SURVIVING THE MEMORIES SITE FOR SURVIVORS OF SEXUAL ASSAULT
MICHELLE'S STORY

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Honestly Okay by Dido

**T**

My name is Michelle and I am a survivor and here is the not so ordinary story of my almost ordinary life. I was born in a little town called Wyandotte Michigan. When I was two weeks old my family which consisted of me, my mother and my father moved back to Weaverville NC to be with my family. You see my mom and Dad eloped when they were eighteen and moved to Michigan because of all of the job opportunities. But that is their story not mine so back to me. My family is extremely close and we all love each other very much. I am truly blessed to have the family I have. My mother’s sister was married to a man. They had a child. Growing up my cousin and I were more like sisters. We played together all the time and got along beautifully even though she was a year younger than me. One time when I was roughly three and she was about two, moms had taken us to the mall. My cousin was having a tantrum She was laying in the floor kicking and screaming. The grownups pretended like they were going to leave her so I sat down next to her. I balled up my fists and yelled I will not leave my cousin. She and I loved to play school. We would spend hours teaching make believe students make believe lessons. Throw away text books were the best. She found her path as soon as she entered college and is now a special education teacher. It has taken me a little longer but I am finally a senior and surprisingly enough I am going to be a special education teacher as well. I am so proud of her.

She is a survivor as well. Her no good birth father molested both of us numerous times as toddlers. I remember him touching me in the bathtub. First we had his hand under the wash cloth but it didn’t take long for him to begin rubbing my vagina with his bare fingers as well as a pink bar of soap. I remember another incident when I had slept over with them. I remember the order of how we were sleeping like it was last night. My cousin was on the outside next to my aunt the monster next to her and I was laying on his outside. With all of those people there he managed to put his hand inside my nightshirt and he rubbed my nipples. I was a baby. I was just a little girl. Okay so here is the thing our bodies: they are designed to feel pleasure when touched sexually even when we are children. We still have the same parts. I don’t know what exactly happened to my cousin. Besides, that’s her story. We all have a story. My cousin and I began to play sexual games. We would masturbate each other. I have worked with kids for a long time and the things we did were not typical childhood sexual play. One time my grandfather walked in and found us simulating sexual activity. He said he was disappointed and that we shouldn’t do it again. There are so many memories of she and I behaving inappropriately, nothing to do with him and I hope she never does.

My grandparents on my father’s side of the family worshiped the ground I walked on. You see, my dad is the baby of eight. I have something like thirty-two first male cousins. Most of my cousins lived in Michigan and were older by the time I was born. So not only was I the youngest, but I was a girl (which was a rarity in my family) and I only lived five minutes away. My Papaw spoiled me. If anyone tried to reprimand me he would get mad at them and tell them to leave me alone. He would always take me to the little country store up the road from his house to get a push up pop and a root beer. I spent the first four and a half years of my life living in the country and my soul yearns for it still today. My grandparents had huge gardens and I remember riding on the back of my Papaws truck down through the cow pasture through the natural tunnel of trees. The shade was so cool. We took that path to the garden in the holler. I would run around once again barefoot and in my underwear eating Tommy toes (for those of you not from the mountains of western North Carolina those are cherry tomatoes) warmed by the sun. They tasted so sweet. The cool soft dirt was so rich and fertile. I loved how cool and soft it felt between my toes. The dirt in that garden made the best mud pies you could ever imagine. My grandparents had huge cow pastures as well. The pastures were full of big rolling hills. Sledding in the winter was so much fun.

My second monster was a teenage boy. His family rented land from my grandparents for their trailer. There were five or six people that lived in that two bedroom trailer. They were so poor that they didn’t have a phone or running water. The monster’s mother was so sweet. I have vivid memories of her walking to my grandparents house to get water. The monster wasn’t always a monster. He was cute even though I was only six of seven. I found his tan skin and curly unkept hair charming. When I was afraid to sled down the big hills he would take me. He made me feel safe. I first met him when I was about four or five. He was between ten and twelve years older than me. He would joke with my Papaw and call him “Green Bean” because he was so thin. These jokes (Michelle, please check this word I wasn’t sure if that was JOKE, or not) were not mean spirited but something about him was. I was six years old and second grade was around the corner. It was summer and in my family that meant afternoons under the shade tree eating watermelon. That afternoon was no different.

