I put a pretty high premium on being honest and real. As such, this is a hard chapter to write.
His father died when he was just a kid. His mom and sister were church-goers, he and the brothers were not. His oldest brother was about the same age as my parents. His middle brother, sister, and mom were somewhat mentally and/or socially challenged, and all but one of whom still lived together in the one house, which could have easily qualified for an episode of “Hoarders”. At that particular juncture I wasn’t going to church very regularly myself. He liked to call himself an atheist, but had a seething resentment toward God. It was irrational to hate a god he didn’t believe in, but somehow that fact was lost on him. In hindsight it is no surprise that someone who felt that way toward God could be used of Satan to inflict so much damage in my life, and it is human nature to take what others easily give up. That’s particularly true for those who feel they’ve been cheated somehow. Not everyone who gets a raw deal in life turns it into a sense of entitlement, but he did. He was prideful, an overachiever, a narcissist, and a card-carrying dyed-in-the-wool cynic.
Even though I was disappointed with God, myself, when we met, I was still the friendly, trusting, seeing-the-best-in-people, happy to be helpful, sort of young lady I had previously been. Disappointment would turn to disillusionment, and I would develop my own cynicism.
It has taken a lot of years for me to make sense of all that happened from the time he entered my life. I have struggled to forgive myself for ever getting into a position that could lead up to what eventually took place, and to get past resenting the lack of guidance and protections that someone raised in a Christian home and in Church ought to have been able to count on.
I don’t know if this sounds strange or not, but I have never really felt anger at the guy. Maybe because I was initially so devastated by what took place, then later so angry at God and at myself, and just trying to survive took all the energy I had. By the time that I “came back to myself and to the Lord” after the ensuing (and very long) detour was over, I understood much more about my own sin nature, why Jesus needed to die for me personally, and really couldn’t condemn someone who was just a fellow-sinner like myself.
He didn’t so much win me over, as wear me down. He was polite, charming, a clever conversationalist. Honor student, pre-Med. Doors just seemed to open before him. Association with him opened up a new world to me. He appreciated the fact that I wanted an education, and he was happy to show me the ropes as far as applications, financial aid, etc, and tutor me in area where I struggled, like math. In hindsight, I think that had we remained “just friends”, I could have looked back with some gratitude and count having known him as a positive experience at that time of my life. I might not have gone to college or nursing school otherwise. I still credit him for that.
He spent money on me, lavished me with praise and attention, made me feel beautiful, and after a while, I got comfortable with those perks. When he became possessive, I felt a heady sense of empowerment that comes with realizing I could have that effect on anyone on the basis of God-given “womanly charms”, and that he could be jealous over me. He didn’t like it when I spent time with anyone other than him. Particularly he didn’t like that I insisted on continuing to abide by my parent’s rules about coming and going, checking in, things like that. My parents never had to have the “while you are under my roof” lecture with me. I wanted to respect and honor them. I did sort of like the sense of shifting over into the adult mode where I had an association with someone other than my parents, and that between he and I, we’d decide things.
As far as I could tell, my parents seemed pretty neutral about him. They didn’t go to any effort, as I recall, to really get to know him, (nor he, them) but never expressed any opposition to my seeing him. (My parents are humble folks from humble beginnings and I now know that they were probably a little intimidated by his confidence themselves.) After we had been seeing each other for several months, even though they still wanted me home at a decent hour, they seemed okay about him coming in and hanging out with me after we’d been out, even if they were turning in for the night. They trusted me, and apparently they trusted him. But really, I was in something way over my head and so naïve I didn’t have a clue. He resented that they still had such control/influence in my life and really encouraged me to move out. I also felt ready to do that, but since I wasn’t working full-time, I found a room to rent in the home of an older lady that I worked with.
I felt like I was living a little, having freedom for the first time, making my own decisions, but really, I just went from being under my parents authority, to being under his thumb.
I had zero experience, and what I knew about the “birds and bees” I’d picked up from idle talk heard in school, a very limited one-time discussion with my mom, and from a cousin when were maybe 7 or 8 who should have been as ignorant as I was, but what was demonstrated to and upon me proved otherwise. Further, the demonstration was accompanied by the assertion that “you have to learn how to do this because you have to do it when you get married”. I did realize that it was something meant to take place only between a man and a woman who were married to each other, and that if it happened outside of wedlock it earned (somehow only) the woman her “scarlet letter”.
