Sometimes you take a pill, and sometimes, you buy a shovel.

Panic disorder. No one knows what causes it, but anyone who has it knows that it is a bitch. I think it’s safe to say that everyone has experienced a panic attack at least once in their lives, and especially if they are a parent. Think about those times you walked into the kitchen and found your toddler climbing onto the table or saw your 8 year-old on the roof with a cape on, insisting that “If Superman can do it, I can, because Daddy says I am a Superhero!” or had to give your kid the Heimlich Maneuver to dislodge a piece of candy or chewing gum from their throat. That immediate, paralyzing, jolt of unadulterated fearful panic you experienced on those occasions? That’s a panic attack. Now imagine having those for no reason, randomly, just, well….whenever.

It adds an oh-so-interesting element of pure suckage to one’s life, let me tell you.

I’ve been having panic attacks for decades. I didn’t know that I was, but once I overcame my natural distrust of doctors and therapy and medication, I realized that I have suffered needlessly and most ignorantly.¬† I therefore put my family and friends through the hell of having to deal with me when I was rushing around with this super-charged energy, angrily lashing out, because to admit that I was – quite simply put – terrified and I did not know why? How do you tell someone that and not assume that their response will be to call the men in the white coats? When you want to be seen as invincible and strong, and when others expect that of you, it’s quite a tall order to quell that current of adrenaline that courses through your body, humming just underneath the surface. I would tap my foot, or bounce my leg. At work, I would drum my fingers to a beat that only I could hear, driving my coworkers crazy. I was never still, never quite able to settle down. My sleep began to become disrupted, and insomnia became my friend. The depression fed the anxiety, and the worries that I went over and over on repeat, like counting sheep, would fuel the panic. I was making bad decisions, and worrying about my bad decisions, and then, BOOM, it happened.

One morning, I awoke in the throes of a panic attack so bad, it had me frozen in my bed. I could not move. I knew I was safe. Intellectually, you are there, you see, but there is something in the body that kicks into overdrive and overrides every rational thought you have, hijacking your brain. When I was able to move my arms, I sent out a text to the husband, who was in the library. “Come here” was all it said. Thus began a routine he would perform 2 or 3 times a week: he would go get me a Xanax, I would take it, and then he would wrap himself around my body and hold me tight until I relaxed. This was so hard for me to do. Before, I was insistent that I not be touched, that I be left alone or allowed to race about in my furious whirlwind of fear and anger. To allow someone to “cage” me was probably putting his life in danger at first, but it was an important step for me to admit to him that I was so scared that I was positive that I was just going to die, and to allow him to see me at that most vulnerable state. In trusting him, I saved myself.

This is a pretty accurate cross-section of my brain.

I found that, as my life eased up a bit and I made the changes that needed to be made, and most importantly, STAYED ON MY MEDS NO MATTER WHAT, this morning terror began to recede. Now, I can go months without a blast of fear upon opening my eyes, but I do notice that it begins to happen again when life becomes too stressful and the worries begin to mount. But, how to stop that stress? There are no easy answers for a person like me, who worries and gets paranoid for the most ridiculous reasons. It’s all a part of my diagnosis, and at least I am intelligent enough to understand that the diagnosis may define what is wrong with me, but it does not define ME. I have the power to reduce the stress to certain extents, and when I can’t do it myself, there are drugs that can assist. Granted, popping a Xanax is not going to magically restore the number of hours I can work next week back up to normal because my company decided that


Nope, that little, white pill won’t fix that stressor. It won’t fix the fact that there are family members who persist in creating endless drama to the point of hurting people I love. Nope, the pill won’t make all that go away, and it won’t make the idea of cracking the offending person over the head with a sledgehammer or whacking them in the face with a shovel go away either, but that little, white pill does make those thoughts less rational and more ridiculous. Because really, is one act of rapturous violence, a moment’s blissful satisfaction, worth going to jail for? Nope. Nope. Nope. During a Trump Presidency, acts of violence seem to be the answer, but they are not, and actually feed¬† the beast that is ravenously chowing down on our values and our very identity as the Greatest Country in the World. I don’t blame Trump for people who act like twatwaffles, because I’m sure they acted like that before he came into power. But I do blame him and those of his ilk for making twatwaffles think that it is okay to be a twatwaffle. It is never okay to be a twatwaffle. Let us just establish that. If I am far away from my little, white pills and you are a twatwaffle and there is a shovel handy, you might find yourself in possession of a new, more compact, face. I make no guarantees if the pills are not there and the husband is not available to restrain me.

