*Trigger warning: Descriptions of sexual abuse and assault.
I am holding so many stories of the sexual harm done to me, and if I tell them, I know I won’t be believed.
Wait. It’s worse than that. I’ll be blamed, judged, shamed. Vilified, rejected, exiled. If the abuse was the first betrayal, that will be the second.
Should I speak anyway? Why?
“To share your story,” some of you say. “To help others. To tell the truth. That’s what really matters.”
If a tree falls in the woods and no one is there to hear it, does it still make a sound? What if the only two who know are the dying pine and the force that brought her down?
It will be her word against his. Against his.
his his his his his.
I’ll back up a bit. I’ll start with this, so you can see how it happens. I didn’t understand how I ended up where I was, but I did try to get out. More times than I can count. Once, I said to him:
“There’s this guy, and I think I’m gonna date him like a normal college student.” He didn’t like that – a loosened grip, the threat of no longer being able to possess, to use me at the drop of a hat.
Soon after, without a word, he did one of his worst – a wine bottle between my legs. When he was finished, he silently dressed. Stood 6-foot-5 at the door and shook his head. Looked down his nose. Put on his pathetic quivering chin, as if I had inflicted harm upon him.
“Why did you do that?” I later asked.
“I wanted to show you what you’d be missin’.”
If no one else witnessed, did the bad things really happen? Do they even exist? Or am I just crazy? Confused? A scorned whore, maybe? An arsonist standing at the edge of that forest, match in hand, ready to scorch both of us with accusation? Make the world pay attention?
Could be, I suppose: Me, the great and mighty Super Slanderer, a dangerous man-ruiner, curled up on the floor, shaking in my blanket-cape, magic powers of shocked and cold, naked and sore.
It’s been almost 20 years since then. I’m now the age he was when I met him. I’ve felt paralyzed and tortured inside all the while – frozen in time – but I want to tell my story now. So many women are speaking out. By your responses to them, I know how the slaughter will unfold for me – what you’ll ignore or explain away, and what you’ll decide to see. It will all amount to my not being believed.
THIS IS WHAT WILL NOT MATTER TO YOU (BUT WHAT SHOULD):
That he was old enough to be my father. That I went to high school with his daughter. That he was my boss. Pursued me for months. Stroked my dreams. Exploited my need. That it was a steady but whirlwind grooming. That I was his target. That his wife knew it. So did everyone around us.
It will not matter that no one warned me. That no one stopped it. That no one told him “NO.” That I didn’t either. That THAT’S WHAT GROOMING IS FOR. It will not matter that he was a pro. A serial cheater. A selfish manipulator to his core. A champion of degradation and porn. Trump-esque. An actor and textbook narcissist.
It will not matter that his ego was the size of Hollywood. Fed by the thrill of my inexperience. By the idea that maybe he still had it. A test run on a girl who longed to be special, to belong to a dad, to be held and protected. It won’t matter to you that I lived alone and ill. Vulnerable. A sitting duck. That my brain wasn’t even fully developed.
It will not matter that I’d been abused before. That it was so familiar it felt like home. (What it is to be a girl. Supposed to be grateful you’re wanted at all.) It will not matter I was a broken lock to his prowling key. His soft and too-young fantasy. That it felt good to be chosen. Especially ‘cause I’d never had a real boyfriend.
It will not matter that he knew all of this, cashed in on my leftover innocence. That I was his sexual experiment. That he wondered how far he could take it. If he could switch-and-bait it.
That even his violence presented like charm. He could make you believe you should want such harm. That his care unmasked was something to survive. That he made me bleed between my thighs.
“You like that?… Are you a dirty little slut? … Huh?… Are you?”
“Yeah,” I whispered. (I guess I am.)
“I’ve never loved anyone this much,” he added.
It will not matter that I nearly died. That getting away took being hospitalized. It won’t matter that he played with me even then. Reminded me I still needed him:
I’m sad that you’re quitting the band. Get well soon.
It will not matter that I finally broke free. Moved home so he had no access to me. That years went by. That I started a new life. Went to school, sang in choir, became someone’s wife. There were 133 churches in town. It won’t matter to you that he chose mine. That I felt from the stage his eyes each week. That he wanted to join that same worship team.
It will not matter that he knew better all along. That he held the power in more ways than one. That with that came a responsibility to respect and not use and abuse me. To uphold the relationship’s integrity.
But none. Of that. Will matter.
THIS IS WHAT WILL MATTER TO YOU INSTEAD:
That “It was a long time ago.” That I was a troubled, addicted girl. That he and his wife were lost and estranged. That we should “Give the guy a break.” It will matter that “People change and grow.” That I never yelled “Stop” or “Help” or “No.” That I chose “an affair” and didn’t care it was wrong. That I stick to that story to keep playing along. That “Everyone makes some bad decisions. He just joined the choir ‘cause he’s a Christian.”
It will matter that he’s billboard successful. Respected, expensive, and dressed well. It will matter that he sells out theaters. A fun headline in your newspaper. It will matter he’s a joy to old ladies. A grandpa to cute little babies. That he’s always been tall, dark, and handsome. Calls all women “Darlin’” and flatters them.
It will matter that he said he was sorry. That now he gives God all the glory. That his story from the pulpit was so moving, the pastor didn’t ask him to prove it. It will matter that he mentors husbands. Teaches them supposed learned lessons. It will matter that he’s made marriage a ministry. That he warns men of “gals” like me.
That we have 67 mutual Facebook friends. That I don’t make it any more awkward for them. It will matter to you that I keep the peace. That I don’t upset our families. It will matter that I absorb his shame. That I take at least half the blame. That I curl up and die from this secret. That a good girl would certainly keep it. “Forgive and forget like Christ.” What you mean is “Be quiet. Be nice.”
It will matter that you’ll need more evidence. That you still won’t believe once you have it.
Or maybe you will.
And then change… can begin.
“But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin” (1 John 1:7).