I was thirteen. Spoiler alert : Nothing good happened the year I was thirteen. My brother died, my mom was recovering from nearly eight months of being so sick she could do barely anything for herself, and I was watching the independence I had accumulated wash away by the day. I felt so alone. Like nobody cared, and I cried myself to sleep every night. But during this time there was one person who was there for me. She took me to see movies, get ice cream, over to her house to help her with art projects, and was one of the only people that I really thought cared about me. To be fair, at this point she had just graduated from college, had her own house and car, and a lot of free time because she was single and not involved in a lot of things yet. The summer after I turned thirteen she took me, along with her little sister (who at this point was in college still) and her brother (who was quite a bit older than both of them) to a concert a couple hours away. I was really excited, but in retrospect, I wish I would never have gone.
The concert itself was amazing. One of the only fun things I remember from that whole time. But the morning after, I got a text. I don’t know why I remember the text so clearly, it was just one message that read something like “Hey, I had a great time with you last night.” It was innocent enough, and from an unknown number I immediately assumed to be the cousin who invited me to the concert. I had never gotten any sort of text from her before, all the plans and stuff that we made went through my mother, so it felt good to have her directly acknowledge that she had fun, was glad I came, and that she like spending time with me. And it was under these assumptions that I traded text messages with that number for many months to come.
I don’t remember exactly when the first time I got a text that sent up red flags was, but it couldn’t have been too long after that. We were talking everyday, sometimes for hours a day, and with that many messages, and the constant flow of conversation he couldn’t have hidden behind the persona of his sister for long. Maybe it was the first time he asked me about boys. Or the first time he asked about my sex life. Or maybe the first time he asked me if I liked him. For months I, a thirteen year old girl, was talking to him, a grown man, my cousin, every day.
Now, you might very naturally be wondering how on earth I didn’t realize what was going on, and that has two very simple answers. First of all, this guy has very severe speech issues, which means I had never heard him put together a full sentence that I actually understood, and two, since it’s his sister we’re talking about, they put together sentences and thoughts very similarly. And on top of all of that, I trusted his sister. And not only that, but I was so lonely, and the fact that someone whose approval I so desperately wanted, his sister, was seemingly paying attention to me felt good.
I laughed away the red flags, let him invalidate the attention coming from other people in my life, and pushed away any thoughts that told me something was wrong. I let him call me pet names, passively express interest in my body, and talk about how all the guys must want me, all the time telling myself that I was reading into things too much. I told myself that I wasn’t reading his texts right, that I wasn’t allowed to second guess things if I really trusted her. This went on for months, until one day I realized I had never really been talking to her. And then, I panicked.
I remember feeling like I was going to throw up. Panic set in. The realization of all of the things he had urged me to tell him, all the conversations we had, and all the disgusting things he had said, and promises he had made. I think I cried. I immediately deleted his number, and idiotically also all of our messages. I just wanted to delete him from my life altogether. Throughout all of it, the one person I thought I could trust had used me, and I just couldn’t deal with it. I didn’t want to get in trouble for talking to him, even though it had all been a mistake on my part, so I took the knowledge of what he had done, and I shoved it all into a dark corner of my brain where even the memory of it couldn’t get to me.
To be honest, this barely scratches the surface of what happened. And I’m okay with that. At this point you might be wondering what the point of this even is. Like, why would I tell you any of this? And the truth is, I think it’s time that I quit hiding from the truth, I quit lying, I quit making up excuses, and just face up to it. Recently I’ve been thinking about the call of God in my life to ministry, and I think that God doesn’t call us to pretend to be perfect, better than, or artificially happy all the time. I hope that me telling the truth, getting my story out there, and being honest about the things that God has brought me through will help me grow through them even more, but I also help that God will use it as an encouragement. I want other people to be able to feel less alone because of my willingness to be honest. Because for years I quietly sought out people who had been through what I had been through. I listened to their stories, and it was because of them that I began to realize the things that happened to me weren’t my fault. That I didn’t have to hide. That he didn’t have power over me anymore.
But this is a very idealized version of healing from this. Because this, the months of talking, and the things that he said and did, the way in which he has tried to keep the power he had over me have effected me in ways that are difficult, if not impossible to express. And I have to accept that. Because this whole bitterness thing isn’t working for me anymore. Because the tears I have shed, and the sleepless nights that I have spent, and the panic attacks, and the realizing that nobody understands why I react the way I do because I couldn’t bring myself to be honest doesn’t just go away. But I don’t have to live in the dark anymore. I don’t have to be another one of his dirty little secrets. I don’t have to shape my life around him. And even now I take it one step, one day at a time. I give it all to God as much as I can.
Because honestly, that’s all I can do.