I’ve hated the “me too” social media movement.
Other people are entitled to share their stories on social media and hashtag them if they want to. I totally get that. But the whole thing has put me in a really bad mood since the day it started. It made me feel ashamed that I did not feel like telling my stories. The whole movement just made me want to run and hide away in my closet, permanently. It made me feel less than because the last thing I wanted to do was broadcast my story on social media. The whole thing makes me feel like I am stupid. I still feel like it was all my fault, like I could have walked away from the each situation at any point. Watching the news has become an enormous trigger point.
It’s taken me time to come around to see that there might be value in telling my story, if nowhere else than this small space of mine.
I’ve been assaulted three times in my life.
It looked nothing like the movies, at all. It’s taken me years to realize what the situations for what they were. I’m still working on internalizing that it was all about power for those men and that I did nothing wrong. The awareness has come in waves over the years. This story rambles– that’s just the way my mind works.
I chose to go to the college I went to because my high school boyfriend wanted to go to a certain school and well, the school I chose was the only viable option for me in that city. I felt like I had to choose a school that city because, well, he had put off school waiting the two years after he graduated for me to graduate. There were serious issues with that relationship but I was in love. Everyone we knew thought it was just a matter of time until we would get married, and we assumed as much, too.
Deeply depressed and suicidal at times, the high school boyfriend was a cutter. He would carve messages into his chest in blood. He once told me when I was a sophomore in high school that the only reason he didn’t use his mother’s pistol to kill himself was that he couldn’t stand the idea of me standing over his coffin crying. It wasn’t until I told this story to my husband and later to therapists that I began to see that it was a manipulative relationship with him from the start.
There were times– when he graduated from high school, when I wanted him to go on to school before me– that I tried to suggest we should both see other people. His cutting continued when we lived together– I came home more than once to episodes where there was some message in his chest.
I was married with children before a therapist finally convinced me I was not responsible for keeping that man alive. When I was a teenager, there was no one around to tell me that when people are suicidal, you call the authorities and get them professional help.
The night before the start of classes my freshman year, I went to the fitness center at the dorms since that’s where I was living. All I can say is that this random guy I’d never seen before looked up from the stationary bike like he knew me, like I was someone he recognized and was glad to see, even though I’d never seen him before in my life. I knew he was older, but I wasn’t able to tell how much older. He moved to the treadmill beside me and we talked for the twenty minutes which is how I set my timer. We talked long enough for him to tell me he was a law student. We didn’t exchange info and it didn’t occur to me to stick around and chat. So I went about my business, likely back to my room to call the boyfriend at his apartment.
Anyway, a couple of weeks went by and I recognized the guy from the fitness center as I was coming back to the dorms from class one afternoon. We talked for a few minutes and did exchange numbers. A few nights later, he called me and asked if I wanted to come outside to the courtyard for a chat. I told him about the boyfriend…at that point I had no plans to break up with the boyfriend. The law student said he was 26, that he was in his second year of law school.
But then there were more phone conversations with the law student. And then he invited me to go for pizza. And then one thing led to another and there was a kiss and I didn’t hate it. And then I knew the boyfriend and I had to talk.
So we did and it was messy and it led to a break up.
I’d never dated anyone else because the boyfriend and I had been together since I was 15. But I wanted to explore the world a little bit and I wanted to be fair to the boyfriend so the only thing seemed to be to call it quits for a while, at least. I still remember the September 1998 day I broke his heart.
And then, the law student was happy I was “unencumbered,” as he put it. He always managed to get into my building when he needed to somehow despite the fact that it was a locked building where only freshmen lived, I guess following other people in. We started seeing more of each other, but my boundaries were clear. The boyfriend and I had been waiting for marriage for sex and I was not making exceptions for this guy.
But then, one of my classmates, someone I’d known since I was 3 years old, was killed in a car wreck a couple of weeks before. We weren’t close anymore but I took it hard when I heard about it. I stopped sleeping, stopped paying close attention to my assignments for school. The delusions set in and it was clear it was an episode in no time whatsoever.
November 12, 1998.