This year for Thanksgiving, my daughter and her family were home for the holiday for the first time since her husband joined the Army. He is now a veteran and they made the trip home before settling into their new home in the private sector. I bought frozen pies for our dessert. My daughter looked on, incredulous, as I put 4 pies into the cart. “What happened to my mama who made everything by scratch?” she mused, baffled by this sight. Later, as I was mixing up a pumpkin cheesecake, which was the only homemade dessert we had this year, I explained to her why we were eating Mrs. Smith’s instead of homemade. It was pretty simple: there are so many things we do that makes life more difficult. We wanted the holiday to be fun and without the stress of drama and discord. I wanted there to be less time figuring out how much time I had to do this, or that, and while mixing up pies and peeling apples and such doesn’t sound like that much time, opening a box and putting a pie in the oven is ever so much easier and tastes pretty close to just as good. I used to rush around and become cross and tense over feeling like I had to do all these things just because that’s how we always did it. Guess what? We don’t always have to. We can choose. In becoming less rigid and more open to change (I swear, the minute the husband reads that last bit, I will hear him hoot with laughter no matter how far away he is) I am giving myself permission to be more fun. I am warding off those morning panic attacks that paralyze me. And if a Mrs. Smith pie can do that? I may never bake another homemade pumpkin pie again.


I do have kernels of wisdom to impart. Ease up, people. Ease up on the demands you make upon yourself. Tell everyone to back the fuck off and let you do your thing. Don’t force yourself into so many commitments this holiday season that you forget to have fun. And the best advice I can give you? Buy an upside down cross and wear it. It is a natural twatwaffle repellent.

Because you may not always have a shovel handy.

All I want for Christmas is you.





Over the river and through the woods, or “how to ruin someone’s Thanksgiving.”

I was once told that, if you’re pissed off about something, sleep on it. If it still boils the blood the next day, then by all means, let ‘er rip. It’s much better to let that anger out rather than let it seethe within, poisoning your guts.

And so, without further ado, I am letting ‘er rip. I slept on that bitch, it was like a lumpy mattress, and I’m still pissed.

The husband has to work on Thanksgiving. This, in and of itself, is nothing new. He has worked in retail and customer service for many years, except for his years employed in a lumber mill. We have both worked on Thanksgiving, and Christmas, and various other holidays that are sacred to most people but in our different lines of work, it was necessary. In this case, “necessary” means that he will be manning the store floor on Thanksgiving while assholes lose their fucking minds over TVs, toys, $5 holiday sweaters, and hover boards this year, right after they’ve stuffed themselves with their own Thanksgiving feast. He is made of sturdier stuff than me, having done this for 3 years now. I did it last year, and thought to myself at the time, “I never want to do this again.”¬† It was disgusting, watching grown people fight over $1 hand towels and stomp their feet with disappointment because they didn’t get a wrist band for one of the 6 drones available for the low, low price of $296. (Let’s just gloss over the fact that I am on medication for my inability to deal with people.¬† Let’s also gloss over the fact that most people should be medicated in order to make them acceptable human beings.) Then I accepted a managerial position and pretended that I was a company player for oh, about 10 seconds. It was not for me. Voldemort’s evil retail empire was not for me.¬†I escaped the horror. He has not managed to do that. Yet.

Every year, Voldemort provides a meal for its associates since they are spending their entire day girding their loins for the whackadoodle shoppers who find it entertaining to make a mad dash into the store to do their shopping instead of hanging out at home, enjoying family, friends, food, and football. You know, the shit the associates would much rather be doing, but a paycheck is a paycheck, even if it’s from a monster retailer who begrudges them a living wage. The meal is all the usual Thanksgiving fare, which, by most standards, is not the most expensive meal to put on. Labor-intensive, yes. Budget-wise? No. With turkeys being available for .48 a pound and potatoes and veggies and even pumpkin being offered on the cheap side this time of year, a turkey dinner with all the trimmings is actually very economical, in my humble opinion. It was a pretty decent meal last year, catered by a local company, who was pretty good about replenishing throughout the day for all the incoming shifts. Let’s just say that no one went hungry as long as they got a moment to come back to the break room to sit down and eat. You know, providing that meal is the least that Voldemort can do, having demanded that its associates sacrifice an entire holiday away from their families to provide customer service to unapologetically demanding asshole shoppers. The husband will be working from 1pm-10pm, which leaves him absolutely no time to spend with our kids and grandkids, eating some turkey, maybe catching a few minutes of football with my sons, and enjoying a day that marks being thankful for what one has. Furthermore, I will miss him. Very much. And so, I wish I could point my wand and spit out “Avada Kedavra!” and blow up the entire store. Sans associates, of course. Customers who are there for Thanksgiving, though? Collateral damage.


