Surviving the Storm Part 1

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One of the biggest topics I speak to young people about, during my public speaking engagements, is my rape and how it destroyed me, yet changed me for the better. It was the worst thing in my life, but in its own way, it became my strength.

It goes deeper than that. Being a rape survivor, and my life experiences, are a big part of why I am not behind the Me Too movement. Rape victims, worldwide, have fought a hideous battle since forever.

Then, there are people who get ahead in life by sleeping with men. This does not help the cause.  Also, I know as many rape or sexual assault survivors as I do men who have been wrongfully accused.  We will come back to that later in the conclusion of the series.

This is such a consuming and defining part of my life. I will have to space out the stories between several articles, in order for me to paint the entire picture of how sexual trauma damaged and changed me in ways I will never recover from. When, at the same time, it has defined me and lead me to help educate and support others who have suffered through similar situations.

Since I can remember, rape has been part of my life. When I was just 9, my best friend was raped, murdered, and burned alive.  It was only days before her 10th birthday when they arrested and convicted a man, Stanley Lee Liggins, that was associated with the family.  Her mother was a prostitute, her father a convicted felon who served time with the man accused.

Stanley was at the house that day.

The prosecutors said, he gave her money to buy a pack of gum. Her absence gave him an opportunity to get her parents high; he was their drug dealer. While her parents were passed out, he found her, then offered her a ride home.  She was never seen alive again.

He had a lengthy criminal record.  At the time of the murder, he was facing rape charges against his girlfriend’s daughter. When he was 11, he was convicted of raping a 90-year-old woman. With his past record, pending charges, and presence at the house that day, everything pointed to him. Just like that, I watched a real-life horror story, with a real-life monster, play out in front of me.

Her name was Jennifer Lewis.

She was a quiet, sweet girl, growing up in a dysfunctional world, whose life that seemed, never mattered.  She died in the most horrific way.  I promised to keep her memory alive.

I’ve spent my life keeping her essence in existence. It seems as though no one cares about a poor kid that is the daughter of drug addicts, even if it is the worst crime the area has ever seen. Then, there are those of us who dealt with it early on, but still have nightmares about what happened to her. Reliving a trauma of our own.

Stanley met swift justice.  However, the police forced a lot of evidence. Because of that, in the past 30 years, he has received 3 new trials. Reopening wounds that never fully heal.

Fast forward to middle school.  My sister had just been burned in a house fire.  We were living in downtown Denver, close to Children’s Hospital, where she was a long term patient.  I was 13 years old and pretty much had to care for my two younger sisters and myself.  My parents were distracted by the needs of my sister in the hospital.  One day, I walked to Walgreens to get a few things.  It was midday, lots of traffic.  It wasn’t unusual, in the early ’90s, for kids to walk to stores, not too far from home.

While leaving Walgreens, a man abruptly approached me and struck up a conversation.  I was scared, so I didn’t turn to face him.  Immediately, the hair on the back of my neck rose.  I continued walking, swiftly, with my long strides, at the same time, tried to be polite.  He told me I had beautiful hair. He said he was a hairdresser and then offered to cut and style it.

I attempted to brush him off, all the while being polite, but still completely terrified.  Within a few seconds, I felt a hard object against my back.  He told me if I screamed, he would kill me.  He went on to explain, with the hard object against my back, that he was going to rape me. If I didn’t fight it, and I didn’t tell anyone, he MAY let me live.  I was paralyzed with fear. Thankfully, at that moment, my street smarts kicked in.

I, to this day, don’t know what came over me, but I turned on the charm.  I started flirting with this 40 plus-year-old bald man, who I assumed had a gun to my back. With all the sluttiness I could muster at that moment, I told him that my dad was a scary man and very strict.

I said he was mean, and if I wasn’t back exactly on time he would send people looking for me.  I went on to tell him that I could sneak out to a nearby gas station and call him from their payphone.  I explained to him that if I got home on time, I’d wait until my dad fell asleep, sneak out to meet him, and willingly have sex with him.  Not to mention, I was a virgin, and the only thing I knew about sex was what my friends told me and what I had seen on TV.

Somehow, it worked.  He took the gun off my back, gave me his name and phone number, along with a time to call.

We parted ways, he turned down the street alongside the elementary school my sisters attended.  As I watched him walk away, I took the first breath I had taken since he approached me. Then, I walked home as fast as I could.  I was holding back tears, trying to be brave.

I looked back, and 2 blocks behind me, there he was.  I started to sprint.  I ran home.  I ran past the Mexican restaurant next door.  I ran up the apartment steps and slammed the door, at the same time, praying he didn’t see where I went.

I was too scared to tell my dad. He had too much going on with my sister.  I wasn’t lying when I told the man he was mean.  My parents didn’t notice my fear when I came in.  So I opened the curtains, and there he was, standing in front of my apartment windows.

He saw me.

His cold, dead stare looked me in the eyes.

I fell apart. I started to cry.  My dad came to me, and in a panic, I tried to explain. He saw the monster, standing outside the window. My dad ran outside.  He chased him through rush hour traffic on a busy street, while my mom called 911.

He was unable to catch him, but I had gathered enough information to give the police.  The man who followed me, was wanted for raping children.  I was extremely lucky to have gotten away.  I spent the rest of the school year being escorted to and from school by police officers.

This was just the first of, what would be many, similar terrifying situations that occurred in my life. Up to, and beyond, the night I was actually kidnapped and raped.  I began to blame myself and hated my appearance.

The damage the negative attention caused, would lead me down some dark roads over the years.


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