Don’t Call It a Comeback. No, Really.

I just googled ‘World’s Shortest Running Comeback’ and I cannot believe that does not appear to be something runners keep track of somewhere. Runners keep track of all kinds of ridiculous things, so why not comeback miles? Or miles between initial and next injury? Besides, it has been so long since I earned my last participation medal at a marathon or buckle at an ultra that I am starting to experience low self-esteem. You can tell because it’s been a minute since I posted a selfie with an inspirational quote.

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Insert quote intended to inspire which actually makes people feel worse about themselves.

In all seriousness, after my microdiscectomy, I was a very good patient and followed my recovery protocol strictly. I am no longer young and silly (when I was 30 I had knee surgery and tried to run two days later). When the doctor released to me to begin running again, I was very smart and restrained in my progression back to running. I went to a small, flat, gravel ‘trail’ near my house and ran for one to two minutes and walked for two to four minutes.  I was ecstatic to get to do these little bits of jogging. I could not have been happier. I was telling everyone the recovery from my back surgery was a piece of cake compared to the recovery from my hip surgery (although my hip is doing awesome; the recovery just takes patience).

But the jogging period was incredibly short-lived. I think I got to experience this level of nirvana about three times, because somewhere in there we had a freak short blizzard while I was out walking. The sidewalks turned to black ice. Even though I had the presence of mind to move to the grass, I stepped once on the sidewalk. My feet flew up in the air like a cartoon character and I came down hard on the surgical side of my body. Picturing in my head what I looked like was hilarious. But the reality of the impact, not so much.

Within a few nights, I was waking up in agony, crying and unable to roll over. I made an appointment with my PT and now I am back to starting all over again.

Me to PT: What can I do?

PT: As long as there is no pain you can run.

Me (totally misunderstanding English): Wait….So you’re saying I can RUN?

PT (laughing at me): No. When there is no pain. You’re in pain.

Runners will try to find any and all loopholes so we can run. I cannot believe we are not all attorneys.

I left the appointment so distraught and angry at myself. The surgeon had told both my husband me that I could run after six weeks. I was just starting to run and I fell and jacked myself up. How could I do this to myself? I had not been able to run in so long and I was supposed to be able to run now.

I had been so depressed. I needed running. Running could lift me out of the darkest days. That was my hope and I was back to waiting.

My husband called me that afternoon shortly after my appointment to find out what the verdict was and I could not even talk about it yet. I had no idea what to say or if I could even say anything at all.

After another 90 minutes, I called my friend Tracey who has gone through a very long recovery period from her own injury and surgery and I told her the news. Though she is running incredibly well right now, she understood how heartbreaking the last 2.5 years have been. Every time I started running, something happened and I had to stop. The last time I trained and raced anything was Run Rabbit Run in 2016. She knew I didn’t even care about racing. I just wanted to run to be on a trail in the mountains. It was about my need for quiet time in the wilderness. It was about my own mental and physical health.

For more than two years, I kept up the mentality that ‘I am still a runner’ even though I am not able to run right now. I know a lot of runners who get injured, immediately get depressed and have to avoid all things running. I fully admit I was that person when I was younger. I gained patience as I got older and realized how ridiculous I sounded when I whined about having to take a day or a week off from running.

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Hell, I didn’t even hate snow. Running in snow is FUN! Walking, not so much.

Then I had a couple of strong and healthy years of running. I felt great. I felt tough and invincible and it was wonderful. Not even cancer was going to take me out of running!

But then ‘other things’ came along and those things DID take me out of running. Now I have been out for so long I vacillate between thinking I am a non-running runner and trying to make peace with maybe not really being a runner anymore,  because at some point ‘positive thinking’ becomes ‘delusional thinking’. I am still trying to figure out if I am in the ‘positive zone’ or the ‘delusional zone’, because I think there is a really fine line between the two zones. I guess once I stop crying in pain at night, I can try jogging again and see how that goes. For right now I am trying very hard to be a walker with hopes of being a hiker with hopes of being a runner some day.

I continue to ask myself that age-old question, am I or am I not, a flying, talking donkey?

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Washington Post Link

I wrote an article about my journey with pancreatic cancer that was published in the Washington Post today. I wish I could have unlimited space because there is so much more to say and so many more people I would like to mention.

