We’re never truly “ready” to share our deepest pains with the world. But I’d go as far as to argue that we’re never truly ready for anything. It’s really just about finding courage to share our truths with the world so they too can find courage to share their own. I guess now’s as good of a time as any.
I wrote this two years ago. Two years ago, I was looking to find my strength in others. But the stigma was too much. Now, I am stronger. My hope is only that this truth with help others find courage in themselves.
Here’s my story…
It’s harder than it sounds, putting years of pain into a few pages. I guess it’s fair to say that the language of your heart isn’t directly transferable onto paper. But if I’ve learned anything over the past six years, it’s to push through the hard times even when it seems impossible. I’m glad I did too…because if I hadn’t, I wouldn’t be here today.
He walked into my life six years ago and I’ve been different ever since. He was my 10th grade English teacher. Knowing I was placed in his class felt great at first- Honors English, pretty cool right? My brother and sister had him sophomore year too. They loved him. What a great guy, my mom said. He came to my house one June for my brother’s graduation party. I remember because he told me how excited he was to have me in his class. My siblings were excited too. They told me I was lucky to be his student. I would be better for it, they said. After all, he was their favorite. He was everybody’s favorite. His name was a name of honor and success to so many. Honestly, I can’t even say it out loud without feeling sick.
Fresh faced and focused, I arrived on the first day of school. I was ecstatic but that feeling was soon to be a distant memory. If I had known then what I know now, I would have turned around and walked out that door. If I had, I would have saved myself a lifetime of unhappiness.
At first he was a great mentor. I started out asking for advice on papers and our relationship grew to a more personal level. I trusted him because I felt like I could go to him with any problem I was having. He always stressed that I could do anything I put my mind to and it made me feel good. With him as a teacher, I felt like I had the world in the palm of my hand. At that impressionable teenage phase, he was an adult figure I could look to for advice- he was someone who had the power to change me. He was someone my friends and I could go to for reassurance. At the time, I would have compared him to a father figure. His classroom was a sanctuary from the harsh realities of the high school hallway that was plagued everyday by judgment. In his classroom, I felt like I could be myself completely. Harsh words from other peers were easy to overcome when you had someone there to build you up and protect you. But as a sophomore in high school, I was vulnerable and he soon took advantage of that.
First came the small criticisms, which grew bigger with time. After a while, my work was either thrown out completely or put on a high pedestal. Some days he built me up to the stars and other days he would tear me down completely. I was lost and confused. When my work wasn’t up to his standards he would break me down and I felt completely worthless. I was looking for validation from someone and all of the sudden I couldn’t find it anywhere. He said I could do better, I SHOULD do better. He said, I was a disappointment, A WASTE OF TIME. That’s exactly how I felt. The emotional abuse went on for two years and after awhile, I took everything he said and internalized it. I was scared to tell my parents; afraid that they would also be disappointed…so I did what I thought I had to- I kept it to myself.
I distinctly remember the first day I gave a presentation in front of the whole class. I was nervous and worried about what he would think and I didn’t get more than one word into the presentation before his critique started. I had a horrible habit of playing with my earrings when I was nervous. He knew that too- he pointed it out days before. But this time, it was his moment to humiliate me. Each time I touched my ear, he stopped my presentation and made me start over. He hadn’t done this to the girl before me who stuttered over her words though and I didn’t understand that. After a few times, he stopped my presentation all together and I sat down. I was the laughing stock of the class that day, and the two years that followed have left me questioning my self worth for years.
Little Henry is what he often called me- in the hallway, after school, the most often; when he would call me out of other classes to come down to his room- why you ask? He told my other teachers it was work related. It wasn’t.
He didn’t hesitate to draw attention to my insecurities as the youngest child in my family. As he reminded the whole class on multiple occasions, I was the “black sheep” of my family. I was much different than my older siblings. They were more confident, smarter of course, and a lot less trouble. The only thing I had going for me was my looks. And for some reason- my entire personal life was always on the table for class discussion. The things I had talked to him about, as my mentor, became entertainment for the whole class.
I remember the first day he told me I looked “nice.” It took me off guard at first but I ignored it. He’d never done anything like that before and in all honesty, I thought I heard him wrong. It wasn’t until after school when he called me to his desk and slid his hand down my leg that I knew I needed help. I was terrified. I had to stay away from him, but at that point I was so tangled up in his control that I didn’t know what to do. I felt my friends didn’t understand. They continued spending time in his classroom everyday and I felt forced to go with them. When I chose not to go, I felt excluded. When I went, I felt sick to my stomach. I felt scared to tell my family, I no longer felt connected to my teachers, and if I stopped hanging out with my friends, I would have no one.
