It wasn’t until college when I was in therapy that I realized what I had gone through was defined as sexual abuse. I wasn’t raped or groped, but I was groomed. It really messed with my head, left me feeling confused and ashamed, and I had never told a soul.
In high school, I’d often stop by my mom’s work on my way home from school. I had practically grown up in her office, and her co-workers were like a second family — except for Patrick.
He had only worked there a few months when I entered high school so I hadn’t grown up around him. He was in his 40s but was still attractive. He was smart. He was funny. And he liked me. He liked me in a different way, a way that a grown man should not like teenagers.
I was waiting for my mom to finish a phone call so I could ask her if I could go to the movies Friday night with a group of friends. He peeked his head in and said to come into his office while I waited. Since I had been around the office forever, I didn’t think anything weird about it, and talking to someone beat listening to my mom’s boring sales call.
So I went into his office, and he closed the door. Nothing happened. Well, nothing physical. He did flirt with me though. I was 15, but I wasn’t stupid and I knew what flirting was. And I knew that I liked the attention. Coming from a broken home without a father figure around and a mom who works a lot will do that to a girl. And he knew that. Maybe not the details, but he knew about me and preyed on my insecurities.
Something in me felt funny. I knew the attention was wrong, but nevertheless I liked it. I was starved for it. So he continued. Over the next two years whenever I would stop by my mom’s work, I’d try to find an excuse to run into him. He never touched me; he didn’t have to. But his words escalated into something much more sexual in nature.
He began saying things like when I turned 18, we could be together. He even had a secret countdown in his desk drawer. He would suggest that maybe I could meet up with him some night — tell my mom I was going over to a friend’s house and instead meet him somewhere and we could drive to the river or park, and see what happened. (Recounting this now, as an adult and a mother, I shiver with disgust and rage at a grown man treating a young girl in this manner.)
As his words became more urgent, I began to get scared. What if something did happen? What if he actually did something? How would I feel? Even now, I’m embarrassed to say I wasn’t 100% against the idea, but deep down I knew it was wrong. So very wrong. But I was lonely and depressed and felt unattractive in my own skin like many teenage girls, and this man was offering me self-esteem and confidence.
The summer I was 17, I joined my mom at her company’s summer picnic. Patrick was there and was pretty inebriated by the time we arrived. I don’t know how it all happened. I’ve blocked out most of it, but I do clearly remember two events from that day. One was him making a lewd gesture toward me. The other was him grabbing my butt. Somehow no one else saw either, and suddenly, at the first physical contact, something broke inside of me and I speed-walked to my mom. I stayed by her side, pretending everything was fine, for the rest of the event and then went home with her like nothing happened.
That’s the last time I saw Patrick. I didn’t stop by my mom’s office for a month after that incident until she told me he had blacked-out during a drinking binge and woke up several hours north with no recollection of how he got there. It was quite the small-town gossip. He never came back to town, and I haven’t seen him in two decades.
I didn’t know until therapy that what happened to me was abuse. There was so much shame and fear during those years because I liked his attention even though it was wrong, and I felt like it was my fault that it all happened because I never put a stop to it. Because I was just a girl who was put in an uncomfortable situation by a much older man who knew better. He knew better, but he wanted what he wanted, and he preyed on me, groomed me, knowing he could eventually get what he was going after.
The experience has radically changed how I feel about men, how I feel about myself. Yes, I’ve been to therapy, and yes, I’ve overcome a lot, but I’m still scarred. You don’t spend two years of awkward puberty being manipulated by someone and not come out a little bent. Mostly, though, I’m scared. I’m scared for my own daughter. And every day I tell her that she can tell me anything, that there’s nothing she should ever be scared to tell me, because I don’t want her to go through what I did, what I still do.
Abuse is abuse, trauma is trauma. It can look different for everyone, but that doesn’t mean you weren’t used for someone else’s pleasure. It’s my hope that in sharing my story, someone will be encouraged to speak up and somebody’s innocence will be saved. A victim should never have to be ashamed.