Here is the link to the article Washington Post Tonia’s pancreatic cancer story

Thank you again to the Washington Post for publishing this story. We are all wishing Alex Trebek and everyone fighting pancreatic cancer the best.

Would You Like to Touch My Lump?

I had a little back surgery at the end of December, 2018. Everything went fine and I have recovered pretty well unless you are a perfectionist. And by perfectionist I mean you don’t want lumps in places you don’t normally find lumps. I am not an alarmist. After all, I was the mom who kept saying my kid had a ‘cold’ when it turned out to be pneumonia. I thought my lump was maybe a phase of recovery and would just go away on its own. Except it hasn’t. I don’t think it is anything serious. It is probably scar tissue or some other annoying nonissue but it is directly under where any kind of waistband hits, so it is actually uncomfortable. The upside is I have yet one more excuse not to wear pants. ‘.

A couple of weeks ago, Steve and I were doing that romantic thing that couples do these days…we were lying next to each other on the bed staring at our phones together. I was feeling around my back where the incision was and I felt the significantly sized bump. Or maybe it was a lump. Or possibly on its way to becoming a hump. I said, “Hey honey, I think I have a weird bump on my back over my scar. Can you feel this?’

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My lovely lady lump

Without looking up or looking anywhere in my general direction, he says, “Sure.” He touches my side and says, “Feels like the rest of your back to me.”

Which, OF COURSE it did because he was not touching my side, not my spine or anywhere near the damned lump. “Honey, you didn’t touch the right place. You need to look at me, see where my hand is so you can see the right spot!”

Steve, still only half listening to me, “I have lumps and bumps all over my body. Don’t worry about it.”

But now I am also kind of questioning my own sanity. Once that happens, he has the upper hand and he knows it.

The next morning, I ask Peyton, “Can you see this lump on my back?”

She responds, “Of course I can.”

Me: Because last night Dad told me it felt like the rest of my back.

Peyton laughs, shrugs her shoulders and walks away.

I spent the next week asking everyone I came in contact with if they could see a lump on my back.

Me: Riley, Can you see this lump?

Riley: Ew, yes.

Me: Here, feel it.

Riley, seriously about to cry: NO, please don’t make me touch it. I really don’t want to touch it.

Me: Yes, please you have to…

It got even weirder with the poor wait staff when we went out for dinner.

But I regained the upper hand. Victory was mine. I was vindicated. Plenty of people we knew, and several we did not, saw and felt The Lump. Its existence was no longer in question. I was not crazy. Well, maybe I was crazy for exposing my lower back and asking people if they saw my lump BUT that lump was THERE. It was not a figment of my imagination like someone in the house wanted me to believe.

Later that weekend after returning home, Steve and I were both in the kitchen making dinner when I lifted up the back of my shirt a tiny bit, exposing my lower back. He said, “When you’re standing like that, I can definitely see the lump.”

Yeah, I thought so. Except now I keep picturing myself as Igor.

humps lumps bumps

After spending weeks talking about The Lump I drove to see my doctor for a surgical follow-up. We had a wonderful discussion about a variety of topics, including how I was doing post-op. I got back in my car and started driving south when I realized I had not shown him or asked about my lump. What. The. Hell. Damn it.

When I got home everyone is asking me what the surgeon said about the lump. I told them I forgot to ask. HOW COULD YOU FORGET TO ASK YOUR DOCTOR??? I don’t know. We were having a nice talk about a lot of things. It just didn’t come up.

But, damn it at least my husband finally acknowledged the lump’s existence. I know it is there, and that’s what matters most.

I’ll email the doctor’s PA.

 

My Husband Needs a Pseudonym

My husband quit social media three years ago. He still subscribes to my blog, however. All day Wednesday I was bracing myself for him to come home and blow a gasket over my post about directional sex (You say Position, I say Direction). Fortunately he has long days at work where he has no access to his cell phone and his personal email. Furthermore, he carpools and often drives, so that eliminates another 2 to 3 hours of his potential reading and relaxation time right there.

So when he walked in the door, I tried to read the expression on his face and everything looked perfectly normal in the way a typical kind of ‘it’s Wednesday and we only have 20 minutes to have a family dinner and get P out the door to volleyball practice.’ way.

