Okay ya’ll, take a seat because we’re going to do some real talk here and this one is not easy for me. I am posting here, what will likely be the last sneak preview of my new book before it is completed and ready to go to print. Like I do with most of the major decisions in my life, I let the internet decide what chapter I would post by running a poll on my instagram. I drew two chapter names out of a hat for the world to choose between and while I was secretly hoping the other one (Superheros) would win. It didn’t.
I was rooting for that chapter over this one because this one scares the shit out of me.
This was one of the more difficult chapters to write and until right now, only a very small group of people know anything about the story you are about to read. It is something that I kept to myself for a long time and in truth it is something that has eaten at me every damn day of my life without me really realizing it. I suppressed this event in my life down so deep that if it had not been for the “Me Too” movement, I probably would have kept it hidden in the dark parts of my brain that I dare not venture to.
But here it is. Writing this chapter sucked. I hated every minute of it and I actively worked against writing it. But then I wrote it.
There is no one putting a gun to my head and forcing me to write anything. Not this blog, not this book, nothing. I’m pushing myself forward. Writing this chapter was painful. I just re-read it quickly to check errors (though I’m sure there are still some there- it hasn’t been properly edited yet) and I’m fighting tears.
I’m honestly scared.
When it came to writing this book, I promised myself that I would use this platform to help teach the lessons I have learned in life. Some of them resulted in great moments of humor that I can look back and laugh at, and there are ones like this. One’s that hurt deeply. But I know that my sharing can very possibly help someone else.
I’ve learned through these many years of life that there is a lesson to be learned in everything. Sometimes we don’t see it right away, sometimes we don’t WANT to see it right away. But it’s there and if we are willing to learn from it we can grow. And, if we’re willing to share it, perhaps we can help someone else grow.
If I can reach just one person, if I can help just one person, then I’m doing something great. Even if that one person is me.
I’ll take it.
So here we go…
Til It Happens to You
Let me start by discussing the many ways that I have worked towards procrastinating the writing of this chapter. In the last 48 hours I have cleaned my entire house from top to bottom. I’m talking hardcore cleaned. I’ve lived here for almost four years and I’m fairly certain that this is the cleanest this place has ever been.
When I wasn’t cleaning, I took the time to meal prep for the first time in months. I reorganized my closet (which really means that I made a massive mess in my closet, realized I was in over my head and closed the door in an effort to pretend it never happened). I wrote blog posts, I ran useless errands and now I have slapped a mud mask on myself because I know it means that in 30 minutes I need to take a break to wash it off.
I don’t want to write this chapter.
But I have to.
I’m going to.
This story has never been told. It’s something I have kept to myself for 16 years. My family knows nothing about it. I never talked to my friends about it. The only people that know about this were the ones directly involved and those it was reported to.
Until very recently I had forgotten all about it.
That might not be right. I don’t think I forgot. I think I chose not to remember.
It’s one of those things, those moments you let slip away and bury deep into the dark abyss of your mind and hope against all hope that you never have to deal with it again.
But here we are.
I was 16 years old.
At this point in my life, I was out of the closet. Granted, I wasn’t waving the rainbow flag and bursting glitter from my fingertips but I had come out to myself and was starting to let the people in my life in on the secret. Thanks to Gary, everyone at work already knew. I’d be mad about being ousted en mass but it really meant less work for me so I let bygones be bygones.
During the time when I was having issues with Gary’s harassment, one of the older night cashiers, Stuart, pulled me aside as we were closing the store for the night. Try as I might, I don’t remember the specifics of the conversation but I do know what the end result was. Stuart came out to me and offered himself as an ally.
I accepted, thankful not to be alone. I had love and support at school but work was one place it seemed to be missing. Now, it felt a little bit better.
Stuart was somewhere in his late 30’s or early 40’s and worked nights in the store in the customer service booth. I don’t remember him being overly talkative but he wasn’t lingering, quiet in the corner either. Aside from the night manager, he was the oldest person on at night so he existed on the outside of our teenage nonsense.
He might have had kids? Maybe he had been married at one point? I have a pretty great memory but when it comes to this, when it comes to Stuart, there’s nothing but darkness.
Part of me wants it to stay that way.
I have to issue a disclaimer of sorts because I can continue. I feel no ill-will towards the management at the store for how this situation was handled. Not then did I want to press charges or involve the authorities nor do I care to now. Back then I was a kid, I wanted it all to go away. I didn’t want to be a burden. My management found themselves in a tricky situation. I’m next to positive they had never faced it before and it was alien territory.
There are no winners in this story.
I will admit that, in looking back, there are aspects in how this was handled that I’m not happy about but hindsight is 20/20. I know more now than I did back then. Back then I was young. I was scared. Back then I had just wanted it all to go away. Would I go back and do things differently? I don’t know.
It was a Saturday. Another store in the company was short-staffed and needed cashiers. I had recently been promoted and my services were offered along with Stuart’s. I didn’t have my license yet so Stuart met me at our store and I rode with him to our sister store for an afternoon of work.
It was an interesting experience for sure as we quickly learned that, while in the same company, each store had its own little quirks and rules. By the end of my tenure with the company, I would have worked in each of the six stores in the chain, which is certainly something that helped me grow as an employee and a leader.
It was on the ride home that it happened.
I’ve gone back and forth about whether or not to go into specifics. I first wrote everything down in my notebook. Then I burnt the pages. As sat and typed them all out in the wee hours of the morning. Typed them right into this document. Then I deleted it.
Remembering that car ride felt exactly like those moments in a movie. You know, when a character has lost their memories and suddenly it all comes flashing back to them in random clips. Until right now, it always bothered me that they could see themselves in the flashbacks. They shouldn’t see that. They should see things from their perspective, not the audiences.
