TW/CW: This entry contains details and descriptions of situations that may be triggering or upsetting for some people. Please proceed reading at your own risk.
If you or someone you know is a survivor or an actively traumatized victim of assault, please consider seeking professional help.
FIFTEEN | TWENTY-FIVE
Two months before my sixteenth birthday, I started a job as a cashier at a thrift store near my high school. I don’t remember many of the people who worked with me, but I certainly remember Travis. He was tall – well over six feet tall - and thin. He wasn’t like any of the boys in my school. He had chest hair, facial hair, and worn-in features, but he carried himself so gently. I remember the feeling I’d get when he smiled - it was like it was only for me.
SIXTEEN | TWENTY-SIX
I’d come into the shop to relieve him around three in the afternoon, and he would go home for the night. But over the following weeks, I started to see him for longer periods of time, until eventually he became the only other person on my shift. He was friendly and would ask me about my day, my boyfriend, my family, and my parent’s divorce. On breaks, he would share his clove cigarettes with me and tell me about training to be a mechanic. Eventually, I asked him how old he was. He was very evasive at first- saying that he doesn’t believe in birthdays or believe in sharing his age. He gave me his phone number on scrap piece of paper he took from the register “In case I ever needed anything. Anything at all”. I taped it in my journal and would run my fingers over it anytime I thought about calling him.
Facebook had just become very popular, and I searched for him. He had one picture, very few friends, almost zero posts, and one very informative detail…. His birthday. He was twenty-six years old. I can remember how powerful I felt knowing that. How special was this! Me, sixteen years old; He, twenty-six … and we were friends. Something changed after I knew his age. I felt closer to him. The next time I saw him, I told him I knew. He didn’t seem phased by it at all, “It’s just a number”. From then on, he would stare into my eyes longer, speak slower, and act gentler. I felt myself entranced by his gaze, his manner, his way. The more we saw each other, the more I learned about him. His parents were Mennonite, and he lived a very sheltered life for most of his childhood. He was a recovering meth addict, and an active alcoholic with a love for psychedelics. He was a cutter, and actively engaged in self-harm, often showing up to work with new bruises all over his body. Instead of scaring me, this made me want to know him more. To a teenager, he seemed to well-adjusted. He kicked a meth habit, had his own apartment, a cool job, and an interesting life. These feelings made the times we weren’t around each other very confusing- I had an age-appropriate boyfriend that went to my high school, a seemingly healthy social life, a charismatic personality, and a hell of a lot of confidence. But when we were together, I was under his spell. He began to bite his lip while I talk to him, make moaning noises when I’d bend over to pick something up, and then immediately promising to “behave”. “Behave.” That was my trigger word. It was my first foray into sexual fantasy. I was still a virgin, and he knew this. My high school boyfriend and I had been experimenting, but nothing “serious” yet. At the start of each shift, he would lean in like he was reaching for something near me and whisper in my ear “I promise I’ll behave today.” I still feel a rush from head to toe anytime I hear that word.
The winter after my sixteenth birthday, I got a cell phone. Besides my parents, he was the first number I saved. I called him that weekend after a drunken night out at a neighborhood party. He was also drunk, and very happy to hear from me. “Hello, cutie. Are you behaving tonight?”
These phone calls took place almost every night from then on. For me, it was an incredible way to escape the confusion of my teenage life, specifically my parent’s divorce and my mother’s alcoholism. He made me feel like I was an adult, with an adult body, adult urges, and adult needs. He was almost always drunk, sharing his detailed fantasies, and teaching me about sex and love, his voice growing softer with every minute we talked. But I started to realize, when I saw him at the store, he didn’t always remember what we talked about on the phone. At the end of each shift, we would have to count down the drawer together. He’d close the blinds in the office and watch me count the money. He asked if I knew what I was doing to him. I said yes and pulled my dress up to show more of my legs. He reached out and hovered above my thigh for what felt like eternity. I stared at him, breathed in deeper, and waited to feel him touch me for the first time. And just when thoughts of my first real sexual experience flashed before my eyes, he pulled his hand away, tilted his head back, and sighed. “You’re making this hard for me girl. Did you know the age of consent in Pennsylvania is sixteen?”. I still feel the smile I wore that night, jumping into my mother’s car when she picked me up from work, having no idea of my “secret life”.
