I stand in peace because I learned rest won’t save me.
Here is why I stand:
It was green. Army green. And although it physically held firewood, it spiritually held every fear I had ever known: the threat of my death.
This simple box, a storage bin of sorts, was the loaded gun held to my head as I was forced down onto the cold and unforgiving garage floor across the street from where I slept and played. This box was the only thing between the truth and the rest of the world.
“If you tell anyone about this, I will put you in that box and put it in a lake and no one will ever find you or hear you,” he said.
And I believed him.
I was 6. A short girl with a dimple and my whole life ahead of me.
He was 19. A medium-height man with a crooked smile and wicked intentions.
Nearly every day for three years, I was forced down onto the floor of his garage, the space between his bed and wall, his basement floor and even my own bedroom floor.
The feeling of cold cement beneath my feet still makes me shiver.
I would just rest there, a sitting duck waiting to be taken over for what felt like the millionth time. Each time he promised, “This is the last time,” and each time I died a little more on the inside.
From the outside looking in, I was a small girl who worshipped Disney princesses and danced ballet.
But on the inside, I was being forced into a woman, a concept I did not even understand.
The last time it happened, he walked into my room and said, “I won’t be coming back for a while, I have real friends now. This Cinderella Ball is over.”
I was relieved the clock had finally struck midnight, but my savior never came. Instead of turning into a beautiful and confident princess, I felt dirty and used.
I was robbed of one of the biggest moments a girl experiences in life. I would never get a chance to feel the exhilarating confusion behind pressing my lips upon someone else’s for the first time. I would never “lose my virginity” because it was taken before I even knew I had it.
I was trained to believe it was my fault and I would be in trouble with my parents if I told anyone, that if I spoke I would be killed.
I remained silent.
Every time the phone would ring, I felt this fear that someone had found out, that my life would never be the same or that I’d cease to exist. Little did I know, my entire existence was wasting away every day that I remained silent.
I remained unchanged. My growth as a human was being stunted and the storm I was facing followed me everywhere. There is not a day that goes by where my mind does not find my bare skin against the cold floor again.
For 10 years I stayed unchanged. An entire decade had gone by, and he still remained known as the babysitter I had growing up. His face still appeared in my home videos, a family friend. Memories of the times he helped my mom by watching me after school remained happy, and I was wasting away.
I tried to take my own life. I thought maybe it was the only way to address how I felt. I just didn’t know where to begin with the letter I would leave. How do you say sorry for your absence from life and drop a bomb like that at the same time?
I couldn’t do it.
Then, one day during the spring of my freshman year of high school, I was exhausted of being forced down, so I stood up.
I walked myself into the counselor’s office and I spoke, I cried and I grew. Thanks to that day, I finally put the glass slipper on for myself and became the confident girl I dreamt of being.
Today, I am still standing. My purpose in writing this is to say, “Me too.” Sexual abuse in any way, shape or form is never OK. It is crippling and dehumanizing. It is completely asinine that everyday men and women are being forced down when every human everywhere was meant to stand proud.
I broke my silence, and I became my own hero.
Even though he is still out there, somewhere, I am OK. If you have gone through this, I am sorry. If we all stand together, we can make it through.
Today, I am 19, a short woman with a dimple and my whole life ahead of me.
Madeline Zupko is a guest columnist.