Steve drives her to practice while I clean up the kitchen. When he gets home, I am thinking, hmm…maybe he is back to only looking at his email once every three weeks. Feeling somewhat relieved and smug, leave the room for a few minutes. When I return, he is laying on the bed looking at his phone.

Me, one-half casual, one half sucking up: Hey, honey…whatcha doing?

Steve: Just reading about my sex life on the internet.

Me, thinking, Oh fuck. How do put a positive spin this?: Um. yeah, People think it’s pretty funny.

Steve: I can’t wait to go to work tomorrow. I’m not going to be able to show my face for ten years.

Me: Don’t be silly. You’ll retire long before that. Plus you could wear this mask Peyton made for school.

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I told my husband if he couldn’t show his face in public, he could use this beautiful mask Peyton had made for some class she is taking. Don’t ask me which one.

Then he remembers that all of my FB friends from his job are people he no longer works with so that’s OK. It’ could even be less horrifying than that time I had everyone at work calling him Pookie.

Every few minutes he reread a part out loud and says, “My mother can read this.” Yes. “Your mother can read this.” Yes, though I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it for either of them.

I tell him, “We’ve been married for quite a while AND I am 50 years old. I figured I was old enough to know about and talk about sex.”

Steve, silent for a moment, retreats to the bedroom. He is not angry about any of this. He genuinely seems surprised and amused I published the piece.

Also isn’t he so cute? The 53-year-old former altar boy is embarrassed even though he has technically been a grown up for at least ten years. I think it is cute that he is a little embarrassed that people may know that he has sex with his wife.

So maybe I need to come up with a pseudonym for him. That should make him feel much better. if I start writing about my intimate life with Fabio that will make things much less awkward and embarrassing for him.

Then I hear, “How do you just wake up one day and decide to write about your sex life on the internet?” which strikes me as absolutely hilarious because it really wasn’t a decision so much as a calling. As he was walking out the door that morning, I remember he asked me, “What do you have going on today?” And I can’t remember what kind of bullshit I said back, but I know I was thinking, I need to cancel everything else because I have a really GREAT IDEA.

 

 

 

 

You Say Position, I Say Direction

My husband and I have a good relationship. We communicate well, we enjoy each other’s company and we have fun together.  We also put up with each other’s crap. Or, rather, he puts up with my crap and I truly appreciate the fact that he is willing to do that. In return, I always like to think he puts up with my ridiculousness because a) I make him laugh and b) because we have a lot of sex. He got the girl who was still a little nuts but who wanted to raise kids and go to sleep by 9 pm so the nuttiness could begin with 4 am runs instead. Woo Hoo. He’s a lucky guy.

In any event, every woman should bring an air of mystery to the bedroom….So the other night when P was at volleyball practice, Steve came home for a little ‘date’. As things were progressing, he asked what position I wanted and I whispered in his ear, “I would like to face Northeast. Maybe even North Northeast.” (Position, direction, whatever) He stopped and started looking  around the room trying to orient himself to direction. See? He’s fun. Up for anything I suggest.

I have had three major surgeries in the last three years so I have worked this shit out perfectly. I knew exactly what I meant and I know he did, too, except that I threw a new term in there. Finally he was like, “Oh, OK, I get it. You mean the after-surgery position.” Yes, yes, yes, but I am trying to pretend it is something new and different to keep things FRESH and HOT and EXCITING because it has been almost SIX DAMNED WEEKS of this. So now it is NORTHEAST.

OK. Except pretty much right away I could tell northeast was not going to work for him.

Me: Would you like to change directions?

Him (trying to concentrate): No, no, this is good.

Me: I know it isn’t. Let’s do something else.

I pull away and set things up another way.

Him: Now we are south.

Me: NO WE ARE NOT SOUTH. THIS IS EAST!

Him: NO this is South. We are facing I-25.

Me: How could we have just been facing north-northeast, moved a little bit and now we are south?

Him: we are facing south. This is south.

Me: We are facing FUCKING EAST. Get a compass NOW.

This continues on to a full-blown argument about which direction we are facing during a sex act.

But it worked.

And I was correct.

And P has practice again tonight.

 

Married sex should have an air of mysery

I’m just going to put this picture of Sadie’s bug eyes here because this is what my husband’s face is going to look like when he reads this post.

