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 to 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.

Laura E. Gray

About the Author | Laura E. Gray

Laura Gray is a proud mom of three sons and three dogs residing in a suburb of Cleveland, Ohio. She is the Founder/Executive Director of IPride, a self-esteem program for youth based on meditation, mindfulness, fitness and creative expression. A published author and certified personal trainer, she lives by the mantra "Who can I help today?"

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101 comments to "The Little Cloth Secret Keeper"

  • candace

    wow. you just never know what someone has gone thru in life. my heart breaks for your nightmare. I hope the monster has burned in hell. love you lg <3  ck

  • Toni Gendler

    Oh my Sweet Laura! Yes, You are that Special Diamond 💎 I have been touched by your life and spirit by such a “chance” meeting and will carry your heartfelt love always. Thank you for sharing your Brilliance❤️

  • Tammy Clines

    My girl….you just amaze me! <3

  • Lori Ehinger

    What courage it takes to tell this story. I am fascinated by the resiliency of people and what they use to survive trauma.

  • Kathy Nekic

    Strength…courage…and an amazing women. Thanks for sharing a story that was held deep in your heart. May it give strength to others and may your beautiful smile continue to shine and heal.

    • Laura Gray

      your friendship and the ability to make me laugh has meant so much throughout the years. grateful we are still in touch.

  • Erin Kortovich

    Truly one of the most powerful stories I have ever read. The horror of this little girl is heartbreaking and angers me on so many levels. She is no doubt a diamond

    • Laura Gray

      my little sister, I am so grateful that you are in my life. diamonds shine brighter, together. you shine too.

      • Kellie Nelson

        You are an amazing, strong, kindhearted lady and I am so glad I was able to meet you years ago. Hugs to you

  • Lisa Latine

    My dear friend, You are such an amazing woman even before reading your story I knew you were amazing. My heart breaks for you and that sweet innocent 3year old. I love you my friend and your strength and courage is amazing

    • Laura Gray

      my love to you. I have been hugging that little girl for the past 45 years. thank you for your many years of friendship.

  • Judy

    I am in awe of your strength and courage. My heart breaks for the little girl, but the woman she became is an inspiration…..love you for all you do. ❤

  • Mary Dybzinski Peterson

    You are strong and reserved by not naming your assaulter by name. I’m not sure if I could do that. I would want to world to know the Monster for what he is.

    • Laura Gray

      I forgave the monster years ago. Forgiveness released me from the darkness. Thank you for your support and friendship. I look forward to seeing you soon!

      • Kristen McMillen

        It amazes me how we really don’t know what others have endured. We live in a fallen world. That you have been able to forgive this autrocity doesn’t seem possible without the power of the Holy Spirit to me. That is true mercy and grace Laura and a great testimony. You are an impressive woman!

        • Laura Gray

          Dear Kristen, You are correct. It was made possible through the power of the Holy Spirit and by the grace of God I freed myself and became healthy. Forgiving him was releasing me from the darkness. Thank you for your message and friendship.

  • Jennifer McCalla

    You are an amazing woman!

  • Meghann

    Oh my. I have no words other than you are absolutely amazing. While my heart hurts for you, you’re such a strong woman. Lots of love and hugs to you.

    • Laura Gray

      my dear sweet Meghann. You and your little guy inspire me and motivate me every single day. Thank you for your message and friendship.

  • Sue Alioto

    Laura…Thank you so much for sharing the link and your story. It certainly takes a lot of courage to open up about something so personal and I’m very heart broken by your abuse. You are a beautiful women inside and out and it’s very encouraging to hear that through forgiveness you have been released from this darkness. As the mantra you live by states…”Who can I help today?”…Your story will truly be a help and a blessing to others…thank you again for sharing and God Bless!!!

    • Laura Gray

      Thank you so much for taking the time to read it. I’ve learned it’s important to “speak the truth even if your voice shakes”. Forgiving him was “easy”, it was learning to love myself that took time. God bless you my friend.

  • Connie

    Laura- I am sorry to learn that this happened to you. It angers me that you had to carry that alone. I’ve told my kids -everyone has a story and not to judge. Praying this experience allows you to help other women as they cross your path xo

    • Laura Gray

      Thank you Connie. I am led everyday to serve in my purpose. God bless and thank you for the message.

  • Linda Cappelli- OBrien

    I cannot believe how wonderfully you share this terribly tragic story. Your strength is an inspiration to so many. We are all blessed to have you in our lives. Love you dearly my friend.

    • Laura Gray

      Linda, so grateful we are connected. Your strength, love and service to others inspires me everyday.