One night, he told me that he was sleeping with a regular customer at the store. She was a German woman who was married to a wealthy man who traveled often. He told me about their romantic nights they spent together, drinking wine, and talking about “life”. I felt myself growing angry. I knew who she was- she was beautiful and older. She looked nothing like me, and they had a real relationship. I felt this foundation crumbling around me, erasing all of these ideas I had about what we were. Each time she came into the store, he reminded me to behave. This confusion, jealousy, and pain I felt was the catalyst for quitting that job. I stopped answering his texts and his calls. I avoided the store, and that general area for a long time.
SEVENTEEN | TWENTY-SEVEN
By this time, I was just about to turn seventeen. My boyfriend and I were still together, and had a very healthy and safe sex life. We were in love, and I felt fulfilled. I had a new job, a great social life, and I felt at peace with myself.
About six months after I turned seventeen, we moved to a new home, which meant packing up my teenage room - trash and all - and I found my old journal. I flipped through it to see some poems, magazine clippings, fortune cookie slips, and his phone number taped to the back. Around it, I had written “Behave”. I stared at it for a long time before deciding to keep it. Each time my boyfriend and I would fight, break up, or be generally unhappy, I would text Travis. He was always relieved to hear from me, like he had been waiting by the phone. I started relying on him to be a part of my daily pattern. I felt angry, lonely, and deserted if I didn’t speak to him.
Our phone sex turned to trading nude photos, then sexual text messages all day every day. My high school experience became one big sexual dare. He would text me suggestive and graphic descriptions of what our encounters would be like, distracting me from my friends, school work, and interacting with my boyfriend. We kept each other secret, isolated in our own world, fantasizing about what it would be like to be together in real life.
EIGHTEEN | TWENTY EIGHT
At the beginning of my senior year, I turned eighteen. I continued relying on Travis to guide me through my days, but the late night drunken conversations turned angry. He was blacking out earlier each night, calling me awful names- stupid, cunt, bitch, whore, and the like. This abuse started to become part of my identity. He was the only thing that felt real to me, the only person I felt truly knew me and what I wanted. The worse it got, the more I blamed myself. I must have done something wrong, I must deserve this. He began to excuse his behavior saying that he was drunk, or he didn’t remember. Reassuring me that he loved me and would never say those things to me.
That winter, he told me he was moving to Florida to live with his parents. Our conversations grew angrier and more damaging, until eventually, I blocked him. It was over. I made a promise to myself to focus all my time, energy, and love into my boyfriend- after all, I had been with him for as long as I knew Travis. It felt good to have him out of my life- I could work on my art, getting into college,and dealing with my home life and family matters.
NINETEEN | TWENTY-NINE
I started college at nineteen, which was also two weeks after a drug-induced psychosis from a mixture of PCP and LSD. The drugs opened up a Pandora’s box to a whole mess of debilitating and terrifying panic attacks. These panic attacks would last for hours, even days. I would constantly vomit, often times losing feeling and use of my hands and face from hyperventilating. Something changed in me after that. I quit using drugs, except for alcohol. My doctor prescribed me a cocktail of SSRI’s and Xanax for when I really needed it. I found a peacefulness with Xanax that I hadn’t felt in a long time. I felt the ability to connect with thoughts and feelings inside of me that I hadn’t felt before. My boyfriend and I were still together, but I could tell he was frustrated and confused at how much I had changed since my anxiety took over my life. Our time together felt strained, restless, and more dramatic than usual. We had been together throughout all of high school, and I wasn’t prepared to be alone. I didn’t know how. I didn’t have a sense of self you develop in your teenage years. And then I remembered… there was always Travis. I convinced myself that if things ever went wrong with my boyfriend, I could rely on Travis to pick up the pieces instead of working through the pain… that is, as long as he still wanted me.
