I went home that day all stirred up inside. I had no idea it was wrong of him to touch me. I had no idea it was what we’d call grooming, now. I just knew….
I was 13 years old the first time I was raped. Not to worry, this will not be a rant or a self-pity party. Rather, a story about overcoming evil who took the form of a ‘nice’ man everyone liked and respected. Maybe more of a cautionary tale. I guess.
The summer before my sophomore year, my mother thought it would be a good thing to get my teeth taken care of before I was sent away to school in the fall. Well-thought-of in the community, not overly expensive, doing good work, Dr. Rosen (close, but not his real name) was her choice.
Week One was all about x-rays and all that.
Week Two was “Nurse, would you please go get (some medical supply) for me?” as he then cheerfully placed his hand on my thigh, reassuring me that this was going to be a safe and easy procedure. Surely, with how gentle he was, he meant well. Right?
My family lived way out of town. Our nearest neighbors were half a mile away. I had zero street smarts. I had no clue what was going on.
Molestation is a sneaky, complex thing. No one talks about how thrilling it is for a young girl, just budding into her sexuality, to get the attention of an older, more mature man who seems like he likes her and wants to please her. So his hand on my thigh was exciting, quite literally breath-taking.
I went home that day all stirred up inside. I had no idea it was wrong of him to touch me. I had no idea it was what we’d call grooming, now. I just knew it had felt nice.
Week Three, I made sure to wear my nice summer dress. It was easy for him to slide up closer to the Treasure. A longer stroke, a caress this time.
I look back and am astounded that Nursie didn’t catch on why this man kept forgetting important items she had to keep going out of the room to get. Then again, maybe she was part of his scheme.
Week Four, he invaded the Outer Limits of the Treasure Cave, his short stubby fingers pulling away my little-girl cotton undies to just barely graze the goods. My back arched involuntarily with surprise and pleasure.
Nurse came back in earlier than expected … he yanked his hand away fast.
It was so exciting! I’d wanted him to touch me! And by then, I intuitively knew it was wrong, so it was a double-edge thrill. I knew my mother would shit bricks if she knew. But, guilty as I felt, I liked having such attention.
Week Five had Nurse away for a conference. “Mrs. B., would you wait out in the waiting room, please? I’m sure you don’t want to sit and watch a bunch of boring drilling and filling!” Ma went out to wait for me.
This time, there was no soft, gentle touch.
The classic if you tell anyone message. The tearing down of innocent cotton panties, the pushing of a big thing where it certainly had no business being.
This time, it didn’t feel good. It wasn’t exciting. It was terrifying. And it hurt! This formerly mild, handsome man became a fiendish brute whose big hand jammed my mouth shut, ripped my bottom lip open as his other tugged down my pants. He clambered on top of me and desecrated the Treasure with his rapid, erratic, jolting, flailing, squirming, pushing hulk.
You can put a long, empty-feeling pause here.
The word shock will never suffice.
My mother was a woman who believed the best of everyone. I guess that’s where I got it, because I did, too. I actually still do, tending to assume a person’s innocence until it’s glaringly obvious I was so wrong. And to forgive, probably too quickly.
I can’t stand the idea of hate, having been its brunt in school for many years.
I can’t stand the idea of bullying, either, having borne it at home my entire childhood.
Not the mean, nasty, intentional outright bullying we think of, getting into dire fights, but ‘cute’ bullying, ‘funny’ bullying – “don’t you think you’re too fat for that dress? Better go change…ha ha ha,” like that. “Oh you don’t like being tickled till you pee? Too bad, ha ha ha.’
I had already expressed a desire to focus on art, but the message from the family was, “We’ll put you through art school, but it’s too bad you’re just a girl, because (loud sighing) of course you’ll never be a successful artist. You’ll just end up getting married and making babies and giving it all up.”
The underlying attitude that I was not enough, or good enough, was so sneaky, so invisible, so normal I just accepted it as How Things Are. It was a constant erosion of self-worth by abrasive, well-hidden, supposedly funny, jokey-but-not-at-all comments and sharply barbed ‘fun.’
But my mother was no dummy. She knew right away that something was Wrong with me. I was suddenly too quiet, letting my hair fall forward to hide, my face strained, pallid with fear of people finding out.