My daddy came to check on me because I probably wasn’t answering my phone or I’d given my folks some reason to worry (rightfully so)…whatever happened, I wouldn’t let Daddy in and he called campus police to come let him in. I suppose campus police had to let me decide whether to go to the local psych ward because I probably wasn’t an obvious danger to myself or anyone else and I wasn’t a minor, and I wouldn’t go. But they wanted someone, a trusted friend, to do a welfare check later in the day. The high school ex and I were on the outs. My best girlfriend since seventh grade was across the street at another school but it was getting close to finals and I didn’t want to bother her, so I gave the campus police officer the law student’s phone number.
The law student had seemed trustworthy and responsible. It seemed like an obvious choice.
I had torn my dorm room apart. I still remember the mound of stuff on my bed, including the lamp from my desk whose lampshade was now all dented and torn up. I still remember having torn most of my favorite wall coverings off my walls, including that gorgeous pastel I’d done my senior year of high school which got destroyed in the process. It was so obvious something was off. And it was a welfare check. He was supposed to come see that I was okay and then call the officer back.
I don’t remember exactly how it all went down. Except that it was dark in the room except the TV was on. And I hadn’t let him in the building, this was another example of him managing to let himself in after someone, probably. But it was about 9 pm. One of my pod-mates must have let him into our suite, because he was able to knock right on my room door. He didn’t call to tell me he was coming over.
I was 19. He said he was 26. It was his birthday, so I thought he was turning 27. I was psychotic. There should have been no question about my ability (or lack of ability) to consent to anything sexual in nature. I’d already made clear to him that I was a virgin waiting for marriage for sex. But, sex with that man happened to me during that welfare check. He was there for maybe 15 minutes. He wouldn’t let me leave my room with him when he said it was time for him to go, told me to stay in the room. I assume he called the officer after he left.
I managed to get a withdrawal with hardship due to health reasons from my school that semester. I got in touch with my psychiatrist from home and got the meds I needed and got back on track to start again in the Spring semester. It was a nightmare. I had to start over from scratch school-wise which included 4 W’s as grades, but I’d gotten a WF in English, which meant my scholarship was in jeopardy if I didn’t do exceptionally well over the next several semesters. It’s a miracle I managed to graduate in five years– it was really four and a half, given that the first semester didn’t count except to lower my GPA. But I graduated with departmental honors in the end.
Anyway, I’d like to say the story with the law student ended there.
He wouldn’t return my calls for weeks. I don’t know how long it was before he’d finally answer the phone. It was irrational for me to latch on like I did, but I did. And it got messy because I moved in with the high school boyfriend because the dorm was overwhelming because apparently everybody in the building knew I was crazy. My RA had my parents’ phone number on her nightstand. I was called in to talk to the head of the dorms, I assume they were considering asking me to move out. I only went back there in the Spring of 1999 if I needed to get something I had stored there. I was so glad to move out of there at the end of Spring semester, though it got complicated with the high school boyfriend.
For two years, I lived with the high school boyfriend but also saw the law student. And it didn’t end with the high school boyfriend until I started dating yet a third person. And even then, it took an encounter where law enforcement was called to our apartment because the high school boyfriend got violent with the other guy- he pulled a knife to him, got him in a choke-hold, and held it to his throat one night. I wouldn’t leave with third guy, so the third guy called the police to come check on me and make sure I was okay.
There were nights when the high school boyfriend would play on my fears…he turned the electricity to the apartment off one night and managed to lock me in the apartment, playing on my fear of the dark. To this day I still sleep with all the lights in the house on, in large part due to this incident.
Back to the law student…It was only ever about sex with the law student. I never met his family and he never met mine. I met only a few select friends in passing at his place. Never went to social events together. It was not dating. We were not really involved in each others lives.
But then, he graduated, got a job, and moved away. Absolutely tore me apart. I’d come to depend on him and inexperienced at relationships as I was, I thought there might have been a future he wanted me to be a part of with him, since you know, I’d given him free reign with my body and everything. He did half-heartedly ask if I wanted to move with him, but I was in no position to be able to leave my school or my job or my friends and family. He knew that, too. And I was still living with the high school boyfriend at the time.