As you already know from chapter 1 my favorite book is Gone With The Wind, and I had read it several times by the time I was 19, so I had ascertained the general perspective that the whole “intimate business” was messy and unpleasant for the woman, and a rather unfortunate but also unavoidable duty. I never got that “it is a natural, beautiful special gift from God” angle from anyone, so it left things pretty open for someone to come along and fill in the blanks.
Suddenly my previous standards and beliefs were challenged in ways I was profoundly ill-equipped to counter. I was in the midst of my very first crisis of faith when I met him. After feeling God had rejected me in my desire to serve Him by going to Bible college and the mission field, I lost sight of any reason to live a “separated” kind of life. I was as good as conquered (and that was his aim) as soon as I could no longer come up with any better reason to continue “trying to be virtuous” than, “it was the way I was raised/what I was taught/what I believe”. He did a pretty good job of isolating me, positioning himself in a way that I was becoming dependent upon him. (His own idea, or coached by the master-manipulator Satan?) For him, there was no confusion, no conflict, no moral question. But maybe he was just following the natural course his hormones led him on. In his mind, he was entitled. He has no idea what his selfishness cost me, to this very day, I am sure. He determined that “what was mine, was his” if you catch my meaning.
God designed the human body to respond to certain things in certain ways, and whether this happens in the proper context or not, His design functions just in the way it was meant to. That type of intimacy is also very potent by design, meant to meld “two into one”. Thus it creates ties at a soul-level. It is also true, and probably intentional on God’s part, that first experiences imprint certain things into a person’s development which become indelible.
I can’t help but recognize how calculating Satan was as he orchestrated the addition of that particular “Pandora’s Box” at that exact juncture of my life. There is no question I was already depressed at that time. But regardless of how much coercion may have been applied, my own free will cannot be dismissed as a factor. Viewing my quashed dreams as a rejection by God, I felt hurt, and it was deep. Pride, of course, is something which often requires a long time and a lot of heartache for God to get us to see in ourselves. The understanding of that aspect of it wouldn’t come until much later.
The shifting sands of transitioning into adulthood had left me desperate to feel some “sense of place”. My association with him provided me an identity to replace the one that seemed to have disintegrated. I was raised, like a lot of people my age, in the “do as I say, because I am the parent” school of child-rearing. This tends to discourage a child from learning to think for themselves. Asking “but why?” was a good way to get in hot water at our house. Being a parent now, I can see the logic in that response, and there are times when it is appropriate, but it is not good if that is the only answer a child ever hears because it doesn’t allow for that child to develop good judgment, confidence in their God-given intuition, nor strong decision-making skills. The child who has only heard “because I said so” when and if he/she moves out from under the parent’s influence, will naturally seek that next person who will fill that role of telling them what to think and do, and won’t learn accountability. If a child is never allowed to make a unilateral decision, how can anything ever possibly be their fault?
When a vast world opens up, and you suddenly learn there are endless other ways of “believing and being” than what you have known thus far, it is easy and probably normal (and in a safe environment, maybe even healthy), for your own beliefs to be called into question and challenged and re-examined. They aren’t your own, really, until they have been tested and proven in your own life. Learning “the hard way” is not ideal, but it is the most common and age-old method for the majority of people, unfortunately. And God knows this about us.
Years later, when people I’d grown up with, shared that they’d been victims of incest or molestation, (It was sadly much more common than I knew) I was surprised to discover that accompanying their sense of shame and indignation at having been violated, there was also some guilt and feelings of complicity. However, in light of God’s design, it probably shouldn’t be surprising that there be a pleasurable aspect to the experience. Once Pandora’s box is opened, once sexuality is awakened it can’t be put back into that box for the more appropriate day. It therefore becomes something that must be dealt with, managed, constrained, and doing so without benefit of maturity and contextual understanding, well, it is a daunting task, and enormously damaging to say the least.
Though I was technically an adult when the rape took place, by then he had put in months worth of preparatory “grooming” and I found that I had that same kind of internal conflict. In trying to work through all the fallout, I was hard-pressed to pin down the line between his manipulation and my submission to it. Where did his guilt end and mine begin? I finally realized it didn’t matter. Sin is sin, it must be confessed and repented of, but it is Christ alone who makes propitiation for it. If only I had understood that, maybe I could have done that much sooner, and got on with my life, and avoided years of heartache. The fact it happened when I was already a professing Christian, led me to mistakenly assume I had utterly blown my life for good.
