Before you read this:
1. Grab a tissue
2. Remember the resources page if you have experienced a similar trauma
3. This is an upsetting story with a positive ending, just prepare yourself.
4. To the author of this story: Thank you for your vulnerability, willingness to share & bravery. You are truly a warrior and I'd love for you to email firstname.lastname@example.org so I can personally thank you.
Have you ever been cold? Like absolutely cold? And no, I’m not talking about the coldness you feel on that first winter morning. You know, that one morning when you step out for your coffee run and wish you had put on a little more than just a t-shirt and jeans. I’m not even talking about that moment when you’re showering, just about to rinse, and the pilot light goes out. Those moments might be cold, freezing even. However, that’s not what I mean. Those flashes of cold are wimpy compared to what I’m talking about. What I’m describing is a feeling that freezes you so deeply, you can actually feel it touching your soul. It takes full control of your mind, and makes everything about yourself feel unrecognizable. And the feeling lingers. It lingers long and it lingers hard.
Unfortunately, this is a feeling I used to get often. The cold would find it’s way towards me and I could never seem to escape it. There were triggers, you know? Like, take The Lion King for example. I know, it’s so hard to believe that such an innocent, beautiful, amazing movie could trigger such an awful feeling. I wish it weren’t true but the second I heard The Circle of Life, the coldness and the foggy mind would hit me. That’s all that would have to happen. That movie, the music of that movie, any sign of that movie became one of the many triggers because, well, that movie was playing in the background when it happened.
It was summer vacation. My junior year of high school had just ended, meaning this would be my last summer with that high school label to my name. As usual I’d be spending it out on the softball field, and I’d be hoping to not just enjoy my time on the team, but also catch the attention of some college coaches. That was the dream at least and I am happy to say now it’s a dream that luckily came true. However, that’s not the story I’m telling here.
My story starts with the arrival of one of my father’s friends. He was in his early thirties at the time, was a few months out of the basic training he was to weak to pass, and he would be spending time with us in hopes of finding some work up here in his dream state of Massachusetts. He’d grown up and lived in Tennessee and my father had connected with him through work - education. My dad was a principal, and here was a friend of his looking for a job, a job my dad might be able to help him get. It all made perfect sense. There was nothing wrong in the plan. It was a very casual thing. There was nothing uncomfortable about it. But then, sadly, that’s what it would become.
I can still remember sitting in the back seat as we picked him up from the airport, still in my rugged, sweated over softball uniform. Dirt is a known accessory for me during the softball season. Not comfortable, not flattering. But at that moment, wearing a softball uniform in front of someone whose mind was addicted to sports in an almost robotic way, I guess that was like putting gravy on top of your dogs dinner. I guess that athletic factor inside of me just drew him in even more.
He’d only be staying with us for a week. The weather was hot, our small house on Cape Cod was barely enough to fit my family let alone a guest, but it was kind of fun hosting someone who was so fascinated by the Boston lifestyle. He had never seen Fenway Park, had never experienced a Boston accent outside of my father’s, and as someone who has lived beside the Cape Cod ocean their entire life, it was almost priceless seeing him smile when he saw that view of the lighthouse for the first time. It was fun. It was summer vacation. However, what started as fun quickly became tricky once I got dealt some hosting obligations.
My father, he had to handle work at school come the weekdays. My mom, also being a teacher, had the same deal. My sister, had a job up at Dunkin Donuts keeping her busy. So me, with nothing but softball on my plate every now and then, would be given the job of entertaining. This lead to an afternoon at a Patriots practice, both an afternoon and night game at Fenway Park, even a few rounds of catch down at the beach. It was alright. I didn’t mind any of it. But to me I was just hosting my dads friend, keeping the guy busy until he was home to do the entertaining. That’s all it was, that’s all anyone would have seen it as. Then again, that didn’t stop him from seeing it from a different angle. Where I saw it as entertaining, he took these instances as a sign of a bigger “relationship”, one that was “heating up”. So just like that, after an evening of steak tips and fourth of July fireworks with the family, I was introduced to that cold feeling for the very first time.
Everyone in the house was sound asleep. I was tucked in but still awake, finishing off the night by enjoying that wonderful throwback The Lion King. It felt like a solid way to finish the day. But like I said, everyone was asleep, so my heart was already a little surprised when I heard my bedroom door opening. I could hear him, I could see him, and thinking about it now I can still feel the silence of the house. I wasn’t all that alarmed at first. I just figured he needed something, was looking for something in the house and I was the only one awake. But he was getting closer, coming towards my bed and he eventually climbed in. He wasn’t in here looking for something. No, he was just simply looking for me.
And he found what he wanted. He’d locked the door so there was no way of running out and he kept his hand pressed to my face, muting my mouth so my screams only became wasted energy. In such a small house I still question how he was able to keep it so quiet. So deathly quiet and my God, in the summer, how could his hands have been so damn cold?!