Later, I found out from early versions of social media that he was not 26 in 1998. He’d been 33 in 1998– he was 14 years older than me, born in 1965 and graduated from high school in 1984. I got very angry and I confronted him and that should have been the end of it.
But it wasn’t.
We still talked. He would let me know when he was coming into town. I would spend the entirety of my very slim savings to fly down to see him for an overnight trip, several times. He’d come visit me when he had business in my city. I dated other people even after things ended with the high school boyfriend but still saw the attorney occasionally. He showed up randomly one March day at my work in 2001 and I thought I was seeing a ghost because I hadn’t seen him in months and didn’t know he was coming to town. He told me he had a vested interest in the status of my other romantic relationships, as if we had some kind of potential future together. On that visit in 2001 he invited me then to walk away from work and school and all to move in with him, in another state. But I loved my school program and work and the freedom to see other people now– even if it was retail, work was high end retail in a first-class environment and I worked for wonderful people. I wanted to finish at my school, not transfer somewhere random where I knew no one but him. And how in the world would I have ever explained that move to my friends and family, when they’d never even met this guy? They knew about him because I talked about him but there were never any attempts to arrange meetings or get to know them.
The relationship went on until September of 2003. I’d stopped talking to him shortly after my graduation because my husband and I were talking online and had gotten serious fairly quickly but I had theater tickets I’d promised to the attorney and he came up. And I will never forget sitting in that hotel room downtown and him asking if we could talk about marriage. Not in a romantic way….it was not a proposal. It was almost like he was feeling me out, to see how I would react. Like he wanted to stay in his safe zone and not expose his heart to me. Which was so weird since he always held the power in that relationship. I’d freely given my heart to him years before. Thank God I said no and walked away.
Fast forward: February of 2010.
I was in a hospital. I’d never connected any of my past with non-consensual encounters. I was journaling late at night and wondering about people from the past, people I rarely talked to and then bam. I wrote it in capital letters… it was like automatic writing. It was an instant thought that hit like a building full of bricks.
The first realization was what happened with the law student was not consensual because I was in no mental state to have the capacity to consent. I’m not sure why the framework of that relationship changed in my brain then, either. I was on that edge of psychosis and had stopped sleeping and I was under a tremendous amount of stress having just left a dysfunctional job where I worked with a girl who was equally if not more so unwell as myself. She was in my circle of girlfriends at the time and I got roped into her drama, and stopped sleeping, and that led to an episode of my own. I ended up in the bed she had left at the hospital just hours before that February.
It had always irritated and hurt me that the attorney had never wanted to get to know my friends or family, that I’d never met his, and until I got seriously involved with my husband I always daydreamed about more serious possibilities with that guy. But I’d always considered him a friend. Not exactly a traditional boyfriend type, but I always felt like it had been a romantic relationship to that point. It never occurred to me until I started talking about it in therapy that there might be a reason he didn’t want to meet the people in my life.
There was never anything in it for me in that relationship, though. It was always purely physical and it was always only for his benefit. Looking back, I am very clear on that point now. Things were always only on his terms.
I destroyed those journals from that time in the hospital in 2010 some time ago, per my husband’s advice. I filled up four of them in my two weeks inpatient that go-round, and after the fact, as I was recovering, I kept trying to analyze and dissect what I’d been thinking. I wanted to reverse my new mindset, I think, and somehow my brain kept wanting to go back to the way things had been before.
Because, prior to February of 2010, I’d stayed on friendly terms with the now successful attorney. I took my oldest son to see him even, when he was a baby, the Fourth of July after my son and I moved back to my home state, before my husband was able to join us. Things were strictly platonic now that I was a married woman– even he respected that fact. He seemed to have softened. He said he wanted to meet my husband, for my family to feel welcome in his home. He seemed to genuinely want to build a real friendship. The woman two years younger than me that he had married the same year that I had married my husband, in 2005, had left him and I think he was trying to make a new start across the board in his social life.
