I’m not going to lie. This post is difficult for me to write. However, yesterday I had a conversation with one of my girlfriends and now I feel like it is necessary for me to share. Not talking about it makes me feel complacent and I need to tell my story. Yesterday the hashtag #metoo was circulating everywhere. I saw many of my friend’s use the hashtag on their own social media and it was upsetting. When I scrolled through my feed and saw it repeatedly I got a pit in my stomach. Each time I saw the impactful five letters I wondered what meaning it held for each person. What happened to them? What was their story? Was their story like mine?
With the recent Harvey Weinstein incident at the forefront to of the news, I think the house of cards is beginning to collapse on a topic that has been silenced for so long. Many of us feel shame in speaking on this topic and yesterday when I typed the words “me too” into my Facebook status I hit update without explaining what it meant to me. Simply typing the words felt like a step. As the day progressed, I began thinking about what happened to me. How could I teach Zelda to speak up without sharing my story? I have a strong voice and I try to use it to help others in the way people have helped me. Why wouldn’t I use my voice on a topic that is so difficult? Staying silent was no longer an option.
Later in the evening one of my friends posed the question, “If you had an eighteen or nineteen-year-old daughter, would you allow her to spend time at Harvey Weinstein’s house if they were friends with his daughters?”
I immediately replied, “NO!”
I then proceeded to share one of my stories. (Yes, unfortunately I have more than one story.) After I shared the story I felt so much better. My friend said, “I am so sorry that happened to you.” Outside of my parents, it was the first time anyone had ever told me they were sorry for my experience because I never speak about it.
Today I am going to be very honest. I want to tell you about the experiences I had as a child and how they impacted me. I want to start a conversation around a topic that isn’t pretty. It hurts, it is difficult and there is a lot of pain associated with it. However, it is important that we normalize speaking about this topic. I would never want Zelda to be in my shoes and to sit here and type these words. Whatever we can do to strengthen our voices is a win. I am not looking for sympathy but think it is important to share these stories. As I said earlier, as soon as I shared I felt a weight lifted from me. After I voiced my experience to my friend, my partner and I sat down and had an in depth conversation about my personal experiences. This was the first time we had spoken about it in the nine and a half years we have been together and we have a very open and honest relationship.
The first incident occurred when I was eight years old. I was at Schnuck’s Grocery Store on a Friday night with my mom and my brother. This was our jam and was what we always did to kick off the weekend. My mom was in the produce department when my brother asked her if he could go get a drink of water. She told him he could and sent us together. To this day I am so thankful she sent us together. The water fountain was located down a long hallway where the men’s restroom was to the right and the women’s restroom was to the left. Remember, at that time it wasn’t a big deal for your child to take a few steps away from you. You didn’t hear of all the things we hear today and people weren’t as keenly aware of what was going on. (I think it still existed, but it wasn’t as widely publicized.)
My brother was leaning over the fountain taking a drink when I got a paralyzing feeling from my head down to my toes. I will never forget that feeling. I looked to the right and saw a man with slicked back hair standing inside the men’s restroom with his foot propping the door ajar. He was wearing a crisp white t-shirt, dark denim jeans, work boots and had a fully erect penis. He was smiling from ear to ear. Naturally, I freaked out and began pulling my brother away from the fountain. He had no idea what was going on and was fully resisting my attempt to get him to leave. I ran through the grocery store screaming at the top of my lungs with my brother trailing behind me. My mom came flying out of produce to find me hyperventilating.
I told her what happened in front of the customer service counter and the manager turned and screamed, “CALL NINE ELEVEN! CALL NINE ELEVEN!”
Completely exasperated I screamed, “NO! CALL 9-1-1!”