But this. THIS is what has made my blood boil, if that weren’t enough:

This year, each associate will get a meal ticket. They must turn it in and eat their meal, and then they are done. No snacking at breaks, no furtive snatching of a cookie after they make a bathroom run; you get your one chance and then you’re done. Supposedly, they are attempting to “make sure everyone gets their meal” because “last year some people took advantage and there wasn’t enough”. And that, my friends, is utter bullshit. I was there. I saw the food. The food that sat out all day and was picked at by associates. I saw the spread for the overnight crew. I saw the replenishment. At no time was there not enough food. Are there people who take advantage and fill two plates? Sure. But so fucking what? It’s a holiday, a sacred holiday, and it’s a retailer that orders enough turkeys for its customers to require another freezer trailer be set up outside the facility. Begrudging your employees a chance to stuff themselves in the same manner that they would at home, if they were able to, is not too much to ask.

An inaccurate representation of a catered meal in the break room.

But therein lies the rub. No, one would not think that a massive, big box corporation such as Voldemort would have a problem with providing a meal for its valued associates. Associates don’t get Christmas bonuses, or paid holidays off, or anything, really. Oh, they get 10% off everything around the holidays and a 25% off coupon good for one trip through the cash register IF they work that Thanksgiving, but if you aren’t a full-time associate, you don’t get the full, quarterly bonus that associates get; you get half. And that ain’t much, if you want to know the truth. Full-time isn’t a whole lot, either, if your store didn’t turn as big a profit as it had hoped.

The little “extras?” This Thanksgiving meal, for example? It comes out of the store’s bottom line. More importantly, it comes out of the upper management’s “bottom line”, in the form of their bonuses. Which are significantly higher than those of the associates’. See where I am going with this? We wouldn’t want to feed people more food than we have to if we can cut corners somewhere! Ya know, the store manager might need a new car or something, because last’s year’s model started depreciating the second it was purchased, and that extra plate you’re eating might force him or her to have to get a model with unheated seats or *gasp* a factory sound system.

Oh, the humanity!!!!!

So, when you’re excitedly standing in line on Thursday night at your local Voldemort, waiting for the latest video game for your kid, who will maybe play it twice; when you’re angrily asserting that YOU were in line FIRST for the $9 coffee maker; while you complain bitterly that you had to get there at 4pm to get in line for that 55″ TV that your daughter “needs” for her room for Christmas; remember, please, those associates you refuse to make eye contact with on a regular basis and who you ask to “go look out back” when the shelf is empty of your favorite brand of soft drink. When you’re lazily burping up your pumpkin pie that you were able to sit, languidly, and enjoy, before rushing to Voldemort to get a good parking space, that associate out in the cold, pushing those carts, got one plate of food and was rushed through that plate because YOUR LAZY ASS needed a cart moved for your car.


Remember that, as little as you think of them, their upper management thinks even less. 








The Male Sibling Unit and the holidays, or better: It’s beginning to look a lot like F*** this.

The Male Sibling Unit is in a tizzy of sorts.

With the holidays nearly upon us, he is trying to sort out his complicated social calendar. So many parties to attend! So many outfits to plan! He is truly a social butterfly, very happy to be the center of attention in his own mind, but not quite as socially dynamic as he envisions himself to be. Oh, I am sure that in his head, he is John Travolta a la Saturday Night Fever on the dance floor, but truth be told, he resembles Ed Grimley from Saturday Night Live in both movement and personality. “Awkward” was a word invented for him by some ancient, visionary, psychic person who said, “You know? I’ll bet there’s going to be someone in the future who embodies this word.”


The thing about The Male Sibling Unit is that he likes to talk about these upcoming events. A lot. Every day. Months before they actually happen. Hell, months before he actually knows the date of said events. In the past, I would just try to handle the incessant chatter, because I am not the kind of person who dwells on the things that are going to happen in the future until they are nearly upon us. I’m not a procrastinator as such, but I just prefer to concentrate on the here and now instead of thinking about something that’s not happening for 3, 6, 9 months. Eventually, I would explode with frustration at his tendency to dwell on the next Christmas party at work the day after the last one.¬†I am acutely aware of such outbursts of irritation toward him because that’s how our mother chose to handle him in nearly every possible conversation she had with him. I am not kidding. Back in the days when I was married to my biggest mistake and we had bought our first house next door to her, I would rise at 6am to get my kids going for the day and hear her screaming at him. Yes, through the walls of two houses in the winter, and of course, through an open window in the summer, which is more understandable. Our houses were perhaps 6 feet apart, which isn’t much, and our kitchens were side-by-side. I’m not trying to explain how I was able to hear her. I am explaining that she was screaming at him at 6am. I know, I know…..don’t bother someone before they’ve had their coffee. I am such a person, but I don’t scream or rip faces off. I am more likely to stumble about, blind, muttering incoherent bits of sentences, and groping for my Xanax if I have woken in the throes of a panic attack. (It happens. A lot.)