But after I got out of the hospital in 2010– after I came out of the stupor that the realization I’d been abused sent me into– I was livid. I confronted him in a sequence of emails to his work email calling out my inability to consent in 1998. Reminding him of the welfare check, which I know he didn’t even remember. Named it rape. Reminded him there were people who would have recognized my mindset at the time, including my psychiatrist at the time. I knew I had no proof so I couldn’t go to the authorities but I wanted him to get in trouble somehow, to feel a fraction of the pain I felt, so I didn’t mind sending it to his work email instead of his personal email.
And then, as the months passed by, my anger softened and I retreated into my post-episode shell that always comes out after these things happen. I got severely depressed and realized I had burned that bridge I had depended on for over a decade, as unhealthy as that bridge was. I started second-guessing myself. After all, 12 years had passed since the welfare check. I do have a mental illness. I had years under my belt of considering the person my friend. I’d thrown all that away with a few emails.
And then, I gave that attorney a gift he didn’t deserve. I emailed him and apologized for my outburst after that 2010 hospitalization. Told him I hadn’t meant any of it. I am certain now that my apology was an effort to rekindle whatever backwards version of friendship there had been because I had so few friends at the time– I wanted nothing from him other than for him not to hate me. Because, post-episode, I am always delicate. I crumble easily. I go to extraordinarily dark places. I doubt myself and my right to even exist– my right to breathe– when I get like that.
In 2010 I was recovering from being overworked, overstressed, not sleeping, and had been too wrapped up in that unrelated now former friend’s unnecessary drama, but I gained a little clarity on the power differential between that man and me in 2010.
In the years since, that clarity has solidified. My husband still has to tell me that none of it was my fault sometimes, and I’ve worked on it in therapy so I know now it was an abusive relationship from the start and that I was manipulated. But the knowledge in my head and the feelings in my heart are still disconnected.
An orientation leader told me in the summer of 1998 I would meet not-good people at our school. I just hadn’t counted on meeting one before my first day as a freshman even started. I hadn’t counted on not being able to call him out for who and what he was. I hadn’t considered that he would call himself my friend for years after the college years were over. I hadn’t considered that some bad person I would meet at college before I even started classes would cause a chain reaction of events that would be impacting my psyche even nearly 20 years later. I also hadn’t counted on the fact that I already knew a not great person, that I’d already been involved with one for four years at that point.
The second assault… I was the one that wanted to wait for marriage, but the high school boyfriend totally would have gone ahead with things sex-wise had I said okay. We’d nearly done so a couple of times over the years, but I stopped him. In fact, he did go ahead with things, even as I told him I was not going to have sex with him, a week after the encounter with the law student, that same November of 1998. I said no the entire time but it happened anyway. I was still mentally fragile from the psychosis. He was angry at me because I’d had sex with someone else first instead of him. I knew nothing else of romantic relationships and the known was better than the unknown to me at the time, so when things went severely south with my living situation in the dorms, I moved in with the high school boyfriend and we got back together.
The two situations are slightly different because I know the high school boyfriend was abused himself and mood instability is hereditary for him, but it was still manipulation to get me to stay in the relationship.
There was a third assault happened with a guy I didn’t date long, who I met through work, in the Spring of 2001 after the high school boyfriend moved out of our apartment. This guy actually told me, when we first met, supposedly in the interest of being transparent, that he’d been accused of rape by another girl and law enforcement had gotten involved. That he’d been found innocent and his record had been expunged. And sure enough, he wasn’t on the sex offender registry. I told him I wasn’t going to have sex with him, either, and he agreed. That experience was so over so quickly, in the middle of a make-out session where we were in varying states of undress (me mostly not). He pretended like it was an accident. It was definitely not an accident. The relationship ended soon after and for years, I thought nothing of it.
I will be processing these experiences for the rest of my life, I am sure. It’s still difficult for me to put emotions to these experiences. I know they happened, but for so long I trusted my own judgment so little that I just relied on others to decide what was wrong and right in what happened to me and my body. I am not in that mental space anymore and I know the fact that I am exploring these issues now means that I know that I am strong and safe and ready. I am thankful to be surrounded by healthy people who love me and respect me.
I knew very little else of personal experience with men until I dated a few good men in my latter half of college and after graduation. I am so grateful for two of those men, one of whom I was lucky enough to marry.
And so: me too.