In which I gain a little more sanity.
This is part of my story. But it isn’t. But it’s important to me, and so I share it with you.
I have always felt odd about how I described my relationship with Peter. I have always felt that I couldn’t explain it properly, and that frankly most people probably wouldn’t understand the depth of the confusion and mental agony I went through during those two years (particularly the last year).
But recently, I’ve discovered why.
In my lifetime, there have been 5 men with whom I’ve felt a very deep connection, all of them romantic. Was I boy-crazy? I don’t think I was any more than most girls. But then again, I believed that my purpose in life was to find a man and get married and stay at home and have his babies (I believed this in my heart of hearts, though part of me that grew into who I am today fought against that). Those men are, in order, the boy I had a huge crush on whose mother and sister gave me such horrible advice after my assault, Nathanael, Peter, Joe, and Gary (my husband). Out of those five relationships, there is only one that I never understood…only one that ever felt innately dangerous to me. And that was my relationship with Peter.
There was a time when I was at BJU where I called my friend John and unloaded on him. I’ll not reveal the context right now (because that deserves its own post) but I was frantic about Peter. John didn’t understand. I remember him saying at one point, “I don’t understand why you’re so afraid. It’s like you think the moment you’re alone with him, something’s going to happen.” And I couldn’t explain it, because that’s exactly what I thought. And I knew how ludicrous it sounded. And I didn’t understand.
I started to recognize it when Rachel left a comment on one of my posts. I read through her comment, my heart pounding with a sinking, unsettling understanding of exactly what she had gone through. And yet I still didn’t quite grasp the relationship.
Then an old professor of mine invited me to be a guest speaker at my old community college’s AIGA Club’s meeting. Peter was going to be there. He was there, in fact. The entire week leading up to the engagement, I slept fitfully. I began having dreams about him – some of them, nightmares. Panic stole over me in a way that it hadn’t done in more than 3 years – the last time I was with him. The day of the event, a dear friend of mine walked me through a mini-nervous-breakdown and helped me to pinpoint what exactly it was about Peter that so thoroughly confused and terrified me. And my discovery that day is what I am going to share with you, once again in hopes that shedding light on this darkened part of my soul will bring some sort of healing.
I’d had class with a guy that kept talking about his friend, Peter, who was a professor at the school. I kept picturing this older, balding, gray-haired and bearded man with a slight pot-belly that was wise and goodly. Imagine my surprise when I walked into my first web design class to see a tall, thin, auburn-haired blue-eyed man who looked like he was only a few years older than me. He was…interesting. And not what I expected.
It had been about six months since I was assaulted in sculpture class – it was the following semester, actually, after the summer break. I never drew that correlation before talking to my friend, Robyn. But it makes the rest of everything make sense.
The first web page we had to turn in was an autobiographical page that we had to hand-code in Notepad. It had to include a self-portrait. I decided to draw mine in Illustrator using the gradient mesh tool. When we were doing class critiques and Peter got to my page, he stopped and stared at the portrait. “Is this Illustrator?” he asked in awe. I nodded. “But you just used the live trace tool, right?” he said in a slightly disappointed voice. “No,” I replied, stung. “It’s gradient mesh. I did it myself.” His mouth dropped open. “You’re kidding. You did this? This is…amazing!” And I tasted that compliment for quite a while.
He started using me as the demonstrator for projects. I would sit at his computer, and he would stand behind me, between me and the wall, and direct me what to do. He often touched me, my shoulder or back or hand or arm. I did my utmost not to flinch, telling myself that it was because we were in close quarters and there was no room to move around. But then he started to do it when I was at my own computer, when he had plenty of room. And I would flinch like he’d back-handed me, because it scared me and I felt threatened. He never said anything, but always looked surprised and little hurt by my reaction. It didn’t stop him, though. And I didn’t tell him to stop. It never entered my mind that I could tell him to stop. I hated it, I hated the feelings it brought up in me of terror and intrigue and anger and violence. But by the end of that first semester, I stopped flinching…because he touched me so often that I got used to it. By the end of that semester, too, he let it slip that he’d asked a mutual friend about me. I wondered why. It unnerved me that he continued to show interest in me and continued to touch me. I didn’t trust him. And yet there was this sliver of something I didn’t understand within myself regarding him.
The next semester, I had to take the second web design class because I needed the credits. His attention continued, both verbal and physical. He started lifting me up publicly in front of the class as an example. He continued to praise me privately. And I started to recognize that sliver of emotion within myself, and I fought hard against it. I didn’t want it. I didn’t understand it. It had never happened before. I was entering into dangerous territory and I was so thankful that I’d never see him again after that class.
Except I couldn’t get a job that summer. So I had to go back to school. I had to see him again. My stomach was in knots. I didn’t trust him. He touched me all the time. He obviously was interested in me, somehow. And it repulsed me and intrigued me and I didn’t know what to do. But I was suddenly spending 6-8 hours a day with him, 3 days a week. And his interest grew. And I finally recognized that sliver of emotion and acknowledged it to myself: I was sexually attracted to him.
I’d never been sexually attracted to a man before. Don’t get me wrong, I found men attractive. I really liked some men. But…with Peter, it was different. It was instinctual. It was powerful. I…I wanted him. And I’d never wanted anyone before. And the only person I’ve wanted since him has been my husband now.
