Month: July 2018

Dear Danny: On Confronting a Rapist, PART II

“Do you understand me?”

My abuser sat on the other side of the table, silent, looking down, clenching his jaw.  Seconds passed.  I once heard that the first person to speak after setting a price in negotiations loses.  This wasn’t a negotiation.  This was a confrontation.  I restrained myself, still, feeling comfortable in my own skin– maybe for the first time.  Then I repeated myself–

“Do you understand what I just said?”

Dan continued his silence– the quietest I had ever heard him.  For the four years he took over my life, he could talk over any situation.  He’d made himself invincible with words, chattering over my protests, my fears, my guilt– pummeling these feelings back and stunting them in my core.  I would carry them for years.  I was sitting across from him after these 12 years so that I could finally voice them– to say what I couldn’t say when I was 15, 16, 17, 18, 19.  I was here to hand over the shame he had instilled in me, too.  His shame.  But first, I had to make sure he was comprehending what I was saying.  He could have fit a entire confession in the amount of silence he was keeping, now.  He was.

“I’m not asking if you if you’re here to admit this to yourself, yet.  I’m just asking if you understand what I just said.”

His hands shook.  His entire body quaked all the way down to his Christian tattoo.

“I understand what you are saying,” he snarled.

I didn’t need this guy to admit anything aloud to know what he’d done.  And that what he’d done was wrong.

“Good,” I said. “Then I’ll continue.”

“I’ve been thinking about movies,” my Someone had said, “and how when someone is confronting someone else at a table, there’s always something keeping the other person there.”

“Like money?” I asked.

“Like money.  Or threats on their life.  Or something that makes the accused stay at the table and listen to what the person accusing them has to say.”

“Why do you think Dan is coming to the table?” I asked.

“Because he’s guilty,” he said.

“Because he’s guilty,” I repeated.

I listed the ways he had physically abused me.  The rape, the way he watched me cry when he touched me, the time he gave me a black eye or cracked my head open on Mother’s Day, which sent me to the ER instead of to the banquet I should have been attending with my mom.

“Do you understand what I just said?”

“I understand,” he said.

Then I listed the emotional abuse.  The manipulation, the extra phone he bought me to side step my parents’ watchful eye, the sexual propositions with himself and his friends.

I paused.  I breathed.  This was not something I needed to rush, I realized.  Dan was unwilling to admit to anything directly.  He kept his words calculated, veering close enough to satisfy my question without landing, like someone who knows he’s being recorded.  He wasn’t wrong.  My Someone kept a small recorder in his front shirt pocket.  Days before we’d decided to take it.  Not because I needed evidence, but as a marker to prove that it really happened.  Because even if this man covered all his tracks with But-I-Loved-You’s or Never-Would-I-Ever’s, he couldn’t change the truth being spoken in front of him.  And that he showed up to hear it.

The truth is what brought him to the table, and the truth is what kept him there.  When the stakes are as high as these, it is nearly impossible to stay silent when confronted with lies.  But the truth had him panting.

“You fucked up my life,” I said.  “Can you please look at me when I tell you that.”

He looked at me.

“You fucked up my life,” I repeated.  He looked back down. I listed what I had lost– my family, my church, my town, my formative years.  I listed the fear I lived with.  I listed all he had not lost.  He tried to protest.  He tried to say that he had lost, too, but I stopped him.

“No,” I said, “No, not yet.  You don’t get to.  You spoke over me for four and half years, and in all my nightmares since.  You don’t get to do that, anymore.”


I paused.  In the recording, listening back, I hear myself sigh.  I remember this moment as it sounds.  A slight breeze and a huge shift.  I was off book– off of the list I had prepared– and had been suspended from it for some time.  15-year-old Mallory sat wide eyed and expectant within me.  The Mallory from two days ago who had prepared this list held her breath, too.  This was us– this was for all of us.

“You did not love me. Love does not look like that.  You can ask any grown up.  Any grown up,” I stopped, realizing.  Then, “You can ask any child, if that’s love, and they will tell you, ‘No.'”

My friend Danielle encouraged me in the days before to remember to breathe.  She told me to not lose the lifeline between myself and myself– to keep breathing, keep the airway open and clear to ensure the connection to who I am now.  My friend Ann told me to yoga like crazy.  To lose myself in this moment would have been to lose the moment.  And I had to use my body in order to do it.  My body, which I had blamed for years for betraying me.  My body, which I’d covered and obsessed over– what it looked like, what wrong message it was sending out without my knowing, what ways it was failing me– was the thing that I depended on now to keep me present.  To keep me accountable.

I trusted my body to breathe, and it breathed.  I wondered at the feeling of the blood moving through my limbs during yoga the mornings preceding.  This redemption was a full baptism.  I forgave my body from hair to toe, and thanked it for hanging in there.  And I welcomed the reunion.  My body’s return to me came with no time lost, forgiving and willing.

