What It's Like to Tell the World Your Deepest Secrets – The Atlantic

Sometimes there is a gray area between honesty and denial.
Jenisha Watts, a senior editor at The Atlantic, spent a portion of her adult life telling half-truths about her upbringing—or saying nothing about it at all. But that’s all changed. Jenisha wrote this magazine’s October 2023 cover story, about growing up in a crack house, being separated from her siblings, living with a literary agent in New York City, and ending up as a writer who can process her life through her work.
For months, Jenisha the journalist reported on Jenisha from Kentucky. She interviewed her mother about addiction, her brother about their days hunting down dinner, and her grandmother, the family matriarch. In the course of her reporting, Jenisha learned things about her own past, details she still hasn’t figured out how to fold into the person she is today.
It was a long and painful process, sometimes putting her at odds with the people she loves. In this episode of Radio Atlantic, Jenisha talks about what it means to reach a point in your life when you can no longer hide from the truth of where you came from. She talks about how motherhood has changed her, and changed how she thinks about her own mother’s addiction. And it’s not just Jenisha talking about her memories and her reporting. She also brings us into the room where she asks the people in her life hard questions.
“I definitely think that when people know they’re being interviewed, they do try to dress it up,” Jenisha said. “So I think a lot of times when I’m talking to them, I just want them to tell me without trying to make it pretty. It’s kinda like when my grandmother talks about you don’t wanna open a can of worms, but I think eventually you do just have to open a can of worms and just see what happens.”
Listen to the conversation here:
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Here is a full transcription of the episode:
Hanna Rosin: You just told the whole world all your secrets. So how do you feel at the end of this? This whole ride you took?
Jenisha Watts: Everything I’ve said about my life, I can defend it—like, I’m comfortable with the parts of myself that I’ve decided to share.
Hanna: Mm-hmm.
Jenisha: I’m okay with it.
Hanna: I’m Hanna Rosin, and this is Radio Atlantic. And that is Jenisha Watts, a senior editor at The Atlantic who just did a risky thing, which is write a cover story about her family and their secrets.
And she did it because when Jenisha was making her way in journalism, she never met anyone with a background like hers, no one who grew up like her, or talked like her.
Now, Jenisha found her own ways to fit in. She just kept moving forward, until, by her 30s, she was a really long way from where she started.
And then Jenisha reached a point that people reach sometimes, where being so far from home doesn’t feel right anymore.
It feels closer to avoidance, maybe even lying.
So Jenisha the journalist used her reporter skills to go back and learn more about Jenisha from Kentucky. She found out a lot of stuff she didn’t know: from her grandma, who she lived with starting in fifth grade, her brother Colby, who she was separated from when they were kids, and her mom, who’s struggled nearly her whole life with addiction. Jenisha calls her Trina.
Jenisha: I’m about to record you.
You hear me? I’m recording you.
Trina: Okay. All right.
Jenisha: Say your name.
Trina: Trina Renee Watts, born October 16, 1965.
Jenisha: I’m looking to my past, accepting where I come from and who I come from.
Hanna: Mm-hmm.
Jenisha: And whose, like, people I am. And being okay with that.
Journalism is so elite, very white-male-dominated even from, like, the beginning. And I think being a Black woman in these very white spaces, like, you don’t wanna have, like, those kind of, like, sad, sappy kind of stories. I mean, I don’t know If that makes sense.
Hanna: Totally.
Jenisha: But I think it’s just more of who can be a writer and who can identify with being a writer.
Jenisha: Trina, I don’t want this cigarette smoke coming in.
Trina: Oh, shit. I can’t smoke. Open the door.
Jenisha: No. No.
Jenisha: And it’s not normally people that’s like me. It’s people that come from families of, like, scholars or, you know, parents who were in academia, or, you know, read them books every night when they were kids. It’s not like—you don’t hear, like, my kind of stories.
Jenisha: Let’s go back to the beginning. So, I looked up—I had the birth certificate. I was born.
Trina: Okay.
Jenisha: So you had me …
Trina: Jenisha, JaShae, Jacobbi. And I named them.
