WOW! The Ropes That Bind is a heartbreaking, powerful and hopeful story of a woman’s journey and her quest for healing and growth after being sexually assaulted as a young girl.
As Tali crosses the street to get to her elementary school, a man in a white limo asks her for directions. It is raining and he says she should get in to the car so she doesn’t get wet, and Tali wants to be helpful so she gets in and shuts the door. For 3 1/2 hours she is missing and experiencing the unthinkable, but nobody knows. Tali lives with this secret that perpetually tries to suffocate her inner light as she spends her life attempting to erase the pain and outrun the demons. Her journey is remarkable and through several relationships, medical, religious and spiritual education, talk therapy and physical challenges, Tali reaches a place of acceptance, healing and the ability to move forward and make a difference.
Her continual search for answers, her pursuit for healing, validation and reasons to love and be loved, along with her inner strength, courage and never ending will to contribute to society in a positive way and help people, sets an example for all of us on how to live – how to break free from our own personal ropes that bind. Heartbreaking, terrifying and wonderfully inspiring, I highly recommend this fictional novel based on a true story.
Q and A with Tracy Stopler
I am lucky enough to have connected with debut author Tracy Stopler and had the wonderful opportunity to ask her a few questions about her incredible book and her very full life.
It is hard not to question the possibility that your main character, Tali Stark, might be you, Tracy Stopler. Was Tali’s abduction and abuse experience your reality?
The simple and honest answer is yes, The Ropes That Bind: Based on a True Story of Child Sexual Abuse, is based on an event that happened to me when I was nine years old. I first wrote this story as a memoir, but I had to create some scenes to move the story along and I felt it was more honest (and easier to write) once I called it fiction (“based on a true story”). With this being said, the majority of names have been changed but mean something to me as the writer. There are two exceptions: One, the names of the missing children; and two, the name of Tali’s colleague, Rich Faust, who was my dear friend, colleague and editor. Prior to Rich’s passing he told me that he wanted his real name to be used. Because he never got to publish his work on personality types, I was thrilled to honor his request. Some of the other characters are actually two or more combined personalities of people I know.
What part of Tali’s story is fiction? The relationship with her older mentor, Daniel? The failed marriage to Stuart? The relationship with the smart but slightly deviant Avi? Her ultimate reconnection with Alex? The car accident, the hernia, the trip to Israel?
The relationship with her older mentor, Daniel is a true story and a true blessing.
Interesting how the term “failed marriage” still stings. This is mostly true and mostly a blessing. My own demons got in the way of more blessings, but I’m so happy that our friendship continues today.
The relationship with the (very) smart, (very funny) and (very) deviant Avi is also based on someone I know, but there is a lot of creative writing in this section. Here is where Tali learns to trust her intuition and chooses to walk away from love rather than stay in an unhealthy relationship. I was very proud of her ☺!
The reconnection with Alex is unbelievable, not only to me, but also to anyone who knows the story. In real life I had not been in contact with “Alex” in over 30 years. I wrote that entire section of the book as fiction with the exception of Tali’s dream of going to the 25th High School Reunion and reconnecting with Alex. (FYI: All of the dreams written in this book were real dreams of mine). After the book was complete, but prior to publication, “Alex” called me (in real life). The only thought that came to my mind in that moment was the quote from The Ten Commandments. “So let it be written, so let it be done.”
Moses (played by Charlton Heston): “… Let my people go.”
Rameses II (played by Yul Brynner): “So let it be written, so let it be done.”
I thought this real life reconnection was a beautiful coincidence. Not to ruin a happy ending for the readers, but, “Alex” and I were never romantic. But, don’t be sad, we are each in a healthy and happy relationship with other people.
The car accident, the hernia on Mount Kilimanjaro and the trip to Israel are all true, but some of the dialogue on the mountain was creative writing and I did not take the Kabbalah class in Israel; I took it in New York.
Tali doesn’t talk much about her relationship with her mother. It seems like maybe her mother chose not to, or was not able to be as supportive as Tali needed. Can you tell me more about that relationship?
Many mother-daughter relationships are complicated. Growing up, my relationship with my mom was no different. What I can say now is that we have a wonderful relationship. I know with 100 percent certainty that we both did the best that we could with the knowledge that we had.
In many ways the childhood trauma made Tali more productive and focused. The obsession with keeping a list of abducted children was time consuming and I wondered if that made Tali feel she wasn’t alone or did it perpetuate her feelings of helplessness?
There is no right answer here. I want the reader to have their own opinion as to why Tali kept track of other missing children and whether or not it helped her to move forward.
Often people who experience trauma turn to drugs alcohol or other addictions to escape the pain of the memories in an attempt to forget. Why do you think Tali was able to be focused on health and education and intellectual growth and understanding?
Tali may have passed the test of avoiding drugs and alcohol when she was in college, but she certainly had other obstacles. As the writer (and as a survivor), I wanted Tali to be in control. Tali wanted Tali to feel in control. But being and feeling in control are two different things. Hopefully the reader was able to follow Tali’s transformation.
People often do big things to overcome inner struggles and climbing Kilimanjaro would be one of them. Was this accomplishment helpful for Tali in terms of moving forward?