It turns out my body had never betrayed me at all.  The sick, sad man in front of me did.

“That was not love,” I said, “That was not anything that you can call anything else– that was abuse.  You abused me.  You took advantage of me.  You stole some of my best, most formative years from me.”

The day was beautiful.  In the recording, you can hear an abundance of Western Pennsylvania bird calls in perfect sway.  I didn’t hear them at the time, but I am happy to know they were there.  I remember the temperature was perfect, the sun was out on a rare cloudless day.  No mosquitoes.  The old shut down steel town was starting to shine.  I felt myself turning a corner.  I was growing tired.  Not of doing the right thing, not of myself.  But I was growing tired of my anger.  It was too beautiful of a day to waste on being angry at a picnic table when I felt my life just starting again.  I could hardly wait– there was so much left of me.  More, in fact.  I had to go soon.  My heart would explode with impatience if I didn’t.  I remembered again to breathe as I spoke, and continued to tell the story of what happened, what was taken from me, and what I needed back.

I asked if there was anyone else that he’d done this to.  If he’d molested any other children.  He said no.  I focused.  I didn’t give him the benefit of the doubt, but I believed him.  He seemed horrified that I’d asked.  I was horrified that he didn’t think I would.  I was grateful, and then I become angry again– to be grateful to someone for simply not raping them.

It was time to up my standard.

My friend Kelsey explained to me that children, after experiencing trauma, even at a very young age have an involuntary need to tell the story of what happened to them.  Again and again.  They need to play out the situation, recalling more detail, and have the story affirmed and told back to them.  This is what we do in therapy.  And the more we tell the story, the less power it has.  Eventually, it runs its course.  It finds its place in our brain and in our timeline where it can live without infiltrating our remaining experiences and feelings.

It sounds simple, but there are several myths that accompany us to keep us from retelling our story.  Myths like,

I’m too much.  I’ve already told it.  They’ve already heard me.  It doesn’t matter.  I’m safe now.  Get over it.  But you’re with a good man, now.  Don’t punish him.  Be happy.

In the past decade, when new memories would come to me, I would say them out loud.  But then, I would adhere to one of the myths, and shut it back down.  These memories would then fester, creating a network of underground trauma that would misfire and misinform my remaining experiences.  This kept me in a constant state of distraction and movement, evading the dark underbelly.  Which also meant evading who I am— because Who I Am was trapped under What Happened to Me.

And it goes one worse.  The inability to hear myself– to hear my own story– made it almost impossible to hear other people’s stories, too.  It is difficult to have empathy for others when the empathy I had for myself was in short supply.  So I inwardly began repeating the myths instead of the stories–

It doesn’t matter.  It happens to all of us.  Get over it.  You’re out now.  Just go get some ice cream and suck it up.  You’re making us look bad.  

I was suffocating.  But not anymore.  Time was up.  That girl trapped under that trauma– that tiny little air deprived me– was busting out.  And the story started back up again.  It rotated through the last year, building momentum, gaining detail.  And the only way to let loose the dam was to go to the dam itself with a goddamn hammer.

“I came here today, I think, because– because it was time.  Because it was time for me to not be ashamed, anymore, of that part of my life.  Because I’m not the one who should feel ashamed.  You can’t spin that.  You can’t turn that.  I have carried around your shame and your guilt for all those years, and they’re not mine to carry.  I came here to give them back to you.  I don’t want them anymore.  I’m happy, and I’m healthy– finally.  And, your shame and your guilt has no room in my life, anymore.  And that is– that is the least I can do for my 15-year-old self right now.”

I stopped.  I remembered something.

“You owe me an apology–”

“I’m sorry,” he said. “I’m so, so sorry.”

How I had meant to end my sentence was, “but I don’t even need that from you.  I don’t need anything from you.”  I didn’t finish that sentence, though.  I didn’t need to.  I hoped, instead, that his apology sounded as pitiful to him as it did to me.  And that his apology was drowned by the sound of the truth rushing over a crumbling dam.

“Don’t do this to anyone else.  I would spend some really good time being able to use those words to apply to yourself.  Because they are yours.  I came here because you have been a monster in my life– an absolute monster.  Like, wake up with night terrors kind of monster.  And, I wanted to see that you weren’t.  And you’re not.  You’re just an aging– an old man.  An aging old man.  Who, had I been of age and right mind, and not at a pliable 15-year-old age ripe for picking– I never would have picked you.  It makes me feel sick to my stomach.  But that’s not even mine, anymore.  That’s yours.  You can keep it.”

He shook.  I remained still.  I checked in with all of me.  Is everyone okay?  Is everyone ready?  I felt all of me together.  Okay, gang.  Time to party.