Spring semester, I took a break from my boyfriend. We were arguing constantly and I didn’t feel the ability to truly be me. But it was hard, I hadn’t been alone in a long time, and I wanted comfort. Alcohol helped, but there was one thing I truly wanted. I looked through my phone at the list of blocked numbers, and I called him, thus repeating a cycle of madness that I knew would occur. Eventually, my boyfriend and I got back together, but I stuck to my old ways. Boyfriend by day, Travis by night.
TWENTY-TWO | THIRTY-TWO
Travis and I continued our sexual fantasy dance for years over the phone- talk for a bit, then take breaks for a few months to focus on my relationship, until I felt compelled to talk to him again. His drunken anger was worse than ever, but I craved it. I craved to be punished. I craved to misbehave. And the boys I knew just weren’t doing it for me. To my contemporaries, I seemed like a fun-loving artistic. I had been in a band, traveled to Europe, had best friends my own age, and a long-term boyfriend. What they didn’t know is the struggle - nay, the need - I felt each day to be degraded and judged. Eventually, just before college graduation, my boyfriend and I decided to break off our seven-year relationship. I felt good about it, we had been having lots of issues. We had been growing apart and were both walking on eggshells trying to keep it together. Ending my relationship meant that there was a freedom to being with Travis. We drunkenly argued over Skype 4 or 5 times a week for a month or so before I decided to use all of my graduation money to visit him in Florida. And that was the first time I told my friends about him. I so clearly remember them staring at me with concern as I told the story of my older hero saving me from the depths of teenage anguish to show me what true love was.
I’ve blogged about this trip in other entries you can read, so I wont repeat myself too much here.
After years of fantasizing, my whole world crashed. It confirmed that it was all a mirage. We had both fallen pretty deep into alcoholism, blacking out each night, and struggling to enjoy our time together. He’d spent his money on a suite, decorated it with rose petals, and lined up alcohol on the dresser for us to enjoy. We barely left the room, except to smoke cigarettes in the parking lot. We kept the blinds closed and the alcohol flowing, sleeping when we wanted and hardly eating. I found myself drinking more and more to hide my discomfort in being there. I felt that it was my fault. I wanted this for so long, so now I needed to finish it.
The drive to the airport was so fucking long. He feigned sadness with his cold and stiff hand on my lap as he drove down the highway. I didn’t hug him goodbye. I didn’t tell him I boarded the plane. I didn’t tell him I got home safe. About a week later, I got a message from him at 2:30 in the morning stating that he never cared about me and only did nice things for me because he felt obligated to be respectful. He said that my obsession with him made him uncomfortable and that he thought if he didn’t play along, then I would hurt myself. Just to be clear, I NEVER ONCE indicated that hurting myself would happen if he did or did not do something.
TWENTY-FOUR | THIRTY-FOUR
I crashed and burned after the Florida trip. Something that I thought was so real, something I craved, something I fantasized about for eight years… wasn’t. The loneliness grew inside me- something I never felt before. I began to drink- all day long. At first, it was just to calm down, to stop my inner voice from getting too loud. Then, the Xanax abuse grew stronger. The combination of Xanax and alcohol became my favorite meal, and dating apps were my dessert. For two years, I drank at least 2 handles of Jameson a week, often waking up with people I didn’t know, trying to scoop myself off the floor and make it to work on time. Because I was so isolated in my drinking, I felt misunderstood. At any free moment, I was drinking, especially alone. And I was sleeping around to feel wanted.