 

Pancreatic Cancer Five Years Later

Five years ago, I locked myself in the bathroom in my bedroom and quietly sobbed to myself, not wanting my husband or daughters to hear me cry.  I was looking for stories of hope following my pancreatic cancer diagnosis but I was not finding anything optimistic. Every blog I found had a very limited number of entries because the authors, once full of life and hope, had all passed away in a matter or weeks or months.

It was surreal. I was so young, healthy and athletic. How could this be my diagnosis? I did not think it was possible for any illness to have such an abysmally low survival rate.

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My last FB post before my surgery for pancreatic cancer in 2013.

Where are the Survivors?

I searched the internet far and wide for information about young, healthy, fit, strong people who beat the odds and survived long-term after a pancreatic cancer diagnosis. I found people like me, who were young, athletic and optimistic about their survival. They all started writing following their diagnoses intending on sharing a story of hope and survival.

Not one of them was still alive at the time I found their blogs.

The one that finally broke me, sending me to find a space where I could cry alone and away from my family, belonged to a young man who was a cyclist. I looked at the sidebar of his blog and saw entries that continued for about three years. I was immediately ecstatic, thinking I had found ‘the one’, the long-term survivor who was able to carry on with his life after pancreatic cancer.

After reading all of the way through every entry, however, I realized that he, too, did not survive. His wife wrote the more recent entries after his passing, keeping his memory alive as she advocated for more pancreatic cancer awareness.

My heart broke for this young couple I did not personally know. I cried for them and I cried for myself and for my family. I was afraid and felt completely isolated and alone. Did anyone actually survive pancreatic cancer? If so, I wondered, where are the survivors and how are they doing?

My Promise

In that moment, I decided I did not want other people to feel as scared and lonely as I did. I made a promise to myself that I would write about my experience so that somewhere down the line, someone facing pancreatic cancer might find me and see that I AM STILL HERE. I survived.

Five Years

On November 18th, I officially hit the five-year cancer-free mark. I have had scares but no recurrences. My oncologist released me from his  care on November 19th, 2018.

I am one of the lucky long-term survivors. I have no idea why I was fortunate enough to survive, but I did. As I have always said, I am not special; I am just lucky.

I wrote the blog for pancreatic cancer charity Project Purple for several years. Through that work, I had the honor of listening to so many people’s pancreatic cancer stories.  Family members have entrusted me with their excruciatingly painful tales of loss and grief. Patients have spoken with me about their health, their fears, their financial woes and many other topics. I hold all of these stories sacred in my heart. Every person, every story matters. You matter.

Through other avenues, I have been fortunate enough to become friends with other pancreatic cancer patients. I now know there are other survivors. Our community is small, but it exists.

Still, I have mourned the loss of way too many whose lives have been cut tragically short. Every single death is personal, leaving me feeling gutted, even after all of this time.

I think about the gravity of this illness and the pain and suffering it brings to so many every single day.

Hope for the Future

Still, there is hope for the future of pancreatic cancer. When I was first diagnosed, the five-year survival rate was 5%. Now, five years later, it has inched its way up to 9%. This is still unacceptably low, but there are reasons to be optimistic. Pancreatic cancer is getting a lot more attention than it was even five years ago, and there is promising research for new treatments and early detection. There is a very long way to go, but the medical and scientific community is working incredibly hard to help patients now and in the future.

My Promise Kept

There are times I wished I had not put my story out so publicly. Cancer and the aftermath is fraught with many physical and emotional challenges. But I have never forgotten that day five years ago when I felt so alone and frightened.

While sharing my own experience, it was extremely important to me that I show the full range of emotions and feelings of my cancer story. While I believe a positive approach to life is helpful, I have always felt that it is unhealthy to deny the full range of human emotion.

One thing I have clearly seen over the past five years is how much difficulty our society has with emotions of fear, anger, and sadness.  No one wants to live in a place of anger or fear for an extended period of time, but those feelings are real for everyone and it is important not to deny their existence. It is appropriate and important to allow yourself to experience feelings and thoughts that are not always positive. If someone comes to you and says, “I am struggling”, please acknowledge and validate the reality of those feelings. It is incredibly isolating to express a moment of vulnerability and have people respond with, “Just think positive!” This applies to many situations in life, not just a cancer battle.