“I’m going to go,” I said.  “Scott promised me a pizza party if I didn’t kill anyone.  And I’d like to have that, now.”

My Someone and I stood up.  We walked away.  I let the sound of the water rush behind me.

And I couldn’t. Stop. Smiling.

Dear Danny: On Confronting a Rapist, PART I

“Danny,” I started.  I hated the way his name sounded coming out of my mouth.  Like something familiar.  But he wasn’t familiar.  Not anymore.  Slumped over, straddling the picnic table bench catercorner to me, long scraggly hair and no eye contact.  I recognized him, but I didn’t know him.  He had aged to look like exactly what he had always been.  For the last two days, I had swayed between wanting to vomit and scream to feeling like my brain was going to explode.  But now, as I said his name, I didn’t feel any of those things.  I felt ready.

My Someone sat beside me, an incredible contrast with his collared shirt and straight back, kind face and composed breathing.  It was strange to have my dark past sit across from my illuminated present–  a wonder of me sealed between as both my 15-year-old self and my 32-year-old self.  My breathing smoothed and I looked at my list I had prepared for this moment.  I was grateful to Bryan and Danielle, two of my favorite friends, for encouraging me in the days before to write it down.  I started with number one.

“You are a predator,” I said.  I wavered for a minute, wondering if what I had just said was true.  I glanced through the rest of the list, took a deep breath, and kept going.

I’ll kill him, I’ll kill him, I’ll kill him dead.  I’ll do it.  

This is my recurring thought on returning home.  Every time I return home.  I didn’t ask for this.  I didn’t sign up for years of recoiling and shivering each time the hills roll me back down to Pennsylvania.  We were two weeks away from going back to the town where I had been a child, and where this asshole had forced me to grow up.  And I was tired.  I was tired of being scared to run into him.  I was tired of wondering what I would say.  I was tired of feeling ashamed, slinking around as if I had done anything wrong.

We were in Ohio, out in the woods.  Something was happening.  I was making a plan.  I was writing frantically.  I was erupting from 12 years of silence.  From 4 long years of abuse.  My journal pages felt alive

No more of this.  I’m on the offense.  What will I ask him?  What will I ask him?  What will I ask him?

1. Why?

2. Are you sorry?

3. What god did you serve then?

4. What does your god look like now?

5. How do you reconcile this?

And then I’ll kill him.

No, I won’t.

But I wonder what will be enough?  Would it be enough?

Maybe if I return his favors.  Maybe if–

1. I molest him for 4 formative years of his life?

2. I rape him?

3. I leave bruises on his arms?

4. I choke him til he passes out on the floor?

5. I crack his head open and he has to have staples to clamp it shut?

6. I offer to whore him out to my best friends?

7. I isolate him from everyone he loves?

It would be more efficient to just kill him.  I am the age he was when I left him.  Before the year he hung on a cross at 33.  Then resurrected with a wife and kids.  All made new.  For him.  Jesus Fucking Christ.  He’ll have to do better this time if he wants to resurrect from this.

I need a plan.

I need a plan or I’ll kill him.  

I exhaled.  I looked at the page.  Oh, shit.  I had to face this guy again.

Last April, I learned new words.  The first one was “molestation.”  The second one was “rape.”  I don’t mean that I didn’t understand what they meant.  I mean that I learned that these words applied to me.

I started by writing them down.  When I saw them, they made my chest feel like it was going to crack open.  I practiced looking at them for a week.  Then, I tried using them out loud to my Someone.  It took days– literal days.  And it took months following to say them without crying and coming short of breath.

I pushed forward.  I spent time applying those words to other situations.  Then I looked at those situations and practiced saying, “And that happened to me, too.”

Simultaneously, I spent as much time separating those words from other words.  I separated “rape” and “molestation” away from “love” and “god” and “complicated.”

It was an important practice.  The training was intense.  But I would recommend it to anyone.  Damn, if I didn’t get strong.

“I’m going to track down Danny,” I said to my Someone.  I had been agitated all morning, shuffling through my journal, gnawing on the thought.  I didn’t brace myself for his response.

“Okay,” he said.

“Okay,” I repeated.

“What are you going to say?”

I thought of journal entry.  My brain split open, scene after scene gushing through the cracks that I had sealed for 12 years.

“I don’t know,” I said.

“Okay,” my Someone said.  “I’m with you.”

And then, we let the weight of the decision pile on us.

We were going to need reinforcement.

The timeline seems simple from there.  For the next week, I talked it through during the day with my two friends and my Someone, each making themselves undeniably available, letting me rant and sometimes ranting with me.  We processed.  I talked more.  No one told me I was being dangerous or stupid or dredging up the past unnecessarily.