Eventually, I met my current partner, hit rock bottom, and went to a rehab program. There, I learned about addiction, boundaries, and most importantly, trauma. I began to hear similarities in my experience with Travis as a teenager, and some of the trauma survivors in my group. With sobriety came a sense of self-worth, awareness, and accountability. My friends and I grew closer, deeper, and healthier. I finally felt a peace within me… for a bit.
TWENTY SIX | THIRTY SIX
March, 2018. Just over 2 years clean. Struggling to find my place in sobriety and within myself. Wanting to relapse, depression growing deeper and deeper. Feeling little relief from medication. Feeling the need to go back to counseling, but something keeps holding me back. Perhaps, I don’t want to be better. Perhaps, I just want to sit in this feeling. It is, after all, what I know best.
I opened my inbox to see a e-mail from the contact form on my website. The subject line read “Amends”. It was Travis. He realized that I blocked his number and tried to find another way to contact me. He Googled me, found my website, read my blog (2 or 3 entries are about him), and realized that I was also sober. He used the contact form to test the waters.
He told me he wanted to make his Amends to me. I was angry. I didn’t want him to be sober. I didn’t want him to be getting his life together. I already felt a connection to him, but now I was afraid I would actually admire him. Admire his ability to rise up and be accountable, admire his ability to live clean when I was struggling so bad to keep it together. I kept a picture of him in my mind since the last time I saw him – drunk and disgusting. I wanted him to stay that way forever. With each line I read, I found myself growing more and more scared that feelings would come back. I just felt myself saying “No, no, no. Please don’t be sober. Please don’t understand me”.
For reasons I don’t understand, I felt compelled to respond. I replied to his e-mail through text message, which sparked a long and intense conversation about sobriety, recovery, and the like. I felt understood. I felt connected. I felt like I belonged. And just like that I was 16 years old, in the office of the store with the blinds closed, lifting up my dress. The memories of my uncomfortable visit with him melted away, and I was right back to the beginning. A new start. I realized that I wasn’t feeling sexual or romantic feelings for him. Was it possible we could be friends? We had shared experiences. We had history. We had some gentle, friendly conversation about his sober living house, his job, and his recovery for a few days, until I derailed the conversation.
Me: “Do you remember yelling at me all those nights? Calling me names, degrading me, and then acting like nothing happened the next day?”
Travis: “Some of it. But I remember some nights you were just as awful to me. You hurt me in ways that no woman ever has, and you were just a teenager.”
I felt like he was right, and I apologized for anything I did to hurt him.
He stopped answering for a few days, until I woke up to a text that read “Relapsed. Scared shitless in a hotel room. Goodbye.”
I instantly snapped back into reality, and that’s when I realized: This. Is. Not. Okay.
And for the umpteenth time, I blocked him.
TWENTY SEVEN | THIRTY SEVEN
I returned to counseling earlier this month. It’s always a challenge starting over and re-explaining my situation, my thoughts, fears, emotions, etc. But this time, I was more prepared than ever. I knew exactly what I wanted to talk about. I wanted to talk about Travis. I wove the tapestry of our relationship for my therapist, keeping it as simple as I could. I found myself protecting him, his behavior, and blaming myself for it happening. After all, it had been years since it started, and I should have been over it by now... so why was I still reviewing it in my mind? My therapist posed some questions to me that I hadn’t considered before and warned me that he would use some unpleasant terms. He told me, without a doubt, that Travis was/is a sexual predator and he was grooming me. It began slow at first- Travis wanted to see how I responded to certain things he said or behaviors, then methodically manipulated me into believing that I deserved these things. I felt like I wanted to vomit, and instantly started to cry. It had never been explained that way to me before, and I didn’t want to believe it. It seemed to hyperbolic. To me, he was just a very broken man who wanted love and he felt connected to me. In reality, I was a vulnerable child that he chose.
I decided to confront him. I didn’t want to hold this in anymore. I needed him to know how much my life was affected by our relationship. The conversation started out slow, like nothing destructive had ever happened between us.
