On Tuesday I introduced Katie (whose name isn’t really Katie; all names are changed for anonymity) and the first part of her story. Today, behind the cut, I’m sharing the second installment of her story. In upcoming installments I’m hoping she will address the ways that her family and her church bear responsibility for her abuse, and where she is now as a wife and mother who has survived sexual abuse.
[[Trigger warning for sexual abuse and mental illness.]]
It was August 1999 when it all began. We’d been shooting video at the church camp and we were reviewing footage. It was a miserable hot day and I was wearing blue jeans. I remember them because I thought the color was an odd blue for jeans. They weren’t light, or dark, just somewhere in the middle. It’s strange the things you remember.
I remember feeling a frustration over the previous months because of the physical distance JD (name has been changed) placed between himself and me. It wasn’t that I wanted physical closeness, it was just that he was a physical person with everyone except for me. He hugged everyone, he touched shoulders, side hugged, shook hands, helped ladies in and out of cars, pretty much normal stuff. But not with me. With me there was a 5′ fence. Looking back maybe that was on purpose. I don’t know. I just knew the most important person in my life never ever touched me in any way. But that finally changed on that day in August. We’d finished with our footage and he invited me into an office across the hall. I followed, he locked the door and he offered me a hug. That’s all, just a hug. For the rest of my life I’ll remember it. I’ll remember how my yet unbroken soul felt to be held by someone who loved me just because I was me.
He was soft for a man. He smelled like a mixture of mint and cigarettes and a spice I still can’t place. I can remember how his beard felt on my forehead. Most of all I remember feeling like a jug left in the desert for 100 years suddenly filled with fresh cool spring water. I was 15 and all alone in the world. Parents absent, no teachers to speak of, no classmates, no friends who understood life with a mentally ill mother, no one except for this man who I loved like he was my life raft.
My completeness lasted all of 5 seconds, then, he grabbed my butt.
Suddenly glass was shattering in my world. I was shattered with it. I’d not expected this. I remember pushing away, running away, hiding away in the only way I knew how: I went to his desk and started working on our footage again. In my family we didn’t talk about things, not big things. We talked politics and theology and theory. We never talked about reality and life and sex and people and things. I was ill equipped to deal with the hero of my world making a cheap pass at my ass. Oh, the pain of that moment. The earth shattering-ness of it. My mentor was tainted.
JD apologized profusely. He made excuses, most of them involving how I’d led him to that moment. I was just so perfect and he’d been tempted and failed and he was miserable and ashamed and sorry. I thought he might weep and I was moved with compassion. I loved him with my whole heart. I could no more dismiss him than I could dismiss my own soul, or so I thought at 15. I remember standing, coming close to where he was and telling him that I forgave him, that I understood.
How much time passed after that day before I saw him again? I honestly do not know. It could not have been long, where else was I to go? I wonder if he was on pins and needles during that time. Did he fear me? I don’t know. By the time I saw him again, I had come to the conclusion that I couldn’t face the world alone. I needed him. We were working, as usual, not a mention of our last encounter. I was leading the way to the production suite at the church and stopped in a stairwell leading to the room. I see now I had an instinct to hide; the stairwell had no windows. When I stopped I turned to him and very carefully hugged him again, telling him I forgave him and I understood. Then I kissed his cheek. In all the world there was never a more chaste kiss. It was all the innocence I possessed, sitting there on the side of his face. A penance. He could have preserved it, but he didn’t.
With the force of a man who knows he won’t be fought he pulled me to him and kissed me soundly on the mouth. I should have fought. I should have screamed. I should have kicked him. I should have something. I didn’t. Instead I had a silent conversation with myself inside my head. My 15 year old brain knew about sex. It also knew this was not what was supposed to be. Instinct and reason demanded I respond with negative force. I didn’t. Please understand, I couldn’t. I was afraid. I was afraid he would reject me.
Oh, how small that word seems now, 14 years later. I know now that rejection is not the end of the world. But at 15, I needed him like I needed air. So, I decided that the only way to make this work was to want it. I already loved him like a father. I just needed to love him like a woman loves a man. My mind rationalized he must see me as a grown woman, otherwise why behave this way? He must be in love with me, and so, I must be in love with him. If it wasn’t so tragic I would laugh at my internal dialog. In the space of a minute I decided this must be love. I was in love so this was ok. Self-preservation you are a wondrous animal. I kissed back.
The weeks that followed were juvenile. What could you expect, I was 15. We made out. A lot. I eased in to this idea of being in a secret romance with the only man I knew. My still childlike mind wove a fairy tale out of the whole experience so that I could cope. I thought words like ‘love’ and ‘destiny.’ It’s embarrassing now. All the while I remained silent to the outside world, and the outside world never blinked.
