

    Bailey Cooper gave props (11 Oct 2012):

    Thank you John for stopping by and for the congrats. Much appreciated.

  • Evelyne Schulte

    Evelyne Schulte gave props (11 Oct 2012):

    Congrats. Beautiful and powerful photos and very courageous to share !

  • Bailey Cooper

    Bailey Cooper said (12 Oct 2012):

    Thank you Evelyne for honoring Hannah in this way and the millions of victims throughout the world.

  • Roxana Brivent-Barnes

    Roxana Brivent-Barnes said (13 Oct 2012):

    I know it sounds harsh, but it needs to be a public execution of one of this sort of animals, to let the world know that we are not a joke, and do not accept this sort of violations.
    Only one, and it will make a difference, I am in favour for it, it will STOP, and those children will not suffer anymore. They will know there is justice and protection for them in case they need it!

    I feel frustrated because I am powerless, and thats the reason they keep hurting children, because we cannot do much, and the law is to forgiving, we need stronger law full stop!

  • John Carlow

    John Carlow (Deleted) gave props (13 Oct 2012):

    Touching. Images are right they way they are cause they came from the right place......The only place really. Stay on this path.

  • Bailey Cooper

    Bailey Cooper said (18 Oct 2012):

    John ~ Thank you for taking the time to view this. Also thank you for your kind words.

  • Susan B. Griffith

    Susan B. Griffith   said (30 Apr 2013):

    You are a survivor and have much to share with this world.

  • Scott Emery

    Scott Emery said (28 Oct 2014):

    Your courage to relate truth and your talent as a photographer and essayist are truly humbling and admirable, but what overwhelms me is the purity of your motivation in presenting this truth and your connection with Hannah so candidly and beautifully to this audience. The pain you carry and that you know is Hannah's is manifest here, true, and so is a testament to what cannot be undone. But your desire, your need, to help her in any way you both can bear, and to hope for a greater understanding of the human condition by those of us fortunate enough to read and absorb, demonstrates a hopeful, loving and sharing heart. Very moving Bailey.

  • Bailey Cooper

    Bailey Cooper said (2 Nov 2014):

    Scott ~ I was told to NEVER air the dirty laundry. But doing that only serves to perpetuate these kinds of sins. It is what the abuser is counting on. Finding your voice as an adult is one of the most difficult parts of being abused. The words are filled with shame, with guilt, and with fear... fear of being exposed... fear of being judged by what was DONE to you.

    Often, those who have NOT been abused think: catch the perp, prosecute the perp, put the perp in jail and all is well. But the effects of abuse are deep, insidious and there is no escape hatch.

    I describe it as entering a room through a door with no handle on the inside. You can never leave that room. The most you can do is face the wall and try to ignore the demon with whom you now share space. But this is very difficult as the survivor statistics reveal. And the beat goes on.

    Thank you, Scott, for commenting. I appreciate your response. I appreciate your support. I appreciate your words. I appreciate you.

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