Back to 17
I always go back to 17, most often when I’m driving and listening to music. A song will remind me of how much I hated myself that year and I’m back there, looking at 1987 like a white cross on the roadside.
It’s the year I told. It’s the year I lost control of everything. It’s the year I spent two weeks in a psychiatric facility and wished I could stay longer.
The song doesn’t have to be from that time period. All it has to do is speak for me. It has to give voice to what I wish I could’ve said at 17, or give rise to a fantasy of who I could’ve been…
It’s been weeks since I reconnected with the girl who was my best friend when we were both abused by my relative (by marriage, if it matters). We’re no longer girls and we hadn’t seen each other in over 30 years. When I asked her if I could write about it, she gave me her full and loving encouragement. I just haven’t been able to do it, I think mostly because it’s so hard to admit that I’m not “over it” and maybe never will be.
It’s complicated. 33 years after it happened, 30 years after it all came out, my feelings are still a jumbled mess.
We were 14 and there were some who suggested we were Lolita-like temptresses. Those implications wormed their way into my brain for years, contributing to an already damaged self-esteem and fragile sense of self-worth.
What I understand now is that a man who wants a young teen for sex doesn’t want her because she’s smart and beautiful and mature for her age, like he told me and my friend. He wants her because she won’t ask too many questions, she believes what he tells her and she won’t reject him. He doesn’t have the guts to be with a grown woman who will question his motives, doesn’t want to hear his bullshit and will toss him out on his ass.
A man who grooms a 14 year old doesn’t think beyond his lust and inadequacies. He probably has lots of reasons for being emotionally stunted but there’s no excuse when you’re old enough to know right from wrong.
My friend and I we’re children on the verge of becoming young women. We were goofy and absorbed with music. We had rock star posters on our walls and were still getting the hang of having our periods. We were the best of friends because we recognized a brokenness in each other that no adult had ever acknowledged, though surely they saw it.
There are songs that transport me into a fantasy where I’m 17 and I have never been violated by anyone. I get straight As, I love Jesus, and I have big plans for my life. I play guitar and write songs and I don’t need a boyfriend to feel good about myself. I’m confident and proud of who I am.
Other songs transport me to a different fantasy, one where it all happened but when I tell, everything is different. My stepmom is commended for reporting it. I have a therapist who specializes in sexual trauma and recognizes symptoms of PTSD. A loved one goes with me to CPS and holds my hand when they ask me, “What color was his sperm?”
When my friend and I reconnected a few weeks ago, I was able to tell her details she never knew. She didn’t know how long he spent in prison or that he died years ago. She was happy to hear that my family ultimately healed and that we’re close now.
We talked about our children, our jobs and our hopes and dreams for the future. We laughed and shared funny stories about our David Bowie obsession with our husbands and for the first time in a long time I remembered how sincere and innocent we were.
Innocent. Unguarded. Trusting.
I told my friend that I still have a hard time talking about it and that I’ve never told anyone, not even CPS or the prosecutor, the whole story.
She looked me straight in the eyes and said, “It’s a hard story to tell.”
It’s confusing to me that what happened after it came out felt more traumatic than what he did. There are still so many feelings that I don’t know what to do with but I find it helpful to go back to gratitude. I’m forever thankful for my friend who told her story far more bravely than I did. If she hadn’t, he may not have been punished. I’m grateful for my stepmom who fought for me when I didn’t have the strength to fight for myself. I’m grateful for my family who dealt with a horrible situation imperfectly but nonetheless confronted it. And I’m grateful that I told because the alternative would’ve killed me.
In the past few weeks, I’ve gone back to 17 less and less and the longing to rewrite history is starting to feel more like a dull ache. I’m more accepting. I’m in awe of how God works, that over 30 years later there is more to unfold, more clarity to be found and more grace to give and receive.