No. 9 – Respect the Roar
In my last blog, I shared details of what I had remembered to be my introduction to sexual abuse. The timing of sharing that information was in line with my original planned timeline. That timeline was written months ago, so obviously, did not include any information about Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, or her testimony.
In my efforts to find other survivors, I shared small parts of my recent blog on social media. The response was staggering. I reached thousands of people, and heard from hundreds. Many other survivors reached out, and shared their own pains, and stories of sexual assault. There was one that really spoke to me. Her response to my post is below:
“I am sixty years old, and forty-five years ago I was assaulted by my dad’s boss. I’ve never told anyone, and I remember wrestling with telling my parents. It was my dad’s BOSS—a powerful man who thought a lot of himself. My dad’s livelihood was at stake. Our family’s situation. I seriously weighed the pros and cons and chose to never tell. Until now, I guess. #metoo.”
I have exchanged messages with this wonderful soul, and she so clearly shared such a deep admiration for her father. She also knew, on some level, that her father would have snapped and protected her, had he known. So, she remained silent. She buried it to protect her family, and for 45 years, remained quiet. She let it roam around in her gentle soul for 45 years. She…did….not…tell because she did not want to cause harm to others, while great harm was done to her. She did not tell…until now.
Does this not break your heart? Does this not make you cringe? Does this not in some way, make you celebrate that she has said out loud the answer to many questions that have impacted much of the decisions she has made about her own self worth?
The last blog was only the introduction to a long trail of multiple abusers. The young Nate, who was an easy target for a pedophile, stood on a broken foundation. Anyone who was in tune would be able to see that I was carrying multiple symptoms of being physically and emotionally abused at home. Adding sexual abuse would only widen the scope of secrets that I kept. So, I proceed to wander through puberty open, willing and able, to find a safe place, or at a minimum, feel like I belong.
Chuck was a 36 year-old shoe salesman at a department store near our home in small town Alabama. It was Christmas and I had gone with my mom to assist in purchasing the gifts for my siblings. My mom was a bargain shopper, which you have to be while shopping for six kids on a limited budget. We find a stack of shoes that are on a special sale, and my mother is hooked. “I’ll take six.” The salesman is well-dressed. He has paired a finely pressed pair of pleated slacks, with a stiff shirt. It’s accessorized with a tie, leather belt, and loafers. He is friendly, very friendly and expresses an immediate bond with me, and somehow captures a language that seems custom fit for my current life chapter. “I bet you make all the girls swoon, because you are so handsome.” “You seem a lot like me when I was your age. I was different, but you are probably more popular than I was.” My mom stood beside him while these remarks were passed along. Whether she was naive or callous to his inappropriate pursuit, I don’t know, but she went on to share with him that, I too, was really good at sales and how I go door to door with every fundraiser at school. She shares that I was going to be in sales when I grew up. That was his final piece of bait. “I would love to hear more about what you want to do, and help you.” He gave me his phone number, and said he looked forward to spending time with me.
Let me interpret what this says to a 13 year old, who mind you, has no connection with his father:
-I can fill that void you have from not having the connection with your dad.
-I understand you in ways that others don’t.
-I will defend you against further abuse.
-I am the one who knows you, and I see that these others don’t.
Now, let me interpret what a 13 year old, is NEVER anticipating:
-Having his body as part of an exchange for the affirmation, love and acceptance he is being offered.
I defaulted to the theme happening inside of me that proclaimed that my primary role was to provide relief to others, no matter what it cost me. What he possessed was the promises that my angst would dissolve in his presence. He assured me, in his own customized vocabulary that he was the solution to my feeling alone in a large family. He hooked me into an idea that he was the source of strength that would be the foundation I had long craved. He crafted solutions to every inch of insecurity, and in each scenario the answer was always…him. Right when I agreed, he removed my pants, and my dignity, and my identity, and my hope to feel whole.
Once the abuse began, the distant longing I had for my dad turned to hate. My hunger for my dad to rescue me increased with each assault. I desperately wanted to tell what was happening, and even more desperately wanted my dad to kick this mans ass. I wanted my dad to dive in and say “No! Nate is mine!” 13 year olds don’t have the necessary tools to scream and say “Please, come get me!” So, I went through puberty, seeking every avenue to become a man, and have someone affirm my masculinity, while a grown man dominated my growth, safety, and innocence.
Long before I became introduced to these acts of sexual abuse, I wrestled with knowing, on some level, that I was gay. My small town explanation of homosexuality was that they are child abusers, and mentally unstable. The collision of sexuality and sexual abuse intensified my awareness that my resources are limited, and drove me deeper into silence and shame. I assumed because I had a physical reaction to this mans assault, that it meant I was like him…mentally unstable. A child abuser. I did not understand that sexual assault and sexuality are in no way related.
