When I was twelve, my male babysitter invited me into his special club. The one that all of the older neighborhood girls belonged, he said. You’re twelve. It’s time. You need to know these things. And I’m your teacher.
The first time he knocked on the bathroom door while I was taking a bath, I slid under the bubbles and pretended not to hear. The door was locked. He knocked louder, laughing, saying Kerrie Lynn, let me in. I went back under water. Eventually he gave up. That night.
The next time I locked him out, he opened the linen closet in the hallway that led to the little cubby door that opened into the bathroom, leaned in, and unlocked the door himself.
He dropped his pants and sat down on the toilet. He wanted me to know what a penis looked like. All I remember is what a penis smelled like.
This continued for about a year - maybe longer. French kissing, blow jobs, hand jobs and many times when he would just look at me and breath heavy while I hid under the water.
When it stopped, I put as much distance as I could between me and him, which was difficult because he lived next door. I swallowed my words. I pretended it never happened. I could never shatter my parents with this. They had trusted him. And because I was there, too, that made me complicit. Right?
Between the ages of 15 and 17, I dated a boy whom my mother didn’t like. He was the source of much conflict between us. I saw a sweet goofy guy with puppy dog brown eyes and she saw what he was capable of. At senior prom, we wore matching white like the top of a wedding cake. My boyfriend was absent most of the night, preferring the company of his guy friends; disappearing into the bathroom. A lot. He was doing cocaine - something I’d never seen before.
On the drive home I told him how upset I was. He told me it was no big deal. I persisted: It was a big deal. When he stopped the car front of my house, he backhanded me, giving me a bloody nose.
In shock I did nothing. I said nothing. I held my nose and swallowed my words until my mother, many years later, told me that she had seen bruises all over my boyfriend’s mother. That’s why she didn’t like him.
When I was 19 and on our annual family vacation to Sanibel Island, a tall lanky man started appearing on the beach were I lay sunbathing. When my mom came down to walk the beach, I saw him join her. Mom never met a stranger so it didn’t surprise me when a short while later they returned together, my mom laughing and introducing me to him as the southern gentleman from Georgia. He asked me out on the spot, suggesting we meet for a drink and some dancing later. I hesitated. My mom chimed in with Oh go on, Kerrie Lynn! Have some fun! I went but didn’t stay long. I had a boyfriend back home and wasn’t the slightest bit interested in this man.
The next day the doorbell rang to our condo. It was him with two dozen roses. One for my mom. One for me. It’s what a southern gentleman does, he said in his slow thick drawl. My mom laughed. He turned to my dad and said: Dr. Cooper, I’m in love with your daughter. I wish to take her out, sir. My father wasn’t as easy to win over as my mother. He was stoic. Mom filled the lull in conversation by letting us all know that she had met the boy’s mom at the clothing store and she was just as charming he was! My father said: We have a rule about leaving the island. I would be fine if you wanted to take my daughter out as long as you don’t leave the island.
At the causeway he turned right to go off the island instead of left toward the restaurant. My heart dropped and I started to object when he smiled at me calmly and told me that he had forgotten his wallet. He lived just past the bridge and it wouldn’t take but a minute to grab it and be on our way.
When we arrived at his apartment I sat in the car. He swung my door open and reached for my hand. I’ll wait here, I said. Nah, come on up for a quick drink. Just one. And with that his hand latched onto my arm and pulled me out of the car. Inside, he clicked some ice in a glass, poured himself a whiskey, and expertly cut 6 lines of coke on a mirror, offering me a straw. I shook my head no. He proceeded to inhale it all, up one line and down the other. My pulse began to race but I tried to act cool, like nothing surprised me. But I had fear in me. I’m sure he could smell that.
Can we get going now? I asked.
You mean over here to the couch? he smiled, pulling me by the hand. In one swift move he jerked me toward him and was on top of me, kissing me hard, my hands pinned down. I avoided his face, moving my head back and forth to dodge him all the while squirming with all of my might and telling him no, please. I don’t want to do this. Please stop.
Frustrated, he reached over me to the side table and out of nowhere came a little black pistol, which he laid down by my head. Maybe this will help, his face was hard. His eyes had changed to the color of a dark storm. I went limp and started crying. When he was done I got dressed and asked him to take me home. What, you don’t want to go out?
I sat in silence in the car. I was in shock. My face burned hot with humiliation. Tears fell silently. My mind raced nonstop: I can’t believe I agreed to go out with him in his car. Someone I barely knew. He had total control. No, he took control. You trusted him, what were you thinking? My poor mom and dad, oh my god, they could never know about this or that I went off the island. They would be so mad at me - no they’d be mad at him. They would never forgive themselves. Where did the gun come from? Does he have it now? Oh my god, this is rape. Was I raped? What do they call it when you go out with someone? Date rape. Oh my god. You’re a fool. A complete idiot. Oh my god.
When we crossed over the bridge to the island I’d been coming to for years, the tears flowed harder. I couldn’t control myself. I started sobbing, all snot and mucus and red in the face. Shut up. he said, Stop crying.
Only I couldn’t. And the more I couldn’t, the angrier he became. The car was getting smaller as his temper welled up.
SHUT UP, he screamed, raising the back of his hand to my face but stopping short of hitting me. I flinched and held my breath and closed my eyes waiting for the blow. Instead he pulled the car over, leaned across me to open the door, and shoved me out with both arms. Then he drove off, his car spitting gravel off the back of his tires into my face.
I didn’t know where I was. It was pitch black. There are no street lights. I paused alert and in survival mode. I took off my high heels and started walking until I recognized where I was. I passed the door to the condo and went to the ocean, where I screamed my words into the darkness, already resolving that this, too, would be my secret and mine alone.
Two years ago I decided I was going give all my secrets away. I had been inspired and emboldened by Beverly Johnson’s account in Vanity Fair of being raped by Bill Cosby. At the end of the article, she talks about the young children she had been volunteering her time to help, many of whom were sexually abused. She wrote about being in awe as they worked to heal. Then, these words: How can I be any less brave? These are the words that gave me the courage I needed.
When I wrote about these truths for the first time, I arrived at this knowing: There’s no empathy in an empty heart. There’s no compassion in someone who values power. There’s no tolerance in one who is taught to hate. There’s no mutual respect with someone intent on control.
I share these words to you now, for this reason, and this reason alone: they may reach and touch someone else. The one who needs to hear it most. I may never know it. But they will. And that alone is reason for the telling.
Does someone you know need these words today?