I'm not sure why I woke up compelled to write about this today. Maybe, and probably, it's because of the nice feedback I've received this week about my ability to write a strong heroine. Maybe, also, it's because I've been having gentle, age-appropriate talks with my daughters about being a strong girl, and about boys, and all that fun stuff. I started #yesallwomen a long time ago with my girls. :)
Here's the grit: I was stalked when I was sixteen and it changed me. Profoundly so. It changed me so much that the entire fabric of my personality was ripped and mended, finally, into a person I didn't recognize.
The boy (we'll call him Jay) was someone I'd grown up with in my tiny town. We went to school together. His sister (we'll call her Holly) was one of my best friends, so we all hung out a lot. In the 9th grade, they moved an hour away, but I visited them 2-3 times a month and spent weekends there so Holly and I didn't lose touch. In the interim, there were many, many phone calls. The summer before they moved away, Jay asked if I'd be his "girlfriend." You know how it is at that age...all batting eyelashes and being shy. I'd always thought he was cute, so I said yes. That's where the innocent first smooches and hand holding and staring longingly into each other eyes started.
We continued "seeing" each other through the 10th grade, as much as people who live that far apart could. Phone calls, seeing him on weekends, that kind of stuff. To me, it was more like a friendship with kissing than a relationship, and as teens do, I dated other people here and there, until finally, the thing between Jay and I fizzled out and it was no big deal.
I was sixteen the first time he pushed me. It was just after my birthday and I was visiting Holly at her home. They lived in the woods where her parents had converted an old barn into the most amazing house ever! Holly and I, and some girls our age from next door went hiking in the woods. Jay was straggling behind and as I stopped to look at something and the girls went farther ahead, he pushed me into a tree and said I couldn't break up with him.
I'd seen him rage before. When he'd gone to my school, he was often in trouble for hitting other kids and swearing and "anger issues." This was the first time it had been directed at me. I got away from him, caught up to the girls and called my dad to come get me that afternoon.
It wasn't the last time. He and Holly drove down to see me on their way to another town. Holly went inside to talk to my mom and Jay took the opportunity to grab my throat and glare at me, not saying a word.
I never told anyone what happened. In fact, I never told anyone about ANY of this as it unfolded. Only one other person knew that this was going on... until the day he confronted my mother with a knife and it all went south. Why didn't I tell anyone?
Good question. First, I was young and stupid. Second, I was not the popular girl in school. Mostly, the other kids took great pleasure in cutting me down as often and as harshly as possible. If I'd said anything, how much more teasing would that have brought on? Probably lots. Third, I didn't want to lose my independence. I was a good kid; I got good grades. My parents let me come and go as I pleased and I didn't want to lose that.
So when the phone calls started and he'd scream at me over the phone, I said nothing. When he'd drive really slowly back and forth in front of our house on a rural road, I told my mom someone must be looking for their hunting dog or they were lost. When the car pulled into our yard in the middle of the night and he got out, staring at the house for half an hour before leaving, I cried as I watched him from the window, but I didn't tell anyone.
He showed up at school and would wait for me after basketball practice. He'd never say anything to me, would just make sure I saw him and then he'd leave. I later found out he'd been skipping a lot of school to drive to my town to make this happen. And then the phone calls changed into hang-ups. One after the other after the other, even late at night.
I stopped eating. I couldn't sleep. I tried to pretend this wasn't happening and went about my days like normal. I dated other people. I hung out with my best friend. I told no one.
One fall afternoon, I went babysitting with my friend Colleen to watch her nephews a few miles from my house. My mom had the phone number where we were babysitting, and thank goodness she did because she called, screaming: "Jay just showed up here with a knife looking for you. I told him I didn't know where you were, but hide your car so he doesn't see you!" He'd pulled a knife on my mom, demanding to know where I was. She lied to protect me.
She called my dad.
He called to police.
I hid my car behind the house, and crying, told everything to Colleen. All of it. Months and months and months of it.
He never found me.
That night, he attacked his father with the knife, and then shot himself.
Only in a book, right?
Don't I wish.
Because this left me with the inability to trust. The inability to feel. The inability to connect with men on any real level. I dated again, and each and every time, I found I was fighting fear and discomfort the entire time and I could never, ever connect with my boyfriends on anything but a superficial level.
I wanted to. But Jay had changed me. Profoundly. Deeply. In that place of fear inside you that morphs and changes when trauma happens, and sometimes, it never resets. I let go of some wonderful men because of my inability to be more than a smile and a handshake and small talk. Even now, twenty five years later, I still have trouble letting people in.
So I write about it. My heroines are strong because they are who I wished I had been coming out of that trauma. They are who I wish I could still be, sometimes. My take-away is that emotion, whether pent up or given freely, is a driving factor of writing and if you have a story, use it. If you have that place inside of you that hasn't reset, use it. Some of my strongest, most emotional scenes have come from that place of fear and every time I write about it, I get stronger.
I'm fine today. This incident is a shadowy memory that stays buried for years at a time unless I choose to think about it. Now, I help other people with their own trauma, and I write about what I can't fix.
Tell your daughters. Tell your sons. Tell someone. And write your heart out.