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.

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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 naïve, 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…..it 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? 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 fiancé, 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 fiancé 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.

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