I had spent the day swimming at the neighbor’s house and climbing trees in the apple orchard. I was tired and hot so instead of being outside with my family, I stayed in to watch cartoons. I had on a blue and black striped bikini and my Dad’s old football jersey. My Dad’s old number was 13. It is so strange what you remember. I saw the monster pull up on his bike. He chatted with the collections of people under the shade tree and then he came in to see me. He sat down on the couch with and started to play with my hair. He then realized what I was wearing. He told me that he liked my big girl bathing suit but I wasn’t wearing it right. He told me he wanted to show me how big girls wore their bikinis. I tried to shake my head no but I turned into a statue. I left my body. I felt like my soul was floating at the ceiling and looking down on what he was doing to me. He stood me up and began to touch me. He then forced me to perform oral sex on him. He picked me up and carried me into the hallway where he proceeded to rape me vaginally and orally. He had taken a navy blue pillow with white polka dots off of the couch. My Mamaw had made the pillow. It was so soft and cheery and it smelled like her. He put the pillow over my face so no one would here my scream. When the pillow wasn’t over my face he was in my mouth. I was six. There was a grate in the floor beside where he had laid me down. I dug my fingers into the grate and held onto it with all my might. The tighter I held the grate the less I hurt in other places.

When he was finished he left me in the bathroom bleeding. My Mamaw found me. She cleaned me up and put me in bed with a baby bottle filled with vanilla flavored milk. She made me promise that I would never tell anyone. She did this because if my Papaw found out then he would have killed him. This made me my abuser’s protector at the age of six. This still messes with my head.

You know when I was little my Mamaw told the most wonderful stories and she would always make me wash my dirty feet before climbing into bed with her. At my grandparents house there was always a litter of kittens or puppies for me to drag around. When I was about three, one of their cows died while giving birth to a calf. They gave the Calf to me and we named her Lucky. We had to feed her with a big huge bottle. Lucky was a sweet cow. When she grew up she had several calves herself. She was a great mother. When she got too old my grandparents sold her to a slaughterhouse. Life on a farm is hard. Their house was across the street from a grave yard. There was a blizzard and the temperature was -18 degrees. There was a man being buried but no one went to his funeral. I loved the graveyard it was my playground. I was comfortable and happy there. I made my Papaw take me to the funeral. I just felt so sad for that man going into the ground with no family or friends to see him off. We didn’t stay long but I was satisfied.

My mom was a full time nurse and my Dad was a car dealer. While my parents were working my little brother and I stayed with a baby sitter we called Mama Judy. She loved my brother and I like we were hers. She never did anything mean to he or I. There were several other children that stayed with her as well. There were two sisters and two little babies. Mama Judy had a very short temper. The younger of the two sisters would "talk back." One day after beating her numerous times she taped the little girl’s hands and feet together. She also gagged her with a piece of cloth. The little girl sat there for over an hour with tears running down her face. Another day one of the babies wouldn’t stop crying. She couldn’t have been more than four months old. After yelling at her Mama Judy picked her up and shook her violently. The odd thing was, she loved my brother and I so much and treated us so well. I don’t get it. The oldest girl that stayed with her was five years older than me. When I was seven or eight she began molesting me. We all would lay down in a queen sized bed. She would wait until her little sister had fallen asleep. She would then manipulate me into touching her. I thought those naps would never end. I didn’t say no because by that point I was so beaten down. I had given up and given in to letting her touch me.

By the time I was eight years old I had already tried to kill myself twice. The first time I was six and it had been a while since the monster had raped me. I locked myself in brother’s nursery. I tied a plastic bag around my head and I sat in the rocking chair. I remember think that I was rocking myself to sleep. My mom picked the lock and found me. I got put in time out. The next time I was about eight. I had a fight with my cousin (a different one than the cousin I mentioned earlier). She slapped me across the face and no one did anything about it. Looking back on it, she triggered me. I wanted to die, so I ate a bottle of baby asprin. After I took it I went to lay down. After about a half an hour I got scared and told my mom. She called poison control and I had to drink epson. Throwing up made me feel better. She kept me home from school the next day and I had to tell my Dad what I did.

By this time my parents were divorced and my mom was in love with a doctor that she worked with. After his divorce was final they got married. He had a son and a daughter. The lived with us there. He was from Spain and exposed me to the culture. He wasn’t the nicest man. He yelled a great deal. He never did anything to me but he was physically abusive to my younger brother. On several occasions I begged my mother to leave him. I don’t blame him for his anger problems. He was old and had been in the war in Vietnam. I didn’t like the way he treated my brother and I but he loved my mother.

Because of my stepfather I was given many wonderful opportunities. The most important gift he gave me was introducing me to Unitarian Universalism. Somehow through his anger my brother and I were raised to be loving free thinking individuals. It seems ironic to me. He was a doctor, my mother was a nurse and my dad was a successful car dealer. My brother and I never wanted for anything. We always went on fun vacations . Skiing in Aspen, trips to Spain, and our annual week at the beach. We spent so much time outdoors. We would go hiking and camping on a regular basis. I also had the privilege of going to summer camp every year. From fourth grade to seventh grade I attended a small private school. Going to school was like being with an extended family. That environment sparked my love of education.