Hanna: When I listen, it’s a daughter talking to her mom. But it almost comes across as, like, an interrogation or something. What are you trying to get from her?
Jenisha: What I’m trying to get is just the truth—as much of the truth.
Hanna: And are you trying to get the truth because your mom and other family members are hiding something or, like, whitewashing something, and you’re just trying to pull it out?
Jenisha: I definitely think that when people know they’re being interviewed, they do try to, like, dress it up. (Hanna laughs.) So I think a lot of times, like when I’m talking to them, I just want them to just try to tell me without, like, trying to make it pretty.
Hanna: Mm-hmm.
Jenisha: It’s kinda like when my grandmother talks about you don’t wanna open a can of worms, but I think eventually you do just have to open a can of worms and just see what happens.
And I think I just wanted to just, like, just get it all out so I can just move on from it.
Hanna: When you were little, you and your siblings lived with your mom at first.
Jenisha: Mm-hmm.
Hanna: What did your mom’s house look like? Was it an apartment? What did it look like?
Jenisha: Yeah, it was, it was an apartment. It was just bare, just like a basic apartment for, like, a single mom trying to raise her four or five kids.
Jenisha: Colby, what was it like? Was it a crack house?
Colby: I didn’t know what a crack house was, but now that I know what one is, yeah.
Hanna: That’s your brother?
Jenisha: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Hanna: And he’s your little brother?
Jenisha: Yeah. He’s the third kid.
Colby: I remember the old TV we had that went, that sit on the ground. Remember the old TV?
Jenisha: Mm-mmm—oh, yeah, yeah! I think I do, yeah.
Colby: Well I remember that TV ’cause I remember dopes sitting on top of that TV one time.
Jenisha: Really?
Colby: Yeah.
Jenisha: Oh, wow.
Hanna: And when you and Colby were talking about the house, did you remember it the same way?
Jenisha: Yeah, pretty much.
Hanna: And did you feel always unsafe?
Jenisha: As a kid, I don’t think I felt unsafe. It was just what we knew.
Jenisha: When did you start using drugs?
Trina: A guy lived downstairs. He had came up at one time, and he had a glass box. Back then they had bowls and everything, and he had one. And I was like, What is that? You know. And he said, Here. He said, Try it. So, and I did. It ain’t his fault. But he’s the first one to introduce me to the drug.
Hanna: There’s been so much thinking about the crack epidemic and how it happened and how crack ended up on the streets and whose fault it was. And I was wondering, is there any part of you that thinks of Trina as a victim?
Jenisha: I think that it’s hard to step outside of it and look at it in a very—through a wider lens—when you’ve been so close to it your entire life. So I think that’s why, I think a scholar or, you know, someone that’s detached from it, would totally look at her as a victim.
Hanna: But not her daughter.
Jenisha: Yeah. For me, it’s just—it’s just too personal for me.
Hanna: Why at this moment do you need to press your family and make them tell the truth about hard things?
Jenisha: It’s that I’m a mom now. I always joke with my friends about, like, I hate making it about the mom thing. But it is like, I think when I became a mom, it’s just—you know, at first you can understand, like, addiction. You can kind of get why people are addicted, and you can have empathy.
Jenisha: Do you remember ever leaving us? Because I do—
Trina: Mm-hmm.
Jenisha: Like what?
Trina: I remember, like, just, you know, leaving and staying gone for a long, long—you know, that’s real depressing. I don’t wanna talk about that.
Jenisha: But hold on. You got—I, I know it’s depressing, but it’s, you gotta tell the story. So what—so when did you leave us?
Jenisha: Then when you become a mom and you have a child and you love your child, like, you just can’t wrap your head around leaving your kid.
Jenisha: Tell me, like, what do you remember about when you left us?
Trina: It wasn’t like I intentionally tried to do it. I just, you know, went. And then, you know, there I was, getting high.
But you know, I didn’t know that I was hurting so many people. I didn’t know. I just thought it was just me. But now I know that I have hurt—you know I hurt my children. They tell me. You know what I’m saying? How they hate me and …
Jenisha: Yeah, but it’s a—Trina. (Trina crying.) Yeah, you gotta get it out. I’m sorry. You gotta get it out.
