Throughout most of my young life, I was a happy and outgoing child. Even when I started going through puberty in elementary school, I still remained upbeat, despite all those weird emotions that came with it.
It wasn’t until the fourth grade that my life changed forever.
The fourth grade was my first time having a male teacher. He was in his late forties or early fifties, but he could still somehow click with a bunch of 9- and 10-year-olds. Usually, the morning portion of class would involve class reading, where we would sit on the carpet while he read aloud.
Usually I sat wherever my friends sat, but one time I decided to sit next to my teacher. He was already on the carpet, and it was taking the class longer than usual to sit down, so I just sat down next to him. Not even 30 seconds after sitting next to him, he took his hand and started to touch my thigh, edging towards a region that he shouldn’t have been near at all.
I sat there quietly when he started reading, but my head was moving a mile a minute, and the only thing I could think was, “What just happened?!” Once he was done with the lesson, I asked to go to the bathroom to try and process what just happened. I asked myself questions like, “Why did I have to wear shorts today?” and, “Did I provoke him to do it?” and, “Is it my fault?” After a little while I went back to snack time and continued on with my day, though I wasn’t really speaking as much as I usually would.
Years later, I still ask why didn’t I tell anyone until recently. I thought at the time that it was completely my fault. But as the year went by, the amount of discomfort I got from going to class kept growing and growing.
A particularly uncomfortable day was when we had our sweet school counselor come into the class to do a lecture with a guest speaker about what to do if we are inappropriately touched. We even watched a video of a particular situation that seemed so similar to my own experience that I had to leave the classroom to calm myself down. When I returned, the class was practicing how to “say no” and leave the situation. But deep down inside, I wanted to ask them, “What if it’s too late? What if you feel like it’s your fault that it happened?”
I wish right then and there that I could have gotten the guts to tell the counselor what happened, but it was just too overwhelming to even think about. Once the fourth grade was over, I bolted out of that door and headed home, relieved that I’d never have to deal with that man ever again.
From the fifth grade to around my freshman year of high school, I repressed the event in my memory. I just went on through life as my happy and outgoing self. However, once freshman year started, I realized that the repressed memory would come out at full force through some crucial times in my high school career.
One moment that comes to mind is when I was practicing with my powder-puff team for homecoming week. Our coaches were boys from our grade, and one of them happened to be a guy I really liked. We were practicing passes, and he came from behind to help me improve my pass. Once his hand touched my arm, that memory of my teacher flooded back. I froze right then and there, and I quickly moved away from him so I could try and collect my thoughts.
I always thought that I would be fine after leaving that fourth-grade class, but the return of my repressed memory proved otherwise. In my senior year of high school, I finally decided to tell someone. My friends knew that I became tense when guys tried to hug me or to do anything intimately with me, but they thought that there wasn’t any big reasoning behind it.
One day when I was hanging out with a few of my friends after school, one of my friends convinced her boyfriend to surprise me with a hug. Again, that memory flooded back, and unlike other similar situations, this one caused me to crack pretty badly. I not only went into shock, but I also started to cry. Another friend took me out of the room and asked me if I was okay. It was then that I finally told her what happened, which of course took her by surprise.
After that day, I slowly told a few more friends about what happened when the conversation seemed appropriate. They all had the same reaction of feeling extremely sorry, and they all told me if I ever needed to talk to them they would be there for me.
After entering my freshman year of college, I decided to start talking to a psychologist from my school’s counseling services. Though I originally made the appointment because I wanted to talk about a problem with my roommate, I ended up opening up about that day back in the fourth grade. It really helped to talk to him and to hear that it wasn’t my fault, and that I could overcome this. I even was able to tell my parents about it, and in return, they showed all the support that they could.
By sophomore year, I learned that my problem trusting males in an intimate sense was due in part to the mistrust I had for my teacher. I got help with that again at the counseling services, and now I realize that I can find someone who will be able to understand me—someone who will be willing to take a relationship nice and slow and let me become comfortable with him.
The techniques my therapist gave me were extremely useful. I’m involved with Greek life and I knew my sorority would be doing a lot of activities with different fraternities, so I wanted to make sure I knew how to react if I was in an uncomfortable situation. One technique I practiced was visualization. I would visualize scenarios that could happen at these events, and when I felt any type of anxiety, I would begin to do deep-breathing exercises until I calmed down. This was key for when I went to a semiformal and felt high anxiety over being in a room with many guys whom I didn’t know. It was so nice to be in a room with male strangers and not feel that they would try to touch me in any way.
I learned a lot since talking about my experience. I learned that events like these are common, but most of the victims are scared to tell someone that the events happened, just like I was. Once I opened up about my own experience, I learned about similar situations that had happened to my peers and even close friends, and they showed me how they got help to deal with the problems the events caused them.
I know my anxiety about being with men won’t be “cured,” but learning about what I can do to calm it down has helped me significantly. As for now, I am finally at a place where I can move on from the event. However, the thought of seeing that teacher does give me major anxiety.
By sharing my story, I want other victims to know that you don’t have to feel alone in this, and that it’s okay to talk to people about what you experienced.
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