Before he started, in an unnaturally calm voice, he gave this story about how I egged him on. That this would stay our little secret or else. Besides, with the things we did, with the “dates” we had, no one would believe it. Then, without saying anything else, he did whatever he wanted. When it was over, when it was all finally over, when he finally left the room, that is when the coldness hit me the hardest. It could have been shock, it could have been pain, it could have been fear. Whatever it was I just know I could hardly move. Not because of how it physically hurt, I don’t even think any of that had registered in my mind yet. But I still remember just shivering so hard that I could barely breath. The next morning, after an entire night of being sick in the bathroom, it was off to the hospital.
My mother thought my sickness was dehydration. She figured that had to explain my shaking and rapid heartbeat. The doctors even figured thats all it was, solving my nerves and nausea with just a few bags of liquids. They credited my scratches and bruises to softball and that’s what I let them think. I didn’t tell them the truth. Because I was too scared to tell them the biggest piece of the story. I was too embarrassed to tell them what really happened. It would be to uncomfortable to explain the real details to my mother. It would be awful to make my family worry like that. Just awful.
So I let the nurses do their usual smiling. One kept bringing me a freshly heated blanket to stop my chills, and I kept a smile painted on my own face the entire time. I’m an athlete. A “never let them see you cry or ache” type girl. So even when I looked down at my phone to see a text from HIM, I still kept that smile on. I even nodded my head and agreed with my mother when she said how nice it was of him to check in like that. I smiled and thanked HIM.
It only took me roughly twenty four hours though for me to find the courage to make some kind of stand for myself. I didn’t say why, I didn’t say what he had done, I just made it very clear that I would be getting in the car and I wouldn’t be coming back until he was out of the house. That was the only message my family needed to hear to conclude that yes, something wasn’t right. He complained, cursed, and whined that entire morning. He didn’t want to be leaving, he still had jobs to check out and a vacation to enjoy up here. However, as he made up his bed and complained to one of his friends on the phone, my sister overheard and learned quite a few details about my dads friend that hinted to my strong request. She heard a bit of the truth and that’s all my father needed to know to make sure he was long gone and never able to see our house again. My prayers were answered and he was kicked to the bus stop curb before he even had a ticket back to Tennessee. I was safe again, and I still had a good amount of summer left to enjoy. Then why, still, did I feel so cold.
My senior year would become such a fog. I was already the distant type so I just went through my normal actions in the hallways at school. I kept to myself, I didn’t have friends to keep me busy, I didn’t think I needed friends to keep me busy, so I just kept my head down pure usual. I played softball so that was my way of venting when I was away from home, and my passion for music and the guitar kept my mind safe and steady when I was home. I remained my bubbly and happy self for my family, but that was all just motions. I was just keeping up an act to try and make it seem as if nothing about me had changed. But something had changed, and because of that secret boiling inside of me for so long, it eventually lead to a breaking point.
The breaking point happened my freshman year of college. I had just returned to school from winter break and although I still kept on a smile for my friends at school, my family was beginning to notice a much more ghostly me. I talked about hating and quitting softball, something I had lived for, and I didn’t want to be at school. To them, it didn’t seem normal for someone with all these new friends, caring friends, to want to come home every chance they got. And it wasn’t normal. As much as I hated their attempts and eventually the doctors attempts to snap me out of that fog, I am beyond thankful that they finally forced it out of me. It took time, a lot of patience, and lordy was it exhausting. But my family finally heard the full story of that summer, and very suddenly, almost as if there was a switch turned on inside of me, my world was beginning to look so much brighter. I was finally feeling warm again.
I still don’t talk about this glimpse in my life much. In fact, I don’t talk about it at all. The doctors bring it up every now and then but even with them I like to try and look at the positives in my life TODAY. Why? Because in the end, those positive moments are the ones that matter. College has gifted me with so many things, the ability and strength to let other people into my world being one, and I like to use these friends of mine as a reminder to look forward. They have given me so many memories worth cherishing and those moments all combine beautifully to push out, drown out, and almost erase that one terrible chapter of my life story. That’s not to say that I’m fully healed, that I’m fully free from those triggers. But with so many people around me now who keep me smiling, and with this refreshed mind set, I am able to remind myself during those difficult flashbacks that there are still so many things that I am blessed to have in this life.
With places like this, the Unveiled Campaign, and with so many other beautiful things to turn to, I have learned that there is still so much out there. Since stepping out from behind that wall, even taking the chance and letting a real, trusting man into my word, I now know that there is a way to direct my story so that I only see the happy ending.
I want to see the happy endings. I want to hold the moments of smiles close in my heart forever. And I hope by sharing my story, this story, that if any one out there is ever feeling that same earth shattering coldness, that they read this as evidence for the warmth that is still out there and worth fighting for. Because there is still light. There is still color. In fact, there’s a lot of it. And as some girl named Miley Cyrus once said, “Life’s a climb, but the view is great”.
It is great, and I’m lucky and honored to stand as proof that those mountain parts of life are definitely worth climbing.