I was two months short of turning 16. I remember thinking this as my aunt drove me home from school. It was going to be my best year yet….
I had been picked up from school early. The nurse had heard me coughing, and a few minutes later, I was calling anyone who would answer to pick me up. I had a low grade fever, and the nurse was sending me home.
My aunt finally arrived, and instead of taking me home with her, dropped me off at my house, because my youngest brother and step-dad were home.
As I walked in, still not feeling too terrible, I explained why I was home and put my things in my room. My youngest brother was hungry so I went into the kitchen to make him some eggs before his kindergarten bus arrived.
“Can you ask if I can stay home with you?” he asked.
My little brother adored me. There was a ten year difference between us but our bond was unbreakable.
As my step-dad walked into the kitchen, I asked but got a resounding “not today, buddy.”
Thirty minutes later my brother was gone, and my step-dad, who worked nights, was sitting on the couch while I was resting comfortably in a chair, reading the newest book in the Sweet Valley High series.
That was the last moment of my childhood.
I remember everything….
The way I was wearing my hair, the outfit I spent hours picking out and would later trash–my favorite peach sweater and new white jeans.
I remember the moment the air was suddenly different, almost too heavy to breathe.
“You know I love you, right?”
I almost jumped when he spoke. It had been so quiet.
“Of course.” I was not really capable of grasping where this was going. He and I had never been close.
“No. I mean REALLY love you.”
“I know. Like a father loves a daughter,” my voice shaky. The next ten seconds felt more like ten years.
“No. I’m IN love with you.”
In that moment, I could feel my innocence slipping away, as if my breath were leaving me. I started to shake so badly inside and out, body and soul. My mind raced.
He picked up a cigarette and showed it to me.
“You have ’til the end of this cigarette to decide if it will be by consent or by force.”
I remember a solitary tear running down my cheek. I was crying for my mom, who would be heartbroken and for my brothers, because they had a father who was very sick. Lastly, I cried for me because I knew I was dying. I would never be me again.
“Can I get a drink, first? I’m scared.”
His eyes lit up like a Christmas tree and he smiled. “Of course! I promise I will be gentle.”
I could feel the vomit in the back of my throat.
As I walked into the kitchen, I could feel his eyes on me. I don’t know if I always knew I would run but suddenly I was running down the hall in a dead sprint. I could hear him gasp as his feet pounded the floor behind me.
I fumbled with the lock on the back door. Why hadn’t my mom ever fixed this stupid lock! I hated her! In that second, that thought, I felt him yank my sweater, nearly pulling me off my feet.
For the next, maybe, five minutes I fought for my life. I didn’t care how many times he hit me. I would not let him rape me! I scratched, punched, pulled his hair, and finally poked his eye, which made him let me go.
I jumped up, ran out the now open door, down our driveway, and up the steep hill that I climbed every day to catch the school bus. I remember nothing of that run. I do remember running into my friend’s house, her mom screaming in horror, and then fainting right where I stood.
Thirty seconds later, I woke up to my friend’s mom crying over me. She was sobbing and asking, “Baby girl, what happened?” I couldn’t speak.
When I finally could talk, the dam broke. I would have to tell my mom, so I dialed her work number and said, in tears, he had tried to hurt me.
She’d be right home. Stay where I was and don’t go home.
I felt like I couldn’t face my mother. When she showed up an hour later, she just told me to come, and we walked down the street to our house. The house where he tried to rape me. The once cute little house I loved. He was gone. He’d left of his own accord. We were not telling anyone, and we were never going to speak of this ever again.
The next few days I thought I was going to die. Every noise, every car headlight that went by my bedroom window scared the hell out of me. I didn’t go to school for a few days. All the bruises could be hidden under my clothes.
I tried to explain the fear I was feeling to my mother but she looked me square in the eyes and said, “But he didn’t rape you. Don’t be so dramatic.”
The next six months were the worst of my life. I know now that I was suffering from very severe Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I barely ate or slept and pulled away from everyone, including and especially, any men in my life but mostly, my real dad. The same dad, who six months earlier I had adored.
For the last 25 years the person who violated me is always in my dreams, in my memories, and some days, looking at me in the mirror. To be touched in any way you do not accept is a violation. That pedophile broke me that day. He stole my innocence. Like a murderer, he killed my spirit.
I am no longer that girl who believed people are inherently good. A thousand nights I cried, a thousand nights I prayed to die so I could forget the fear of that day.
I have a family now. Daughters of my own, who I fiercely protect, sometimes holding them a bit too tight. I resist for them, for all who scream inside their heads to drown out the voices of their attackers. I am taking back some of the power I lost.
Helen Keller said, “Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, vision cleared, ambition inspired, and success achieved.”
To that I say, challenge accepted.
Elle James is a wife and mother living in California.