But our mother? Would. Rip. Your. Face. Off. Simple questions from The Male Sibling Unit like, “Should I wear a sweatshirt today?” or statements like “We are almost out of milk” would elicit banshee-like shrieks of fury only heard in the best, most terrifying horror films. One morning, one of my kids – I don’t remember which one – asked me, “Why is Grandma so mean to Uncle Charlie?” My answer was probably something along the lines of “She hasn’t had her coffee” or maybe even “Because she’s a bitch” if I was feeling particularly hostile toward her on that day. The truth is, I was used to it. She did it to me, too, but I was intellectually savvy enough to learn, very young, that you just didn’t engage her in the morning.¬†¬†(Or any other time.) The Male Sibling Unit, he of a less advanced intellectual capacity, didn’t grasp this, and still hasn’t, and she’s 5 years dead and gone. Somewhere, in the back of his mind, I imagine he expects her to pop out of a room one day, bellowing at him. Death has little meaning to him.

An actual illustration of our mother before coffee. And after.

The point is, I try, very hard, to never explode at him. I am not her. Sometimes, it’s hard. Sometimes, I am pushed beyond my limits. But I have tried to come up with simple rules he needs to follow about these things, because he is very regimented when it comes to following most rules. Even better, if you make him charts, he will follow them religiously. Now, I have a hard and fast rule that, if it is not happening in the actual month we are in, we don’t talk about it. It works. Most of the time. He is, lately, very verbal and OCD about the things he does every day. He will chant to himself his tasks or responsibilities and actions for the day, in order. If I have’t got my Mom filter on (the one that only hears the shit we absolutely need to hear in case someone is in danger of hurting themselves or someone else, or truly in some sort of jeopardy….if you’re a mom, you know exactly what Superpower I am talking about) I will hear him and call him Rain Man in a joking sort of way.

Anyway, we are in the midst of furtive mutterings about parties and gifts when he thinks I am not listening. I hear him, though, and when he slips up and starts making his vocal lists about each event and who’s going and what they will eat and how much he will dance and then on to the next event, I have to modulate my voice to stifle the rising tide of exasperation and remind him that we have rules.¬†Thanksgiving? We can talk about that. Christmas, though? Please. No. It’s bad enough that the TV commercials started the day after Halloween and I have people on my Facebook page crowing excitedly about how they already put their tree up and have been playing Christmas music for a month and don’t even get me started on the retail world and the tinsel-covered, ornament bedazzled, Christmas vomitus blanketing every single store, every single window, every website. I just can’t do it. Not yet. I have begrudgingly begun some shopping, but that’s only because my children have procreated an astonishing number of grandchildren and it’s as daunting a task to manage their gifts as it was 20-odd years ago, with five young kids.


The Male Sibling Unit has a girlfriend now, and that has become a major consideration when planning his holidays and his shopping. He knows he should buy her a gift, but truly, it is less about the gift than the fact that he gives her one. He really doesn’t actually care about what he should buy her, and will offer up suggestions like “a necklace?” when asked what he would like to buy her. She is older than him, and is capable of living independently, with guidance from social workers, so her needs are a bit more refined than he imagines. I have begun planning his gifts to her, and he’s perfectly cool with that as long as he gets all the credit due. When she is delighted at the scented lotions and soaps and the pretty jewelry and probably a nice coffee mug since she drinks coffee, he will take every ounce of the credit for picking out the things that thrill her so. I’m good with that, as long as we don’t have to talk about it for two weeks after Christmas. He is, however, extremely excited and concerned about what she has already purchased him and, unfortunately for me, teased him with the knowledge. He’s a 42 year-old 8 year-old, giggling and excitedly wondering out loud, “What did she get me?” I don’t know! I think I’m going to love it! I hope I do!”¬† He can’t help himself. And I don’t have the heart to quash his anticipation.

19 more days of blessed silence remain until he bursts out of his room on December 1st, chattering about Christmas and parties and food and presents and what kind of cookies are we making and most importantly, what is everyone going to think when he shows up at work every single day with his vast assortment of Christmas hats and attire on? I can feel it building, like a pressure cooker filled to the brim. He is gonna GO OFF. There is no way to avoid it.

A pretty close rendering of The Male Sibling Unit in December.

It doesn’t have to be stressful. What you allow will happen, right? I can choose to be zen-like in my approach to his effervescent bubbling-over. I’m girding my loins. Preparing to embrace the horror.

And keeping the Xanax and wine in constant supply.

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Yes, those are both my glasses but that is not enough wine.





Me, too.

