I was in a Shakespeare competition when I was a young teenager. Some of the details are hard to recall, because my mind was a bit preoccupied. I’d just told my dad he was no longer allowed to molest me. After years, most I had already suppressed at that time, I said no more.
So when it was time to choose a passage for the competition, I chose Macbeth I.5.38-54. And I chose Mrs. Gerrells to be my coach. “Lyndse, you won’t win with Macbeth, but it’s a damn good choice. A damn good one. They only advance kids who do Romeo & Juliet. Are you prepared to say ‘unsex’ and ‘breasts’ in front of that boy you like? The one with the nice hair? ‘Come to my woman’s breasts/And take my milk for gall, you murd’ring ministers’.” I had actually forgotten it was co-ed. “He doesn’t like me, so that doesn’t matter at all. I don’t care about winning. I need to do this. Will you please coach me?”
She took me on as her recitation student, and I practiced harder for that competition than I did anything else in my life until that point. A teenager ready to tell the entire world I was made for strength and resolve. Brave enough to possibly embarrass myself. And even though I was the victim, I somehow related to Lady MacBeth’s guilt and shame.
I mustered every iota of courage that day, and started, “The raven himself is hoarse/That croaks the fatal entrance of Duncan”…and I finished as strong as I started. It was powerful.
And I lost. One judge’s notes: strange material choice for a teenage girl, even though she delivered it the best I’ve ever seen. Another judge: intense, but slightly inappropriate subject matter.
Mrs. Gerrells had warned me. And I had lied when I said I didn’t care about winning. Of course I cared about winning. It wasn’t just a Shakespeare recitation. It was the moment I dared to be courageous and go against what people thought I should do. It was the moment I said, no one ever molests me again. It seems nonsensical, but it made sense to me.
I was mad at myself. Why couldn’t I be brave and tell someone about my abuse? Horrific acts that had stolen my childhood. Why did I waste my time practically yelling “unsex me” in front of my peers, just to get second place? I felt like an incompetent loser. I’d put myself out there, only to be told my raw emotion and vulnerability weren’t good enough.
I had no coping skills for failing at something so important to me. So I said something I could never take back. “If you fall down the stairs, I get to go in your place. Like Miss America.” To one of my best friends. She had won, and I acted like an envious lunatic. We stopped being friends a couple weeks later. I ended up losing all my friends, suppressed all my abuse, and felt more like Lady MacBeth with every passing day. And I blamed myself. I’d been taught that everything was my fault.
Not even two years ago, I remembered my abuse. At first, like a horrible nightmare. But I knew it had to be true. You can’t make up what happened to me. Screenwriters try, but all they do is copy what has been happening to girls for thousands of years. I went to file a police report. A grown woman, carrying an infant Bess, to tell my story. My memories had been flooding and trickling in, even as I waited to meet my detective. I nursed twice during my report. Breasts exposed while I closed my eyes to recount the atrocities. Shame and guilt, which weren’t mine to carry, started weighing me down again.
I felt like that 7-year-old girl. And that 8-year-old girl. And that 10-year-old girl. And 11. And 12. And 13. And even after I thought I’d stopped it all, he was still trying for years. But I’d suppressed my memories in waves. Always thinking the newest abuse was the only abuse. But the grooming and threats that started with a 4-year-old girl were always there…even when she didn’t know why she couldn’t go tell her mom. Or a teacher. Or the boy she was in love with, whose parents would’ve called the police. You can’t just go against a lifetime of indoctrination. My mind had been corrupted and controlled.
On Friday, I replaced my Lady MacBeth recitation with a 9 page single-spaced written victim impact statement. 26 years of sexual, physical, verbal, psychological, and spiritual abuse. It’s impact on my relationships, body image, self-worth, spiritual health.
Dave and I drove 12 hours. I took that statement, filled with things too graphic to write here and everything my brain and body had hidden from me all those years, and I read it all. Didn’t skip a single word. With Dave holding my hand, and tapping the podium when I was reading too quickly for the stenographer, I made myself completely vulnerable. My story became known.
There was no competition. No winners. But I stood there, remembering Mrs. Gerrells’ words from what seems like a lifetime ago, “You must be brave and not afraid of anything others think. They can all go to hell for all I care. You get up there and don’t lock your knees. I don’t need you passing out.”
I kept my knees unlocked, Mrs. Gerrells. And unlike Lady MacBeth, I shouldn’t have felt guilt and shame. I did nothing wrong. I was a child who did what her Daddy said. And on Father’s Day weekend, I told an entire courtroom everything he had ever done. Every act. Every lie. With snot dripping out my nose and my voice faltering at times and my stomach churning like the sea, I unloaded a lifetime of abuse and stepped away from that podium a free woman.
And this judge didn’t fault me for my subject matter. She didn’t think I was too intense. She listened to every word and gave my father the longest prison sentence and probation sentence she could award. 15 years in prison. 20 years on probation.
And as I continue to heal from being broken at the hands of the person who was supposed to be building me up, I move forward. But not without going back to some of the destruction I left in the wake of my teen years. When I wasn’t capable of having healthy friendships, because I couldn’t be honest or authentic. I pushed people away before they could hurt me first.
So thankful my sweet childhood friend and I were able to reconnect a few years ago. As wives and moms, we started over. I asked for her forgiveness. She gave it without hesitation. And she was one of the first people I ran to when my world was falling apart and my mind was swirling with the unthinkable. She started praying and didn’t stop.
She prayed through my dealings with two police departments. Prayed through my first time in court, when I had to get a protection order for my children. I had to nurse in front of the judge, as he talked about my molestation in open court. My breast exposed. Bess nursing while her mommy was equally terrified and filled with confidence. My friend prayed through all the different hearings and phone calls and trip preparation. Because that’s what truth does. It sets you free to love and be loved.
And I thank everyone who has loved me and loved on me through everything. My husband, my mom, my mom-in-law, family, and friends. It took the prayers and support of many to get through some of most important words I will ever say. Unlike Lady MacBeth, my hands are clean and my conscience is clear.