Trigger warning: in this post I share in explicit detail my own #metoo story that chronicles my experience as a teenage rape victim and sexual assault survivor. The purpose of this post is to bring my fifteen year old self home now, safely.
This is not about identifying the rapist, or about the people who may have inadvertently protected him, or the systems that allowed him to go free. Thirty-five years later and many of those systems have or are changing. Many of those involved have made their amends to me in one way or another. Now I am making full amends to myself by holding the hand of the young woman this happened to and showing her, and the world that at no point in time should this horror have been hidden, or shamefully secreted away.
I was raped by a beloved and charming soccer coach in our community when I was fifteen. He presented this to me as an early “Sweet 16” birthday present. I was at his apartment where I would sometimes go before practice to grab a snack or get homework help. After the season had ended I would still come over there, because he would make me dinner, ask me about my day, and seemed genuinely curious about me. My parents were in the middle of a bitter and painful divorce, and my brothers had left home for college. I was off everyone’s radar, except for his. I was the best soccer player he had every coached, and I was good enough to try out for a college scholarship in his opinion. We were going to be talking about potential colleges to invite to watch me play the following season that afternoon.
I would like to tell you that I sensed immediately when I walked in that something had changed in him. But how could I have known? As soon as I arrived he brought me into his room, a part of his home I had never seen. I remember realizing his roommate, who was always there, was not in the house. I recall feeling confused and awkward. What did he need to show me in his room? He sat me down and began to undress. Everything happened so quickly after that. He claimed losing my virginity to a sophisticated and seasoned lover rather than some young fool would be much better for me. Quickly it was evident that this was not a birthday gift I was going to be able to politely decline.
Although I have only a few splintered memories of what my mother would go on to refer to as “that shameful penetration” I know it was fast, painful, and terrifying. I know I ran to the door to escape when he went to the bathroom, but before I made it out he caught up behind me, slammed the door shut with one hand, and pressed my face against the door with the other. He told me that if I told anyone the shit would hit the fan. Then he opened the door and started laughing. I can still hear that laugh follow me down the hallway and out the door.
I ran several blocks, arriving eventually in a well lit McDonald’s to make sure he wasn’t following me. I recall later that night signing for the dozen black roses he had delivered to me at my father’s apartment building-and the card that said; “Now you are a woman with a woman’s secret to keep. Happy Early Birthday.”
I decided eight months after it happened to finally reveal the event itself and the continuing abuse when I witnessed on a bus ride back from a soccer game the cycle beginning all over again. I can see the inside of the bus like it was yesterday. I see him a few seats up in the dark put his arm around another girl, who reminds me so much of me. She is strong, glowing, caring, and naive. He is telling her a story and I’m sure to all those listening including her it feels innocent and friendly. I know firsthand where seemingly innocent and friendly attention can lead.
It was out of fear for her going through what I had and was- that led me to those in a position of power to remove the coach from the team, even at the risk of him following through on the retribution he promised.
He left the country at the insistence of those in charge. By doing so he would avoid prosecution and the organizers of the team dodged the unwanted attention. This agreement was made behind closed doors between the organization and my separated and soon to be divorced parents. I was not involved in the outcome. I was old enough to lose my virginity- but too young to be involved in a legal battle. Old enough to endure months of emotional abuse from him in the form of threats to my life if I told what happened, and being pulled from the game and forced to sit by him when we were losing to whisper threats or sexual innuendo to me while team mates begged for my return to the field.
Recently in a cleaning frenzy I came across the letter that he had mailed to me six months after the event, in a box of personal items taped shut for twenty years. The tone of the letter was conversational, expressing genuine fondness for me, and ended with a description of raping me that is sensual and glorified. In closing he boasts how he had suffered no serious consequences, forgave me for telling, and thought of me often.
I kept the letter all these years-to have evidence of what? Who would I ever need to prove this horrific event to? For at least a decade after I suffered from significant trauma as a result of the rape and ensuing abuse. I was not capable of entering into intimate relationships, suffered from debilitating migraines and profound episodic depression.
Then, in my early twenties I came across the book; Where I Stopped Remembering A Childhood Rape, and read it cover to cover in one weekend not leaving my Lower East Side Manhattan apartment once. From there began a three year journey back to that moment in that apartment (which I had all but erased from memory) and back to the family and community that had in some cases effectively dismissed my experience as something I had obviously asked for, or should have seen coming. I returned to rewrite the story from what happened to me, not what happened because of me. In the process, like in the book I interviewed everyone who was involved, and insisted on all of us holding a shared reality of the shaming, the secrecy, and the colossal dismissal of my childhood in the process.
In the decades that followed, and with the help of therapy, writing, poetry, incredible friendships, and faith I healed myself, and paved the way for many others to do the same. My body, my spirit, and my deepest understanding of trust and sexual intimacy were restored and set free with courageous joy. Eventually I would choose to parent on my own, and later to marry a deeply trustworthy man with a willing and welcoming heart.
I turn fifty in a few weeks. In writing this post, I have returned my birthday to me, free of the secrets that a woman keeps. I dedicated this post to all of the women who have held, and continue to hold a hand over their mouths in fear of retribution or worse. I hope that you can at the very least wrap your arms around that younger version of yourself and tell her that she is safe now.