There are rocks inside me.  Everyone has them. Stones from the past, most grown smooth with the passing of time; small, like marbles.  I carry those with me like little reminders of the battles I fought and the wounds those stones caused. The scars are small; with time, they heal and turn into silvery threads on my skin.  And then there are the big rocks. They weigh me down, burdensome with their size and  their jagged edges. They sit farther back in my psyche, lining the walls of my mind, actually becoming the walls themselves. I have subconsciously built many large and tall, impenetrable walls throughout my life. Some have come down with the help of warriors who chose to go in there and knock them down (the husband, for one, he with his armor of strength and patience to work with in order to relentlessly, slowly take down walls, stone by stone, brick by brick); some have fallen with the passing of time, leaving open pathways for feelings I was never too keen about feeling to creep through like a midnight mist in a cemetery.


Today, a wall comes down. I am knocking it down myself, with a heavy battle ax and then when that breaks, with a sledgehammer. If the sledgehammer breaks, I’ll pull down those jagged rocks with my own two hands, and perhaps come away, bloody and torn. Am I afraid of getting hurt? Sure. But I am more afraid of holding this inside me another day. By holding it inside, I am complicit; an accessory to a crime that has overtaken this country, this world. Men in power. Sick men gripped by an illness that is vile and horrifying. Men taking what they want from those weaker than them. Men using that strength they have to overcome with fear and ripping from their victims so many precious birthrights: dignity, self-respect, safety, innocence.

This is my “me too” story. It is long, but it is necessary. It needs to be puked out onto this page, purged from my soul.

I was 14 when he began to groom me. I didn’t know what grooming was back then, but if any girl was ever ripe for the picking, it was me. I was both intelligent and na√Įve, having thus far grown up without a father figure or any man to really show me what it is like to have that kind of influence in their life. I had attempted suicide at 13 and had just finished therapy. My mother and I were at odds all the time, and she had recently gotten my grandmother to enter a nursing home after many battles. She was figuring out her own life, free of caring for an invalid , and I was a young teenager without any kind of anchor. She began a pattern of leaving me home with The Male Sibling Unit while she went to bars and hung out with new friends, wearing new clothing she defiantly announced to me that she “deserved” after years of not caring about how she looked. She and I fought, constantly, and all I ever wanted to do was escape. Music had become my life; I lost myself in rock and roll, spending every penny I made babysitting on records, 45s, and cassettes. The Walkman had yet to hit the market, but when it did, I would buy one I could afford and be lost in the stereo sounds of my headphones every moment that I wasn’t in school, watching tv, or asleep. Music is how he lured me in.

He was a teacher at the high school who had been sent to our junior high to teach a class there half-days. He was also a part-time deejay, doing school dances and working at the local radio station. In those days, there were a bunch of teachers who worked part-time at our radio station. It was a good side job, I guess. He was nothing special to look at; I thought he looked a little bit like a pudgy walrus. He was certainly old; I would find out that he was about 37. He was somewhat of a celebrity to those of us at the junior high level, because he was friendly and engaged us in discussions about our favorite music.¬† He used our slang; he was one of us. He borrowed our albums to make copies for his deejay jobs and offered to make us cassettes of different music; all we had to do was give him lists. It was all innocent enough, but there were certain ones who he seemed to pay the most attention to – all girls, now that I remember clearly – and I was his favorite. We would spend time talking, and he began to delve deeper into who I was, and what made me tick. I was flattered; no adult had ever been that interested in me, a homely, nerdy, closed-off girl with baby fat just beginning to melt off my body. I was awkward around boys and certainly around men; I had no frame of reference. You can see where this was going, can’t you? I never had a dad. He found that out, and that’s what he used to engage and reel me in. He was the perfect “father figure”.

By that summer, when I was graduating from 9th grade and getting ready to enter the high school, he extended a special invitation: I could come out to the radio station when he worked and see how things were done. I only lived a short bike ride away and as he lured me with the promise of all the different kinds of music that I could listen to out there, I was¬†all in.¬†After the first invitation, others followed. He taught me how to work the machines and to make mixed tapes of my own. It was amazing and wonderful there, because even though our radio station didn’t play 99% of the music they received as part of their programming, they seemed to have everything! The British New Wave movement was ramping up and I was lost in the sounds of Duran Duran, The Fixx, The Clash, and so many others. I was listening to rock and roll that just blew my mind; I was in a musical heaven out there. All the fights my mom and I were having; I had a haven to retreat to, and an adult to talk to who didn’t tell me that I needed to mind my mother. He even took my side sometimes! Oh, man… was¬†soooooooo easy¬†for him. He must have rubbed his hands together like some villain in an old movie, just exultant with the possibilities he had with a rube such as me. One afternoon, he kissed me on the cheek as I was leaving and said, “Congratulations on graduating from 9th grade.” I felt special. I felt like a dad would have done that. Not a single alert went off in my head. Not one.