Me: Hey. Please tell me you’re alive. (dramatic, ok, whatever.)
Travis: Who is this? Sorry I lost all my contacts recently, lol.
Travis: Oh hey! Yes, I am alive, lol. I’m doing well. When’s the next time you’re coming to visit? I have my own place, I can walk around naked now! Come hang out 😉
Me: Avoiding above statement that clearly shows now regard for anything that has ever happened between us. Last time we talked, you relapsed. What happened?
Travis: I went back to rehab and got clean. Now I’m moderately drinking, which for me means 9-11 beers a night to relieve my pain, lol. How are YOU?
Me: (Feeling triggered, jealous that I cannot moderately drink.) I’m ok, I’m still sober, but struggling. Not sure why I feel compelled to reach out to you when things are going seemingly well in my life. You are a really bad habit that I cannot break and I’m angry with you.
Travis: Ok, why.
Me: Because you clearly haven’t learned anything from recovery and I find myself having really unrealistic expectations that you will take responsibility for what happened between us.
Travis: Why are you being so rude? I’m finally getting my life in order.
Me: Ok that’s great. But I can’t believe you would ask me why I’m being rude. It’s like everytime we talk you have NO RECOLLECTION of what happened. Ever. That’s so insulting.
Travis: If you’re talking about what happened the last time we saw each other… that was the past. Have YOU not learned from your recovery? I’m trying to be civil and you are attacking me
Me: Are you serious? I’m talking about our ENTIRE situation and relationship. It’s not just one thing. I’m sorry if you feel like I’m attacking you, but I still feel like you don’t fully understand everything that happened. You act like I was an adult woman who was capable of healthy boundaries. I wasn’t. I was a child. And you weren’t. This isn’t just as simple as you my first love and me having a broken heart. It’s about an adult being attracted to someone who wasn’t and adult and taking to responsibility for it. Circumstances would be different if I was also 25 when we met, but I was FIFTEEN YEARS OLD. I didn’t know better and you did.
Travis: Also… I did a SHIT TON of drugs in my day, and have a terrible memory… so if it is something in the past two weeks, please enlighten me. If it is something before then.. like our entire PAST relationship.. it is the past. Also… as you well now from going to rehab, when we start doing drugs, we are in a stasis of maturity. Therefore, I was 16 when we met… until I got sober for a year. So I’m 17 now mentally. What the fuck? You pushed me away because you were with that fat dude. We weren’t a couple back then, and I didn’t know you had feelings, I just hoped you did.
Me: Ok. I hear you.
Travis: Barely. Night.
Me: I understand why you don’t remember. I’m not dismissing that. I hear you. I’m not asking you to fix the past. I just want some acknowledgement that this was never healthy, and it’s understandable why I’m really fucked up because of it.
Travis: Nope. My first love thoroughly mind fucked me for three years. I have ever since had some pretty fucked up relationships, but not what I read in your text messages. She was also fucking me those three years.. not just on the phone. She and I were a couple those three years. You and I were just an idea for a long time… until you were 22. Totally different. I’m not going to be sorry for a school girl crush.
One week went by before he reached out again:
Travis: What gives you comfort?
Me: Travis. Why.
Travis: I give you comfort? Or are you just asking me why?
Me: I’m just asking you why. You so very clearly explained in your last message to me that you feel I’m delusional.
Travis: I never said you were delusional. I’m just curious about what comforts people… you popped into my head because I feel like I can talk to you about anything.
Me: Well, you completely denied everything I felt about our relationship, and seemed very angry.
Travis: I was never angry with you. I guess texting doesn’t really relay emotion. You think I denied your feelings about our relationship? how so?
(Then I sent him a screenshot of the above conversation from the week before)
Travis: I’m not sure what you read into that. Please elaborate.
Me: This is fucking exhausting Travis.
Travis: Sorry to exhaust you. Nevermind I guess.