Back to 17

Old school selfie, circa 1987


I always go back to 17, most often when I’m driving and listening to music. A song will remind me of how much I hated myself that year and I’m back there, looking at 1987 like a white cross on the roadside.

It’s the year I told. It’s the year I lost control of everything. It’s the year I spent two weeks in a psychiatric facility and wished I could stay longer.

The song doesn’t have to be from that time period. All it has to do is speak for me. It has to give voice to what I wish I could’ve said at 17, or give rise to a fantasy of who I could’ve been…

It’s been weeks since I reconnected with the girl who was my best friend when we were both abused by my relative (by marriage, if it matters). We’re no longer girls and we hadn’t seen each other in over 30 years. When I asked her if I could write about it, she gave me her full and loving encouragement. I just haven’t been able to do it, I think mostly because it’s so hard to admit that I’m not “over it” and maybe never will be.

It’s complicated. 33 years after it happened, 30 years after it all came out, my feelings are still a jumbled mess.

We were 14 and there were some who suggested we were Lolita-like temptresses. Those implications wormed their way into my brain for years, contributing to an already damaged self-esteem and fragile sense of self-worth.

What I understand now is that a man who wants a young teen for sex doesn’t want her because she’s smart and beautiful and mature for her age, like he told me and my friend. He wants her because she won’t ask too many questions, she believes what he tells her and she won’t reject him. He doesn’t have the guts to be with a grown woman who will question his motives, doesn’t want to hear his bullshit and will toss him out on his ass.

A man who grooms a 14 year old doesn’t think beyond his lust and inadequacies. He probably has lots of reasons for being emotionally stunted but there’s no excuse when you’re old enough to know right from wrong.

My friend and I we’re children on the verge of becoming young women. We were goofy and absorbed with music. We had rock star posters on our walls and were still getting the hang of having our periods. We were the best of friends because we recognized a brokenness in each other that no adult had ever acknowledged, though surely they saw it.

There are songs that transport me into a fantasy where I’m 17 and I have never been violated by anyone. I get straight As, I love Jesus, and I have big plans for my life. I play guitar and write songs and I don’t need a boyfriend to feel good about myself. I’m confident and proud of who I am.

Other songs transport me to a different fantasy, one where it all happened but when I tell, everything is different. My stepmom is commended for reporting it. I have a therapist who specializes in sexual trauma and recognizes symptoms of PTSD. A loved one goes with me to CPS and holds my hand when they ask me, “What color was his sperm?”

When my friend and I reconnected a few weeks ago, I was able to tell her details she never knew. She didn’t know how long he spent in prison or that he died years ago. She was happy to hear that my family ultimately healed and that we’re close now.

We talked about our children, our jobs and our hopes and dreams for the future. We laughed and shared funny stories about our David Bowie obsession with our husbands and for the first time in a long time I remembered how sincere and innocent we were.

Innocent. Unguarded. Trusting.

I told my friend that I still have a hard time talking about it and that I’ve never told anyone, not even CPS or the prosecutor, the whole story.

She looked me straight in the eyes and said, “It’s a hard story to tell.”

It’s confusing to me that what happened after it came out felt more traumatic than what he did. There are still so many feelings that I don’t know what to do with but I find it helpful to go back to gratitude. I’m forever thankful for my friend who told her story far more bravely than I did. If she hadn’t, he may not have been punished. I’m grateful for my stepmom who fought for me when I didn’t have the strength to fight for myself. I’m grateful for my family who dealt with a horrible situation imperfectly but nonetheless confronted it. And I’m grateful that I told because the alternative would’ve killed me.

In the past few weeks, I’ve gone back to 17 less and less and the longing to rewrite history is starting to feel more like a dull ache. I’m more accepting. I’m in awe of how God works, that over 30 years later there is more to unfold, more clarity to be found and more grace to give and receive.

