(First in an occasional series, in which the odder fringes of my library are hauled out into the light for the edification of the public.)
Don’t Make Me Go Back, Mommy: A Child’s Book About Satanic Ritual Abuse, Doris Sanford and Graci Evans, Multnomah Press, Portland (1990).
One of the most headline-grabbing social fears in the 1980s was the notion that conspiracies of satanists sadistically preyed on young children by operating daycare centers, churches, schools and other places where they would have easy access to youthful victims. Known as “satanic ritual abuse,” this garnered sensational attention from the media’s carny faction, as represented by talk show hosts like Geraldo Rivera (whose subsequent fame eclipse has been so total I sometimes wonder if I didn’t dream him).
Some people actually went to jail for satanic ritual abuse before a massive backlash began, led by some psychologists, accused parents, lawyers and skeptical journalists. The backlash eventually created its own dubious claim of conspiracy, namely the belief that a psychological disorder called “false memory syndrome” was being caused by therapists.
It’s a deeply thorny area that touches on moral panic, civil liberties, the sometimes-faulty science of mental health, parental fears, and which is probably not best served by being distilled into a 30-page illustrated children’s book. Fortunately, some hearty souls were willing to step into the breach and produce what is easily one of the most bizarre books I’ve ever seen.
“Don’t Make Me Go Back, Mommy” isn’t based on any particular incident, but is rather a collection of vignettes showing “many possible ways that ritual abuse occurs.” Five-year-old Allison is a student at a daycare center run by a stern Brooke Shields lookalike, who happens to be a member of a satanic cult. In the completely bonkers two-page splash pictured above, we see that this unnamed daycare center isn’t only about teaching the three R’s: it’s about naked blasphemous rituals outside a snowy barn. Satan-Brooke, incidentally, is wearing a Cosby sweater far more terrifying than the black robes of her fellow cultists.
The illustrations are eerie collections of blankly staring youngsters saying things like “Oh, guess what, Mommy? I got married today” with red-eyed rabbits providing a repetitive symbolic device whose meaning is lost on the non-bonkers reader.
The story proceeds in a series of semi-linear scenes in which unnamed characters act out a fractured narrative. Coupled with the artist’s apparent inability to draw Allison and her parents the same way in successive panels, it actually comes across as something of an avant-garde narrative technique. We see quick flashes: Allison goes to the doctor, then is seen being scared in the bathroom, then is suddenly in a courthouse, and then in a courtroom as Satan-Brooke sits at the defense table with her lawyer, who looks like Ed Asner.
Then, presumably, the satanists have been packed off to jail, because Allison and her father are staring at a horse in a snowy field. Then Allison is shown painting in a room with another woman (possibly her mother?) and throwing away the drawing of the red-eyed devil bunny. More women who may or not be her mother look on happily as she brushes her teeth and engages in a form of apparent therapy that involves burying naked dolls, frogs and spiders in a sandbox.
The book doesn’t sugarcoat the difficulties of parenting a child who has been a victim of a satanic cult, as Allison remains blank-faced and staring at her dinner (from the looks of it, tape worms and angel food cake) as her mother (?) tries to reassure her that everything will be OK. The last scene is uplifting, as Allison sits in a rocking chair playing with a cat in a room where mom, dad, a woman bearing a bowl of popcorn, and the doppelganger of NFL great Dick Butkus look on happily.
The story leaves us with 10 tips for parents, along with the hopeful knowledge that, with the help of the courts, the medical profession, and a set of constantly shape-shifting parents, any adversity can be overcome. Or, as Allison’s transformermom says, “The magic surgery was only pretend, Allison. There’s nothing bad inside you.”
This book, which was published at the end of the SRA craze, was given to me by a friend about 10 years ago, who found it in a thrift store on one of his cross-country trips. Since then, I’ve moved four times to two different states, but I can never bring myself to get rid of this weird little tome. I always make sure to stash it in an out-of-the-way place in my library, though, on the off chance that someone comes over to my apartment and starts scanning the shelves.