It was the start of 8th grade and it seemed as if it was going to be just another year like all the rest. The teacher we had was new and all the kids thought he was cool. He had tattoos, skateboarded, there were pet snakes in class and he listened to all the same music we did. He started to take a liking to me. I became somewhat of a teacher's pet. All the sudden, I felt as if the other kids at school liked me and thought I was cool. I enjoyed the attention. Later that year, he opened up a coffee shop and gave me and some of the other kids a job. We were spending a lot of time together. Soon, he asked if I wanted to spend the night at his house and get high. He made sure I asked permission from my mom. He also wanted to be certain that I not tell her what we were planning. I agreed.
The next morning we got up and went to school together. Nobody there seemed to think this was weird. The relationship continued on this way until my 8th grade graduation. Once he was no longer my teacher anymore, he initiated a sexual relationship with me. I was shocked. I didn't want to do it but I also didn't know how to say no. I thought he was my best friend. I couldn't stand the idea of telling my mom, or anyone else for that matter, about what was going on. I knew I never wanted anyone to find out what was happening. It would be a big deal if anyone were to find out. I saw a news story about a teacher who had sex with her student and knew it must have been awful for that kid to have everyone they knew find out what had happened. Nope, I was better off not saying anything, I thought.
During this time I began to lose touch with the person that I thought I was, and was going to be. My sense of identity was so compromised that the wonderful values I was raised with began to look foreign and awkward. Everyone told me these were supposed to be the best years of my life. What they were was filled with shame and confusion. I was left to navigate through an onslaught of self-contempt and insecurity. My whole life was split into fragments of lies that I had to live for the sake of others. The time when a child becomes an adult is very fragile, and all the while I had someone else projecting their ego and expectations on me. And, all the while, I had to pretend like this wasn't happening. Like everything was fine.
This relationship continued on for three more years. The whole time I knew I wanted to get away from him, but somehow, I couldn't. Every time I would leave, a few days would pass and the horrible reality of how screwed up my life was would set in. I needed to escape. The only solution I had was through my addiction. My home life with either of my parents was a sober one, one that made me feel awful every time I was put in a position to lie about what was really going on. I had to shut out the demons in my head, so back I went to my abuser's house. My keys would unlock his front door and inside I would find a fresh pack of cigarettes, a fridge stocked with beer and a bag of weed. He was usually at school during the day teaching English. I would be able to hide out all alone.
By the time I was a junior in high school, he helped get me enrolled in the school he had switched to. We had to put on this fake front for everybody to see. It was too much for me to handle. The pressure of this double life was crushing me. He was now my 2nd period English teacher and track coach. He would make sexual advances on me in the classroom after everyone else had left and even in the boy's locker room. We told everybody he was my step-dad so it wouldn't seem so weird when they saw us together. And to top it off, he would get insanely jealous whenever he saw me talking to girls at school. This was the cause of many of our arguments. Every time he would find out I had a girlfriend, he would get so upset.
I couldn't take this anymore. School, him; every aspect of my life was driving me crazy. My addiction became all consuming. I started using anything I could as often as I could to make the dreadful reality of my life not so piercing anymore. I didn't feel like I could keep up the act anymore. I wasn't going to keep up the act anymore. One day, I just never went back.
A few years later I was playing around with the idea of getting sober. Around this time, I read an article in the paper about this lawyer named Jeff Anderson who brought hundreds of clergy members from around the world to justice for the sexual abuse they had perpetrated. This gave me hope. After reading this article, I reflected for some time on what had happened to me. Thinking about this for a while, I knew the secret of sexual abuse was the one thing that was keeping me from moving forward with sobriety. I found this lawyer's contact information and called to tell him what had happened to me. He said I was very courageous for coming forward. What I had to do first before he could help me was go to the police and make a report. So I did. Two days later, the top story on every local news channel in the state was my story, allegations against a local high school teacher for 1st degree criminal sexual conduct. This was the outcome I had been dreading for years. It was out there. Everybody knew. I was surprised. People seemed to have a lot of respect for what I had done. I wasn't expecting this kind of response. They said I was brave and heroic.
Five months later prosecution was ready for trial. I testified for two days. There were even students of his there in the court room to support him which made me feel very awkward. How could they not know what a creepy guy he was? The bailiff had to ask them to leave. The prosecutor assured me I had nothing to fear, it was a slam dunk case. The teacher was facing 27 years in prison, with the possibility of a double sentence. Trial and deliberation lasted eight days.
Finally, I received the phone call from the county attorney's office to tell me, I assumed, we had won. Justice had been served, I thought. They said they were really sorry, but he was acquitted on all counts. I asked how this had happened and they said they didn't know. Sometimes the system fails to bring justice. The next day it was all over the news again. This time the media made me look like a fool. They even aired clips of his students saying they knew he didn't do it. It was similar to the way the students reacted at Penn State. Bill O'Reilly's Crossfire ran a segment about how the American justice system was failing the people. Then he interviewed the defendant's lawyer, who proceeded to tell the nation that I was a liar and my story was not credible. To make things even worse, the apartment I just moved into, a few months earlier, was two blocks away from his house where all the abuse took place. I moved in there to try and reclaim a part of my life, it was a nice part of town and I thought he would be going to jail. Nope, now that he was free, we were neighbors. I would occasionally bump into him on the street. These encounters made me feel very uncomfortable.
By sheer coincidence, later that week the international convention for male survivors of sexual abuse was in town. There was an article about my story in the paper that day. My lawyer Jeff Anderson gave me a call and asked if I wanted to come and meet some other survivors. I felt as if the worst thing that has ever happen in my life was up on stage for everyone to see. I had a mental break down in front of all those people. I started screaming and crying, telling everybody how miserable and messed up my life was. Finally a group of male survivors consoled me. They were also tearful and assured me they understood and knew how I felt.
A few years later we moved forward with the civil suit and won. This whole time I was still struggling with chemical dependency. Thankfully, although I didn't think so at the time, there was a cap on the amount of money I could get from a public school. This was a god-send because I don't think I could have made it to a point where I would have wanted to get sober, had I been endlessly able to afford my addiction. After blowing through my settlement in a couple of years, I got sober.
Now that I've been clean and serene for some time, I see that the greatest justice I can receive is to be there for others with similar experiences. Today I get to share a message of courage, hope and transformation. When we offer our stories to one another we sing a song of validation. We break the silence, creating sounds of truth and light that illuminate the darkness of the past. This harmony gives way to an immense chorus of strength and freedom. When we are in tune with others who know, as we have known, our tender emotional wounds start to heal and we establish a society of safety and stability. This rhythmic melody will ensure the precious innocence of future generations.