(My understanding about a lot of things was just wrong, wrong, wrong!)
I heard a “Focus on the Family” broadcast in which Fran Sciocca said something like this (and I paraphrase): “Guys will play at ‘love” to get the sex that they are after, while girls will skirt the edges of sex, to get the love and affirmation they so desperately want”. That rang true in what happened in our situation. I could see how, for him, having no greater guide than his own hormones, with no motivation for restraint, could move unhindered through each step in the continuum, just following where his body wanted to go. I could see how he professed love in an effort to move closer to that goalpost. And I could see that I was willing to allow certain concessions (letting him hold my hand and kiss me, when I didn’t even want him to) in order to feel that I was experiencing love and for the affirmation that seemed to establish; a mark of measuring up, if you will. I actually laughed the first time he said “I love you” and said, “no you don’t you just think you do”. I knew we were both calling something that was not, as though it were. I went along for the sake of appearing normal, which I thought I was not, but which I desperately wanted to be!
It doesn’t help that society crams a false “measuring stick” in our faces and pressures us to judge ourselves by their arbitrary standard. I desperately needed someone to help me navigate the passages of life that were opening up before me. He was willing to fill the role, and I submitted myself to his influence if only by my failure to flee. Hand-holding and kissing were the “price of admission” to being part of a couple, and I counted the cost to my integrity, which was seeming less beneficial all the time. I wasn’t happy. But I did feel like less of a misfit in light of his affirmations.
I look back now and can hardly conceive of such a lack of ownership over my own body, and couldn’t figure out how that perspective came about. I am no child-development expert, so I have no idea when or how a well-adjusted kid normally gains that sense of ownership, or whether it is something most are born with, only to have it conditioned out along the way. I just know I didn’t have it in that moment when I needed it. There was no burst of fight and superhuman strength. I verbally protested, I even pressed him away, but where was the crazed creature that should have come out swinging for her life? A Christian therapist I saw, said that is often an indication of prior repressed/forgotten abuse. I don’t know about all that. Psychology is fuzzy and I don’t trust it. Outside perspective helps sometimes, and sometimes it only muddies the water, and as you may have noticed, I need not even go outside my own head to get a second and third opinion.
When you are small, adults necessarily dictate when and what you eat, where and when you go, what you wear, etc. As you get older its normal to gradually get more “say” in those things. I mean no disrespect to my parents, (Mom and I have talked about these things, my parents were good parents, and they did the very best they knew how. She has even asked me, how did you figure this stuff out?) but yeah, there are probably some clues to my sense of powerlessness, to be found in examining Mom and Dad and their ways of being.
My Dad was the smallest among his brothers, and his Dad was a “picker”. (No, not the guys who make a living sifting through others junk for treasures). He tended to “pick on” people. And I even recall that about my grandfather, though he died when I was in 3rd grade. That was his way of giving you any attention. I am not even saying he was a bully. Probably it was the only means of interaction Pappaw learned in his own upbringing, but a grandpa that pops his little grand-daughter’s balloon with his cigarette, and then laughs as she cries about it, could possibly be considered a little mean. That, and him tickling me until I cried, are what I remember about him. I was very uncomfortable around him. That trait in my Grandfather really did a number on my dad’s confidence and sense of self-worth, according to Mom. Being the youngest boy, the older brothers treated him in like manner, so he got a triplicate dose.
My mom, on the other hand, well, as I’ve said jokingly before, their two voices in my head alone were enough to cause a “splitting” within my mind. Both extremely stubborn, (I inherited the double dose) both very opposite of one another. My mom doesn’t consider herself to be confident either, but as she would put it, she “didn’t know enough to know she didn’t know” how to do something, so she just did it! (Helplessness is learned). She could sew anything, swing a hammer, calculate angles, re-upholster furniture, taught herself music and how to play the organ, cut hair, is a talented artist, and she has always accomplished just about anything else she took a notion to do. But she also has very set ideas of what constitutes the “right way” On its face, that sounds virtuous, like a high standard, but in the real world it doesn’t always pan out so well to be inflexible. (Things that don’t bend, will break).