Trina: Yeah, you all looked so sad, just so sad. Like, why? You know? Trina, why? And I said I ain’t gonna do it no more, but I turned around and just let the drug take over me, and did it again.
Jenisha: I don’t like seeing her break down like that.
Hanna: Yeah.
Jenisha: And, like, how I feel like I have—’cause I wanted, like, she was crying. And I did—I kind of, I wanted to cry too. But I was just like, no, I’m not. I’m just not gonna get mad. ’Cause I’m just like, wow. Like she won’t ever know what it’s like to mother someone.
Jenisha: The thing I don’t understand—make me understand this—is that—‘cause you had kids. ’Cause now that I’m a mom—
Trina: Yeah, I had kids.
Jenisha: I can’t, like—my son. I just like being around my son. But, like, having kids wasn’t enough? Having us wasn’t enough?
Hanna: When you’re single, you can be whoever you wanna be. Like, you can go out in the world and pretend to be who you wanna be, but I think that’s harder when you have a kid. ’Cause, like, the kid is connected to a lineage, and it just brings up all kinds of stuff.
Jenisha: Yeah, but I want to always kinda be upfront with my son ’cause now that I have this human to take care of and, like, guide, I don’t want to be the kind of mother—like some people that I know, they have secrets—and just carrying that stuff, like, that bitterness, you know, or the pain. A lot of it, too, is just me wanting to be able to, like, purely mother him. I don’t know if that’s possible.
Hanna: Mm-hmm.
Jenisha: But just not carry so much—not put so much on him, you know. Because of, like, how my mom was. If he asks me about my life, I’ll just be able to talk about it in a very free, detached way.
Jenisha: And was the drugs just that powerful?
Trina: The drugs was powerful. Yeah. The drugs, you know, they just—yeah, yeah, yeah. Yeah, back then, yes.
Jenisha: My mom’s an addict. She still is sometimes, you know, off and on, and it’s just not gonna change. I can’t change it, as much as I want to go back in time and, like, make her a mother. It’s impossible. It’s what it is. This is who she is, and for years I’ve just had, like, a lot of anger towards her too.
Hanna: Mm-hmm.
Jenisha: And I think now it’s just kind of leveling out. And just, you know, you kind of have to push through.
Hanna: Does your son look like anyone in your family?
Jenisha: (Chuckles.) I’m thinking—I’m starting to think he looks like my sister’s son.
Hanna: Mm-hmm.
Jenisha: I was looking at photos of him, like, a couple days. My youngest sister, Ebony, her son—I think they kind of resemble. And then my brother Aaron claims that he looks like him.
Hanna: Was there ever a time you were playing with him and you saw a flash of Watts? Like, his last name is Osei, which is your husband’s last name, but it sounds like he has plenty of Watts in him.
Jenisha: Yeah, I do. He has some of the Watts personality. And what I mean by that, is just like, he’s just kind of his own person. And he just—he’s—he just does things just off impulse.
Jenisha: Colby, you remember, um, trying to eat—um, when we didn’t have food, trying to eat, um, the cranberries?
Colby: Mm-hmm.
Jenisha: Yeah.
Colby: The free-lunch truck.
Jenisha: Oh, you remember the free-lunch truck?
Colby: Mm-hmm.
Jenisha: What you remember at the free-lunch truck?
Colby: The pound cake, the hot dogs, Kool-Aid, noodles, sandwich, chips.
Jenisha: Yeah. There was chocolate milk, right?
Colby: Yeah.
Jenisha: I was in the fifth grade. That’s when I found out the state took all my siblings. And I was living with my granny.
Hanna: And is that kind of what started you down a different path than they—than your siblings?
Jenisha: Yeah when I moved, we moved to a different house in the suburbs, and she enrolled me into a magnet school in the sixth grade. And my sister was living in—still living in the projects with an aunt. And then the other siblings, you know, they were living with different people.
And then that’s when my life—yeah, I had my own room, own telephone, television, CD player, everything. (Laughs.) And had like, transportation, had a car—like she had different cars, and she’d take me on vacations and spring breaks.