  • Allissa

    What an amazing short story with so much emotion in it! I’m sorry for the pin you had to go through to be able to write such a powerful piece <3

  • Helen Petruziello

    Laura this was beautiful, sad, very scary and so many of us could tell a similar story. I’m so proud of you and hope I get to know more of your organization.

    • Laura Gray

      Helen, thank you for taking the time to read it. There are far too many of us that could “share” this story. Your friendship means a lot to me. God bless.

  • Jane

    My dear friend, the strength of your spirit and kindness of your soul is truly inspiring.

  • Cetta

    Love you, Laura!

  • Pat Lang

    Proud to have worked with you and blessed to call you friend! God has put you on the right path of healing and helping others! God Bless you!

    • Laura Gray

      From one redhead to another, your life and love for your children inspire me each day. Thank you for your message.

  • Karen Bush

    Laura…so many times we see the exterior of people and rarely get to know the true soul of someone and what they have experienced. I have clear memories of you on Sundays in church with your beautiful family, always smiling and giving. To know the pain and secrecy you had to harbor while achieving so much in the face of that betrayal…well…I am in awe of your resilience even more. You are truly a beautiful soul and I am honored to know you. Your strength and honesty is a beautiful lesson for the lives you touch every day. Thank you

    • Laura Gray

      Thank you Karen for your kind words and message. More importantly, thank you for your friendship. It is no coincidence that you cared for my mother in her last days and now you continue to be an inspiration to me.

  • Patty Quinonez

    I love you. I am blessed to have you in my life. This world is a better place because of you. Thank you.

  • Tammy Szalay

    Laura, I’m reading this through tear filled eyes even though it’s a familiar story. You are the most inspirational woman I know. Thank you for sharing your story. Love you.

    • Laura Gray

      Love you T. Thank you for your message and friendship. Even though we do t see each other, I know I could call you any time. ❤

  • Danelle

    ❤❤❤ you will always SHINE, yoi are amazing!

  • Judith Mansour

    Laura,

    Beautifully crafted, heart wrenching story. I am sorry for the suffering of that little girl, but awed by your courage to write it and write it really well. Thank you for sharing this with me and every other woman.

  • Mindy ♡♡

    Your inner beauty is so pure! Thank you for being you!! The day I met you in the gym, it was easy conversation. Then came your hard core workouts… You pushed me through some tough moments! Anyone that’s met you feels the warmth of your smile…YOU are truly one of a kind and I feel blessed to know an incredibly curagious women, Laura!! P.S. Your boys are as loving as you are! Xoxo!!

    • Laura Gray

      Oh Mindy. You brought tears to my eyes. I miss our fitness classes. I tried to teach through encouragement and empowerment because I knew what it was like to “hate my body”. In my case, it was a source of buried pain. God bless and thank you for your message and friendship.

  • Colleen Curran

    You are an inspiration! Thank you for so eloquently sharing your story. You have taken this tragic experience and dedicated your life to helping others be strong, proud and courageous! Diamonds are STRONG and beautiful, just like you! Shine on, Laura!

  • Margaret A Wendt

    Lovely…just lovely. You gave me a clear vision of your feelings.
    Well done Laura!.
    Your a perfect writer.

  • Jayne White

    Laura, what a horrific story so beautifully written. I’m glad you had Raggy; I wish you had had so much more. Continue to shine bright!

  • Connie

    Wow just goes to show you you never really know someone. So glad to call you my friend! Keep smiling!! 💕

  • Connie H

    Wow just goes to show you you never really know someone. So glad to call you my friend! Keep smiling!! 💕

  • Lori

    I have always known you are a strong woman but I guess I really didn’t actually know how strong. I am in aww at your courage Laura. To know that this happened to you breaks my heart. Continue to move forward and be that inspiration to others. 😘

  • Karen DeBonis

    Laura, when I first saw your Raggedy Ann picture, I became nostalgic for my own Raggedy Ann, who disappeared to doll heaven many years ago. Then when I read your story, I was appalled at what you and she endured. Not only do you shine like a diamond, you are as indestructible as one, too.

    • Laura Gray

      Whoa, Karen. Thank you for the thought of being indestructible. I guess I am…and Raggy too. Thank you for reaching out. So sorry to hear your Raggy has moved on.

  • Jay Pomeroy

    A horror story, beautifully written, with great courage. I am quite proud of you.

  • Tracy Monturi

    Laura, Your story though heart-wrenching, I believe will serve as a beacon for others. Ephesians 5:13 states ‘but everything exposed by the light becomes visible,’ and your bright light is not only pushing back the darkness, but a testament to others (especially those struggling through a similar past) that with God all things truly are possible and that He can bring healing from such horror. I’m so glad you’re a part of our Wednesday night group, and look forward to all God has in store for us. You go, girl💕

    • Laura Gray

      Tracy, I am so grateful for our Fearless Women’s Group. It means so much to me, as do your remarks. God bless and I’ll see you in a few weeks.

