I was living in “Happy Valley”. A place where College Football ruled the town, we chant “We Are” on command, we know our neighbors and everyone feels safe. Safe from the scary things that happened in the rest of the world. What I didn’t know, was that there was a terrible secret being kept. It would cause a divide: those that believed and those that didn’t. A head coach would lose his job, a university would be tarnished, Victims would come forward, countless allegations and conspiracy theories would emerge. A media storm was beginning, and the whole world was watching. Quietly, away from the media noise, I was coming undone.
I knew some of these people. I obsessed about them. I could not get enough information. I laid in bed at night and agonized over the lifelong pain these victims would experience. Thinking about these men, going in to a court room to tell the world their deepest, darkest secrets – their nightmares really, was too much to bare. Listening to people question the validity of their stories, the judgements being passed on the victims, adults not protecting them, imagining how they must feel opening up their most vulnerable selves while the world watched was killing me. For the first time in my life, I couldn’t close my eyes tight enough to make my own abuse go away.
I was 6 when it started. A neighbor boy would babysit my sister and I , so my parents could enjoy a night out. He was 14. I trusted him. When he said it was okay for me to take my clothes off, I did. At first it was an exchange. “Do you want to stay up late?” If so, all I had to do was strip my little body naked, and let him stare at me. Bend over, let him see all the parts of me that my mom said were private. I knew it was wrong, but I kept doing it. Before long, looking at me wasn’t enough. He wanted more. The physical abuse went on for 2 years. During that time, I learned how to leave my body, and feel nothing. The demands kept growing, substantially. When I resisted, he would tell me that If my parents knew what I was doing for him, they would be disgusted by me. I was bad. When I would try to fight him, he would say that if I didn’t do what he wanted, he would hurt my little sister, do worse things to her. Most of the time, I gave in. I gave him what he wanted so that he would leave her alone. My natural instincts to protect her, almost always won out. The times I didn’t protect her, haunt me more than my own abuse does.
My sister was the one to finally break the silence. When my parents found out, they were angry, sad and scared. They confronted him. They told his parents. They had a counselor come to the house once. She brought dolls and wanted me to show her what happened. I felt embarrassed. I felt bad. I felt small. My dad left the room. It reinforced to me, what I already knew. I was bad. That somehow, I caused this. We continued to live across the street from our abuser. Nothing much happened after that.
I spent the rest of my life fighting a monster that I carried with me. Mostly, I kept my secret and shame locked away in the part of my heart that had learned how to be void of feelings. When I had my own daughter, I was so paranoid that someone would abuse her, that I changed her daycare 5 times. I would think about someone hurting her, and I would feel rage. I never trusted men. I barely trusted myself. I would remember his touch on my skin, his eyes on my body and I would think to myself, I created that monster. I was bad. I didn’t stop him. I didn’t tell. When the thoughts became too much, I would close my eyes as tight as I could, and they would go away. On some level I knew it was effecting my life, but somehow I believed that I controlled it. I could make the thoughts go away. Then the scandal broke and there was nothing I could do to make the visions of my abuse go away. They were taunting me. It was as if what I had spent a lifetime burying was unraveling and I was powerless to stop it. Every time I closed my eyes, my monster was there. Staring at me.
As I listened to news reporters speculate on the victims, what motivated them to come forward, why they kept it in for so long, how a community turned a blind eye to the years of abuse, I kept coming back to one thought; Keeping this secret was breeding shame and guilt. I finally understood that the only way I would heal was to talk about it. As an adult, fear followed me….. and all I had to do was talk to my family. I didn’t have to sit in a courthouse and tell the world about my abuse. I didn’t have to defend myself as a child that was abused, I didn’t have to deal with the validity of my story being questioned, and yet I was terrified. I needed to apologize to my sister, for not always protecting her. When I told her out loud that I was so sorry, that sometimes I was relieved when he left me alone, I felt a weight lift from me that I never even knew I was carrying. It was an emotional release, and I only wish I hadn’t waited so many years to let it out. The pain still stings at times. I hurt for my 7-year-old self. Not just for the abuse that she suffered, but for the emotional scars she carried around her whole life. I ache for the years I questioned my self-worth, for the years I didn’t see my value, for the years I only saw a broken girl that wasn’t worthy of love. I still have struggles, but I am free of my monster. He tried to destroy me, but I am still standing.