**Trigger Warning – but it’s a means to an end, I promise
It’s the five year anniversary of The Disclosure. There were many incidents over many months but it was five years ago this week that I went to my doctor, said I needed a few days off and made an appointment to meet with my Union representatives. Five years ago that this ugly truth jumped the school fence and ran. In five years not a lot has happened to anyone involved other than me when I think about it but rather than be pissed off about that (the feeling will be there tomorrow) I thought I’d see how far I’ve come.
What advice would I try to give my old self, knowing what I know now? It hasn’t gone my way so far. Let’s be honest. No matter what the reports and assessments say, I live this shit every minute of every day. We all know the most desperate parts of my story because they’re the ones I usually purge on this blog. It’s been really hard. It is still hard. Has it been worth it? Would I do the same thing again? Would I tell?
The only reason I’m here, alive – literally, is because I found someone on the outside to confide in. If you want to read about who I told and how it felt, you can read that post again here. He didn’t fix anything. He couldn’t slay the dragon for me and leave me living happily ever after. But he enabled me to do it for myself. That’s better than any white knight.
Saying the words ‘Someone’s been hurting me’ or however you manage to get words out, is such a fork in the road. Wow. It’s a life changing moment. Mine was dramatic, terrifying and freeing. The best bit was that they thought I’d never dare to do it. They were counting on it. Ha! From the outside it might sound brave but it was pure desperation, my friends. I was choking, drowning, suffocating. All at once.
And it’s been a bit of a shitstorm since. But I’m here. So what would I say to that me? The one standing way back there, five years ago? Crying, worn out, beaten me…when I was most broken inside? Feeling that there was no way out. Let’s see what I come up with…
Right, you’re on the edge of the cliff right now. Looking down. The force of what has been done to you, what they’re doing to you, is pushing you over and the edge is crumbling. You’re not on safe ground. This is not ok. We’re about to lose you. You are in so much pain and you have been asking for help from the people around you who should help. But they aren’t helping you. They’re making it so much worse. Intimidating, threatening, contributing. This is a nightmare. There is no doubt about that. You could jump. And it will stop. But before you do, let me tell you what will happen if you turn around, ok?
This trauma is going to bubble up inside you and spew out no matter what you do. It’s time. I know you’re really scared. Anyone would be. But can anything be worse than this? Luckily, there is someone amazing, a whole group of really special people, who will be there when your volcano erupts. Your close friends will be near you but they aren’t the right ones to tell the whole truth to. They work with you and it’s too much information, too hard to force them to hear it. But that is not a problem because they will let you know that they are there and you will feel loved. You will know when the moment is right. It will feel like a shock but you will be safe with him. He is strong enough to hear what you are going to tell him. He won’t say much but it will be just enough for you to know that you have just saved your own life and he will help you with what comes next. This will be an amazing moment in your life. You will almost burst, the battle between shame and the will to live. You’ll choose wisely.
Once you’ve told him, this great giant of a man with a heart the size of the Sun and a funny accent, you will know that life will never be the same again as you shuffle back to your friends. But get this – that is exactly what you need. Because living in fear is not a life. You want more. So you’ve got to go through this.
After this there will be meetings, more secrecy and tears. Lots of tears. You’ll take only a few days off work at this stage because it is being with the students and keeping busy that keeps you strong. Your job is killing you but also nourishing you. It’s a ridiculous balance. Dangerous, really. But you’ll do an extraordinary job of it. One or two kids will detect your unease but most of them sense no actual threat as they notice HIM watching you through the window, day in, day out. It’s what you want, for the kids to have no idea, but you’ll worry because you are really terrible at hiding your feelings. Poker is not your game, sister. It’s amazing what you can do when it’s straight from the heart and you’ll do well. You will sit at graduation and listen to their speeches and the tears will be happy ones. Tinged with a little pride that you’re there with them. Because you might not have been. And you will sit there smiling, even though some of the people who made you feel so desperate, enough to want to jump, are there too.
The doctor will put you on some medication and it will help a little. Trust that GP. He is a very kind man and will take great care of you for as long as you need him. He always seems harried and distracted but he will surprise you with his perceptive comments so rest assured he’s on the ball.
You will speak to your Union after researching your options on the Internet, as you always do. Your research will pay off. You will write the letters you have to write to follow procedure and the Union reps will do their best to help you. You’ll panic a bit when they repeat, “We just haven’t had something like this before” and “Have you considered just letting this go?”. You’ll want them to be staunch, solid in their role. But they’re only human, right, so don’t take it personally. Well, try.