There was an entire band of students on his side. Even my other teachers were his friends. I was scared to say a word because everyone I knew loved him – even my family. Why would they believe me? What was the point in telling them he felt me up? I was scared of the rumors. I was scared of the judgment. I was scared people wouldn’t believe me so I kept it to myself.
The first few months all I did was avoid him, and as a result I felt like I was losing my closest friends. They asked me on multiple occasions to come with them to spend time in his room, and I had no choice but to make excuses. We started to grow apart – and as a result my confidence deteriorated. I felt I was lying to my friends, the people who had been there for me through everything. I hated myself for it but I was just so scared.
What was happening was like a terrible dream; one that didn’t seem real and one that I surely couldn’t prove to anyone. It all went on for two years and each day I was terrified to walk through the front door of my own school. I didn’t know what was going to happen and on top of that I didn’t know how to deal with my feelings. I was upset and I couldn’t talk to anyone about it. After a while my thoughts built up inside me. I just couldn’t take it anymore, and soon I started to blame the only person I had left- myself.
I did everything I could to let my feelings out. I stopped eating lunch because I thought I might feel better if I was skinny. If I were thinner, at least I would be worth someone’s time. If I were prettier, maybe I would find a guy who actually thought I was worth something. I woke up at 5:30 am everyday to shower and straighten my hair. I begged my mom to buy me new clothes and make-up. Once I lost some weight, I got attention. At first I felt like I was worth something but that was short lived. I met a boy- the first one who was ever interested in me. He made me feel special and I was excited. Then one day I made the mistake of telling him what had happened. He never talked to me again.
Everything just got worse after that. I spent my days focused on my classes, my afternoons at school activities to distract myself, and my nights crying in bed. My nightmares got stronger and I lost a lot of sleep. When the lights went out, I thought about what other people would think of me if I told them, what would happen to me if I ever told a soul, and I thought about how much easier life would be for everyone if I was gone.
I hated myself. I hated the way I looked, the people I was around, and most days I was convinced it would be easier for everyone if I just did them all a favor and disappeared. Nothing made me feel better. Some days I sat on the bathtub, staring at a razor blade thinking about how good it might feel to take my anger out on my own body. I hated myself for that too. But I still kept doing it. Kept thinking- kept looking for ways to disappear. What was the point in going back to school anyway? No one would notice I was gone except him. No one knew what I was feeling. It didn’t matter. I didn’t matter. It haunted me every day.
I hate that you’ve had the power to make me feel this way. For the longest time I despised everything about myself. Even though I did nothing wrong, I felt like I was worthless. At any moment I could have gotten out of it, but I chose not to. How could something that lacked some much in physical contact be construed as sexual abuse anyway? It wasn’t that. What was it? I guess I could call it sexual harassment, but it was more than that. Your presence and threats of sexual abuse brought me to a level of emotional agony that I can’t even begin to put into a few pages of writing. Does what you did to me even have a name? How is it possible to open up about something I don’t even know how to describe? It was like I went through something that no one seems to ever relate to. I try to remind myself that none of what happened was my fault but sometimes I still hate myself for not doing something about it. Was it my fault? How can I be so upset over something I had the power to stop? Why didn’t I stop it? Why didn’t I tell anyone? I still ask myself these questions and they still make me feel worthless.
Sometimes I think what’s worst is the fact that the whole situation makes me feel like nothing that’s ever going on in my mind even makes sense. It’s been four years since the last time I saw you; four years since I’ve felt terrified to walk through the school doors, but I still question my self worth. It’s been four years and sometimes I feel just as insignificant as I did when it was all happening. My therapist says its anxiety, depression, and PTSD. I try to talk to people about these conditions now but it’s hard to not sink back into my old habits of keeping things to myself, especially when a lot of people I open up to freak out when I tell them what I went through. I guess I don’t blame them though- it’s a lot.
The flashbacks happen much less often now but sometimes things comes up that trigger all these feelings again. I think about the girls out there you might be doing the same exact thing to. I think about how I would feel if you ever found me again. I’m still scared. I’m scared of you, I’m scared of guys in general. I’m scared that everyone has the potential to treat me the way you did. It’s horrible. There’s still that void and no matter how hard I try, I can never seem to fill it. I can tell myself everyday that I am strong but no matter how many times I say it, there’s still something missing. It’s like you took a piece of me that I’ll never get back and no matter how close I am to finding myself again, something doesn’t quite fit. I will always hate you for that.