Overcoming obstacles may require several steps. Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro was huge for Tali. Finishing this book was huge for me ☺.
I enjoyed all the references to Judaism (you sparked my interest in Kabbalah and the ability to receive light and share it), I remembered much of the news you mentioned regarding missing children (and then realized my knowledge of AIDS/HIV in the 80s was limited, probably due to the stigma the disease carried and the assumptions about who had it and how it was transmitted), and joyfully recalled my own family memories at the mention of Allan Sherman (10 years ago I rebought My Son the Folksinger in CD form so I could listen in the car)…did you, Tracy, study Kabbalah, keep a list of the missing, do HIV/AIDS related research…and what was your research process for the book?
I hope seeing Allan Sherman’s name made you smile. I did study Kabbalah, but not in Israel (as mentioned in the book). I took classes in NYC, on Long Island and studied a lot on my own. Although I kept a list of missing children, I was not as thorough as Tali was. I think if I were actually keeping track of how many children were murdered, I would have become devastated. As a registered dietitian I was very fortunate to have the opportunity to work with patients living with HIV and AIDS. I did this twice – as portrayed in the story – once, right out of college when I worked at the Bronx VA Medical Center and then again, years later, when I took a position in Rockland County. The research for this book was never ending. Just when I was about to publish the story (for the first time), Jaycee Lee Dugard’s captors, Phillip and Nancy Garrido was sentenced to 431 and 36 years respectively; another little boy, eight-year-old Leiby Kletzky from Boro Park, Brooklyn, went missing and was found murdered; on a happier note, Elizabeth Smart who had been missing for nine months was now on the cover of PEOPLE Magazine – she had just gotten married. And then there was the BREAKING NEWS; the craziness: Pedro Hernandez had confessed to murdering Etan Patz. This was followed by the three missing Cleveland girls found alive. It was such an emotional time and I couldn’t sleep. I just wanted the world to stand still for 24 hours.
Your calling seems to be helping others who experienced childhood trauma and teaching, and you have done so much personal work to get to the place of comfort in having your voice be heard publicly…do you have any plans to tackle something huge like climbing another mountain or are you content with your current contributions to this world (and are they mutually exclusive?)
Thank you, Jennifer. Like Tali, I have had many opportunities to physically climb other mountains and I have declined. I choose to channel my energy by paying it forward in helping others to find their voice. In doing so, I have truly summited.
Have you ever met any of the high profile abductees who were “found”, like Michelle Knight?
No, I haven’t met any survivors of childhood abduction, but I have met too many survivors of childhood sexual abuse. Remember, the percentage for child abduction and/or sexual abuse by a stranger is far lower (~7%) than the percentage by a known and trusted person (family member, teacher, coach, clergy, babysitter) (~93%).
Finally, was this book written solely as catharsis to help with healing, and do you have any plans to write another one?
I started journaling from the time I was ten years old. A lot of my writing from the past was adapted for this book. Finishing the story was a therapy assignment. At the time, it was part of the healing journey. I continued writing long after therapy and although it wasn’t always cathartic, I can honestly say that now that it’s done, and it’s helping others find their path to heal, nothing hurts!
I have started another book. Although Tali is a character in the book, the main characters are her two precious dogs, Java and Binah (who are both mentioned in The Ropes That Bind). This light-hearted story is a memoir written in the voice of both Java and Binah. Unlike writing The Ropes That Bind, this book is so much fun to write. I truly love being inside the head of the different dog characters. Although this is a completely different book than my first, it still has life lessons for both parents and children.
The Ropes That Bind by Tracy Stopler received the 2017 Independent Press Award and the NYC Big Book Award for “Distinguished Favorite” in the category of Women’s Fiction.
See The Ropes That Bind Book Trailer Video Here.
Child Sexual Abuse Statistics (as stated in The Ropes That Bind):
Child sexual abuse is an underreported crime. The vast majority (86%) is never reported.
As many as 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men report being sexually abused before the age of 18.
Disabled children are 4 to 10 times more vulnerable to sexual abuse.
90-93% of the perpetrators are known to their victims.
Children rarely make up accusations of sexual abuse.
About the Author:
Tracy Stopler, M.S.,R.D., is a registered dietitian, with a Master of Science in Nutrition from New York University, and the nutrition director at NUTRITION E.T.C. in Plainview, New York. Her areas of expertise include Clinical and Sports Nutrition and Mind/Body Medicine.
Tracy has been an adjunct nutrition professor at Adelphi University for 20 years and has published extensively on the topic of nutrition and exercise. She earned her certificate in Clinical Training for Mind/Body Medicine from Harvard Medical School. As a pastry chef, she modifies traditional recipes for those with dietary restrictions.
Tracy is passionate in her role as the Enough Abuse Campaign Coordinator at The Safe Center on Long Island. With a dedicated team of volunteers, she helps to bring child sexual abuse awareness to the public. Prior to this role, Tracy served as a volunteer SAFER Advocate (Survivor Advocate for Emergency Response) and as a child victim’s advocate, working with abused children and their non-offending family members.
Tracy’s favorite personal achievements have been summiting Mt. Kilimanjaro and completing her award-winning debut novel, The Ropes That Bind: Based on a True Story of Child Sexual Abuse.