It’s been over 40 years and I am still haunted by the ugly memories. As I relive some of the worst moments of my life, I hurt all over again. The crippling wave of emotions that washes over me does a number on me… again and again I am torn between feelings of guilt and rage. Why did I allow it? What was I thinking? How could he have?!
Somehow with the help of G-d I acquired the coping skills to enable me, baruch Hashem, to raise a family and become a doting grandmother. But the intense pain seared into my psyche still surfaces, and when it does it burns with unbearable intensity.
When I see abusers and molesters, disguised as leaders and counselors, being coddled – while their victims are scorned and their claims discredited, it’s as if I am that young girl again, used and abused at the whim of a recognized and supposedly respectable mechanech.
Therapists I’ve seen over the years have assured me that I have nothing to feel guilty about. But I argue that I wasn’t a child anymore – at eighteen I should have known better and could have spurned the come-ons. Okay, maybe a savvy, street-smart, self-assured 18-year old would have done just that. But with my lack of sophistication and self-confidence, I was easily conned and blinded by his wit and charm. And he had plenty of both, with intelligence thrown in for good measure.
He also had a lovely family. And his wife must have been the envy of every teenager who had a crush on her husband and who would line up at the door of his office every chance they got, hoping to catch a private audience with their rebbe/teacher/principal.
He wasn’t handsome in a striking way, but he oozed charisma. And in his low-key, unassuming and easygoing manner he actually had me convinced that he cared about me, that his sole concern was my wellbeing and happiness, and that there was nothing inherently wrong with our relationship.
It began when my high school years were behind me. I was no longer under his tutelage when I chanced on getting a ride with him from my small hometown to the big city where I worked. We weren’t alone on our lengthy drive, at least not at first. On the second or third round, we were. Then came the convenient “to rest up a bit” overnight stops. He was sweet, gentle, persuasive and he knew just what to say.
It lasted a few months, during which time I would often commute by bus to meet up with him and spend a leisurely Sunday together. Weirdly, he once invited me to spend a Shabbos in his home where I was warmly welcomed by his family, where he behaved of course and acted as the perfect family man practicing hachnassas orchim.
So what made me so gullible? Trust me, Rachel, no one would have believed it of me. I was the studious, no-nonsense, goody-goody type, a conservative dresser, and not particularly outgoing. In fact, my idea of a good time was to curl up with a book rather than hang out with friends. Besides, as a middle child I had always felt upstaged by my older sister whom I considered to be way smarter and better looking than I, while my youngest sib was adorable and deserved all the attention she got.
Our holocaust-survivor parents were devoted to a fault but were mainly focused on making ends meet, serving wholesome meals on time and dutifully attending PTA meetings. Obviously deeply pained about having lost large segments of their families to the gas chambers, they didn’t seem to have the strength or inclination to demonstrate their love for us in a tangible way. Hugs and kisses were reserved for those rare occasions when they would be reunited with kin following years of separation.
So maybe I needed to be needed, to be loved, to be complimented… and to be hugged. And this man, at least 25 years my senior, knew exactly who would be unable to resist his appeal and withstand the nisayon — the net he so cleverly laid out to ensnare his vulnerable prey.
Yet, on a level of sub-consciousness, I was uncomfortable, to say the least. And one day my better sense finally ruled and I was able to put a stop to the craziness. When he called, I informed him I wouldn’t be seeing him anymore and asked him to please stop calling me. He persevered for a time, but I stood my ground. It wasn’t an easy move on my part, but I nevertheless knew that it was the right one.
Still, I was heartbroken and poured my heart out to a close friend who happened to be there to soothe me in my desolation. And that was when I got my rudest awakening. It turned out that she had walked in my shoes before me — that he had done the same with her. I was mortified. I had really believed that his feelings for me were genuine, that he had cared for me in earnest.
I went from heartache to my first bout with depression. Rachel, I can say in all honesty that this narcissistic man messed me up for life. And, for the record, he has never been found out. While he has raised a beautiful family, I cannot help but wonder how many lives this sick individual has adversely affected along the way.
Ironically, in school when we’d be about to take a test in one of his classes, he’d make the rounds and say to us, “Girls, you can cheat all you want. Just make sure you don’t get caught.” He would know… he had perfected the art.
I decided to tell you my story out of concern for young girls today who, like me, lack self-esteem and can be easily manipulated and taken for a ride by the suave and shrewd-yet-lowly creatures who walk the earth disguised as people of honor and distinction — roles they play so well that regardless of the cries of their victims, they will have supporters chanting in unison, “Him? Can’t be! Never! The nicest fellow, only out to help…”
In my day, “abuse” or “molest” were merely whispered about. (They’d have been foreign words to me and to many others.) Furthermore, I believe I’d have been loath to embarrass myself by exposing the pervert for what he was: a classic molester. But times have changed. And when a girl finds the courage to speak up, heaven help those who turn a deaf ear, or worse, have the audacity to vilify and criticize her. As I see it, no girl in her right mind would make such an accusation if she weren’t unbearably wounded to the core by the accused.
To devoted parents everywhere: Don’t assume that your children already know you love them. Make time for them and take an active interest in their day-to-day existence; expressing your feelings for them openly will encourage them to do the same and will imbue them with a strong sense of self-worth. Above all, listen to them — to their voices as well as their demeanor. If something seems “off” don’t brush it aside… you may be endangering the life of the neshama you took such pains to bring into this world.
Older, Wiser and Scarred
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About the Author: We encourage women and men of all ages to send in their personal stories via email to firstname.lastname@example.org or by mail to Rachel/Chronicles, c/o The Jewish Press, 4915 16th Ave., Brooklyn, N.Y. 11204. If you wish to make a contribution and help agunot, your tax-deductible donation should be sent to The Jewish Press Foundation. Please make sure to specify that it is to help agunot, as the foundation supports many worthwhile causes.
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