Trigger Warning: Sexual Abuse Trauma
I feel sick with myself now for ever having feelings for him. I think I am disgusting and abnormal. I block myself from feeling anything now. Numb is better. I don’t want the familiar feelings creeping inside so I distract myself with something that is the opposite. Something that won’t remind me of him. I avoid any music he likes…Fleetwood Mac and Tom Petty especially. I tell myself I can separate myself from him and what happened in the past. I can be a different person; I can be normal if I try.
Anyone I’ve met recently doesn’t know my past. They think I’ve had a normal high school experience and expect me to be like any other millennial complaining about things like not having time to eat cereal and having no use for a top sheet. I can adapt to this way of being. Not using a top sheet, of course, those are useful, but I can pretend to be normal. I can try to be what I want to be. Then I will feel good again. Or at least until the next wave of dissatisfaction overtakes me.
The notebook we wrote to one another reminded me of one of my favorite movies that had come out earlier that year, The Notebook, a love story between two people that have to work hard at love and in the end, decide it’s worth it. Because I wanted to share everything with him, I loaned him the movie. It was on a Friday, heading into Memorial Day weekend when I gave it to him. I had written in the notebook last so now it was his turn to respond. He was to be gone camping up north so he took it with him. Every year he takes the same trip with the same group of guys, one of whom he’s known since a child. There are about ten to fifteen guys depending on who can make the trip that year. They camp on his childhood friend’s property and spend their time talking, listening to music, and doing a little drinking. He would tell me later that he “missed me terribly” while away. He returned from his camping trip the next Saturday. He had told me that evening he “couldn’t wait to get home” to watch the movie I had loaned him.
The Monday after continued as usual. We had lunch together and he talked about his trip weekend and how much he liked the movie. We continued to write small entries back and forth that week. Towards the end of the day, he gave me back the notebook with a longer than usual entry. Included was the movie with a sticky note attached on the back with the words “yes, you” written on it. I never paid too much attention to the back of the DVD cover so I didn’t remember what it said. Noticing it for the first time I saw it was a Kleenex ad that said “Did you ever meet someone that you just knew you were meant for?” The “yes, you” comment was about me. I didn’t say anything then. I was too confused to process what he meant. What did he mean? Did he mean it as my friend? This was my first thought. I didn’t want to jump to conclusions. I decided that his notebook entry would explain further and not say anything until I had read it.
I wish I had it now because I only remember bits and pieces. So the recollection may seem a bit scrambled. He talked of how shallow he was in his youth and how he couldn’t become close with a woman because of his negative experience with his mother. He didn’t “feel worthy of love”. Over the years he changed and saw the beauty in other’s souls and not just their bodies. Witnessing the love his father had for his stepmom, he yearned to be close with a woman. He even dreamed to get married and having a family but he couldn’t figure out the right way to even ask a woman on a date. He was insecure and didn’t want to face the rejection, he says. After twenty years of being single, he accepted that it was never going to happen. Now after thirty years without having someone close to him, to give him affection and to share his feelings with, he feels like he finally found that with me. He knows he took a risk in telling me but after being lonely for so long, he couldn’t go any further in life without sharing his feelings for me. A chance for love was worth the risk. He told me to take my time in responding and that he was content in waiting two years, after I graduate, for me. “I love you Nichole Anderson” is what he ends with.
When I read this, it was towards the end of my Geometry class, my last class of the day. We had a lot of downtime in the class to do homework and I spent my time reading. The teacher didn’t mind too much anyway. I sat there reading while everyone else did something besides the homework assigned. I can only imagine how my face must have looked. Going from excitement and curiosity to shock and wide-eyed. I really didn’t expect him to ever tell me that he loved me. I felt as some great event had occurred. My heart was racing and…I felt happy, elated even. I thought, “How could someone as wonderful as him love someone like me?” I felt a burst of energy within me while my thoughts tried to unscramble what he said and then there was the question of how I felt. Did I love him? I wasn’t physically attracted to him but I was to his mind, I guess I was in love, I thought. I shared everything with him and I was most comfortable with him, more than anyone I had ever met. I felt that not only could I be myself, but that I could be anyone and he would still accept me. I couldn’t imagine losing him. No…just the thought brought tears to my eyes. He’s someone I care about but does that mean I romantically love him? If I’ve never had feelings of desire for him is it because I never will or because I never allowed myself to feel them? Did I deny these feelings because I felt it was impossible or wrong? But now he has opened the door to a situation I’ve never even thought of. I couldn’t respond with an I love You back until I understood my own feelings.
So while reading this, my friend Brendan who was also in the class, came over next to me and I showed him the last page of what he had written.
Brendan looked concerned but instead of casting any judgment, he asked, “how do you feel?”
