TW: Abuse, pedophilia. It's long and read at your own risk.
I don't remember dates. But for me, it was my life for several years. He was a substitute teacher at my high school, and when I was a sophomore, we would hang out sometimes after school and he'd tell me how mature I was. We'd talk about things a grown man shouldn't talk about with a young girl. And then I was 16. And he would meet me after school and over the summer and we'd go out to the woods so he could give me special attention. I was 17 and the school had suspicions but couldn't prove anything and fired him. So I would sometimes skip class and go meet him out back and we'd go into the woods where he'd film me and see how far I could go. I never had anyone before, but this man gave me attention I never thought of getting and it was exciting and I was so mature for my age. He would tell me to never keep anything from him because it would ruin him. I'm so infatuated because I never had a role model for what a relationship should be, so I deleted everything I could.
On my 18th birthday, I blatantly ran away to be with him. My mom was convinced this was teenage rebellion and I was doing this to hurt her, so she tried to disown me and stopped talking to me.
I'm 18 and away at college and I'm tormented because he's hanging out with these other girls who are my age and sometimes under age and going to conventions and sharing rooms with them. I still don't have a fathom as to what a real relationship is, so this becomes my normal. Screaming and crying, the constant anxiety attacks because every time I want to work something out, he turns it against me and tells me how horrible I am for constantly traumatizing him.
I'm 19 and I can't return to college because I can't afford it. I am homeless again after spending most of my teenage years homeless (many nights in mom's car), I am no longer in contact with family and my friends can't house me for more than a week at a time. I couch bounce. He lets me stay with him. He takes my paychecks, has me sign them, and puts them into his bank account. I never see my own income. At night, he pushes me. He straps me down and takes me whether I'm ready or not because he likes it better when I am not ready. He pins me down because he's twice my size and holds me still. The bruises cover my waist, my hips, my thighs. This is my normal. We watch movies and shows together, and I pretend he isn't touching himself when an attractive woman is on screen, especially if there is any amount of nudity. I pretend like I'm not sharing a twin bed with someone who has stacks of CDs and magazines all underneath, detailing his every fantasy and schoolgirls. We can't be seen in public together, we're near where I went to high school. People will notice. He pulls away and tells me to hide if he recognizes someone. This is my normal. He tells me I'm fat and nobody will ever care for me the way he cares for me.
I am 20. I haven't had access to my own income, I don't have an ID to drive or do anything because he won't let me go anywhere without him or have any of my money to do something with myself.
Then my dad finally gets his disability letter from the VA. He drives across the country to pick me up and move me to AZ so that I have a fighting chance to do something with my life. He's been a long distance parent for most of my life and finally has the opportunity to take care of me and make sure that I can be a functional adult.
I live 2000 miles away, and I can't have friends. I can't smile at others, he will know. I can't joke, he will take offense and tell me how horrible I am for ruining his life. He then makes me promise to not tell anyone. These last few years were a joke. Nobody knew I was underage. Nobody thought I was younger than I said I was.
I'm 21. I have nightmares so intense I wake up in a cold sweat. Even in my dreams he still controls me, but I can't ruin his life. I'm meant to be his wife. I can't do that.
I'm 22, the nightmares are worse. I wake up crying. I have someone new and that man is no longer in my life. But my hand still pulls away whenever I recognize someone. My eyes still shut and my body tenses if he moves a certain way. I'm afraid to speak up, to say what's on my mind. I can't be comfortable in the bedroom, I've never experienced gentleness, passion, actual love, what it means when you can finally say "no"... And they stop. I cried so many times. I had no idea that what I went through for so many years wasn't normal. The shock broke me.
I'm 23 into 24 and the nightmares start to fade. They still happen, but I'm finally no longer afraid to hold someone's hand.
I'm 25 and I am learning what it is like to go back out and love myself without someone doing that for me.
I still get nightmares. I don't know if I can return to Connecticut with him there.
I am not the only one. There was a 14 year old in my junior year of high school he had a certain fondness for. When I left to move west in 2013, there was a 13 year old at his church that he adored. A couple of our "Gremlins" were underage, or barely of age.