It was the summer of 1976. All my life I had lived in the small town of Crozet, and for a short time, in the city of Charlottesville. My mother was a single Mom and had been working hard to provide for my brother and me since we were in our early teens. She was an author, a photographer, a journalist and a lobbyist. She was in her late thirties when she was offered an opportunity as Assistant Editor for a rural newspaper in the Shenandoah Valley. She thought long and hard about making the move from Charlottesville to Bath County, VA, but she was ready for change.
She knew I didn’t want to go. My brother had enlisted in the Army, so he wasn’t a factor in her consideration of the move. It was just the two of us. I would have to leave behind my childhood friends; friends that I had known all my life. How could she consider making a move in my sophomore year of high school? It was as if she hadn’t thought about me at all, and I resented her for it.
We made the move to Warm Springs, VA. She had a 30 minute drive each day to Highland County where she would take on her new position, a role that she had hoped would elevate her career, and propel her to a new level in journalism.
I was trying to get over my anger and fear, and a host of other emotions that I had felt since learning we would go. I had no choice about the decision to move. I was scared.
As a new student at Bath County High school, I was welcomed by my class. In fact, I was treated very well… city girl meets rural Virginia. I was popular as the new kid in school and quickly made friends, became a JV cheerleader, and I was elected as treasurer of my class. In the fall I received the sophomore Homecoming princess nomination and won. My worst fears had turned into a sublime confidence, and I quickly learned to love our new home, the new school, and my new friends. I basked in the limelight of becoming one of the popular girls; something that I wouldn’t have experienced in my home town.
I was a latch key kid, old enough at 16 to get off the bus, do my homework, and complete the chores that my mother asked me to do. There wasn’t much to do in Bath County, and jobs were hard to come by, especially for teenagers. I did my best to get my name out as a primo babysitter, and soon I had jobs almost every weekend. I wanted to earn spending money for clothes and products that I had to have as a teen; cheerleading outfits, and things that my mother couldn’t easily afford on her salary alone.
Soon enough, my mother found out that living in rural Shenandoah wasn’t all that she had hoped it would be. It wasn’t a great place to be for a smart, young, pretty single Mom. She was bored. There were few opportunities for a social life in our small town. In fact, it was I who had the myriad of choices socially.
It was in the spring of 1977 that Mom decided to throw a party at our home. She invited her single City friends, and several new friends that she had met through her work at the newspaper. After months of covering local school board meetings, she got to know one man in particular. Richard was a single man in his later thirties. He was a school board member and a "visiting" teacher at the high school. This teaching position tasked him with visiting students who had truancy issues or were homebound due to illness. He brought classroom work to these homebound kids, and tutored them so that they could stay up to date with their studies and their classes.
Mom had decided that Richard would be the perfect match for her hometown single girlfriend Julia; a fellow journalist who was bold, smart, witty and fun. She sold the idea to Richard and Julia; both were eager to meet one another at the party.
After a Saturday night babysitting job, I came home to find the party in full swing. People were outside talking and drinking. There was wine and beer, music and laughter throughout the house. I decided that the party must be a hit. On my way through the yard, I noticed that Richard was helping Julia into the house. She had apparently had too much to drink, and wasn’t feeling well.
Inside my mother was having a great time, talking and mingling, doing her best to ensure that all of her guests were enjoying the party that she had worked so hard to prepare. I was tired and wasn’t at all interested in hanging out with the adults. I politely made my introductions, and told my Mom and her guests that I was off to bed. Many of the guests were staying the night since they had been drinking. There were also the out of town guests who had already planned to stay the night.
My double bed was allotted to one of the out of town couples, and my mother asked that I sleep in the guest room that had two single beds. I didn’t mind, my Mom was having so much fun, and I was glad to see her so happy.
I picked up a few things from my room, and decided after brushing my teeth, that I would sleep in the clothes I had on, instead of changing into my nightgown. I was a modest teen, and since there were so many people staying the night….it just felt like the right thing to do.
I probably nodded off shortly after midnight. I woke up about two hours later to find Richard on top of me. His hand was over my mouth, and he was furiously trying to undo the button on my jeans and wrangle them free from my body. He pulled my shirt up and put his mouth all over my breasts, my neck and my shoulders. I moved, I shook, and I squirmed. I tried to break free of the weight of his body on top of me. I could hear music playing downstairs, and I was sure that even if I could break free, my voice might not be heard. I tried to bite his hand. I moved up and down, and I struggled to kick and bend my body. I used my arms to hit and push him away. He couldn’t get my pants down with the only hand and arm that he had free. Suddenly after what seemed like hours, he stopped. He just stopped. He dropped the full weight of his body down on top of me and looked directly into my eyes. I could smell the alcohol on his breath as he inhaled and exhaled with exhaustion over top of my face. With his hand still covering my mouth, he said, “If you ever tell anyone that this happened, one mention to anyone; I will kill your mother, and then I will kill you.”
He got up and moved to the other single bed. I lay there quietly, not a move, not a sound. I stared at the ceiling, the music still playing in the background. I was tired. I was afraid. I wasn’t sure what to do. I thought about screaming out. I thought about rushing the bedroom door to free myself of this predatory man, and the room that I was closed in. As hard as I tried to stay awake, my body slipped away.