Hanna: I know your siblings, they kind of got into some bad stuff and had some hard times. Do you think when you were talking to them, you were trying to figure out something about yourself? Like, Why did I have this kind of life and they didn’t? Like, was it their circumstances? Was it personalities? Like, is that part of why you needed to talk to them?
Jenisha: Yeah, I think so. Just seeing how—because I do ask myself that a lot. Like, Why me? I do. I really do. And I, and I think talking to them helps, making some of that clear.
Jenisha: But, Colby, like, why—how do you think—like, why do you think I got out? And, like, the other ones are here. Like what, what, what do you think made me different?
Colby: Uh, I don’t know. I can’t explain it. You was thinking forward, not—as a kid, like, you was just thinking, thinking, thinking.
Jenisha: You think so?
Colby: Yep. Oh, you know I—you know I’m proud of you.
Jenisha: Yeah. For what?
Colby: Just for, for making it. Somebody had to make it. You made it. You good.
Jenisha: Why you think I made it, though?
Colby: You know, you being around here longer, of course you gonna want to get away. I was too busy trying to come home.
Hanna: He says, “Of course you wanted to get away. I was too busy trying to come home.” That just, like, really sticks with me.
Jenisha: I know. Yeah.
Hanna: What do you think he means by that?
Jenisha: I think that with him, because he wasn’t in Lexington—like he told me in the past, he knew that when he turned 18, he was gonna come back home and it was just gonna be all great and glory. It was just like him always trying to get back home, just chasing the motherly love that he just never received as a kid.
Hanna: It’s—just hearing that, it’s like the two of you were going in opposite directions.
Jenisha: Yeah. That—yeah.
Hanna: Yeah, so Colby’s going through a lot of stuff, and your siblings are scattered, and you’re having this kind of stable life with your grandmother. Like she’s helping you focus on school, focus on a future. Do you think of your grandmother as the savior of the story?
Jenisha: I think it’s really complicated. So it’s weird. So, like, my mom—like I know that my mom loves me. I know that she loves me unconditionally.
Where my grandmother, she’s provided for me, and I’m grateful, but I wouldn’t say that she’s always a hundred percent treated me like how a mom should treat a child.
Like, so for example, my grandmother, um, when I got married, you know, she was at the wedding, and then she left.
When I was at the reception, I was, like, looking for my grandmother, and she left. And I just remember just being, like, really sad by that, because, like, she—yeah, I’ve always looked at her more as like my mom, and she’ll tell people all the time, like, ”I raised her. I raised her.”
But I’m like, Granny, you never visited me in New York, and you was in New York for a Broadway play. You didn’t visit me. But I’m like, I don’t know. I think because I’m my mom’s child—maybe that’s what it is. I don’t know.
Hanna: Can you tell me that story of how you made it to New York?

Jenisha: And I actually caught the Greyhound to New York City—like the very clichéd, typical way of, like, going to New York City.
Hanna: Jenisha has her New York adventure, and then realizes you can only escape the past for so long.
Jenisha: I need to talk to you right now. It’s just, like—I found some stuff.
Hanna: That’s after the break.
Hanna: Jenisha, you leave behind your granny, your mom, your siblings, everything and everybody in Kentucky. Tell me the story of how you made it in New York. Like when did—
Jenisha: So it was after college. So, I interned at Essence, like, the year before I was—before I graduated from University of Kentucky. So I was in the University of Kentucky. After I graduated, I kept emailing my old editor, like, trying to see if they had any work. And I don’t think she realized that I was still in Kentucky. She emailed me in August and was like, Oh, we have this position. It’s a freelance position. It’s available for a month. It’s, like, $10 an hour, and I can start that Monday. But I don’t think she realized again, I was in Kentucky. So then I packed up a few things, put ’em in my suitcase.
Marie Brown: Right now I’m sitting just across from the chair that you sat in so many days and nights and evenings and mornings, and—“Ms. Brown! Ms. Brown!”—asking me a thousand questions. Sometimes, sometimes I was just like, “Okay, Jenisha. T”hat’s enough.”