  • Dana Russo

    I admire you for your strength and courage to share this personal experience. You truly are a diamond. May God continue to bless you as you continue to help,others.

  • Dana Russo

    I admire your willingness to share this personal experience as well as your ability to forgive. You truly shine like a diamond. May God continue to bless and guide you in your effort to help others.

  • Dana Russo

    I admire your willingness to share this personal experience as well as your ability to forgive. May God continue to bless and guide you in your effort to help others.

    • Laura Gray

      Thank you Dana. God has indeed blessed me as I go through each day. Thank you taking the time to read my story.

  • Dana Russo

    May God continue to bless and guide you in your effort to help others after personally enduring such a traumatic experience.

  • Jean Harper

    You are such an inspiration to all….

  • Jennifer Wilmot

    My heart goes out to that child who had her innocence stolen from her at such an early age. I’ve not known you for for long, and I don’t know you well, but what I do know I admire greatly, even more so now. Thank you for sharing your story.

  • Sharyn Zeppo

    ❤️ Thank you for a heartfelt story.

  • A R

    Not all monsters get away with it. I found out the man I was married to was molesting the 7 year old next door! I called the police! He went to jail! I divorced him and moved away! Never will I tolerate someone harming a child!

  • Rachael Chicone

    What an amazing story of survival. Thank you for sharing such fascinating insight!

  • Cheri Fennell-Saundry

    I am very interested in speaking to you about your program IPride.

  • Paul Joseph

    You had me when I met you… Now I’m privileged to call you my friend.

    I was taken in by the first paragraph–it reminded me Velveteen Rabbit, and “When Someone Loved Me” by Melissa Manchester,

    Not knowing what to expect, this is an incredibly sad, heartbreaking story. It’s a true to life recurring nightmare for you, and writing about it hopefully allows you to treat this like a catharsis, right?

    With the poignant recollection of Raggy to console you, the story turns dark and tragic. But, then again, Diamonds are forever!

    As father of grown adult daughters, I have shared this with them both.

    • Laura Gray

      Paul, Thank you for taking the time to read my story and for your kind words. Please know I am so grateful for your friendship.

  • Christy Valentine

    I went through a similar situation when I was a child. It still hurts to think of the horrors children go through and survive. I had issues as a teen. I was an over acheiver all through school. At least till I dropped out of school in the 11th grade. I was in juvinal hall 4 times during my teenage years. I left my mothers house at 15 and left the small town I lived in at 16. She didn’believe anything I said. And the monster I knew were a few. I thought they loved me and wouldn’t do anything to hurt me. But I was wrong and then since I was wrong I was not perfect I was a freak and alot of other thoughts went through my thoughts. I tryed to end the imperfect thing. Thank you for writing this. Maybe it will help others that they are not the monsters. Blessed always.

    • Laura Gray

      Christy, Thank YOU for reading my story and for being brave enough to share yours. I am so sorry for the pain and trauma you endured growing up. We certainly never know what lies within those around us. I try to be kind always. Thank you for blessing me with your words and your story.

  • anon

    … i KNOW i’m not the only girl in my family … this was kept in a dark place far behind in the back of my head… i didn’t want to think about it i don’t want to talk about it.. maybe i can trick myself into thinking it never happened.. still a piece of coal waiting to be turned into a diamond…..

    • Laura Gray

      My heart aches for you as I know, and share your pain. I understand the darkness and keeping it at a distance. I used to pretend it happened to “her”. It was in therapy that I learned I was the “her” and had to “wear” the painful memories and heal through it. Trust me, it took me years. I’m 51 now and healthy. And grateful. You are very brave for sharing your story. I believe you. It wasn’t your fault.

  • Ginny

    I recently came across a Brene Brown quote: “Owning your story and loving ourselves through that process is the bravest thing we will ever do.” With gratitude for your bravery and your sharing here, Laura. So glad we met. xx

    • Laura Gray

      Ginny, love this quote. So true. Grateful for our connection. Little girls, little hearts…big voices❤🦋

  • Caroline Carter

    Powerfully written Laura – and a message to us all. You never know what the person before you has endured, therefore tread lightly, make no judgement and most of all be kind and loving! You are an amazing and courageous woman. i am so happy to have had the good fortune to meet you.

  • Karen

    Laura…It took such courage to share this story. So sorry you suffered through this and experienced so much pain. Words are inadequate. Wishing you peace.

  • Marci Riemer

    Laura,
    You are a beautiful person inside and out. You are genuine, kind, thoughtful, loving, brilliant, artistic, and one of the strongest women I know. You are one of a kind and always true to who you are. I am grateful to have you in my life.