I was awakened again a short time later by the weight of Richard on top of me. Again. More struggling, more moving, more shaking. I was kicking and biting the hand that covered my mouth. My pants were still on. I held my hand tight to the crotch of my jeans to keep his hand out. He had his pants off, and he tried with his free hand to push his penis down into my pants. My jeans had moved down just below the top of my pubic hair. I continued to struggle to break free of his hold. His hard penis had deflated and he was angry now. He repeated his threat to me, got up from the bed, put his pants on, and left the room. I laid there, still, quiet, crying inside. My assault was over. I drifted off to sleep.
It was Sunday morning. I heard the sound of voices, dishes, laughing and music playing. I got up and went to the bathroom. I looked at myself in the mirror. I looked different. I felt sad. I looked sad. I was tired, tears started running down my face. I pushed my hair back and looked at the top of my waist. I felt the top of my jeans and smoothed them with both of my hands. I rubbed them over and over, crying silently and wishing that it had never happened. I washed my face, and left the guest room toward the stairs.
My mother and her friends were looking a bit rough, some still had on their clothes from the night before. Julia was laying on the couch, holding her hand over her eyes, and lamenting about her alcohol intake and the date that she didn’t get to enjoy. I felt sick to my stomach. I didn’t have much to say, and my Mom looked at me as if to acknowledge that she knew I hadn’t slept and that the party had gone on a bit too long.
Most of the guests were preparing to leave. Some were showering, and others were packing their things to make the trip back home. The remainder of that Sunday is mostly a blur for me. I do remember taking a shower, and a nap in my own bed. I also remember having dinner with Mom and Julia that evening, and not telling either one of them what had happened to me. I couldn’t. I was told never to tell.
Julia had taken Monday off from work, and wasn’t planning to return to Charlottesville until I had gotten home from school. I wasn’t at all myself at school that day. My friends noticed that I was pre-occupied. I was still very tired and very scared. I prayed that I wouldn’t see Richard at school that day. I had a horrible secret that I couldn’t reveal to anyone.
On the school bus ride home I thought about what had happened to me, what Richard did, and what he said. I thought about how I had always been taught to respect teachers and other adults. I was an emotional mess. My confidence was broken. I felt powerless and sad, guilty and dirty, and I didn’t know what to do about it.
When I got off the bus I saw Julia packing her car to leave. She was putting the top down for the ride home. I felt sad, guilty and lonely. I was sure she noticed. I ran up to give her a big hug, and through the corner of my eye, I noticed Richard pulling up in his truck. He parked on the street. I felt sick. He glared at me and smiled. I was sure he was only stopping over to say good bye to Julia. They hugged and had some small talk. Richard stood by Julia’s car. He mentioned that he needed help bathing his dogs that were barking in the back of the pickup.
I knew that when Julia left, I would be left alone with him. I opened the passenger door of Julia’s car, and sat down. I started to cry. Julia said something like “Leslie, don’t be silly, you know I have to go home. I have to work tomorrow. I’ll be back to visit. Come on now, I have to be on my way.” I didn’t get out of the car. I just sat there crying. After a few minutes Julia said, “Okay, listen Richard, I’m going to take this girl for a spin around the block. She’s sad to see me go. It was nice meeting you and I hope we will talk sometime soon.”
Richard got back in his truck.
Everything seemed like it was happening in slow motion. She started the car, and put it into gear. We drove down the street, and made our way around the block. I began to cry uncontrollably. “What’s wrong baby, come on now”, she said.
Julia pulled over and looked at me and gave me a big hug. “I have something to tell you Julia, but you can’t tell anyone."
Tears flowing, my body shaking; I told Julia what had happened. She was in shock. I was too. We drove back to the house and held hands as we walked up the steps. Richard had already left the house. She said I had nothing to be afraid of, and that she must call my mother and let her know immediately. I was so upset, but I wasn’t afraid anymore.
My mother broke speed limits on her way home from work that day. When she arrived, Julia and I were sitting on the couch crying and holding one another. My Mom cried, and ran over to me and gave me a hug that wouldn’t let go. She was sad and upset. She asked me why I hadn’t said anything on Sunday. I told her why.
Tuesday evening was another school board meeting, and my mother could hardly wait to go. There was a football game that night, and it was time for me to cheer my team on. Mom dropped me off at school and headed to the meeting.
All members were there, and were seated at the board room table. Richard was there too. My mother approached the board, but instead of her typical interview questions, she shared what had happened with the board. She told them about the party, about Julia, and about her matchmaking plan. She shared what Richard had done and what he had said to me. She spoke to Richard directly, and told him that he was never to come near me or our home again; that he was no longer welcome in her presence or in mine. She said that she planned to notify the police the next morning and file a complaint of sexual assault against a minor.
The school board asked Richard to leave the room. The President pleaded with my mother not to call the police. He said that the board would handle things internally. He assured her that Richard would be removed from the board and his teaching position.
Richard did lose his board position and he was fired from his teaching job at the high school. He was told to leave the county, and he was not to apply for board membership or teaching positions within 500 miles.
I don’t know what ultimately became of him. I don’t want to know. I still remember his real name, and I will never forget what he did to me, what he said to me, and how he made me feel. He changed who I am, but I’m not broken. I am strong, and I am a fighter. I am free of all guilt and all shame. I am no longer afraid to speak out. I am whole. I am sound. I love who I am and who I have become.
My story is here now. I have forgiven the past, and my heart is free.
Leslie ( Richmond, Virginia)