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Dogs provide some of the best comfort.

In any event, I have shared the good moments and some of the not-so-good moments over the last five years. I have done my best to honestly portray many of the important moments in my pancreatic cancer story. Cancer does not just come into your life and leave you an unchanged person. You will never fully be the person you were before cancer. That is the reality but it is not necessarily a negative. I have made some positive changes in my life as a result of having had cancer. I believe my relationship with my husband and my children is deeper and richer than it was before I was sick. I believe I live a more authentic life than I did when I was younger. But still, I mourn the toll this has taken on my body.

My goal with this blog originally was to help a future version of my newly diagnosed self find a long-term survivor. A survivor who has continued to live, laugh, cry and most importantly, love. A survivor who gives the next newly-diagnosed patient the permission to be afraid and to ask for comfort and compassion. A survivor who has dared to attempt some cool stuff post-cancer, but who doesn’t gloss over the difficulties of a very rapidly changed body.

Hopefully someone, somewhere has searched pancreatic cancer stories and found some comfort in my writing.

I am still here. I am alive. These last five years are part of my story, but they are not the end of my story and they are not my only story.

And with that, stay tuned because I still have lots of crazy shit left to do.

 

Finally, today is the last day of November, which is pancreatic cancer awareness month. I I recently recorded this podcast with Dino Verrelli of Project Purple. I talk about my cancer experience as well as running and the lessons I learned during my treatment. Click below to listen to the episode.

 

When Will Women Matter?

This is a story of a girl, a boy, another boy, a fraternity, and the ‘justice’ system of the 1980’s. But there is a twist to my tale. Several years ago I was contacted out of the blue by the person who harmed me.  After decades of emotional pain and loss of trust in others, I forgave him. But I will never forgive the series of people who claimed to be protectors but who, instead, victimized me again.

I went to a small, private college which admitted women just years before, in the 1970’s.  The college still felt largely male-dominated when I was a student in the late 1980’s.  With nearly 20 fraternities for a population of 2,000 thousand students, there were keg parties six nights per week.

I graduated from high school a year early and was younger than most freshmen when I entered college in the fall of 1986. I loved school and was looking forward to learning. Like most people heading to college, I was also looking forward to having fun and going to college parties.

I loved my classes and became fast friends with girls on the floor of my single sex dorm. We studied hard, we talked about cute boys and we went to parties. Sometimes we went to parties 3 or 4 times per week. With the greek culture ingrained on our campus, there was alcohol flowing every night at one house or another.

Meeting Mike

In the fall of my freshman year, I met a boy I will call ‘Mike’. He was a student athlete, very large in stature for his age, attending college on an ‘academic scholarship’. We met through a mutual friend. Mike was cute and sweet, despite his hulking size. Like most boys at our school, he was pledging a fraternity. His fraternity was filled almost entirely with boys who played in one aggressive sport.

We ended up having a few drinks with friends while we were out. He walked me to my dorm room. I was attracted to him, but I was not interested in having a one-night stand with him. Despite my objections, Mike took things further than I wanted. I said ‘no’ but he did not listen to me. I was confused. In fact, I am STILL confused by this incident. I know I was less intoxicated than he was and I remember certain aspects of that night with complete clarity. I definitely said ‘no’ but, I was physically unable to stop it. He was more than a foot taller and 100 pounds heavier than me.

I was truly confused the next day. I had emphatically said no, but I also know that my feelings were more ‘not yet’ than ‘not ever’. Did I give off the wrong signals?

He was apologetic the next day. He was sorry. He had too much to drink. He seemed like a good guy who made a mistake because he was drunk. After all, everyone said he was a great guy. Binge drinking was rampant and doing dumb things while drunk was part of it. Mike was so apologetic and so attentive and kind. I felt like what he did was not right, but I forgave him.

Fraternity Culture

The ‘funny’ thing about pledging fraternities is that they require people to drink, often way more than they should. And so Mike, who was a lovely, kind, sweet person, drank often and consumed way more than he was capable of handling. More incidents happened. He punched a fellow pledge who was a good friend. He got pushy with friends and with me.