As fate would have it, he had another “in” with me. His mother¬† and my mother had a mutual friend, and his mother was visiting that summer. The three women got together and my mother became friendly with her, too. They even had dinner at his house with his wife and kids. Oh yeah…..he had a wife and 2 kids. After that, I was asked to babysit for them, and I remember doing that once. The relationship was pretty solid by then, and he had gained the trust of my mother. He still took my side whenever there was a fight, though.¬†Of course he did.

I will never forget the first time. It was a Saturday, and Mom and I had just had another knock-down, drag-out fight. She was threatening to send me to my aunt’s again for a week, and I was just NOT going. I sped away on my bicycle and found myself at the radio station. In between his broadcasts, he let me vent. I cried. I raged. He calmed me down. I remember it clearly: the music on the radio was Huey Lewis and the News. And then he kissed me. On the lips. I had been kissed just a couple of times by then, by a boy I was sort of dating. I didn’t even really know what a kiss was. I froze for a moment, not sure what was going on, confused and in pain and then desperately hopeful that this was some sort of mistake, just a reaction to my teenaged angst and his way of just trying to make me feel better. I drew away from him, and he apologized and said it wasn’t what he’d meant to do. I shrugged it off, a little scared, a LOT confused, and a little dazzled. This tiny part of me, deep inside, was blossoming a little. I realized that I was a girl, becoming a woman, and¬†this man¬†saw that, somehow. At that time, I didn’t say to myself, “This is sick, this is wrong.” I had no real frame of reference for that. I had been warned, as a young child, that there were “bad men” who would “touch young girls” but this guy¬†was a teacher. Was my friend. Was friendly with my family.¬†There was no way he was a bad man. It was just impossible. I decided to let it go. It was a one-off. He’d apologized.¬†

School started, and as the early days passed, we 10th graders began to get the lay of the land at the high school. Older kids who befriended us would teach us the things we needed to know in order to navigate the huge, mysterious and deep waters we were swimming in now. We began to hear whispering about him. He was no longer teaching part-time at the junior high now; that task had been given to the next teacher in line for that job. I would see him every day, and early on, when one of my classes were changed and I needed a study hall, I was assigned to his room. That’s when the older kids¬†really¬†began their talk. “Don’t be alone with him,” they would say, “He’s a perv.” When pressed for details, we were told that he had actually been “suspended” for a year because he “touched a girl;”. The stories were lurid and endless. I was able to verify that he had been “on a sabbatical” and yes, the stories linked hands with that one occasion in my mind and I began to feel a little uneasy. Could I have been wrong? Was I that gullible? My friends and I would talk about it constantly, and in the end, we decided that if he had really done something bad, the school would have never let him come back. In those days, it was more like which teacher¬†didn’t¬†act like a perv than did. In the following years, we would all come to realize just how true that statement was. And so life went on.

One Friday night, he was working at the radio station and he called my mother. “Why don’t you and the kids come out and I will order us some pizza and we’ll just hang out? I am so bored tonight. There’s a game broadcasting.” My mother had nothing going on that evening, which was rare, and so the three of us went out. We sat and talked for a while and then he handed her some money and asked her to go get the pizza. This was in the days before delivery. She took The Male Sibling Unit because there was always a chance of him talking while the mic was open. It was growing dark; I remember standing in the big, glass doorway, watching for them to come back as he did some top-of-the-hour news. I never heard him come up behind me. He wrapped his arms around me, touching my breasts and groaning. “You don’t know how badly I have wanted to do this,” he moaned in my ear.

Fight or flight instinct. It ran through my mind at lightning speed. If I fought, I would have to explain. If I flew, where would I go out in that dark, isolated night? I did the other “f” instead: I froze. His mouth was on my neck and he was turning me around and pulling me back away from the door and I was defenseless, scared, confused. I remember thinking, “What the hell is wrong with him?” As he tried to kiss me, I suddenly regained some fight and pushed him away. “Stop!” I cried. “Don’t do that!” He looked confused and hurt and God help me, that made me feel terrible. He said, “Please, don’t worry, okay? You can’t get pregnant. I had a vasectomy.” It was as if I was up in the air, a thousand feet high, and suddenly came crashing down to earth. I backed away, suddenly angry, and shouted, “Pregnant? Are you crazy? This is so WRONG!” I ran for the bathroom and locked myself in. He waited a few minutes, then came to the door, again with the apologies, again with the insistence that he didn’t know what had come over him. Then he played his last card: if I told my mom, it would all get really ugly and we didn’t want that to happen over a stupid mistake. I knew what he was talking about; the year before, there had been a “incident” with another teacher and a student and¬†that¬†student had been run right out of the school. That teacher had the school district on his side, and the support and devotion of other students. If I said anything, I would be ostracized just like her. Silently, I came out of the bathroom. I stood at the door, waiting for my mom and brother to come back. When they did, we ate pizza, me just kind of playing with a piece and then complaining that my stomach hurt; could we please go home? When we got home, I went straight to my room and put my headphones on, wishing for nothing more than to lose myself in the music.