You will choose your moment to hand The Letter to your Principal while the perpetrator is absent from work. You’ll ask a friend for a quick pep talk and get in there and do it. Strangely, your boss will open and read your letter of complaint out to you. He is strange. When he makes comments about your allegations ad lib, try really hard to forget them. He is one of the people who did not help you and will try to turn the whole experience around. He will warn you that “mud sticks” and “some people will call you a slut” but he is a jerk. When he says, “I wouldn’t say that is rape” do not follow your gut instinct to slam his head into the desk with the force of fifty giants. Don’t spit in his face. Don’t call him a fucking asshole. No real reason, as he will become a much bigger jerk in the time to come, but you can keep your dignity, even if only you know it.
When HE (the offender) is suspended from work (full pay, but that’s the system) and female staff members say “Is he away? Thank god!” you will remember that they all hated him. Even though you know that making a formal complaint is to be kept confidential, you need to prepare yourself for the first staff meeting when the Principal announces to the entire staff that HE is suspended due to a staff member making a formal complaint about him. You will be stunned, mortified and almost blind with fury. You will feel everyone look straight at you, as everyone has known of or witnessed some kind of harassment or altercation with HIM. I’m afraid that in five years time you will still hate the Principal for this flagrant breach of protocol. A protocol which you Googled for the lazy incompetent bastard and put on his desk so he knew what to do when you took formal steps. I wish I could tell you he comes to his senses. I can’t. But keep doing what you know is right. Someone has to.
When the police officer from the Sexual Offences Unit calls you on your classroom phone one afternoon you will quite frankly shit yourself. And look around madly in case someone can hear who it is. But give her a chance. You’ll tell her you don’t want to speak to the police. That you just want HIM taken away from work so you can keep doing your job. She’ll give you a bit of a reality check and you’ll agree to make a statement eventually. Look, giving a police statement is HARD. Giving it about sexual assault is torture. But you will actually feel some validation as you watch the detective’s eyebrows raise at your story, or the times when she stops you to ask if she’s heard correctly. Seeing that she finds what happened shocking makes you feel a bit more normal. It’s helpful. You’ll take the wrong person in with you for support but that’s not really your fault. Who is the right person in this instance? You’ll assume a trust that simply isn’t there with this person but she will say all the right things to make you feel supported at the time. When you recall this experience in the years to come it will make you squirm. Describing your anatomy in such detail is challenging. You were quiet comfortable with your sexuality and femininity before this happened (which they will try to use against you) but describing your body and someone violating it and what you were thinking and what you were feeling and what you actually did and how clearly you did it…breathe…you’ll get through it. Now she is going to say a word to you that you deny – rape. She will say, “You have been raped”. You will deny this. This will really annoy you and you will say “I am not going to be a rape victim, I’m sorry. You are wrong”. It’s not a case of mistaken identity, ok? She’s telling the truth. It will sink in after a while. You won’t believe this, but in about five years you will even walk through the city streets in protest at victim blaming, and you will feel so proud. It will be amazing, even if it’s a long time coming.
That detective will be there as a grounding force and encourage you to write a Victim Impact Statement so that you feel heard by the legal system. Do what she says. She’s one of the really good ones. One day, years later, you’ll even email her a photo of you and your baby and she’ll reply, happy to see you smiling.
You’ll see a few counsellors in the next few years. Some helpful, some just strange. It’s potluck. Eventually the weight of the onerous assessments on behalf of the employer’s insurance company will force you to seek psychiatric aid. I can’t comment on the outcome of this just yet but you’ll think about your options and try your best, I know it.
You will actually testify and be cross-examined in Court after HE is charged. With Rape. And Indecent Assault. And Stalking. They’ll let you do it via video link up from another room which helps. Again, you’ll take a false friend as your support but I think you don’t ask the special ones, the real friends, because you don’t want to share that experience with them. It’s ok in the end. You are tough on the stand despite the grey-haired fat man huffing and puffing at you with false indignity as you answer his grotesque questions. You will think to yourself that it is just as bad as the movies but as far as that goes, yours has a happy legal ending. At the end of the first day, with only your testimony, the Defendant has asked for a Plea Bargain. He will admit guilt to the lesser charges if he does not go to jail. You will agree, the Prosecution will assure you this is a very good outcome and you will go to McDonalds. Because you really like Happy Meals.
Unfortunately, the legal win is not enough to stop the shit. Colleagues talk, pressure and threaten. You keep up with the counselling and medication. You try to go to CASA but you’re not ready then. You’ll feel more ready but it won’t be for about five years. Who cares? No one is timing you. You’ll know when you’re ready.