41 responses to “Back to 17”

  1. I’m new to blogging. Its very courageous to open up on such a traumatic event .. I’m still working on how much should I open up about..but readung your blog just reinsured me that I don’t have to sh

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s really hard to know how much to share, especially when our stories often overlap other people’s. What has worked for me is to try to focus on feelings, not details and whenever possible I try to only tell my story, not someone else’s. Blogging has been tremendously healing for me and I hope it is for you too! ❤


  2. “I’m forever thankful for my friend who told her story far more bravely than I did.”

    The act of telling was/is Beyond brave, Karen. I’m in awe of both of you. And grateful for the strength, will, resilience, and heart you both have shown.

    Much love, Friend.


  3. While reading this I found myself being taken back. Initially, back to 1984 in fact. When I saw the first team I had loved win a championship. Tigers won, clinching the World Series at the score of 8-4 over the Padres. Then through the nineties “The Grunge Era” The second music revoution. First being was brought on by the Beatles of course, which became before me . My point is that while reading this, I could really feel for you and while that I was able to revisit my own past. Which makes you a great writer. Thanks


  4. You are the epitome of brave. I don’t have any good words for this. I’ve read this three times and get goosebumps each time. To have your resilience is truly a gift–one that you’ll pass on to your children.

    “White crosses on the side of the road” really struck me. Amazing how a song can drop you right back on a roadside somewhere. Kudos to you for picking and choosing your own play list.
    You rock! Love you to the moon and back.


  5. My deepest respect goes out to you. Such a brave and hard thing to share and it’s so inspiring and amazing to see how you’ve came through all that has happened. On you go girl! ♥


  6. How brave of you to write this after all this time and I really like how you place the lies and deceit of the man into an adult perspective. This should be required reading by all adolescent girls.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. You were very brave to come forward. I’m sure that, in time, you will be able to be open about what happened and be able to let go of some of the pain inside you. Thank you for your courage.


  8. Good to hear you were ready to take another step in healing. I remember the time (I don’t know how long) I spent reliving everything that happened, every detail, over and over, like on a continuous loop. I couldn’t understand why God would make me remember so clearly. Looking back, I realize that it was the first time I was finally able to acknowledge and believe it really happened. More importantly, I accepted that it wasn’t my fault. It was the beginning of a new phase in healing. It still comes back to mind, from time to time, but I’m more able to hand it back to God. Bless you.


    • Yes! Of all the experiences I’ve had where I was violated, this is has been the hardest to confront. So many family connections, so many memories. This new phase feels right and I’m in a good place to be open to it. God bless you too! ❤

      Liked by 1 person

  9. I hear you so loudly and clearly it’s ridiculous. Except I was 12 and hadn’t gotten my period yet when the molestation began. I have made peace with myself and with my abuser (at least most of the time), but today, being in a very raw state and reading your memories brings up my old pain. It’s definitely a process to move on. The way I see it, if we’re still here, functioning, we win.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I hate that there are so many people who can relate to this. It enrages me and breaks my heart. I told someone today that all I can do is bring it into the light. It’s hard but it helps. We win by being here, by functioning and by holding space for each other. We’re not alone. ❤

      Liked by 2 people

      • What I’m discovering is, my road has turned into one of birthing a spiritual master. So weird (and new) to say and own because I’m a “normal” wife and mother, and yet inside, I’m no longer normal. Very much in process over the past several months, hanging on by my fingernails at times. Hard to write about it when I’m in the vortex of a tornado.

        Liked by 1 person

  10. Karen, – tenderly written, lovingly received. It’s quite humbling how time blurs the lines over the course of our lives. We’ll always seem have such a visceral responses to songs or smells, or colors or voices or—anything that’s associated with life-altering trauma—that transports us back…

    Even when we try to put oceans between the “then” and “now”…

    But, I had a take-away from your post today. You’re right. God does offer that is more to learn, more to unfold. More Grace.

    Thank you.


  11. You are a brave and courageous woman. It sounds like God is writing a new beautiful chapter to your story. It will be more amazing than you can even imagine!


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