But always, we forgave him. People sometimes did really stupid things when they were drunk. One friend who was on the receiving end of a violent punch, laughed it off and bought Mike a hat that said “Instant Asshole, just add beer”.  We laughed and decided we would just try to protect Mike from himself by trying to limit how much he drank.

I cared deeply about Mike but also grew weary of the drama. I was done. I went out on a date with another boy I will call ‘John’. I met John through a mutual friend. He was another ‘great guy’. I did not want a serious relationship with anyone, but I did want to go out and have fun.

If He Can’t Have Her, No One Will

Mike was not happy. I had moved on but he was not done with me. At one point, he came to my dorm room drunk and angry. The ‘security guard’ who was working the front desk that night allowed him to come to my room without calling me first.  That was a clear violation of the rules. Security was in place to ensure the safety of the women in the dorm. However, fraternity brothers did not tell each other no. They were friends, after all, and your brothers came first, before anything else.

When Mike came to my room, he broke my door and threw things around.  I had been sharing pizza and soda with some girls from floor. They quickly ran out of the room. Mike ripped me and my mattress off my bed. His rage continued as he tossed a bottle of soda, spraying it on me. Afraid to move, I watched pizza slide down the wall. My roommate was understandably afraid and angry. We could not shut our door, much less lock it. Yet the anger and blame was directed at me rather than at Mike. He was in love with me. I broke his heart. I made him crazy. I did this TO him.

I attempted to move forward. I went to at least one fraternity party where Mike showed up and cornered me, refusing to let me end the relationship. I did not attend certain parties and I frequently left others because I felt unsafe when he or his friends were around.

One night, following another invasion of my space and my life, I left a fraternity party and walked home cold, fearful and alone. Shortly after I entered my room, John called me. He had been at a party that night when Mike and his fraternity brother ‘David’ got in John’s face and threatened to beat him up. David told John explicitly, “If Mike can’t go out with Tonia, no one will.”

John was going to campus police to report the incident and he strongly encouraged me to go with him to file my own report. Though I was scared, I agreed to go with John to file a complaint. Why had I not filed a report already? I had really never even considered it. As far I knew, I was on my own. I had to handle things by myself. I HAD broken up with him. I upset him and others. I was afraid to speak up and I felt, on some level, that no one would or could protect me. Plus, Mike was a ‘good guy’. I did not want to ruin his life.

A Boy’s Life is More Important than A Girl’s Life

In those days, many colleges dealt with ‘issues’ by holding a hearing in front of a jury of other college students. These juries called witnesses, deliberated, rendered verdicts and handed out punishments.

People who knew me and people who knew Mike were called to testify. I listened while some of the Mike’s friends made irrelevant and frequently false statements about me. Despite using the ‘nuts and sluts’ tactic, Mike was found guilty of everything I had claimed: threatening, stalking, assault. I think John’s testimony as an older, male student helped my case tremendously. I could not possibly be making everything up if his testimony reflected my own.

Despite the jury ruling in my favor, the panel also decided Mike ‘showed promise’. He was allowed to stay on campus  because he was a good guy who made a mistake. He was required to attend alcohol and anger management classes. He did neither. In fact, he drunkenly and repeatedly made attempts to corner me. Essentially, I ‘won’, but he suffered zero consequences. My so-called peers determined he was guilty but apparently his ‘promise’, his future, was more important than mine. The college, apparently, did not disagree.

Eventually, Mike was kicked out of school for drunkenly cornering at least two other women. One incident happened in the late spring of my freshman year. The other took place the next fall. During the second incident, the final straw that broke the camel’s back, Mike cornered a tiny woman who was the new RA on the floor I had lived on as a freshman. He wanted to know  how to find me.

Mike was sent home.

Violence and Violation

The story does not end there, however. Following the ‘jury of my peers’ decision my freshman year, John and I had one more date. I felt indebted to him, grateful for his friendship and for what felt like a sense of protection. SOMEONE in the community cared about me.

Instead of proving himself to be a friend who was in my corner, John sexually assaulted me. I told him to stop. I cried. I said he was hurting me. He responded, “I’m almost finished.” He lived in a fraternity house. There were other people in adjacent rooms. If they heard me, they did not intervene on my behalf. I did not report him and I never told anyone. I was too damaged. I walked away and we never spoke again.