I started Kindergarten when I was four so for a chunk of my freshman year I was only thirteen. Puberty was in full swing and so were my moods. To make matters even more complicated I saw a talk show one day after school about rape and sexual abuse and all the memories of my past came flooding back. My mind had repressed all those horrible things in an attempt to protect me. I became very angry with my mom and I trusted noone. By my sophomore years I remembered everything. I managed to maintain my grades and I continued to be active in several clubs all while wrestling with these demons. I began hanging out with older kids. I was quite different and didn’t quite fit in with the jock and pompom crowd. I began experimenting with drugs but I didn’t drink. It is amazing that I didn’t die. My close friends from high school and childhood are my dearest friends today. We all managed to survive those wild and crazy years.

My junior year a new dance/drama teacher was hired and through her I was introduced to modern dance. I devoted my life to modern dance. I took classes six days a week from the best studio in my town. I was the apprentice to a professional modern company. Not only did I get to perform with them but they also performed a couple of my pieces. I loved dance because I could use my body to tell all my secrets without anyone really knowing. Dance was my saving grace.


My mom and stepfather went to Spain for three weeks. At this point in my life I still had much unresolved anger toward my mother. I virtually blamed her for everything that had happened. Well anyway while they were out of the country I had a party and I got caught. I couldn’t explain to my mom why I was so angry and why I had been so defiant. My mom is an amazing lady and knew that it was a cry for help. I gave her my journal. She read my poems and the next day she found a counselor for me to see. It was funny because four of the six girls that I had classes with saw the same counselor. Artists are always a little screwy. On my first visit the counselor told me that since I was a minor she could tell my parents whatever she felt like she needed to know. I had, and still have major trust issues so she and I talked about the weather for seven sessions and I was cured. All the theater stuff came in handy.

My senior year I fell in love. It was beautiful. He was sweet and had a wide open spirit. One night while we were camping I told him about my past. He promised he would never hurt me. Looking back on that time I really appreciate how free and happy I was overall. Up to that point in my life he was the best thing that had ever happened to me. We lost our virginity to each other. Technically I wasn’t a virgin but spiritually I was. He and I talked about it and on the eve of the day we had chosen we spoke for hours on the phone. I will never forget what he said to me. He told me that he was giving me something he had his whole life. He also asked me to promise to take good care of it. The moment was beautiful. The time he and I spent together is something I will cherish forever.

The following fall I went away to college to study dance. Well, in that first week I discovered ecstasy, techno and dancing till dawn. Ecstasy made me feel so good, happy and whole. I wanted to be touched. Everyone I met in the rave world just exuded love. By the end of my freshman year I was eating so much ecstasy that I would throw up thirty times a day. I couldn’t keep anything down. Chris couldn’t handle watching me kill myself and he broke up with me. Summer came and I moved back home. My body needed a break so my summer was calm. I spent a lot of time camping and hanging out with my first. Summer meant three things that year. The Grateful Dead, running around barefoot and swimming in creeks and rivers. When fall came I didn’t want to go back to school but my parents said that I had to.

Over that summer I reconnected with Chris and I really didn’t want to leave but I did. By this time my step-father was dying from non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. He was a doctor in Vietnam and came in contact with agent orange. The chemicals caused his cancer. I learned early on that you don’t like everyone you love. I didn’t like my stepfather but I loved him. I wanted to be home with Chris and my dying step-father. That semester I was so homesick. I finally convinced my mom that I needed to come home. My stepfather needed the house calm and quiet so my mom got me a little apartment about fifteen minutes from home. I stayed in school and took classes at the local college. That April my stepfather passed away. I am a runner. When bad things happen I run. I had to get away.

My mom had always wanted a beach house. She bought a house at the beach and my best friend and I moved there. I knew that I had issues. I decided that I would spend my year at the beach working on me. I wanted to heal from the drug use of my past and my stepfather’s death. My favorite aunt had ovarian cancer and was so sick as well. I had to get away from all the pain to focus on me. By this point I had been celibate for two years. I was writing, going to school and focusing on the positive. The only drug still left in my repertoire was marijuana but I am fairly left winged and in my opinion pot just isn’t even an issue. So anyway, I had always worked for the YMCA summer camp and after school programs. I wanted to do something different, so I got a job working in a major retail store. I loved it. I was the top sales person in the district and tenth in the country.

