It was a crisp spring day in the Central Valley of California. We had just finished an all school Mass at my Catholic high school when one of my teachers asked to speak with me privately.
Heart racing, palms sweating (much like Eminem) I was unnecessarily worried that I was about to be suspended as I tried to figure out what this could be about. (even though I hadn’t done anything to warrant that type of punishment #relax Mariah)
My teacher closed the door to their classroom and just said, “How you doing you’ve seemed a bit down lately?” My first thought, “is it that obvious?” What I replied, “I’m doing good”, the first lie that I would l tell in this conversation.
Just prior to this conversation my abuser had significantly increased his solicitations and communication with me. This was the last semester of my senior year, and a few months from my 18th birthday. Part of me pretended that these solicitations were happening while the other part of me sat in confusion not knowing what to do. At this point I had let what was happening go on for far too long. I was convinced it was too late to say anything or even let myself think that was happening was not my fault. I was convinced it was. The last thing I was going to do was tell anyone. I couldn’t handle anymore conflict in my family and social life.
As I have written about in previous blogs a month into my high school career, my parents divorced, and it wasn’t a nice divorce to say the least. It came right as I was recovering from perhaps one of the most severe bouts of depression I’ve ever experienced and sent me back quite a bit. I mention this only to illustrate I wasn’t in the place at any point in my high school life to add another element of conflict to my already tumultuous environment, all while I was trying to figure out who I was as an unstable adolescent girl. At the time I couldn’t bear losing the relationships that had come to be so important to me in the past few years. In fact, I was emotionally dependent on them.
As the conversation proceeded, my teacher eventually asked, “Is there anything going on? (specifically in regards to sexual harassment)” The moment I was asked this, there was a part of me that wanted to divulge everything that was going on. But unfortunately, that part didn’t win. “No, I’m just tired” I said. This was my typical response when anyone asked me if I was okay, which in hindsight I realized I was asked this quite a bit. Yikes.
When I eventually came forward about everything that happened my sophomore year of college, I thought back to this conversation frequently. What would have happened had I told my teacher back then? Honestly, I don’t know, and probably never will. I do know that back then, I didn’t have the same personal relationship with Christ that gave me the ability to do so. That relationship made all the difference. Despite a deep attraction to the faith, there was much I hadn’t yet let sink into my heart.
While I was seen as a leader in my parish’s youth and in my high school’s faith life, I walked around constantly consumed by the secret I couldn’t tell that teacher who tried to help. I put too much pressure on myself to have it all together because of how I was seen. Terrified of creating a scandal, my soul was consumed by shame. As I was constantly jumping in and out of the confessional, I despaired in the fact that I couldn’t get out of the cycle I was unwittingly baited into my abuser.
I will be forever grateful to that teacher who had the courage to ask me if I was being sexually harassed. When I did eventually come forward, it served as one of the many indicators that I was doing the right thing.
If you suspect someone in your life, particularly an adolescent or child, is suffering from sexual abuse or harassment, reach out to them. While it may not be an immediate solace for their problems, your concern may be a flicker of hope for them when they are eventually ready to come forward.