Why Didn’t I Tell Anyone?

For many years, I did not speak about the violence and violation I experienced that year. I believed it was my fault. I believed I needed to be tough and not strong and not go crying for help. After all, when I filed a report and trusted ‘the system’, it did nothing to protect me.

I spent the remainder of my freshman year isolated and alone, feeling worthless and unable to trust anyone. I was embarrassed to share these stories with anyone for many, many years. I expected blame from others. I blamed myself. And while it hurt when men blamed me, it was more painful when my female friends turned their backs on me.

Blame and shame were prevalent in the 1980’s. We all knew there were ‘rapists’ among us, but most women did not report anything to authorities, or even to their parents. We spoke in whispers to one another about people or fraternities we should avoid. Furthermore, students did not transfer schools in the 80’s as frequently as they do now. I never considered leaving the college even though ever day I stayed I was haunted by what transpired my freshman year.

I kept my stories tucked away in silence for most of my life. The shame that tormented me led me to believe if the details came out, people would view me as not being worthy of friendship or love. Sadly, the shame and victim-blaming continues in a very public way today. I am grateful I was able to suffer mostly in silence before the days of social media where people are outed and publicly humiliated.

Forgiveness

My story has one more chapter. Several years ago, ‘Mike’ contacted me. I felt a sense of terror when I first saw his message. I was afraid to read it, but when I did, I found something I did not expect: an apology. He was married with two children of his own. His daughter was now a teenager. Raising a daughter made him reflect on his own life and on his own actions. He told me he was sorry for what happened years ago and he took responsibility for the pain he caused me.

After reading his message several times, I fully and sincerely accepted his apology. His actions changed the trajectory of my life. I cannot forget what happened, but I am glad he reached out, showed remorse and acknowledged the pain he caused. For years, I wondered how he felt about what happened. I wondered if he had any idea how broken I was by the entire experience. While he will never fully what I have lived with over the years, at least I know he has thought about the consequences of his actions. He knew he had harmed me. He was brave in reaching out to me and I have forgiven him. I will never divulge his identity…unless I find out he has harmed other women.

What Makes Someone a ‘Good Guy’?

With all of that said, I have not forgiven the way my college and my peers treated me. I also can never forgive ‘John’ who grossly physically and emotionally violated me during one of the most vulnerable moments of my life.

John went on to get married, have kids and establish a seemingly successful career. I blamed myself for decades for having trusted him, for being stupid. Now I wonder if the people in his adult life consider him to be ‘a good guy’? IS he a good guy? How would his wife or children feel about his actions back in the mid 1980’s?

How do we define whether someone is, in fact, a good person? Do we judge people by what they do today? Do we judge them by what they did decades ago? It appears that we, as a society, are still wrestling with these issues: who gets a ‘pass’ and who does not.

Speaking Truth

The blaming, the shaming, and the feelings of being violated have never disappeared. Violence, violation and dehumanization repeatedly traumatized me during those formative college years. The institutional failure to protect me deprived me of a sense of safety and autonomy as a young woman. It also negatively impacted my education.  It is hard to focus on being a student when you have PTSD and feel unsafe in your daily life.

We all want to believe we live in a world of law and order. We have a legal system that is supposed to dole out justice. So many women, including myself, have been further victimized by the institutions that are supposed to protect them.

Every woman, every girl, deserves to feel valued as a human being. When I hear ‘we have to protect this young man’s future’ or ‘it was so long ago that it is irrelevant now’, I am consumed by the heartache of my own knowledge of how a man’s life was valued over my own. In the 1980’s, I was aware on some level that I mattered less than a male student athlete. I had faith in the system for a very long. Now in 2018, I wonder how it is possible that the most powerful institutions in our country are still making decisions about women’s lives, bodies, equality and sexual autonomy in such an openly paternalistic, dismissive, and degrading manner.  If not now, when, exactly will women matter?

Recently a student from my alma mater called me to ask if I would make a donation to the college. For the first time ever, I said out loud, “I will never give money to this institution. I was assaulted and stalked, and though the administration knew, they did nothing to protect me. They determined that one male athlete’s future was more important than mine.” I said it politely, without emotion. I hung up the phone and felt relief because, finally, had I spoken the truth.

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