It began with grooming. At the time, I didn’t know what grooming was, nor did I know how to recognize or label it, but it was things like pastries and other treats delivered to me that the other kids in my class didn’t receive. It was school work I didn’t have to do, because I was “special.”
I was so special, in fact, that I was trusted with tasks like typing up lesson plans, and correcting the tests and quizzes of my fellow students, while my teacher stood over me, rubbed my shoulders, and checked my progress.
I don’t remember, precisely, the first time his hand “slipped” to touch my breast, but I know it began happening regularly. I don’t remember, precisely, the first time he touched my thigh as I stood beside him behind his expansive desk, but I know it began happening regularly.
I was 10 years old, and my abuser was my teacher.
What I do remember precisely was what he said to me, following a conversation with my enraged mother. “I never meant to make you feel uncomfortable. I only meant to show you how much I appreciate you.”
The touching didn’t stop, and I began to question why I’d even told anyone. It hadn’t made a difference, only made me doubt what was actually happening. Maybe, after all, I’d misunderstood. I was just a kid.
I survived the school year, and moved up with a shattered concept of my body. I didn’t want it to mature. I didn’t want to develop breasts and hips, because I didn’t want to be attractive to men. I didn’t want it to happen again.
The first day of seventh grade, a kind teacher gave me the nickname “Tiny,” because I was the smallest kid in our class. I regularly deprived myself of food, read stories of anorexia survivors like primers (Wow, she got by on 50 calories a day? I can do that!), and ran. I ran, and ran, and ran, and ran… miles a day.
My body stayed, essentially, ten years old. I was, indeed, tiny, and it was a matter of control. I couldn’t control what happened to me. I couldn’t control what people around me did. I couldn’t control how my body acted and responded to stimuli, but… I could control how my body looked, and I took it to the extreme.
By the time I was 14, I was emotionally out of control. I had so much anger and resentment inside me, I lashed out at everyone — mostly, myself.
There was guilt, and shame. A lot of it. See, at ten years old, I didn’t know enough to know that we humans are created to be sexual, and to crave intimacy. I didn’t know that the body wants to be touched in healthy, positive ways, and that it can all get crazy-confused when the touch isn’t healthy. I hated my body for how it betrayed me.
I hated my mind for liking the attention I’d received. I’d been told I was “special,” and I so wanted to be! I began looking for that attention in negative ways — namely, from older boys and men.
When I was a young teen, I attended a house party. There was a lot of drinking going on, but I knew a few people, so I felt safe to cut loose a bit. Okay, a lot. I drank too much, and ended up a hot mess. A male acquaintance noticed my state, and took my by the arm.
“You need to lie down,” he said. He led me to the back of his truck, which he’d outfitted with a canopy and mattress for a recent camping trip. I managed my way into the truck, thankful for a place to put my head down so the world would stop spinning.
The spinning didn’t stop.
Suddenly, I was fighting off my “friend,” who was undressing me. I kept pushing him away, and telling him, “No,” but he didn’t stop. I don’t know how long the rape would have continued, had it not been for my friend, “Jay,” opening the back of the truck. He’d been looking for me.
Jay walked me home that night, and he cried with me.
Months later, when I found the courage to tell someone, that person asked me, “What do you expect, when you’re drinking with older boys? How could you put yourself in that situation?”
More shame bombarded me. What did I expect, indeed? What did it matter?
I began acting out in more destructive ways. I became “that girl” — the one that popular guys partied with on the weekends, then ignored or made fun of on Monday in front of their friends.
My senior year of high school, I was pulled aside by an administrative investigator. They were investigating my old teacher, and one of the witnesses had shared that I was a victim, too. They wanted me to tell my story.
I told them I didn’t know anything; there was nothing to share. I didn’t want to relive it, so I lied. As it turns out, there were many victims, between 1977 and 1991. His certificate to teach was revoked, but he never faced criminal charges. Today, he lives in my hometown, does not have to register as a sex offender, and is free to have contact with children.
My risky behavior continued through my teen years. I met and spent time with older men who visited my hometown — a resort community — only to find out later they were married, and I was a throwaway fling.
Through all of it, I was desperate for love. I just wanted someone to love me and cherish me, to tell me I was truly special, and I didn’t know how to go about that without giving carte blanche access to my body.
I just wanted them to love me.
There was a guy who did love me. I met him my junior year of high school, and we began dating. He was kind, considerate, compassionate, and didn’t judge me — a Good Guy. He taught me to drive, told me I was pretty, and put up with me when I had angry, emotional outbursts for seemingly no reason. He missed my high school graduation, because he was in Basic Training, but we’d promised to stay together, even though I was going halfway across the country to college, and he had no idea where he would be stationed.
We tried to make it work, but deep down, I felt I didn’t deserve him. I knew he would leave me. Who wouldn’t? I was so broken, used and dirty. He wouldn’t love me, if he really knew. All those fears led me to continue my self-destructive behaviors.
At college, I was raped again, under almost the exact same circumstances as the incident when I was 14. This time, in my head, I didn’t call it “rape.” I called it “a bad night of drinking.” I’d begun minimizing the act, in my own head.
(Continued in Part 2)