It took five years to tell. It took five years to know that if I do not say out loud what was done to my soul in silence then I will be ruined. It took five years of secrets to feel broken to the point that I could no longer proceed, with anything.
After sharing the abuse with a religious leader, I began to sort through much of the details, and grew a resentment for my abuser. I had my first encounter with anger, which at the time was rage simmered down. The moment it was right, I confronted Chuck.
I drove to the mall alone. I had not seen him in three or four years, but had a feeling he would be working at the same store. On the very day I went there, it felt immediate that he came walking around the curved aisle where we both stood. He looked and without pause, dismissed me and kept walking. I said “Chuck, I need to talk to you.” I began sharing with him that I told someone about what we had done, and that what he did was unfair. I am not sure if I was more terrified of what he would say, or what I could physically do to him, if he said the wrong thing. There was a mental debate between us both. I was there to hear an “I’m sorry,” and he was quite directly only intent on dismissing it all.
Here are the things I remember:
Nate: “You should not have done that to me. I was 13.”
Chuck: “Oh, I thought you were lying about your age then and were really 18. You seemed much older.”
Nate: “What you did was against the law.”
Chuck: “Oh don’t tell me about how I can change it. I have been to see many therapists over and over begging for help.”
I never got an ounce of apology, or even credit for what he had done being inappropriate. I was debating with someones denial, and they were putting the abuse back on me while making themselves a victim! I walked away when it became heated, because in his presence, we were one sentence away from me believing, and taking on his lies that the whole thing was my idea.
I learned that people who assault others have a deceptive compartment full of lies within them, and within the lies are many, many secrets of the harm they have done to others…unapologetically. He tapped in to this compartment and let me walk away remembering his voice and the many times he made statements like “I don’t want to do this, but you seem to want this?” “No one makes me feel the way you do. I can’t help it.”
My abuse continued for two years. After that, Chuck went on to molest other boys in our area. Years later, I was at someones home when his name was brought up, and his connection with a 14 year old boy. To my knowledge, he and his partner live in central Alabama. He is now in his early 60’s, and most likely still assaulting young boys.
I have gone through my own process of forgiveness (and still work through it), as well as understanding that when it comes to this kind of harm, the perpetrator is sick and most likely narcissistic. The hope is confrontation. The hope is time spent behind bars for the perpetrator. The hope is awareness of what sexual assault does to a persons soul. The hope is that there is not debate on whether or not it happened, but what to do to make damn sure the victim can heal….
I’m writing this piece propped on my bed tucked in the corner of the room, embracing the fall breeze flowing through my apartment in Prague. I keep hearing a child bellow much ache below on the corner. The crying went on for sometime, and after several minutes, I stood from the bed and walked to the window. There on the corner, was a broken hearted young girl who looked to be seven or eight years old. She is planked by what seemed to be both parents, and maybe an older, teenage sister behind her. The story came together for me with my own assumptions that the parents are recently divorced, and this is one of the first of many handoffs. I watched for several minutes, as she cried a roaring cry that said “I am hurting!!” My empathy came to the surface with ideas and hopes of what I could do, but I realized, none of that was necessary. With each new bellow, one of the parents would move towards her. They would wipe her cheek, or hold back her hair. They let her roar, and show that what is going on on the inside of her, is hurting in the worst way. I noticed the big sister reach up and place her hand on her back. The roars would increase, until the touch. The touch seemed to calm her, and at least for a moment, help her to recognize that what she is feeling matters, and they are a safe place for her to scream, especially about injustice.
Wouldn’t that be something if we all began to respect the roar? When someone has something rearranged that is simply not meant to be, we allow them to roar and have the space to say “I am NOT ok.” Instead of giving them advice, or projecting on to them, how afraid we are by their pain, or their loudness, or even their ability to articulate stuff that hits a nerve in us, we just reach over, and wipe their cheek, draping them with our love and support. We begin to be honest about the harm done to us, and trust that by doing so, we are stopping generational harm that will go on for those behind us.
I will continue to address the chapters of sexual abuse as it still has an impact on my life now. I will do so, surrounded by an army of victims who, in a moment’s notice, will wipe my cheek and respect my roar.
Dr. Christine Blasey Ford shared her assault in front of the world on behalf of humanity, justice and the many other survivors who have yet to find the proper community to provide them the help they need to heal. Do I believe her? I am her. She stood for us all when she took on the hate and the re-wounding of the violent acts done to her. If you can not respect her roar, ask yourself, is it because I’ve fearfully turned mine off?
No matter where you stand, I hope you are able to break away from social media, general media, and anything electronic. Go connect with people who hear you, walk with people who see you, and know that as the human race continues to go through these growing pains, we have one shot to stand with justice. That side for me, is with those roaring their stories…
Be well. I am fighting for each of you.
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