When I was about 7 years old, my parents, namely my mom, decided to help out a friend of my stepfather, Ray*. I call the friend, Steve, to make things a little more simple. Steve had a work accident and this was back before workman’s comp and benefits so he was out of luck while he healed. He could not work due to the accident which meant he also didn’t have money for room and board. He had met my stepfather as a youth even though he wasn’t much older than that now. He didn’t have his own family he could count on. So we were it.
I don’t know much more than that as I was never told and I didn’t ask. I believe I can safely assume that because of Steve’s prior situation his childhood had not been great.
My mom took care of his wounds. I watched as Mom took off the old bandages, cleaned out the wound, and put on a fresh set of gauze and tape.
I had just recently moved into the house as well. My mom had sent me to live with my dad while they found a place to live where I could be safe. Ray’s previous wife had done things like a drive-by shooting during the process of getting a divorce so my mom didn’t want to take chances. The small town we moved to was at the base of the mountain below Camp David. We lived in the outskirts that I call the boonies. We could not see our closest neighbor. It was on a gravel road with woods and fields. There was a little wooden bridge as you came along the road about a mile from our house. We could hear cars drive over the bridge so we would know that someone was coming. We didn’t get a lot of traffic.
My mom’s relationship with Ray had started about 3 years prior but she was still insecure about it. She didn’t like it when Ray paid me too much attention; she got jealous and made up stories about my intentions. I was 7 so I really doubt I had the ability to follow through on such intentions.
So in the house was a young man, wounded both inside and out and a child really wanting some attention and love.
I paid attention to Steve as a 7-year-old would and in Steve’s mind I became the girlfriend he so desired. But he took things too far.
Much of this story I know now because when I was first married and pregnant with my first child Steve came to me. He shared all this and how things were messed up in his mind. He had seen me as an 18-year-old girl, not 7. He apologized and said he never meant to hurt me. To the best of my knowledge, Steve never saw anyone else like he did me other than his wife.
I am sure that this story leaves all kinds of questions about the situation as well as some feelings of sympathy or maybe even empathy. But I am leaving it there.
I spent many years telling this story only to a very select few. My best friend from childhood knew and my husband knew. I put up what I now call a shame shield. I thought I was protecting myself but I was really distancing myself. It does take courage to lower that shield and become vulnerable.
It took a long time to lower that shield. There was a question attached to that shield and no one had asked that question so I felt safe. After I have divorced my husband and started dating I knew I should share that story with whoever I got close to. I am not the kind of person that hides things willingly so I knew I would share.
Then I met George, I got close to George. I finally shared my story with him. And he did the very thing I was afraid of – he asked the question.
He asked me why I didn’t tell. The truth: I don’t know; I was 7.
Steve never threaten me more than to say ‘you shouldn’t tell your mom.’
I also don’t know if my mom ever knew. There are things that happened that made me think she might have an inkling like working hard to find a real girlfriend for Steve. It worked. He married her and lived with her his whole life. But years later my mom had something she had to do overnight and I needed a place to stay- she sent me to Steve and Eve’s. Eve was a friend and former coworker. So I can only assume that she felt I was safe.
Having that shame shield prevented me from healing. I was in my 30s before I started being willing to share my story with others. Wounds rarely heal when covered by bandages that are never changed. Each time I did become vulnerable and share my story it was like I was changing the dressing. I was able to gain strength and move to the next step. Looking back at my journey I see how the steps all played a role in my healing. I took a long time between steps, mainly because I was stumbling along, mostly alone. When I had gathered enough strength and support I really made grand strides towards my recognition of what needed to be.
My story, like anyone’s story, comes with some grief of what could have or should have been. I learned with my mom’s passing that telling the tale of her end was very soothing. The more I told the better I felt until one day I didn’t feel the need to tell anymore. So it goes when I encounter someone who is grieving I just listen knowing that each time the story is told is one more step towards their coming to terms with the grief.
I share my story now to help others have the strength and support to be able to tell their story.
*Names have been changed to protect privacy.