Cigarettes and dirt. Kind of metallic, too.
He was a construction worker and he smoked. You can’t really wash those smells off.
My family was close. I used to sleep over at relatives’ houses all the time. He lived in one of the houses I slept at the most. There was a big couch in the living room and a smaller loveseat under a window that looked out on the front lawn. I’d stay up late, watching TV on the couch after everyone went to sleep. That’s also where I slept — there wasn’t a guest bed or bedroom. I was a shy nine-year-old, with a long, lanky body and a head that felt too big. I didn’t fit on the loveseat.
I’d flip through the channels, wide-awake, under a big blanket.
I wasn’t always alone. Sometimes there’d be someone else asleep on the loveseat. But I was always the only one awake when it happened.
I’d hear his footsteps coming down the stairs.
He’d sit down next to me, pretending to watch TV. Sometimes, he never went upstairs to sleep and just waited on the couch.
I knew what was coming next.
I don’t know how to say this part. I haven’t told many people. I’m not the most vulnerable person — I don’t talk about my feelings much — so this is uncomfortable.
I was molested for years.
The TV would flicker, and everything would be quiet. “It’s O.K.,” he’d say. He’d touch me and try to get me to touch him.
Sometimes I would try to pull my arm away, but I wasn’t as strong. I was just a kid.
There was always that smell — cigarettes and dirt.
I wouldn’t make any noise. No one else knew it was happening.
You know those dreams where you try to run but your body won’t move? That was me: paralyzed, silent.
Sometimes I wondered what would happen if I just yelled out. Anything.
Or what if someone just happened to wake up?
It wouldn’t always happen at night. Sometimes I’d be off from school and it would happen in broad daylight.
He’d always find a way to be near me in public. It was subtle — he’d sit next to me at a table, or, when no one was watching, he’d try to touch my butt. Things only I would notice.
But the nighttime….
I’d wait for those steps to creak. Or he’d be there, sitting next to me on the couch, waiting in the light of the TV.
I couldn’t sleep. I was always on guard.
I’d only been playing basketball for two years at that point — community leagues and AAU. My parents had put me in the sport just to keep me busy. I was a kid with a lot of free time and nothing to do. Eventually, nobody had to make me go. I wanted to play. Basketball became a sort of safe space for me. But no space felt completely safe.
I knew what was going to happen when I went to that house. But how do you tell your parents that you don’t want to go for a visit — ever — without explaining why? I felt like I couldn’t tell anyone.
When nothing happened, I would think, Thank you.
But even in my own bed, I was nervous. It haunted me.
I was so young. Even at that age, I knew what was happening was wrong. It felt wrong. But it was also confusing.
I remember, around fifth grade, having a crush on this boy in my school. That’s about the age you start to have crushes. But every time I thought about my crush, I thought about this other guy. I couldn’t separate those two things. All I wanted was to think about this boy, when all I could do was think about this man and what he did to me.
For two years — that’s how long I was molested — I never got used to the night.
There’s one I remember vividly.
I was 11, and in my own bed. My parents had just built a new house. I was awake around 3 a.m. I was used to being awake at that time.
I went into my parents’ bedroom.
“Mom? Mom, I have to tell you something.”
She sat up and just looked at my face. I led her back to my bedroom. I laid down on my bed while she sat on its edge.
I pointed to my privates, and I said, “Mom, he touched me down there.”
When I told her, I pulled the covers over my head. I was scared again.
She woke up my dad.
This is where the details get difficult for me. There are some parts I can’t remember about that day. I’ve heard that’s common with trauma — your mind replaces memories with blank spaces. Like a Ctrl+Alt+Delete for anything that hurts too much.
I have so many black holes in my brain. Memories are sucked in and never come back out. There must be pieces of me just floating out there in the ether — pieces that were stolen from me. Pieces that are forgotten.
I do remember that my parents called the cops and that my entire family was at my house by the time the sun rose.
Then, blank space.
I know I went to the police station and gave a statement. I don’t remember any of that at all.
The last thing I can remember from that day is being at my grandmother’s house. We didn’t go home after we left the police station. My family all gathered at my grandmother’s that night. She was our family glue — always cooking and having us over. She didn’t cook that night, though.
We ordered pizza. During dinner, the cops came to the house to tell us he’d been arrested. My dad later told me that the guy had confessed everything to the police.
I don’t remember what I felt. Another blank space.
I had basketball practice that night. I went to my dad and told him that I still wanted to go. He couldn’t believe it. With all I’d been through, the only thing I wanted to do was go play basketball.
In some ways, I’m still the same 11-year-old who just wanted to go to practice. I’ve never been to therapy. I didn’t want to talk about it. I didn’t want to relive it. It’s something I’ve tried to tuck away as far back on the shelf as I could. But that only works to an extent.
I’ve cried. I cry most after I tell someone who’s important to me. Talking about what I went through, explaining all of it — it guts me. I’m forced to relive it. That’s when it hits that what happened is real. It wasn’t just an awful nightmare. It wasn’t some other life I lived at another time.
I’m angry he took advantage of me as a child. I’ll never get that time back. And what memories I still have, I’ll never be able to erase them. Sometimes I wish for a few more black holes.
Even though I play in front of thousands of people or talk to reporters all the time, I have quiet moments every day that no one sees. That’s often when I think about it. I could be surrounded by my teammates or friends or complete strangers, living life as I normally would, and memories like lightning will strike.
I wonder how many times what I’ve been through was a catalyst for where I am or what I am doing now. Even after he was arrested, and the legal process took over, I still don’t really even know what to call what he did to me. I’m uncomfortable actually naming it.
I’ll never forgive him.
But I’m not ashamed.
Every time I tell someone, I feel a little more unburdened. I wish it was as simple as saying that it’s just something that happened to me. Part of it is just that simple — it literally is something that happened. But I don’t know why it happened. I don’t know why this happens. Or why sexual abuse keepshappening.
I do know that I’m doing something completely outside of myself by writing this. In fact, this is one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done and will ever do. But I was recently reading McKayla Maroney’s personal account of sexual abuse — one of many powerful stories the #metoo campaign has inspired — and I felt … less alone.
Maybe that’s the point. Our experiences are different. How we cope is different. But our voices matter.
I also thought about what my dad has said to me more than once:
“It’s not a dirty little secret. When you’re comfortable with it, and when you’re comfortable being open about it, you could save someone’s life.”
That’s why I’m writing this. This is bigger than me.
I’m still working through what comes next now that I have told my story. In sharing, I know that no matter how uncomfortable I typically am making things about myself, as a public survivor, I now assume a certain responsibility. So I’ll start by saying this: If you are being abused, tell somebody. If that person doesn’t believe you, tell somebody else. A parent, a family member, a teacher, a coach, a friend’s parent. Help is there.
Part of why I waited so long to tell so many people — even those very close to me — is because I don’t want to be defined by this any more than I want to be only defined by how well I play basketball. Both things are a part of me — they make me who I am. We are all a little more complicated than we might seem.
And I can finally sleep.