But it scared me. Because women aren’t supposed to have sex drives…or so I thought. I wasn’t supposed to want sex. It wasn’t supposed to be an issue. And besides, he scared me. He didn’t follow my cues – when I flinched, he still touched me…sometimes more firmly. When I tried to deflect conversation, he pursued me doggedly. I wanted to avoid him because I was terrified of my own desire, and I started to recognize that he had a similar desire for me, despite our incompatible belief system, despite the fact that he was in authority over me, despite the fact that he was already in a committed relationship. He pursued me nonetheless. And I felt powerless. I felt that he had this amazing power over me – that when he looked at me, he could somehow control me. I have never before or since felt so helpless. I was entranced and afraid and aroused and panicked.
By the end of that third semester, I was a ginormous ball of confusion and despair and desire. We’d started having lunch together once in a while. We were going to extracurricular activities together at the college. I didn’t feel quite as dirty when he touched me. I enjoyed talking to him. He made me feel special. No one had made me feel special like this. There was always a warmth to his touch, a gleam to his eyes. And I was both terrified and entranced. I was utterly and completely mesmerized…the way you can’t look away from a train wreck.
I told no one the entirety of what was going on, save Daniel. I knew that one of two things would happen: I wouldn’t be believed, or I would. And both…both were unacceptable to me. And I continued to tell myself that nothing was going on, despite all evidence to the contrary and despite Daniel’s repeated warnings that things were very, very serious on both sides and I needed to run away, not edge closer.
The next semester, things got worse. He fired his existing student aide so that he could hire me in his place. This put me with him about 20-25 hours a week. I joined the student newspaper, of which he was head. We were both on a graphic and web design committee at the college. He stopped going home between classes if I was there. I stopped going home between classes if he was there. We would stay an hour or two past our last class and just be together, talking and working and talking.
Then, come February, we went on a photoshoot together for the class. He continued his warmth…even moreso. He would stare at me unashamedly from across the room, not looking away when I caught him. When we got back to the classroom, I knelt on the floor by my computer to hook up my portable hard drive to the console. While on my knees, sitting on my ankles and pulling my hair back so that I could see, I glanced over to see him sitting at his chair, staring at me – all of me - slack-jawed with a look of pure awe on his face, like he’d never seen a woman before. That very night, he gave me a brochure and asked me to go to a graphic design conference with him in Boston…a conference that lasted 3 days and 3 nights.
All of these things continued. I’ve told you all about them before. Peter sliding his arm around me, pulling me tight to him at graduation while whispering in my ear that he might have work for me if I wanted to meet with him the following week. The email I got over that summer, telling me that he had an entire day open if I wanted to meet with him. We started leaving covert IM away messages for each other, letting each other know where we were. We ran into each other at the mall twice – once when my mom was with me, and she finally realized the gravity of the situation. I’d tried to tell her, but she didn’t understand until she saw how he looked at me. The last night I saw him before going to BJU, when he held me tenderly, then held onto my hips with his mere inches away, staring at me imploringly.
I am not crazy.
I was afraid of him and the liberties he took. But I liked his attention and found him extremely sexually alluring. And that terrified me about me. And I was confused as to why I even liked him since he was 9 years older than me, my teacher, an atheist, and already had a girlfriend. And I kept coming back to, “No, it’s all in my head, I’m making this up, it’s not happening.” And on and on and on it went. It was never resolved. I’ve had 3 guys tell me that I wasn’t insane, that it actually happened, and part of me still doesn’t believe it. And I don’t believe that he was abusing his position…but if he wasn’t, I don’t know what else was happening. Nothing has ever been resolved in my head…or in my heart for that matter.
This man wanted me. And, I suspect from his actions at the AIGA Club meeting last week, wants me still, though to a lesser degree.
And I still wrestle with that. He’s the first man I was ever sexually attracted to. And I don’t want him anymore, but I still fear whatever control he may have over me. And I still wonder if I was crazy. Am crazy.
But maybe bringing this into the light…maybe…maybe I’m not alone.
Yes, my husband knows all of this. After talking it out with my friend and being able to articulate things for the first time in over 3 years, I was finally able to explain to Gary exactly why I was so terrified of being alone with Peter. Or anywhere with Peter, frankly. I don’t trust him. I don’t trust myself. Gary assures me that he trusts me, but he will accompany me to all events where Peter will be present in order to be my physical safe harbor.
I hope this whole thing hasn’t come across too…I don’t know. I love Gary with all of my heart. I couldn’t be happier with him. I do not want to be with Peter in any way, shape, or form. I think…I think…I think he abused his position of authority over me, and reaped the benefits of my attack six months prior to our meeting. I always tried to carefully control my surroundings after the attack, but at the same time I gave up in some areas. I didn’t tell people no anymore, because I didn’t think they would listen. I believed that my body was up for grabs for anyone who wanted it, and I’d just have to grit my teeth and bear it. And…and…he took advantage of that. Without ever committing to anything, without ever speaking about our relationship.
I don’t think there’s a proper way to end this. Be gentle with me, friends.