That whole weekend, I was troubled. When Monday came, I was still feeling confused and puzzled. What was going on? I just didn’t understand. Were the stories really true? I began to watch him, how he looked at girls, how he spoke. He was very different with me, very open and casual. Part of me felt betrayed, but this other part of me, the part he groomed? I cared for him. I wanted his support and friendship. I know now that it wasn’t like being in love with him; in no way did it ever resemble that. It was an infatuation, but not with he, himself. It was with the idea that another human being, a man who was successful and had power in some ways, found me interesting. And that, right there? That was the abuse. He abused me, plain and simple, and it was going to get worse before it got better.

Two weeks later, he sexually assaulted me with his fingers. He stood, with his back to me, held me up against a wall, and put his hand down my jeans, into my underwear.¬† This was punishment for not helping him, the night before, at a dance he was deejaying. He had told my mother that he would bring me home after; this was the only way she was letting me go – if I had a ride home. Somehow, I felt that he intended to be alone with me, despite the fact that another girl was also getting a ride home from him. It just didn’t feel right, and I was still¬† so unsure of him. I bowed out and walked home, lying to my mother that he had brought me. The next day, I knew I had to make things right with him or he would tell her, and so I rode my bike out to the station to explain. I told him I had not been feeling well, and that I was sorry, but that if he told her that I had walked home, she would ground me. Shit, you’re thinking. I played right into his hands, didn’t I?¬†I¬†would be screaming that at my 15 year-old self now, but back then, I thought I had some sort of control. It was as if all pretense flew out the window at that very moment. He knew he had me. I knew he did, too, but not in time. And so, he told me he needed something, just a very small thing, because I had¬†really let him down. Right then I knew that the stories had been true; that he wasn’t sorry for the things he had done to me before, and that this was the only way I was getting out of there. I had to let him. He pulled my hand around in front and ground his erection against it while his other hand reached behind and penetrated me; I did not know what to do. I struggled, I cried a little bit; mostly, I stood outside of myself and let him finish. I knew that if I pretended that it was okay, I could get out of there faster. When it was done, it was as if a mask had come off his face and I saw him.¬†I saw him. I left, and I was never alone with him again.

For about a year, well into 11th grade, he basically stalked me. He would call my house and talk to my mom, finding out where I was if I wasn’t home. She didn’t know better and would give him the telephone numbers to the places where I babysat. He would call me, and I would tell him to stop. He would drive by our apartment building, by the places I babysat. At Christmas after the assault, I tearfully tried to tell my mother what he had done. She was wrapped up in a relationship with a very toxic man who scared me, and I was trying to talk to her about it, and she sarcastically told me I could “go complain to________” about how I didn’t like her boyfriend. I lost it, tried to explain to her about what happened. In those days, I didn’t have the words, and couldn’t articulate exactly what had happened, to her. It just wasn’t something I could¬†say¬†to her. She got the gist, though, and blew me off. There was no way “such a good, kind man” who was “like a father to me” could ever do anything like that. I had misunderstood, she said. I was being dramatic. He was “a religious man” who didn’t see me that way.

I was completely and utterly alone. During that time, I had a couple of boyfriends who I told, although not with any detail. One was quite large and towered over him, and he confronted him in the hallway outside his room one afternoon, threatening to wring his neck if he ever came near me again. After that, the stalking, the phone calls, mostly ceased. There was an uneasy truce, with me steering clear and him not crossing any lines. 11th grade almost felt normal. Until it didn’t.

It was a Sunday night, and I was doing homework at the kitchen table. The phone rang. I answered. It was him. He was working. I don’t know why I talked to him, but maybe there was just some part of me trying to make things feel normal again. He asked what I was doing, and I explained my homework to him in a little bit of detail. I was having a problem with one aspect of it, and, like a dad, or at least like a guiding adult, he helped me to find the answer. I thanked him. Then he said, “How about coming out here and making my night exciting?” I hung up on him, my face red, my heart racing. I was angry, disappointed, and not at him. At myself, for falling for it, for being so gullible that I let him make me feel that low again, that powerless. The next day, I avoided going down the hallway where his classroom was, and ducked into other rooms if I saw him. I was in my last period class when he appeared at the door and beckoned me over. Acutely aware that my teacher was at his desk and that other kids had seen him ask me to come to the door, I had no out. I walked outside the room and stood there. “What do you want?” I asked tersely. “Why’d you hang up on me last night?” he demanded quietly. I looked him dead in the eyes. I was done. I was beyond willing to let him do this to me anymore. “I hung up on you because you cannot talk to me like that, you fucking perv!” I said, low enough to hopefully not be heard by anyone inside the room, but angrily enough to get my point across. He stepped back a little, visibly affected by my anger. “You can’t talk like that to me.” he said. “Oh, really?” I asked, sarcasm dripping from my voice. “What are you going to do? Give me detention? I bet you would just LOVE to get me alone in your room, wouldn’t you?”¬† His eyes grew wide. “Leave. Me. ALONE.” I said, and walked back into the room,. feeling both triumphant and terrified.