But I can see myself sitting in Stuart’s car. I can hear all the things that he said to me. I can see myself trying to move away from him, from his hands. I can see myself freezing in that moment. Unable to talk. Unable to move. Unable to stop what was happening.
So many times, when it comes to dangerous situations, people want to talk about the fight or flight response. They don’t mention the third one. The freezing. It’s a natural response in the face of trauma but no one talks about it.
I’m going to talk about it because for so damn long I felt ashamed that I didn’t fight. Outside of moments like this it is so easy to talk about how brave you would be, how you would kick someone’s ass if they ever tried to do something like that to you.
But then you find yourself in that moment and everything you thought you would be loses ground to fear and shame.
It would be the better part of two weeks before I went to my manager. Working with Stuart had become unbearable and I couldn’t stand it anymore. I didn’t want him talking to me. I didn’t want him looking at me. I didn’t want him anywhere near me.
I requested the meeting with my manager and the company’s operations manager. I couldn’t just request not to work with someone without reason so I had no choice but to lay it all out for them.
As a 16-year-old I had no idea how to handle the situation.
I was terrified.
I can’t help but look back and wonder now if my managers were just as scared. Just as confused. This was unfamiliar territory for all of us which is why I can’t help but forgive them for getting it wrong. They didn’t know better. This was a small, family-owned, company. Our HR guy was really just there to make sure everyone got their vacation pay and had the right amount of hours to maintain their insurance.
I don’t think he was ever involved in this.
I told them I simply didn’t want to work with Stuart anymore. I never wanted to see him again.
I left the office shaking.
The next time I worked I was called into the office and given the follow-up to their conversation with Stuart. They confronted him on what had happened and they told me that he opted to leave the company.
Fine by me.
But it was a lie. They lied to me.
It wasn’t until sometime later that I learned that Stuart had been transferred to another store. The same store that the two of us had gone to work in that Saturday afternoon. It was closer to home for him and, more importantly, it was nowhere near me.
Everyone was happy.
Was everyone right in their actions? Not at all.
I let it go. I was away from Stuart and that was what mattered to me. I was hurt and betrayed by the fact that I was lied to but that was nothing compared to what had happened so I just let it go.
After graduating high school I was promoted and became a night manager for our store. I was always looking for more to learn and more opportunities so I was utilized company-wide and brought it to work at other stores as a manager to help cover vacations and last-minute callouts.
During my freshman year in college, I was called in to work as a closing manager in THAT store. I honestly didn’t even think of Stuart when I got the call and agreed to go in and cover. He actually didn’t cross my mind at all until two of the younger cashiers were talking about him.
I don’t remember all the specific details but I know that Stuart had invited them to his house. I was instantly flooded with all of those same feelings from years before. The fear, the pain, the betrayal. I tried my best to warn the two of them against being alone with Stuart, especially in his home. I played it off as casually as I could.
Sitting here now thinking about those moments, I wish I had maybe done or said more. I don’t know if they ever went.
I hope they didn’t.
“I’m so mad at myself for not doing more.”
It’s a rare, cool night in Orlando. I’m sitting with my friend Kevin at a restaurant in Disney Springs. For the first time in 16 years I’ve said any of this out loud. First time I’ve told this story to anyone outside of the small circle of people who knew what happened.
“There is absolutely no reason why you should be mad at yourself. You did nothing wrong. You are the victim.”
I don’t know why but I never really thought of it that way. While it was all happening, I felt like I had done something wrong. I never told my mom or Henry because I felt like I would get in trouble. Henry, given his views, would have told me that I had it coming. Mom would have flipped out.
As a young kid still struggling with his sexuality, I was scared about being thrown into the limelight with such a scary situation. I was scared about having to recount it over and over again to my parents, my family, my friends, the police and god only knows who else.
At 32 years old, I’m still terrified to be writing this all down.
In the few months since this has all come back to me, I have spent a lot of time on the internet searching for some sort of insight, some fantastic bit of advice that I could offer up.
I’ve got nothing.
What I’ve found is that each and every survivor’s story is different as are their ways of dealing with the trauma. I am finding myself in entirely new territory. All those years ago, I dealt with all of this by burying it deep and working very hard to forget all about it.
Now comes the question of where do I go from here?
I might not have been ready to face all of this at 16 years old but here I am, ready to talk about it, and I have.
For me, sometimes, talking through things is the best way for me to deal with them. Since having that first conversation with Kevin, I’ve felt like a great weight has been lifted off of my shoulders. I had taken the first steps to getting it all out there, to writing this chapter.
Talking about it is often the first step and the most difficult. Saying it out loud makes it real.
What’s important is that you do it all on your terms, your timeline. If you don’t want to talk about it, don’t talk about it. When you do, go at your own pace.
What I love about talking with Kevin about sensitive subjects is that he never pushes, he lets you take your time and never makes you say more than you’re comfortable with.
Find your Kevin.
It’s okay to let it all out in small bits. If talking isn’t for you, writing it out, draw it, sculpt it. Whatever it takes to help work through whatever it is that you are feeling. If you choose to talk to your parents or the police, be sure to tell them everything that you can remember. No matter what wrong-doing you think you may have done, nothing is worse than what was done to you.
It’s not your fault.
A small part of me wonders how much of my life, my relationships, would be different if I had done more. I can wonder all I want, but it’s not going to help. That’s not what any of this is about. I’m not looking back to move backwards. This is all about moving forward.
Healing isn’t always easy and for everyone it’s different and a good chunk of the time, it never happens as fast as you’d like.
It’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon.
Some are faster and others are slower. We finish in our own time.