I had never heard of “nine eleven” before. They put the grocery store on lock down and sealed the exits. The man who I later found out was named Woodrow, casually walked down the hallway, grabbed a hand basket and began shopping for groceries as if nothing had happened. I will never forget clinging to my mother with my brother by my side as I pointed him out while he was picking up a package of Frito Lays. At the early age of eight, this was the most traumatic and unexpected thing that had ever happened to me. It shook me to my core. The grocery store gave my brother a King Size Hershey’s bar and I received a dozen red roses. After the police came and arrested him, they sent us on our way and we had to go home and tell my father.
I will also never forget how upset my dad was. He wanted to go sit in the grocery store parking lot with his gun and wait for Woodrow S. to come claim his car. My dad’s anger was boiling over and my mom asked me to stay the night at Jenny Davis’ house. She didn’t want me exposed to his roller coaster of emotions, even though he had every right to feel the way he did. When I put myself in my dad’s position now, I can’t even imagine the devastation he must have felt and the fire it must have ignited inside of his soul.
When I returned from my friend’s house I went through a very long period (years) where I was afraid to be alone. I didn’t even want to walk past our front door because it was glass and I was afraid someone would see me. I experienced bursts of fear that I didn’t know how to express. I was ashamed about what had happened to me for no real reason. I was eight years old, I saw a penis and I couldn’t explain it. The roller coaster of emotions I experienced is difficult to explain. Today, many parents teach their children not to be a tattletale. And while I understand the overall message, I think we really need to evaluate the many ways this could be interpreted. Are we teaching our kids to keep things from us because they think they are tattling? Are we making them fearful that they might get in trouble if they tell? Has someone threatened them and we don’t know? We need to analyze the way we are asking our kids to communicate with us.
Victim shaming is all too common and I want my child to communicate anything and everything she experiences or witnesses. Nearly thirty years later, I can remove myself from the incident and it is interesting to examine the way three seconds affected me for so many years. Last night when I was in a deep hole of emotions, I Googled Woodrow S. and found him. I discovered that he molested a young girl in 1993. That information jolted me. What if my mom hadn’t sent my brother and I together? Could that have been me? It’s easy to play the “what if” game but I am still so thankful I wasn’t alone.
The next incident happened almost six years later when I was fourteen years old. I was in high school and unfortunately, it occurred with my friend’s father. The first time he exposed himself to me I thought it must have been an accident. After all, there was no way a father would ever to this to his daughter’s friends! I had fully convinced myself that it wasn’t intentional. I kept it to myself and then few weeks later he exposed himself to me while he was standing in a bathrobe at the top of the stairs. This time it was clear it was no accident. I was sickened, in shock and began to play the blame game. I thought no one would ever believe me. I couldn’t believe a father would do this. What was I going to do? Break up their family? I was in a weird position and chose again to keep it to myself.
A few months later I was with a large group of my friends at a sleepover when this girl’s father came to pick her up. When he arrived, the look on each of my friend’s faces shifted. I could see something was off and it all came pouring out of me. We all began sharing our stories with each other and when our moms picked us up we told them what had happened. Again, all our fathers had to find out and as you can imagine, it was a mess. I was convinced my other friend’s dad was going to kill him because he was a body builder and lived in the same neighborhood as the man. It was a terribly disastrous situation and when we went to the police station we had to use a pencil to describe the size and color of his penis.
Looking back on it, the harassment and bullying we experienced throughout the entire ordeal sickens me. It is so difficult for a victim because after you’ve already experienced something traumatic you must go down another road of scrutiny. It is a terrible path and it needs to change. Predators need to be held accountable for their actions and the post traumatic impact they create. It is our responsibility as mothers and fathers to hold these people accountable. I’m calling on you to share your experiences. Let’s normalize the conversation and talk about how we can change it for our kids. What can we do to make sure we are doing the best for them?
I know what I shared isn’t pretty. It is a difficult topic but #metoo is so powerful. We need to make these words more than something that trends on Facebook and Twitter for a day. It is important that we work to turn the hurt into help. We must find the silver lining and help others find their voice. To Zelda, I pledge to do the best I can do for you and to always be honest in the hope that you will be honest with me too. I love you.