Jenisha: A couple months later I ended up living with this literary agent. Uh, her name was Marie Brown. And she lived in Harlem, so I lived in her brownstone. And, um, she, she was—she was actually the person who, like, you know, taught me how to be. Like, how to be among these people.
Hanna: When you say, “these people” (Laughter.)—who are these people?
Jenisha: I, yeah. When I say these people, what I mean is just the people that I kind of wanted to aspire to be. So I would say, like, more of the elite Black people, the well-read Black people, the people—the Jack and Jill Black people. That’s what I call ’em. So that’s what I meant when I said “those people.”
Hanna: And what were you noticing about them that was different from you?
Jenisha: In my mind, like, I romanticized, you know, the children that grew up with, like, both their parents, who taught them how to eat at a table and you know, how to be in corporate America.
People had, like, clean fingernails. Just, like, in some ways, like a politician’s wife or a politician. Like, maybe the Obamas—like, the quintessential Black people.
Hanna: I’m trying to imagine Jenisha from Kentucky looking up at these people. I mean, did you—what was—did you just feel really far away? Were you like, How am I gonna cross this gap? Like, how am I gonna make it to the other side?
Jenisha: Yeah, ’cause I do remember, like, sometimes just listening to people talk. And I’m just like, Wow. How can someone just talk that clear without just tripping up? Or just, you know, just randomly saying just big words without, you know—just being so confident?
I think the biggest thing to me was just, like, the confidence. It was just like, even people who in my mind—who’s, like, basic—had, like, confidence of, like, Beyonce. And I’m just like, Dang, I want that kind of confidence.
Jenisha: I think I do remember too, when I walked in the brownstone house, all the Ed Bradley and James Baldwin books, and how in my head I was like, Yeah, I wanna, I wanna live here. (Laughs.)
Marie Brown: Right, it strikes a chord, you know, with particularly young Black people. But just this recent weekend I had, you know, a couple of young white people here, and they were just enamored with the house, you know—the books, the photos, the art, the plants, all of that.
Jenisha: When I stayed in Ms. Brown’s house, I’d pick up a piece of bread and she’s like, Jenisha, you pull it like a piece at one time, not like, just put the whole piece in your mouth. Or, like, when I’m trying to eat some soup, she’ll say, like, Just take the soup and just put it to your mouth and, like, slow down. She would always, like, give me advice on how to kinda, like, move in those circles.
Hanna: How did that—that’s amazing because that might be insulting. Like you might’ve been—like how come that all worked smoothly?
Jenisha: No, it didn’t. I mean, sometimes I was annoyed, but I trusted her ’cause I mean, she—one, she was a book person. She knew everything. She’s probably, like, one of the smartest people I’ve ever met.
Hanna: Mm-hmm.
Jenisha: Like, she had so many books in her house, and she can talk to you about, like, almost any subject.
Marie Brown: You would ask the questions and, you know, from experience in life, I knew that the answers for some of them, or the exposure that you needed, it was in these books and magazines and newspapers.
Jenisha: And I think, too, she was like a mother figure, and I lived with her, and I know that she cared about me.
Hanna: Mm-hmm.
Jenisha: She was just always just trying to, like, help me and, like, make me better. But yeah, some days it was annoying ’cause I’m just like—I would think that, you know, I’m saying a word the right way, and she was like, “No, it’s not how you say it.” Or she’s like, “Say it again.” And I’m just like, “Gee.”
Hanna: Wow.
Jenisha: Just going back and forth.
Jenisha: Well, your favorite thing was, like, Jenisha, quit going back to Kentucky.
Marie Brown: Yeah, right. Kentucky.
Jenisha: That’s what she would say. Quit being Kentucky.
Marie Brown: Yeah. Now you tell me, now, looking back on that statement, what did you think I was saying when I said, Okay, Jenisha, you being Kentucky now in, in your thinking? What was that?
Jenisha: I think you meant I was, like, slipping back into this negative, victim-like kind of mentality.
Marie Brown: Excellent. Yay.