Though there were a couple of other vaguely “possible” indicators of “possible” repressed past experiences, solving that particular mystery, (if indeed there was one), wouldn’t necessarily help, and the way I figure if God gave us the ability to bury something like that and forget it, I certainly don’t care to dig it up. I will say that the incidences I speak of, did unearth some history within the family line, things not forgotten by the ones who experienced them.
The fact remains, instead of physically fighting, I just went away inside my head somewhere. I don’t mean for the duration of that moment, but for the next decade. And I am, in fact, still retrieving pieces of myself from off that battlefield even today.
By the way, I wasn’t exactly Shrek’s Fiona (ogre version), or anything like that. Self esteem issues seldom have any basis in the facts such as they are. Society certainly sends us mixed messages, and those females who are least constrained by modesty certainly appear to possess a definite “edge” in attracting a mate, the price of which can be hard to grasp when you are young and insecure. I was perplexed by the mixed messages and double-standards, and stymied by the impossibility of measuring up to the unattainable air-brushed over-sexualized version of “beauty” peddled by society, and plastered wherever the eye turns. I was as prone to comparing myself to those false indicators of “real womanhood” as anyone. If you weren’t willing or comfortable dancing to the tune of those societal parameters, the message was you could pretty much consider yourself “out of the running” as far as guys were concerned. In the present day, girls can’t escape this even in the context of church. For something that is not a competition, it sure can feel like one. Even the most proactive and intentional effort to raise a girl with a healthy appreciation for her uniqueness and natural beauty, threatens to be drowned out by the worlds contradicting clamor.
It is the ultimate lie Satan has perpetrated against women. And rare is the woman or young lady (and in this day, girls as young as 8) who hasn’t already bought into it to some degree or other.
Click →Beautiful You to listen
He had proclaimed that he loved me (and maybe he did, to the degree he was capable of it) and wanted us to be married. By that point, I felt so unworthy of anyone or anything better, that I just went along in this role he had created for me. In my own estimation I was “ruined merchandise” and couldn’t very well offer myself up to anyone else after what had happened. The “ceremony” was performed by the pastor of his mom’s church. He married us right there in his living room in our ratty shorts and tee shirts, the preachers wife the only witness. I know that sounds insane in this day we live in now, and maybe even back then in the 80’s but I was definitely functioning from a wounded psyche at that point. Satan had swooped right in and pounced on what he knew was a weakened creature with no “covering” over me, out of my parent’s house, and not connected to a church either. With my mouth I said “I do”, but in my heart I said “what choice do I have?”
I went to Cosmetology School first, but he wanted me to do something more lucrative. His choice for me was nursing. I managed somehow to do very well in my pre-nursing studies, Dean’s list, Phi Theta Cappa Honor Fraternity, Suma Cum Laude, and won a full scholarship for nursing school. By day I gave the appearance of this successful young adult making my way in life, and yet behind that, were the shameful secrets.
I was elected as the VP of the incoming class. My grades were good, and as VP I was in charge of planning and organizing the next year’s Nursing School Open House for incoming RN students. It was a large teaching Hospital, with schools for several other disciplines, in a large downtown area, lots of traffic, difficulty parking, a stressful sort of environment, in a demanding program, and I was barely holding myself together. One day I suddenly felt like I could not breathe. I was sitting in Pharmacology, listening to lecture and taking notes. I wasn’t thinking about my circumstances or my depression, I was just doing something I enjoyed, learning, studying, listening to the professor. But pretty soon I started feeling my vision go dark, and I reached over to my friend Robin, to get her attention. She could tell right away something was wrong, and 30 student nurses jumped into action. I was placed in a chair with wheels and someone wheeled me through the underground catacombs to the student clinic. The fog of my mind was finally pierced when the doctor asked me if there was any way I might be pregnant. It was a painfully lucid moment when I registered the fact that if I were to become pregnant, my nightmare might never end, and no way could I take the chance of subjecting a child of mine to the reality I was living. I don’t know why that had not already been a primary concern, other than the fact that my mind was struggling just to get through one moment at a time. Hour by hour, day by day. I lost all sense of “future” back when the rape occurred.
After those protective shields unraveled, I just started to crumble, my fears and anxieties lit into me like a swarm of wasps. I realized that I just couldn’t live the way I was living, much longer without my mind and spirit being broken beyond any hope of recovery. If something did not change, I was probably going to die. I was so depressed and felt so hopeless by then, that I already had ideas of how to end my life. When I came out of the clinic, my friend was still there. She stayed late with me, there on campus after class was over. We found a nook somewhere by one of the many side doors and sat on the steps. When I could finally stop sobbing, she said “talk to me”.