I couldn’t tell you how long he waited before taking me a step further. I can only tell you on the inside I was afraid and on the outside I was compliant. He taught me about oral sex in a storage room next to the video suite. I have a photograph of myself at 15 sitting in that room on a chair, smiling, wearing a T-shirt that says ‘Jesus loves me.’ In the photograph I look happy.
For my 16th birthday my parents threw me a surprise birthday party inviting all the people they knew to be my friends. There were tons and tons of people there. I’d begged my parents for weeks not to throw me a party. I didn’t want a party. I wanted nothing. I wanted solitude. They ignored me. When I arrived home and discovered my home filled with teenage girls I’d not seen or spoken to in months I was devastated. I burst in to tears, ran to my room and locked the door. I refused to come out until all the guests had gone home. I can’t remember my parents ever talking about it with me. I poured my heart out to JD instead. He understood. He filled the gap with more time spent together. I got my driver’s license, and my abuse took on a whole new form.
That year JD was relieved of his post as Media Director for our church. The reasons were un-stated. Even now I don’t know why for sure. I can guess though. He was an alcoholic, drug abuser, and he was broke. He needed more booze (Johnny Walker Red), more pot (which he smoked in a little wooden pipe in his car while we drove around), and the money? I never knew much about that. He went away to Las Vegas to find work. We talked all the time during those days. I can’t imagine his phone bill. It wasn’t long though before he was back in town for good. With the church no longer available to us, instead our sexual encounters took place in his garage. I was a new driver, I didn’t go to school, and no one was paying attention; I went where I wanted when I wanted. Every day JD picked his wife up for lunch at 12:00. They would eat together and then he would return her to work. Since they shared a car he could be sure she wouldn’t stop at home. His sons were in college by then and there was no concern they would be stopping by mom and dad’s.
So, day after day at 2:00 I would pull my car into his garage and he would close the door. I went inside the house only one time, and even then only briefly. His wife had remodeled their basement and their old furniture had taken up residence in the garage. There was a yellow upholstered chair that looked like a piece from a 1970s movie set that I can see clearly even now when I close my eyes. I would perform oral sex on him in that chair.
Because he was paranoid about pregnancy he never engaged in vaginal sex with me. Instead, he would insist, ever so kindly, on anal sex. I put up no fight because I didn’t think I needed to. My brain had shut down. I was the poster child of powerless. It wasn’t even that I forced myself to do anything. Nothing was ever forced. I simply had no force of will left to argue. I was so emotionally detached I felt nothing during our sexual encounters. For me they were merely transactional. Sex for love. Simple as that. There was only one moment of real resistance for me. I’d been stripped from the waist down and I was lying on the trunk of my car as he performed oral sex on me. In that moment I felt, oh I haven’t the word for it. I felt, dead, covered in dirt and rotting. I resisted and immediately he stopped. It was never something he attempted again. To this day I can flash back to that moment and weep uncontrollably. I doubt the memory will ever fade.
Sex for love — that was the unspoken deal. Oh did I ever depend on his end of our bargain. He understood me at a time when no one understood me. No one cared to understand. He knew what made me tick, he knew what gave me joy, and he lavished those things upon me. Time, attention, love, care, conversation, they were all mine. I was important, special, brilliant. I was beautiful, desirable and unattainable to all other men. I was his possession and the security was a drug to me. We talked every single day. We emailed, chatted online, burned hours on the phone. He was always there when I needed him, no matter what. Those years were the most outwardly confident I’ve ever experienced. I felt beautiful, desirable, wanted. I felt brilliant and exceptional and amazing.
Later, when I realized his love was a lie and he was a monster all those feelings about myself became a lie too. It was all or nothing. Either it was love and I was an incredible woman or it was a lie and I was a waste of flesh. I’m still trying to redeem the truth from the lies.
Thinking back my greatest regret is all of it. Sounds silly to say. I miss my friend. I miss the man who had a chance to be the greatest source of fatherly love I would experience in human form. There are days I still wish I could call him to talk about life. I wish still he could tell me what to do. There were years when I wished he could see the amazing work I was doing, years I knew my work would have made him proud.
When I’m honest I can admit I love him still. Love that predates the sex and the horror. Love that saw him as a lifeline to a kid in serious trouble. I’m grateful for moments of real friendship we shared. I was 16 when I drove my mom to the emergency room because she was hallucinating people and experiences that were not there. He rushed to the hospital the moment I called. He held me as a wept in the waiting room for my mother and the madness. He understood the fear I held that I would one day be the same. He was soft and warm and comforting. He could have always been that for me if he’d chosen differently. Oh, how I wish he had.