Jenisha: Like I had one friend. Um, you know, her mom was a doctor, and then her dad worked on Wall Street, and we had another friend who was in our group and she graduated from, I think, either Yale or Harvard.
Hanna: And then when you, like, were with people, did you just, like, fake it a little bit or, you know, try, like—what did, how did you …?
Jenisha: A lot of times it was just, like, I would just agree, order the same type of drink. They all, like, talked about going to private school. So then, like, when I have conversations with them, I’ll say, Oh, yeah. I attended private school too. But it was so—it was just like me kind of fitting in with them. Or maybe they’ll talk about their parents, and I’ll be like, Oh, yeah. My parents—but you know, they divorced. But, like, they was never married.
So stuff like that. Sometimes it was intentional. I think sometimes they’re just, like, me quickly just trying to just fit in. Like, I’ve always wanted to kind ofbe that, you know—belong in that, in a way like that, if that makes sense.
Hanna: Yeah. All of it makes total sense.
Hanna: I think we need to talk about your grandmother.
Jenisha: I mean, to this day, like, I’ve been—I care so much about what she thinks. You know, like, I’ve always looked at her more as like my mom. And at one point I did. I used to call her mom, but she, you know, told me, I’m not your mom. But my grandmother—
Hanna: I mean, she seems like she has the most, I don’t know, like, pull for you or something?
Jenisha: Yeah, she does.
Hanna: Yeah.
Jenisha: You know, like, she can say hurtful stuff to me. She can just do a lot of stuff to me, and I will still, like, give her second and third and fifth chances.
Hanna: You told me that it was hard to get your granny on the phone to talk about this project. How did that go?
Jenisha: So my grandmother kept scheduling different times that she would talk to me and then she would just flake out. So, like, when I was in Kentucky, she was like, Oh, okay. Come to the house and I’ll, you know, I’ll—we’ll do the interview.
Um, and then I would get there, and then she had to go somewhere, and then she was like, Okay, well, call me when you at the airport. And then I call her at the airport, and she didn’t pick up. Or then she’ll say, Okay, well, uh, call me back in 30 minutes. And then I wouldn’t hear back from her. So it was just more of, like, a lot of different phone tag and dancing around.
Hanna: Why do you think that was?
Jenisha: I think it’s because if she knows that Trina’s involved in it, it’s gonna—it’s gonna be truthful. She’s not gonna hold back.
Jenisha: Trina says that my grandmother’s, um, first husband, uh, raped her when she was a teenager. That’s been something that she’s always said.
Hanna: Mm-hmm.
Jenisha: The rape was reported in the local newspaper, and he was arrested, but he never went to trial.
The rape stuff was the hardest thing for me to talk about with my grandmother.
Hanna: Mm-hmm. Because?
Jenisha: She’s so clear on what happened and has a different version. My granny says she called the police right away. And I feel like talking about the rape, in some ways, is like me picking a side between my granny and Trina. But really, I don’t have any side. I just hate the fact that the person accused was married to my grandmother. It was just so connected.
Hanna: So in your mind, you’re telling Trina’s version, you’re telling your granny’s version, and you can’t tell the version of the person who’s accused of this, because he’s now dead. So like, you’re not coming down on one side or another.
Jenisha: I’m just telling the story. You just gotta tell the story.
So, like, my grandmother, she’s always had—she’s just always been put together.
Hanna: Mm-hmm.
Jenisha: She’s always been put together. Like, she’s always worked hard. She owned different homes, cars. So I think for her is that, when she looks at Trina, she’s everything that she’s not. And I think it just, like, it probably infuriates her.
It’s weird, like, ’cause even when I was gonna interview her, I still get, like, scared to ask questions. And I don’t, I think—maybe that my addiction is, like, my grandmother’s approval. Like, I know how uncomfortable it’s going to make her, but I also know how unhappy she’ll be with me.
Hanna: Your granny is this person who has this hold on you—maybe you’re even a little afraid of her—and she’s the same person who does not want you or anyone to be talking about all this stuff.