While working at the mall I met this guy that managed the pretzel place. He would come by the store and say hi and talk to a couple of the managers. He was twenty four and I was only twenty and he hung out with the older girls I worked with. The pretzel shop was the closest restaurant to the store. I went to go get a soda. He and I talked and he asked if I wanted to hang out after work. I said “sure”. I told the girls I worked with about it and asked if they though he was a good guy. They all said yes. After we got off from work and I got off from work I followed him to his house. We listened to Pink Floyd. I played with his dog and he took a shower. When he got out of the shower we got high. We went to the bar his roommate worked at. I wasn’t a big drinker and my glass never got empty. I had only been drunk one time before. By the time we left I was really tipsy.

We went back to his house and smoked more pot. I told him that if I smoked anymore I wouldn’t be able to drive. It is funny because at that point the started getting ready for bed. I told him I would crash on the couch and I asked for a pillow and a blanket, he told me that it would be okay if I slept in his bed. He promised he wouldn’t touch me so I said okay. I had slept in beds with male friends before and it had been okay and safe. So it didn’t seem like a big deal. I climbed into with him and he put his arm around me. He said he liked to cuddle. He asked if I was okay. He then proceeded to tell me a story about this girl who had accused him of sexual assault. He talked about how absurd it was. I hadn’t had sex in two years and I had no interest in having sex then and there. He asked if he could kiss me goodnight, I said okay. The next thing I knew he was on top of me. I kept saying uhuh but he wouldn’t listen to me.
He raped and sodomized me. I turned into a statue and I didn’t know what to do so I laid there and pretended to sleep. During the attack he tossed me around like a rag doll. I was numb. In the hours that followed I had to make sense of what had happened. I convinced myself that he was my friend. A friend wouldn’t have raped me, right? So I continued to hang out with him as a friend but it was more than unhealthy.

One night I invited him to come over. We were going to hang out, watch TV. Nothing too exciting. He had band practice and said he would be there around 10 o’clock. Well 10 came and he wasn’t there. I tried calling him and no answer. Around midnight I went to bed. The island I lived on was really tiny and only fifty people lived there. It was safe and not locking the door wasn’t a big deal. At 5:30 am he and the leader singer from the band he was in came in very drunk. He came up to my bedroom. His friend laid down on the couch in the loft outside of my bedroom. He raped me again. There was blood on the sheets. I laid there and pretended to sleep until he got up and left. I got up and went to work as normal.

I came home from work and shut myself in my room for four days. I didn’t talk to anyone or leave my room for four days. When I came out it was night and it was a cold clear evening. I went down to the beach and wrote letters to the sea. I wrote “he raped me”. I cried as I watched the ocean wash it away. I wrote several other things. The last thing I wrote was “ I survived”. I went back home and I ripped the stained sheets to bits. By this time I had quit my job at the mall and I was working at the Y again. I was so sad and all of the children’s smiling faces made me feel better.

On New Years Eve of that year I went to see a midwife. I wanted to make sure that he didn’t give me anything. I cried the whole time she examined me but I never told her why. After Christmas I went back to the beach to continue my life as usual. After my year at the beach I returned to the town where I had originally attended. It was hard. I was sad but okay until my aunt passed away. Her death was the straw that broke my back. I knew I needed help. I had a really hard time finding a therapist. I wound up in a mental hospital. I was there for less than twenty four hours. My roommate was a crack head that smelled like urine. One good thing came out of that hospitalization. I found a psychiatrist and most importantly a therapist. She was amazing. We worked on the here and now issues more so than the core of where they came from.

I was hospitalized again around the time of the first anniversary of the rapes. November 11th was the date of the second time he raped me. This date became the anniversary of everything that had ever happened to me. I was in so much pain. I felt dirty and unlovable. I felt like I had so much baggage no one would ever want me. I didn’t even want myself. Through therapy, medicine and the support of my mom, I got my life back.

I began working with young children with Autism and I fell in love all over again. Soon dance had fallen by the wayside. I took some time off from school and focused on work. When I was ready I returned to school to study special education. I began dating again and realized that I wasn’t unlovable after all. Currently I am a senior finishing my degree in special education. I have a wonderful boyfriend who loves me. I am happy. I am a straight A student. I work full time and I volunteer in my community. I amaze myself. I survived for a long time. When I went back to school I began to thrive.

When I think about my life it amazes me. Women are so strong and brave. I want my life to leave a mark in the worked and the only way to do that is to help other. I have dedicated my life to making the worked a better place. I exude love. I am continuing down my path of healing and wholeness. This is my life and I own it. I am a daughter, a sister, a best friend, a teacher, a lover, and someday I will be a mother. I am a survivor. I am thriving and I am amazing.

"The most beautiful people we have know are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These people have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep, loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen."
~ Elizabeth Kubler Ross

 
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