I responded with an “I don’t know, this is crazy right?”
“Yeah… it’s a little messed up” he agreed still trying to be sensitive to the situation yet I could tell he was a little uncomfortable.
“I’ll have to think about it”
“I don’t know about this Nic…just be careful”
“I will” and I truly meant it but I was also open-minded to the situation. In many situations, I have been a part of starting out with good intentions but would turn out very wrong. Like all my mom’s toxic relationships I witnessed, nothing about this situation felt even close to that. We were two people that happened to be very apart in age but close in our minds. I knew it was out of the ordinary but it never felt dirty or wrong. Still…I had to think about my romantic feelings towards him.
I spent the week in a daze. Part of me was flattered while the other part was bewildered, deep in thought but never coming to an answer. It wasn’t too much out of the ordinary for me to be in such a state. Whenever I had an argument with a friend or had a bad grade on a test, I’d shut down to think. I would think about why it had come to such an outcome, replaying the scene over and over again in my head, searching for any missed clues, and trying to come up with a solution to do things differently to prevent whatever situation it was from happening again. I would be so deep in thought some accused me of “daydreaming” or “zoning out”. They would loudly say “hello?” while waving their hands in front of my face or even louder “Nichole!” to which I would startle, thinking I had done something wrong. “What!?” I would answer half terrified. I had to come up with an answer soon and I felt I wasn’t getting any closer to what I would say.
By Sunday, I decided I would go on ahead and tell him what I was feeling. I felt I didn’t need to hide my feelings from him. I knew I could be honest with him and he would accept me even if I was in a way rejecting him. Surely, he must understand that this isn’t an easy decision. He isn’t any boy I’ve met that I can just introduce to my parents. I know that I would have to keep him a secret if things were to progress, whatever that meant. How far have I gone with a boy at that point? At fifteen, the farthest I’ve ever gone was making out with a couple boys. My one boyfriend, Joe, and I went on a date and that’s all we did in his basement, the movies and then the playground while out on a walk, but never any touching. A grown man with much more experience than I was intimidating. Oh, I had a good drive and would think about it, but I knew I wasn’t ready for the actual experience yet. The simple question of whether or not I loved him, was trampled by my overwhelming feelings of “what if” and “should I”.
I didn’t go to any teachers and I didn’t tell my parents or my any of my other friends. So far, only Brendan knew. Until I knew what my decision was to be, I wanted to keep it quiet. If Brendan asked, I would relay that nothing else had happened, that I haven’t responded but I was still in contact. I couldn’t deny that; he would see me talking to him or in his classroom. I felt I wasn’t being too secretive with him, I was just keeping out some details.
He made me feel so special and wanted. It was only a couple of weeks after he told me he loved me, mid-June, that I admitted to myself that yes, I was definitely attracted to him.
So there’s a connection and attraction to one another but… is it love? was the final question. I was going to think about it some more. That is all I could do. I tried to sail away with other thoughts but the question remained constant in my thoughts like a heavy anchor.
By July, I decided it was time to pull the anchor into the boat. I had made a decision. I loved Noah and I couldn’t keep it to myself anymore. I knew it was wrong and my parents would never allow this kind of relationship, nor would the law obviously. I tried not to. I tried not to touch him. I tried to not go too far… but I didn’t try hard enough. After a little over a year of sneaking around, we were discovered by my parents.
There were emotions of sadness, anger, and dismissal accompanied by tears but never understanding.
“Why did you want to hurt me?” I can still hear my dad asking me.
“How could you?” My mom asked me, not being able to look at me.
Then everyone found out. Friends stopped talking to me. Teachers viewed me with suspicion. Other kids hated me and would bully me every chance they got. Then there were the reporters and the cyberbullies.
“She only did it for a good grade”
“She’s such a whore”
“She took advantage of a good man, she knew exactly what she was doing”
No one person said she did it out of love. I don’t blame them. What teenager knows what love is anyway?
My parents wanted to press charges and forced me to testify against him. It was me that told the courtroom everything and the newspapers published it, letting the world know. Nothing was a secret anymore.
“It wasn’t your fault,” my mom told me years later.
“I understand now that you weren’t doing this to hurt me” my dad explained around the same time.
But it doesn’t matter what they say.
I hurt people and I can’t take it back; I don’t know how to make it better. I hate myself for it. How selfish I was to think that our actions wouldn’t affect anyone. The shame I feel is so overwhelming I want to bury myself, never to return to the surface. But I’m human and I still crave to live, to feel love, and to be accepted. How I wish I could be a statue void of feelings. I have no choice but to come out of the hole, but I will blend in and recreate myself into something worthy. I will be someone people like and I will never reveal my past. I hope it works.
“We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be” Kurt Vonnegut