Mind you, this was 1958, when you were called ‘slut’ and ‘hussy’ if anyone found out you’d even kissed anyone, much less being Done Wrong. “You should be ashamed of yourself, leading him on like that. What were you wearing…” “Who is he? You’ll marry him tomorrow!”
Week Six, I dug my heels in and utterly refused to go my next appointment. My Treasure Cave itched like mad. I asked my mother to take me to the other kind of doctor. Who discovered I now had a kind of thrush only gotten through doing the dirty with someone infected.
I bless that fact, because otherwise, I’d have never told her what happened. I was too shocked, betrayed, embarrassed and humiliated. Devastated. I didn’t have those words to describe how I felt at the time. I just knew there must be something fundamentally Wrong with me that this had happened.
But as much as I thought about it, I couldn’t figure it out, thinking it must have been all my fault.
I must have deserved to be hurt.
I wasn’t a good person.
I ought not to have let him.
I shouldn’t have felt good being touched by him.
I should have known he was a liar, a predator, a beast.
On and on like that.
My mother started asking other mothers in the community. Is your daughter being shy all of a sudden? Angry? Withdrawn? Not as out-going, fun, or enthusiastic?
She found six other girls. Not just in our state, but in two other states ours bordered. The mothers got together and got the guy arrested and thrown in jail. It was never reported by the news, or in the papers. Because it was such a shocking thing, we never told my father, who’d have killed him, for sure, and most likely with his bare hands.
Just one man’s arrogance caused decades of pain for so many people. Two of the girls went off the rails and suicided by age 19. One died of an overdose.
What makes men think it’s OK to shove hands, fingers, tongues and man-things where they don’t belong?
What makes them so desperate for self-gratification that they run rough-shod all over a girl or woman – or a boy, for that matter – with not one whit of regard for the well-being of their hapless victim, on any level?
I was lucky. If not for that itch, I’d never have had any support from my mother. I’d have stressed over telling anyone about that incident forever all by myself. I did carry guilt, shame and devastating self-blame around for 35 more years.
I’ve never told a single soul about that dentist until now. Not even my well-meaning friends, and certainly not school counselors or the therapists I saw later on. I didn’t trust a single one of them. I just wanted to die, so the pain would go away. I thought it would, anyway. Turns out that isn’t the case.
Isn’t it amazing that someone can endure such deep depression and the constant onslaught of consistent, destructive thinking, every single day, for so long, and not actually give in and do the ending deed? I think it is.
I bless the steady pull to make art as my first salvation. I know I wouldn’t have survived a single year without it.
I bless the people who kept me out of that black hole of hell, every single day not allowing me to slip back in. Because I never told anyone my secret, they had no idea they were being such stalwart allies, saving my life with almost every conversation. They didn’t know I sucked in the sound of their upbeat, inspiring or consoling voices like a hungry sponge.
Most of all, I bless and am so grateful for the existence of a strong sense of Being within myself that refused to cave in. I don’t know how I have it, but I’m sure glad it’s there.
If you see someone who wears their hair like Shylee, know that they’re struggling more within their being than you could ever imagine.
That they believe they are no good, and can’t even express how awful they feel. That they don’t think anyone gives a rat’s rear end about them, despite hearing “I love you” from family and friends. It doesn’t sink in.
And. Please – I’m OK. I ask you to refrain from thinking that you’re so sorry this happened. I’m not. That 35-year struggle resulted in a steel-strong sense of Right and Wrong and a Self that just won’t quit.
I believe we are all here to love, be loved, and have experiences both joyous and not. That one and its long effects, and a couple of others like it, were not so joyous … until I finally was able to accept that, no matter what, I’m OK. I’m absolutely OK, just as I am.
So I’m at peace.
Thanks so much for reading my story. I hope it lit you up. Or maybe it inspired you, or gave you a new perspective with which to view and appreciate your own life. That’s my wish.
THE FIRST TIME I WAS VIOLATED
text and image © Angela Treat Lyon 2021–2
This story is from my book, INSIDE SECRETS, Stories I’ve Never Told Anyone. Volume I. Full color illustrations: all artwork by Angela Treat Lyon.
I drew this series of drawings in blue on a black background, and then drew over them white, which produced a unique glowing effect. If you’d like a print of this image, please contact me.
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