In these surreal days of Weinstein, Spacey, Trump and who knows how many other names will be added by time this is published, I’ve seen so many brave women posting “#metoo” on social media. And then when women stepped forward with their stories of Roy Moore, people rallied with “why did they wait so long to say something.”
I considered adding my own #metoo to the social media, but felt the conversation of how often this happens to women was much more important, and that men should sit back and take notice. And take notes.
Then with people questioning why someone would not step forward immediately, I’ve decided to add my own story. The thing is when you are sexually assaulted, you’re not given a “how to” book afterwards. I’ve kept my secret for 40+ years, and most of the people closest to me don’t even know. In the last few months, I’ve been thinking of how much, not just the attack, but also the keeping of this secret has affected my life.
My family is from rural NC/VA, and my parents were the only ones in either of their families to leave (for which I’m eternally grateful). We would visit two or three times a year, usually just the major holidays. According to my mother as a kid I was a handful. As the son of a sailor I picked up cursing like it was my second language. And I noticed people liked to laugh when I cursed. I became a mini Richard Pryor. I was also a cute kid with shiny brown hair and sparkly eyes.
When I was 7 we went for a visit for Mother’s Day. I slept over at a relative’s house (as was often the case) and had to share the bed with a cousin, about 6 or 7 years older. The details aren’t important, but I remember everything that happened, the smells of the room (strawberry incense still makes me gag), the record that was playing. How much it hurt.
It happened again the next trip, Labor Day. The next night my parent undressed for a bath and noticed something. They asked me a couple of questions. I lied. That night I slept in their bed. And I never slept over again.
My parents never asked me anything or brought anything up. I returned to school. My report cards went from “Steven plays well with others” or “Steven is such a delight to have in class,” to “Steven keeps to himself” and “Steven rarely speaks up in class.” Thing I could always count on for comfort became food. I got really fat, and really quickly. Where I used to look forward to baths, I now had to be forced to undress and take a bath. Where I used to run and play with no shirt, I now wore long pants and shirts year round.
I also couldn’t stand for my bedroom door to be closed, or my parent’s door. All doors had to be open at all times. When my mother or father would tuck me in at night, I’d say, “don’t close the door!” If I woke up in the middle of the night (which I always did), I’d walk down the hall and open their door before going back to bed.
Of course our visits “home” continued. And I would see my rapist every Christmas, Mother’s Day and summer. I couldn’t be pried away from my Grandmother. I continued to get fatter and prayed that I’d get glasses. I wanted to be as invisible as possible.
My grandmother passed away in 1997, which broke my heart. And to this day I haven’t been back. The assault became a fuzzy memory. In those times, forgetting seemed like the best coping mechanism.
Then this past summer my mother called to say she had company and I should come say hello since I hadn’t seen or spoken to them in 20 years. All the memories came flooding back. The smells, sounds, the weight of this heavy secret become the forefront of every thought. My mother is one of the few people I have trouble saying no to, so of course I said sure.
I walked into the house. There he was, now an older man. He extended his hand for me to shake. I noticed I was sweating profusely. I sat through an incredibly awkward dinner, listening to how Trump was going to save the country, protesters were paid, etc. I finally left. In my car I noticed my clenched jaw, my shoulder to my ears, and my very damp shirt. I pulled away from their neighborhood, pulled over and broke down.
I cried because I didn’t say anything from all those years ago. And now, just minutes ago, I still said nothing. I wondered if life would have been different if I had said something then. Would life be different for me, and for him?
I began a spiritual practice and path several years ago. A few things I know from that; I don’t know what anything is for. When you know better, you do better. And forgiveness isn’t something I do for the other person, but for myself. I wrote recently about “closure” and how I’ve come to believe it is a concept for our ego. We really want the other person to admit they were wrong to validate our feelings. But, really I’m the only one that needs to close anything.
Also, I know I don’t have to take ownership of my assault. I was victimized twice, but I refuse to be a victim. This is the bullshit of making myself invisible or playing small. I’ve used weight to literally insulate myself. Alcohol, drugs to be more comfortable in social or intimate situations. I’ve kept people at a certain distance to protect myself. Would I have done any of that if this had not happened? Maybe not… or maybe so.
My invitation to you is, if you’ve been keeping a secret. It serves no one. Not you, not them. Also, you can only deal with your side of the street. Get help, find the things that move forward into a healthier way(s) to cope. Remember closure is a one-side transaction.
I was watching an interview with Ashley Judd recently. When asked what she would say to Harvey Weinstein she said, “I would say to Harvey, ‘I love you and I understand that you are sick and suffering, and there is help for a guy like you too. And, that it’s entirely up to you to get that help. It is up to you save only one person. You.’”
Words by Steven Willard