Although the #MeToo trending on Twitter was sparked by Harvey Weinstein’s terrible behavior a few weeks ago, I wasn’t moved to write about it because I didn’t feel what happened to me qualified—until today.
Actor Anthony Edwards came forward about his experience of being sexually molested by a male mentor when he was young. And it suddenly occurred to me that I have permission to tell my story as well. Not that I need permission, but that my story had value as well.
So here goes. When I was around the age of 6, I was left with my dad’s best friend’s son to babysit my brother and me. I can’t recall how old he was, but let’s just say he was old enough to know better. I remember being awakened in the middle of the night, taken to the bathroom just outside my room and him fondling my genitals and then telling me not to tell. That when my parents came home I was to say nothing. I went to bed that night and said nothing, as I was told—not until years later.
And then his sister babysat us one time as well, and she had me fondle her. For some reason, remembering back to these events, only the experience with the male babysitter really scarred me. Maybe it was the idea of him violating me that was problematic. But I was being manipulated both times and I didn’t really recognize it until I got older.
These experiences wreaked havoc on my physical and mental health. I lost hair when I was like in the first and second grades and my mom had no clue why. I developed keratosis pilaris on my back and arms then as well, which I now understand is a sort of protective measure my body created to keep me safe. A sort of “watch your back” reaction that was a physical manifestation of the events. And I started taking prescription pills in elementary school for a stomach ache that would not go away. My pediatrician knew that it was stress-related and bless his sweet, sweet soul. He took me into his office and asked my mom to wait for me in the waiting room. He then proceeded to ask me how school was going, things at home and if I was okay. I told him that a kid on the bus was harassing me (he touched me on the ass and I was livid), but that most everything else was okay. I recognized much later that it was the trauma of the molestation that was affecting me. He suggested that I tell my parents, the bus driver and the school. I did none of those things. All I knew was that I felt terribly violated—again. And when it happened again, I got off the bus and started beating up the boy who did it. It was not my finest hour, but I felt empowered. It was the first time I took my power back.
I was not aware at that young age what a number it did on my self-esteem. I felt weak and like a victim. And to make up for it, I tried to be perfect in every. single. solitary. way. Great dresser. Excellent grades. Articulate. All trying to make up for that one moment in time when I felt like nothing.
I never told my parents. I mean what good would that do? And I had pretty much managed it through the years into adulthood, even though I was masking my pain through attempts at perfection. The cake that made mother stop baking was at my mother’s funeral.
We asked my mom’s cousin to perform the eulogy. And on the alter, my father’s best friend, who’s a pastor was allowed to be there as well. No big deal. But what I was not expecting was that his son, my molester, who is also now a pastor (go figure) also took the stage. The man who molested me when I was a child was actually sitting on the alter as my mom lay prostrate in her coffin before him. I cannot even articulate the emotion that came with seeing this happen. It was like having an out of body experience. Yet I had so many other things to deal with that day, I had no room for the rage that later bubbled up in me when I thought back to it.
I was so enraged that I wrote him a letter through Facebook, but I don’t know that he even received it because I blocked him on Facebook and only unblocked him so I could send that message. The act, in retrospect, felt cowardly. But I’m not so sure I needed to tell him face to face that I knew what he did. I just wanted him to know that I knew it. And I wanted it to haunt him, like it haunted me.
As I write this, I recognize how far I’ve come. I recognize that hurt people hurt people and he probably had some fucked up thing happen to him that made him behave that way. Does that excuse his shitty, cowardly, fucked up behavior? Hell, no. But I recognize that he couldn’t possibly be well to treat a child that way. I recognize that it was not my fault. I was a child and he was a so-called responsible adult. So the fault lies with him. I recognize that I am not damaged and that I am not a victim. I was victimized. And that experience does not define me. It is a part of who I am, but it is definitely not all of who I am. I feel shame at not telling anyone because he could and possibly has done this to others. But I have also come to recognize that I have to honor myself and my decisions. And I always have the choice to tell if and when I feel it necessary. I also recognize that I no longer feel week. I feel empowered again. And when I see him next, I will tell him that I know what he did to me, whether he chooses to acknowledge it or not. And I will let him know that if he even sets foot in the space where my father lies when he passes from this life to the next, he will have hell to pay. I don’t do forgiveness. That feels too onerous. And I’m not hardened either, despite what I may have written. I have chosen instead to reframe the story and recognize the gifts I have earned through the experience. He was a teacher—in the worst way. And I am strong, empowered, whole and brave because of it and in spite of it.