Overwhelming Gratitude

As I wrote yesterday’s post, I read and reread the words.  After it was completed, it took me several minutes to hit the PUBLISH button.  It was by far the most difficult post I have ever written.

I had no idea what would happen when I published.

Within minutes my phone started dinging text, people started commenting with support on the page, I got emails, phone calls and private messages.

To say I am overwhelmed is an understatement.

I have had people stop by the store just to give me a hug, I was stopped in Wal-Mart and at the grocery and hugged tightly and lovingly.

A friend stopped by and gave me a jar of fresh apple-butter she had just made, another brought me a fruit basket just to let me know they cared and love me.

And then, I got the first of four messages from other people who had been victimized, heart-breaking stories.  My heart is filled with an appreciation to these gentle souls who felt comfortable to share their stories with me. Stories like mine, that very few, if anyone else knew.

Rarely in my life am I at a loss for words, but I am.  Thank-you doesn’t seem to be enough, but that is all I have….. THANK YOU!

 

December 29, 1977

Over the last week or so I have heard and read many comments about how someone could remember what happened to them over 30 years ago.

How something could happen to someone over 30 years ago that was violent and harmful and them not say anything.

As I have watched the news over the last week or so, I have grown increasingly upset and this morning when I woke up I was physically ill.

As I put my fingers to the keyboard to type this post, they are shaking and I feel weak.

I don’t know if what has been reported is true or not, what I do know is my story and this is it.

On December 29th, 1977, I was 13 years old.  I had just started to discover who I was and at the end of a Christmas season was preparing to go back to school.

That afternoon, my cousin, a couple of years older than me, called to let my family know that she was in town with a friend, the friend’s father and his son, who was about my age.  They were going to the small ski slope in my town the next day to enjoy one last hurrah before school would resume the following week.

My parents invited them all to the house that night for dinner and they accepted.

As I lived on the slopes during my days away from school they invited me to go with them the next day.

I remember distinctly the man telling my parents I could just stay with them that night as they would be heading out early the next morning.  My parents said yes and after dinner we all returned to the Heart of Rabun Hotel to prepare for the next day’s outing.

Just 2 miles from my house, the Heart of Rabun Hotel stood alongside the busy highway that would take us to our snow adventures.

The man had rented two rooms.  One for the girls and one for his son and himself.  I would stay in that room.

That night, the man sexually assaulted me.

I don’t know where the son was, I don’t know if he was in bed asleep or had stayed in the room with the girls.  I do know that no one came to my rescue.

I also know I was terrified.

The next day, we arose and went to the ski slope as planned.

Sometime during that afternoon, my brother arrived at the slopes to pick me up.  He was with a friend and once we got in the car, he told me that my Uncle, a fireman, had died that day in an accident at a home fire.

I remember going back to my parents house and drawing a bath.  I remember sitting in the tub and crying, at the time I wasn’t sure if I was crying because my Uncle had died or because my innocence had died the night before.

More than anything I remember thinking, how easy it would be to slip under the water in the tub and never come back up.  That thought still haunts me to this day, 41 years later.

After that night, I went on with my life and in the 41 years since it happened I have told two people, one a therapist I was seeing when I lived in West Palm Beach, Florida and the second a cousin, an author who read about it in a book I was working on.

I never told anyone else, until today.

But just because I have said nothing doesn’t mean the incident that I went through doesn’t still affect me daily.

I find it hard to trust people.  I feel easily betrayed.  I find it hard to befriend new people.  I am not comfortable in crowds, with casual small-talk or being in the presence of strangers. I am afraid to make long-term commitments.  I often go for the quick and easy instead of devoting the energy into the long-term, but most of all I find it very easy to keep secrets.

I have kept my secret for 41 years, some people may ask why?

There are a number of reasons and none of them are good ones, but they are reality.

Shame.

Fear.

Being labeled.

Doubt.

I was ashamed of what happened to me.  I felt like somewhere deep inside I had asked for it.  Back in 1977, I was a young teen just finding my own truth in my sexuality, did I provoke the man?  Did I want it?  Did I enjoy it?

Being a young, lithe, boy was I an easy target?  Could this man see through my other secret and know I was an easy victim for his abuse?

Today, I know the answers to those questions are no, but back then I didn’t.

I was afraid that no one would believe me and if I came forward I was afraid of what would happen.

The man who assaulted me owned a large company in Atlanta, who was going to believe me over him?

And if I was believed, my family was one of the most loved in our community, what would happen to my family if I came forward?  How would this affect them?

Yesterday, my co-workers and I were talking about sexual assault, like I am sure many other Americans were.  A young lady who works for me said, “if this had happened to me, someone would have died.”  I agreed, but what I didn’t say was I was afraid I would be the one who died.  I was terrified, the man who hurt me could come back and hurt me again or this time hurt my family.

In 1977, I was just starting to learn about my own sexuality.  Things were different back then, being a gay kid in a small town wasn’t easy, if I had come forward my “other” secret would surely come out too.  That was not something I wanted to risk.

Also, in 1977, people just didn’t talk about things like sexual abuse.  Thankfully today, our society sees it differently, but back then, these types of things were usually kept quiet and the victim suffered alone.  That was my case.

Today, I know my family would have supported me and they would have gotten me the help that I needed.  But that isn’t how a 13-year-old brain works, I was scared and felt like I was the guilty one.

I share this story, not for pity or out of some way of swaying anyone’s opinion on the news that has been gripping our nation for the last few weeks.

I share my story to say, yes these things happen and memories from 41 years ago can still linger and affect lives just as vividly today as they did the day they happened.

But like most stories, mine lingered in private, until today.

December 29, 1977 – 41 years seems like yesterday.

 

 

RIP – Burt Reynolds

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Burt Reynolds

1936 ~ 2018