You try to make a fresh start at a new school but this plan is flawed in a few ways. You have to give details of what happened when you ask for days off for the criminal trial, organisational investigations (which will miraculously find alternative answers to the police) and counselling. You will always enjoy your job and the students will benefit from your passion and desire to see them succeed. In a nice twist, you will manage to bring the program run by the man you disclosed to into this school. It will be emotional and a sweet reunion of sorts. Many students will benefit.
Now listen. I don’t want to sound like a bitch but you trust too easily, assuming people are earnest and genuine. Please don’t. But you will and there will be a real twit at this school who will cross the line so many times that you will be faced with a dilemma: speak to your boss and risk being ‘labelled’ or just put up with his harassment? You will want to stay quiet but the fear of this issue being discovered later considering everything else that has happened motivates you to seek help. You’ll get it which makes you feel great but ‘coincidentally’ you will never be treated in the same way again. Colleagues will drop hints that they know about what you did, you will clear rooms at an amazing rate and people will tell you plain to your face: “You have just ended your own career”. No matter what I tell you, you will skip on wearing your rose coloured glasses because you want to be happy. You want to see the best, not the worst. You just want to be a great teacher. *sigh*
This will all culminate spectacularly when one of your bosses says, “I’m here to tell you that you are fucking nothing!” The students are watching through the window as it is in class time and you will bow your head, ashamed to be seen by eight year olds like this. You’re also about seven months pregnant. Oh yeah, I forgot…you are going to have a baby! It will be a marvellous surprise which later fills you with bliss but it will be the excuse colleagues use to deride and mock you. They’ll ask if you know who the father is and say “Gee, you’re brave” because you’re not married, which they mention a LOT. It will be announced as “a condition” you have – but fuck ‘em. You work until the very last minute, until the show in front of the kids where you are treated so badly, then your doctor, that lovely doctor I told you about, steps in and says that you cannot return to that work environment. You will be not-so-secretly glad. I’m not sure when you’ll get past the shit from this school. You’re not there yet.
You will see the man who played such a critical role in allowing you to release the dark truth more than once. He will smile when he sees you, you will embrace. You will cry, but you always cry. I cannot possibly prepare you for what happens to him next but you will be broken hearted to watch him battle cancer. Selfishly, he is your talisman of hope. He represents truth, the chance for change, freedom. Strength. You will have to stand at his funeral but it will be such a special experience. You will stand in a crowd of thousands in the sunshine and do that cry/laugh thing you do when you remember something joyous while simultaneously realising it cannot ever happen again. You will thank the universe for every precious moment with him and the people who loved him that you also met. He will continue to influence you in a profound way. In random moments when you are feeling tested you’ll think, What would he do now? And that will kick your ass when you need it. He will always make you smile.
Becoming a single parent will consume you (luckily, you might think) for the next couple of years. You will move house (a lot) because no place feels safe, feels like a home. You cannot imagine The Future so you can’t conceive of where it will take place. You’ll feel at home (it’s going to be five years, I’m sorry) eventually. Along the way you will destroy, shred and burn so many documents and memories from your time at school that hurt so much. I cannot recommend shredding highly enough. Do it. Enjoy it.
I know you are desperate for an answer, a clue that it’s going to be worth stepping away from the edge today. You can’t see any hope. I can’t promise you will always be happy but I can tell you this:
You will lose your memory, your sleep, your mind at times
You will continue to fight to be heard, for you and the next person
You will become a mother and feel such love…and you will want to stay true to yourself and your fight to be heard because you want your child to know that you stand up for the truth and what you love
You will lose contact with most people but you will form unbreakable bonds with a select few who you would do anything for and who you truly trust which matters a lot
You will start writing. You’ll actually start a blog, which is what you did at that PD session that time after school, remember? You thought it was ridiculous and far too complicated
People will hear you. They will read your words, feel your emotion and connect. This seems strange now but it will be amazing, and the key to healing your heart
Towards the end of the year, five years from now, you will start to have brief, real moments where the future seems a land of promise. You will see bridges rather than cliff faces. You will begin to really fix the hurt…but you must be patient. You want to emerge as the butterfly as quickly as in The Hungry Caterpillar (which your son will adore reading with you, by the way) but your story is more of a trilogy. Look, it’s not what you wanted to hear but people love a good trilogy. And trilogies can have happy endings, too.
So step back from the edge, please. You will experience every emotion a human can and you’ll get tired and angry many times over. But you will never lose your smile. And you will be so grateful in the end that you believed in yourself enough to take a chance on the future. I’m here and it’s looking alright.
Love from, Me
- And They Also Took My Dreams (fromawhispertoaroar.wordpress.com)