Jenisha: She’s very private and proud. She doesn’t want people to know all her, like she would say, her dirty laundry, or open up that can of worms. Even now it just makes me feel icky, like, just knowing that I’m about to, like, portray her in ways that, like—I’m just, I’m scared. Like, yeah. I really am.
[Phone rings.]
Jenisha: Hi.
Okay. You hear me? I’m recording the call now.
Jenisha: She was like, Oh, call me tomorrow on your lunch break. I said, No, I need to talk to you right now. It’s just like—I found some stuff.
Jenisha: So the thing is, I was doing some research, and the researcher found this, um, document that—it was a case in 1988. It was sealed.
So this is the thing. This is what freaked me out. It said that the defendant had sexual contact with J.W., a person less than 12 years old.
I mean, I don’t remember any of this.
And then it said it was a granddaughter, that it’s his granddaughter. And she was 3 in 1988.
Hanna: I remember you calling me right after you talked to your grandmother, and you were, like, in a different frame of mind.
Jenisha: Yep.
Jenisha: It’s right there, plain as day. It was a, um, a case—a legal case. And then I—we was thinking it was around, it was around my mom’s rape.
Hanna: Uh-huh.
Jenisha: And it said “his granddaughter.” I’m his—I’m the only one with those initials. I’m the only one that would’ve been at that age, around that time.
Hanna: Oh my God.
Jenisha: And I said, it’s your hus—like it’s, I mean, it’s not like it’s some—another—William Dishman. It’s the same one. You know?
Hanna: And it’s also like you basically having the same experience your mother had.
Jenisha: Yeah. But I was 3 years old. He basically—he was doing stuff to me in the car, and I guess someone saw. The case was dismissed, but that’s my initials and it’s the same age as I was that year. And I was, it was crazy, ’cause I—they saw my initials …
Jenisha: When I listened to the audio, I think, at that moment, I was just in this—I was in a high as, as, like, being a journalist who has discovered this information, and separate from Jenisha the person. And I think, like, maybe a couple days later, it just hit me that, you know, it was about, possibly a 3-year-old me, a 3-year-old J.W.
It just makes my stomach have knots in it.
Hanna: Yeah.
I think I know what you mean—when you’re in journalist mode, you get that like, I found a document. I got to the truth! And I’m gonna confront this person with the truth.
Jenisha: Yep. Both Trina and my grandmother were just like, no, it would just—it never happened. Like, I don’t—maybe it was a different J.W. Like, we—they was just very adamant that, like, they don’t remember that. They don’t know where I got that from.
I want to say, like, my grandmother and Trina’s in denial, but I also just want to believe them. I want to believe maybe they just genuinely don’t know.
Hanna: Yeah.
Jenisha: But I’m like, someone out there knows, because someone filed a police report and then it got dismissed.
Hanna: Yeah.
Jenisha: Maybe, too, it’s because I’m a mom. But like, it’s just some things I can’t, like—I don’t read about with kids. If something happens to a kid or if I see a child in need, it just, it breaks me. And I think, like, 3. Just something—the fact that this kid was 3 years old, I just—it just does something inside of me. I just—Idon’t know.
Hanna: I mean, maybe. This whole project, I thought, Okay, you’re getting to the heart of the thing. Like this, you’re—you’re trying to clear the air, like, but you’re not ready for this one yet.
Jenisha: I’ve never imagined in a million years that I would ever find something like that.
Hanna: Yeah.
Jenisha: Not with me.
I think the other thing, cause I’m like, Okay, you don’t know for sure what happened to 3-year-old Jenisha, but at least for that 3-year-old J.W., you can just speak up for them. You can tell their story. And I think that’s the way that I can try to come to terms with it. But I don’t know. It’s just not something I—I don’t—I haven’t accepted it yet.
Hanna: Maybe it’s naive on everyone’s part to think, like, Welp, I’m going to go on this journey. It’s going to get all wrapped up, and I’ll be done now. The story’s out. I talked about it. Move on with my life. Like, when does anything ever work that way?
Jenisha: I know, yeah. It’s like, life is just always the gray.
Hanna: Yeah.
Jenisha: Yeah.

If you or someone you know is looking for support, please call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-4673.

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