It Happened To Me
It happened to me. I was 13 when it started and just shy of 14 when I finally gathered the courage to stop it. My perpetrator was not Roy Moore. I did not live in Gadsden, but rather in a town not so far from there, just over the border in Georgia. My perpetrator was in his mid twenties. He was not a person in political power. He was not attractive.
Like an animal who hunts prey, he was clever, manipulative, intuitive. This is why we call men like him “predators.”
He got to me first through the telephone. He was an older friend of a my best friend’s older sister. He called for the sister one day, but when she was not home and my friend and I asked to take a message, he began a dangerous, sinister game.
“Can I tell her who called?”
“Guess!” He challenged us.
He liked my voice, he said. He got my home number.
“Do you go to our school?” I asked him.
“What do you think?” he teased back.
The game continued for weeks until finally, he gave me a name. A fake one. And that’s who he became in my mind.
Finally, after weeks of these phone calls, he convinced me to meet him. “Only if your parents are not home, though. And wear a bathing suit.”
The day he came over, I wore a bathing suit, even though it was cold outside. Winter was approaching. But he had begged on the phone. I’d never been around boys. I didn’t really know if this was appropriate. MTV was filed with videos of scantily clad women standing beside fully clothed men. The Price Is Right featured women in bathing suits presenting brand new cars to contestants and viewers. Our entire culture was predicated upon women being objects of beauty and men being the eager, cartoon-eyed admirers.
But as I watched his blue mustang pull into the driveway (he was old enough to drive, he’d told me,) I felt my stomach tighten, my throat close, and fear drove a paralyzing spike through me. When he stepped out of the car and I saw his face for the very first time, I felt fear become terror, and then felt terror give way to guilt as I recognized that I actually found him repulsive to look at. He was ugly to me, and having been called ugly myself by bullies at school, I felt a deep pain for him and decided I would not reject him for his appearance.
But my fear lingered, and as I looked at him through the porch door, I knew I did not want him near me. I kept the door locked between us, and he gazed at me through the screen. “You’re beautiful! Oh my god, I had no idea you’d be so pretty!” His excitement and relief flattered me to my core, and my guilt deepened.
After a few minutes, I let him in, only into the porch, and allowed him to give me a hug. How old are you? I’d asked him so many times, but he’d evaded with “old enough to…” responses. A man, old enough to grow a beard, old enough to drive, pressed an 8th grader in a bathing suit against him, as she wriggled nervously to get away. After a moment of this unbearable embrace, I begged him to leave.
“My mom will be home from work in five minutes,” I lied to him. I watched him pull out of the driveway and made sure that he left. Once I was satisfied he was gone, I ran to my room and replaced my bathing suit with multiple layers of clothing. The weight of a sweater, jeans and a jacket felt like some sort of safe barrier, but my stomach churned with unease and shame.
He left that day as I asked, but the calls continued. Soon, he was convincing me to meet him blocks from our house. He taught me how to unfasten my window and raise it enough for him to enter my room at night after my parents went to sleep. Continually, he tested my boundaries, wearing me down until I allowed him to kiss me, to touch me… to do things that I felt so much fear and terror for doing. To do things I did not want to do, and that left me weeping in my bed at night.
I did not tell my parents when it started happening. When I got the courage to stop him – to throw him, physically, off of me and down the fronts steps of my house on Valentine’s Day in 1990, I knew my danger was not yet over, but I did not tell my parents. For the months that followed, he threatened me. He stalked me. He sat outside my bedroom window, which I nailed shut, smoking cigarettes all night. I could smell the smoke as it seeped in through the cracks of my window. I did not tell my parents.
I was frightened – too frightened to get the help of an adult. Months passed, and finally, he grew bored of calling me, of following me in his car as I walked home from my bus drop, trailing me at the mall, 100 steps behind me. But I didn’t tell anyone, because I was terrified – terrified of the shame, the hurt, the blame that I might receive. I didn’t want anyone to know what happened to me.
As the news of Roy Moore has surfaced, my curiosity has driven me to Facebook, where I have on many occasions stopped just short of looking up my perpetrator to see if he was still at large in this scary world. On Saturday, fatigued by the constant feed of Roy Moore’s face on the news and social media, I did it. I looked him up. Still living, still free, still the homely, disgusting man I remember, only now in his early 50s. Still wears a Georgia Bulldogs hat. Still has a terrible, pencil thin mustache, and he still has no position of power or authority in this world.
But what if he did? What if I found out that he was a candidate for a senatorial seat in Georgia? Would I break my silence? If I thought he was going to represent my state, would I finally ignore the shame and blame that would certainly be hurled at me as it has so many survivors in our newsfeed? What would the comments section say to me, who was a terrified, naive child at the time of these assaults? What would they say about me, who carried my guilt, shame and terror well into adulthood, who is only just beginning to heal from this trauma. What would they say about me, as I am now feeling re-traumatized, re-stigmatized, triggered, humiliated and shamed, even though I am not the one in the spotlight today?
I know for a fact that I was not the only victim my perpetrator hurt. There were nearly a dozen of us, I later learned, just in that one-year span when I was enduring weekly, if not daily, assaults by this man. If I came forward, who else might speak up?
I can tell you with resolve, that even though the weight, the pain, the idea of revealing this horror to my parents, who are now in their elder years, is too much to bear at times, but if faced with my perpetrator’s ascent to the national stage, I would break my silence. I know that my beloved friends and family would stand by my side today, but I also know that the rest of the nation, even those who knew me when I was in the 8th grade and had fallen prey to this terrible human, would line up to speak out against me, to lay insults at me, point at me as though I was to blame, and say, “Why is she only speaking now?”
The summer after 8th grade, I had a boyfriend who was only one year older than me. His older cousin, a rednecky 19 year old, would often drop him off to meet me.
“How old are you?” I remember the cousin asking me outside the movie theatre one night.
I felt my cheeks flush with shame. “14.”
“Damn, girl. You look 18! Like a Playboy Centerfold or some shit.”
The shame deepened. I just wanted to be a girl, but I never would be again.