In the evenings, my Someone and I took to the internet, searching Dan’s name and old addresses, sifting through articles and bad bands he was part of to find a working email address and phone number.


I’m coming into town next week.  I think it’s about time to meet.  I want to face this part of my past, and what happened.  It’s been 15 years.  I would like to meet in Ewing Park, during the day.  My partner will be with me– I have no intention of meeting you alone.  But I think, after everything you did, you owe me at least this.  And probably an apology.

If I don’t hear from you in the next 24 hours, I”ll try your phone number or email your band.

I guess time’s up.


I heard nothing.  I turned to my friends during the day again, waiting.  Time’s up, we said as a mantra.  I emailed his band.  Nothing.

And then, I found it– a working phone number.  I called early.  I left a message.  I waited.  I went back to my work.

I was alone when I got the call back.  I panicked.  I shook.  I swallowed my fear and picked up the phone.

He began with a plea– he has kids, now.  He needs to find them a home if he’s going to jail.  He needs time.  I cut him off.

“What do you think this is?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” he said.

“All I’ve asked is for a meeting,” I said.

This is what is strange about confronting an abuser.  The voice is familiar, and what is from a long time ago suddenly doesn’t feel like any time has passed.  Old patterns pick up where they were left, because nothing was ever resolved.  And that is the moment where Dan began to tell me that he would love to meet.  That he loved me and I broke his heart when I left.  That he always loved me.  That he still loved me.  I have to know that he didn’t try and hurt me.

“You know me– you know I would never hurt you on purpose.”

My head was swimming.  My skin was curdling.  I pushed myself up out of his words.  I came up for air–

“I don’t know that,” I said, “and you can save this for next week.”

I hung up.  I ran.  I found my Someone and poured out what I was told.

“No,” said my Someone, “that’s not love.  He doesn’t have the right to tell you that.”

I stopped shaking.  It was true.  He doesn’t have the right to tell me anything.

The logistics worked out over text in the next couple of days.  Dan pushed boundaries and deadlines.  I pushed back.  I wasn’t 15 anymore.  And I’ve been doing yoga, asshole.  You can’t push me around, anymore.

Monday night.  Ewing Park.  5:30PM.

And then the real work began.  I began writing down what I had stifled for 12 years.  I began to construct in real life what had come out sideways in broken relationships, angry rock songs, and obsessive tendencies.  I breathed deeply and stopped blaming myself for the night terrors and the post traumatic stress reactions I had to movies.  I had envisioned our meeting for years in a whirlwind of violence and untethered rage.  I was shocked to find that a meeting time and pen & paper were more satisfying.

Then, I waited until Monday.  We played shows.  I saw friends.  I saw a funny movie.  I learned to co-exist with the fear and nausea that swirled through my body.  This was nothing compared to what I’d already endured.

I wasn’t tricking myself into believing that this meeting would be the triumphant end.  I didn’t think it would satiate my need for revenge.  I didn’t even believe it would put it down for a nap.  But I was compelled.  It’s the only way I can explain it.  I needed to act in a way that was unafraid and without shame, even if I felt terrified and stupid.  The day of, I received texts of encouragement from the small tribe I’d created.  I couldn’t believe it.

“Everyone is Team Mallory,” my Someone said, “Seeing all these people who love you is just so… cool.”

He teared up.  My chest felt full of something other than fear.  The night before I had asked if it would be okay if I chose not to meet Dan after all.  I wasn’t considering backing out.  I was considering what this meant.  My Someone assured me that it wouldn’t matter.  The battle had already been won.

But it hadn’t.  I had to go.

“Being Team Mallory is just being Team Don’t Rape People,” I said, “You’d think more people would want to join.”

My Someone laughed.  I laughed.  This was insane.

We got to the meeting place 40 minutes early.  I picked out the picnic table and sat down, pressing my new dress with my palms and sitting with a straight back.  And then we waited.

This is right.  You matter.  You deserve to take up your space.  You deserve to speak the truth no matter the sorry state of that man, Danielle wrote.

15 year old Mallory is thanking you, Bryan wrote.

I thought of 15-year-old Mallory.  I pictured myself unlocking her bedroom door, her waiting on the other side.  My phone rang.

“We’re here,” Dan said.

“Shelter 7,” I said.

He walked slowly toward us, accompanied with a mutual friend from all that time ago.  The blood rushed to my head.  They sat.  This was happening.  Right now.

My 15-year-old self stood up inside of me.  She walked out of her room.  I opened my journal.  She looked down and began to read with me.

“You are a predator.”

This was going to be easy, after all.

“You molested me for four years.  I was under age for most of it.  It started when I was 15 years old.  You raped me.  More than once.  Then you denied it because you thought that would send you to jail.”

Time’s up.

“Do you understand me?”