Tim Lineaweaver tells you his story, and maybe it’s your time to let some things go.
I don’t know how old I was, but I was a boy and it was over fifty years ago. My friend Billy, a year older than me, led me by the hand up the rickety steps of his old dusty home, past the second floor to the attic, a place I had never been before.
He turned me around, pushed me up against the door and pulled my pants down. Being innocent, I had no concept of what was happening and did nothing to stop it. Instead I focused my attention with all the mental strength I could muster on the door nob that both my small hands squeezed in a death grip, an ersatz beveled glass creation that glinted in the dullish sun filtering in slants through a small window nearby. Maybe if I focused hard enough I could transport myself away from this obscenity.
As I grew from boy to adolescent to man I labored to bury the memory. I steeled myself to keep this secret forever, my shame a burden too heavy to share. I put the abuse into a lock-box, and buried it ten feet into the deepest part of me. If I didn’t think about it, then it wouldn’t affect me.
But this line of reasoning is a fiction, akin to having a disease but refusing to go to the doctor to avoid the diagnosis. When this wide-awake nightmare bubbled to the surface of my consciousness, I engaged in typical victim self-blame mentality: How could I let this happen to me. Why didn’t I fight him off? What kind of man was I?
I buried the memory in a blizzard of cocaine and an ocean of booze. But, there it lay, a sharp hot ember ever-ready to ignite. I kept my secret too, never telling a soul until…
…At age twenty-eight a few months after detox, there I was was in group therapy—a weekly meeting of rag-tag addicts and alcoholics run by my therapist, Elaine. All of us fighting side by side; Elaine doing her best to staple our lives back together.
A woman in her late twenties was opening up about her childhood: the loss of her mother to an overdose, her father’s verbal abuse. These themes seemed relatively easy for her to discuss, but then she started to cry, a single tear perched in the corner of her eye that paused, filled and coursed down her cheek, then a wracking sob as she spat out,
“And then I was sexually abused by a neighbor.”
The words left her mouth, travelled across the room and smacked me across the forehead. I sagged in my chair, the shame and guilt feeling like a physical weight too-long borne. All at once I decided I couldn’t carry it anymore. The dead-weight exceeding the shame. If she could talk about it, so could I!
After the group had finished supporting her, I blurted: “It happened to me too.”
At Elaine’s urging I shared the story in a whisper of tense words. As Elaine coaxed the details from me, my face heated with shame, my heart drummed in my chest, the familiar fear rising: “What will they think of me.”
It was quiet and still for an eternal moment. Then nothing but support:
“That sucks, man.”
“Awesome you told us, dude.”
My group mates picked me up and took the burden from my tired arms. Words can lacerate and maim, but they can also console and heal.
Elaine said, “I need you to come in to talk about this as soon as possible.” We made an appointment for the next day.
In Elaine’s office the next morning she led with,
I asked, “Why?
She said, “It’s consistent with your view of yourself as a victim. The time your father
kicked you across the room and knocked you into the closet; how he demeaned you verbally, and this too. You don’t see your value. You never have. You don’t believe in your ability to give yourself a good life.”
I had to admit she was right. Self-destructive, self-effacing, self negative and self-loathing all were applicable to me.
I asked Elaine, “How can I get better?”
“You need to confront Billy, he’s the one responsible, not you. If you do, it will free you up.”
I don’t remember what I said to Elaine but, probably an unenthusiastic “sure,” but my thought was, “No fucking way. I finally muster up the courage to talk about it and now I have to go face the guy who did it to me? Jesus Christ!”
I trusted Elaine, she had helped me beyond all expectation but maybe she was asking too much this time. When I actually entertained the idea of confronting Billy I felt nauseous. Our families were close, his parents, best friends with my parents, his brothers and sister like siblings to my brother and me. I thought of everyone else involved. I didn’t think of myself.
A couple weeks later, sitting in my usual chair in group in the bottom floor of Elaine’s agency, beside me an old wooden chalkboard on wheels. I stared down at the old industrial lime-green carpeting dreading Elaine asking me if I’d confronted Billy yet. After the initial feeling of freedom from divulging my secret, I felt a rising tide of self-loathing each day that’s passed without my confronting Billy. The emotions so strong they manifest physically, sick to my stomach, a constant headache. I want to will myself invisible.
Slowly, but resolutely Elaine goes around the room during the check in portion of group, and eventually, inevitably it’s my turn.
Elaine: “Have you spoken to Billy yet?”
Me, clipped: “Nope.”
Elaine in a voice with syrupy concern: “It must be so hard to live in that closet you father
put you in!”
I don’t remember how I responded to Elaine, if I said anything at all. My internal reaction was a soul-searing rage I could barely control. I stared at the old chalk-board and spent the rest of the group fantasizing punching it into small pieces, my mouth wired shut.
The next day, I was walking down the street heading for our local coffee shop. It was a warm early spring day and there were a lot of people on the street. I was still reeling from group as I stepped through the crowd nodding to people I knew without stopping to chat.
Suddenly, dead ahead of me, there was Billy. By God’s hand? Serendipity? Just plain old coincidence? Who can say, but this was an opportunity surely and there was no way in hell I wanted to endure one more group like the last. Fuck it, now or never, I thought. I approached Billy:
“Hey man, I need to talk to you!”
Billy, a bit nervously, “What’s up?”
“I’ve been working on myself, trying to get better. One thing is sexual abuse. I’m tired of taking responsibility for what you did to me. It’s time for you to.”
He replied: “You wanted it.”
I wanted it? Really? I felt the flare of rage beginning to rise in my chest, but I was able to hold it off as Elaine had coached me that he would likely respond like this. I gathered myself, stood up straight, looked him in the eye and said:
“I didn’t want it to happen, who would? I’ve paid a price no one should pay. You take responsibility now.”
He looked back at me, his lips slightly down turned, nodded and walked away.
My first thought as I watched Billy walk away was I gotta tell Elaine! I sprinted for a bank of pay phones down the street. I fumbled for a quarter, my hands shaking. I called Elaine’s home number and she answered after a couple rings.
Me:“I did it, I confronted Billy!”
Elaine: “I’m so proud of you, I knew you could do it! Your free now. You don’t have to carry it anymore.”
Me: “I feel better already.”
Elaine: “I knew you would. I’ll see you in group.”
Photo by Gustavo Devito