My whole story came tumbling out. There was so much that was so wrong and dysfunctional about all of it. Even our living arrangements. My friend just sat there with her mouth open, unable to take in all I had been carrying, astounded that I was hurting so badly yet still functioning, smiling and thinking about others. She told me I had a right to feel what I was feeling. I told her I had to get out. She hugged me, looked me in the eye and she said, “yes you do”. I told her it would likely mean withdrawing from school because I was sure that my psyche couldn’t handle both. She said “you can always finish later”.
I went home that night, knowing I was leaving, just not knowing when. I told him I wanted to spend a weekend by myself at the beach to get my head together for school and de-stress before exams. Instead I spent that time going over things in my mind and trying to figure out how I ended up where I was, and how I was going to get out, and what the cost would be. I took my Bible with me, and did my best to pray, and re-connect with God. I knew I was going to need Him. (It was on that weekend that I wrote the poem “Retreat” and snapped the accompanying photo). To me, divorce was unacceptable, and even though the marriage was a sham to begin with, taking the step of being divorced in my early twenties, was not easy, or taken lightly. It was almost the end of the semester before I was prepared to make the actual move. I had a friend who had a small “in-law” apartment in her garage. I could live there for a while practically free. I submitted my withdrawal from school (losing my scholarship of course), and I drove him to work one morning (while his car was being worked on). I went back to the house, pulled the car right up to the back door, loaded up just the things that were my own personal belongings, and my nursing school stuff, and took it all to my friend’s garage. Then I went to the bank and withdrew half of the savings.
When I picked him up from work, I didn’t say anything but hello, I just listened to him talk about his day, and it wasn’t until we pulled up in front of the house and I put the car in park but didn’t turn it off, that he noticed something was wrong. He had already pulled the door handle on the passenger side and was getting out, when it dawned on him how quiet I’d been, and that I hadn’t turned off the car or made any move to get out. He jokingly said, “aren’t you coming in?”. I said, dryly and pretty much devoid of emotion, “no”. I didn’t smile or laugh, or cry or frown, or even turn my head. I was looking straight ahead. He said, “Huh? Why not?” I turned my head slowly toward him and I said, “because I left you today”. His smile faded, and a puzzled look came on his face. He gave a sort of half-chuckle, half gulp, and asked; “What do you mean?”. I said, “I. Moved.Out. Today. I’m leaving you. I don’t love you, I never did love you, and I’m not coming back”. He sat there like he was still waiting for me to crack up or give him a punchline, until I finally asked him to please get out of my car. He said “you’re scaring me, what in the world are you saying?” I asked him “how much plainer can I make it? If you don’t believe me, go look in the house, you’ll see that my stuff is gone. I am not coming back”. He finally actually stepped out of the car, and I left. Without a backward glance.
At first he came looking for me, pleading with me, saying he couldn’t live without me and was going to kill himself. When that didn’t work he threatened to kill me, instead. The old “if I can’t have you, nobody will”.
He even managed to win my parents sympathies for a little while and they tried to get me to give him another chance. They had no idea, of course, so I can’t really blame them, but that just shows how persuasive he could be.
What can I say? When that is one’s introduction to the notion of intimacy, to that which God created to be good and sacred, but which is instead turned reprobate (much to Satan’s delight), it can be extremely damaging. It has been a life-long source of grief and loss.
Why would I write about it? Well, if there is a young woman or even a young man, who reads this and is dealing with similar pressures and temptations, and they can conceive of the potential damage and pain, maybe God can use it to help someone be stronger than I was back then. Maybe I can be a voice of guidance , which wasn’t there for me back then. There were two people I went to, before I married him, looking for insight, some way to get off the hook I was impaled on, but neither of them really had any wisdom to offer, and I came away feeling even more stuck and hopeless.
In all, my association with this person spanned 7 very painful and messed-up years, and extended on into a second horrible relationship of 3 years . Yet the ramifications, the ripples, have stretched over 3 decades (and counting).
Satan is indeed, a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour!
Unfortunately, escaping hell didn’t exactly land my feet onto solid ground. That would be quite a ways down the road yet.