“Lori? Come see me a sec.” It was my teacher. He was sitting at his desk, intent on some papers in front of him. I was absolutely petrified. He had heard us. The jig was up. My life was over. I walked over to the desk. Without looking up at me, he asked quietly, “That guy bothering you?” His meaning was clear; the stories had not only been true, but he¬†knew.¬†“He-he was,” I stammered, “but I don’t think he will now.” Still not looking up at me, still writing on a piece of paper, he said, “Good. But if he does, you come to me. I will deal with him.”¬†

I was never harassed again. The phone calls stopped. The fear never totally went away, and of course, what happened to me affected how I saw men from the moment it happened. I think they’re all a little bit bad. I think they’re all capable of disgusting things. But not all are pedophiles, like him. Because that is exactly what he was, and what he is. The stories would emerge as the years passed; I would find out that he had been at this sort of thing when he was in his early 20s and had assaulted the daughter of his mother’s friend. There were other girls during and after me. One of them had a very angry dad who took matters into his own hands and avenged his assault on his daughter by beating the crap out of him. I wish I’d had a dad.

In the next five years after I graduated, there was an investigation into teachers being inappropriate with students in our school district. They were legion, these men, and it had been going on for years, and the school district had systematically covered it up. I had confided in another teacher, and she had given my name to the investigator. He drove to Oil City, where I was living with my fianc√©, expecting my first child. He took my deposition and then told me about the others. To say that we, the students, were surrounded by predators, is an apt description, and that’s all I have to say about that. The girls, the boys. We were all at risk. At one point, there was talk of charges being pressed against my teacher, and an attorney called to speak to my mother, who now knew that she had made a terrible mistake in not believing me. My fianc√© called that attorney and told him that no, I would not be testifying, that they had my deposition, and that I needed closure. I had a baby, and we had a family. He would not allow me to go through the nightmare all over again. There were threats of a subpoena, but in the end, he lost his job but left town with his pension intact.

Throughout the years, I have kept tabs on him. Why, you ask? Why not just heal? Forget the terrible things? Put him out of your mind? I would have, and could have, I guess, had it not been relayed to me that he was teaching again, in another state, at an all-girls Christian academy. To say that this distressed me was an understatement. I regretted not pointing my finger at him in court. Because he was most certainly still at it. I knew he was. He’d left, his wife at his side, to begin another cycle of sexual predatory acts upon young girls. I was wracked with guilt. When I found out he had lost that job and was back in our state, on the other side, no longer teaching, I tried to rest my mind. He wasn’t teaching. He didn’t have easy access to girls. At least there was that, right? But in this age of social media, no one is ever completely gone, and through a mutual friend, I found him again. He’s old, and time has taken its toll, but he is a beloved, Christian, upstanding figure in the community in which he resides now; a grandfather, and a pastor. Yes, he is a pastor at a church and with that, the access to youth is there again. I know him, you see. I know him. And he is most certainly thinking things, if not actually doing them. And no one is going to suspect that this grandfatherly, religious, totally cool guy is thinking about fucking their troubled 14 year-old daughter, are they? The pastor will know what to do. The¬†pastor¬†will help her find her way.

So this is my story. The wall is down. It explains a lot about me; my anger, my fears. Why I hate men, all men, just a tiny, suspicious, little bit. Why I have trust issues with everyone, for a dozen or more reasons.  Why, if my child ever came to me and said someone did something to her/him, I would utterly, completely, and totally believe them. Why it is an absolute miracle that I can have a healthy relationship with my husband. Why I feel guilty for not knowing that there was power in addressing my attacker years ago, before he could hurt others. I fear that many others came after me, not in this town, but in the other towns he escaped to. I fear that he is at it even now, even though he is old. Because there are a lot of girls just like my younger self; they exist in every town, in every corner of the world, just ripe for the picking by a piece of shit like him. The Harvey Weinsteins and Kevin Spaceys of the world exploit boys and girls like me but the lid is thrown open and the cockroaches have been exposed to the light and it is up to us to have the power to squash them underneath our boots, as we take back our dignity, our self-respect, and lose the veil of shame that has covered us for so long.

I was innocent. He stole that from me, like a thief in the night. And he does not get to keep it. I don’t need it back, but motherfucker, you don’t get to keep it. By taking it back, I regain my power. I am no longer ashamed. I am no longer a victim. I am free.