Me too. Part four. Family.

“My trauma was hidden and swept under the rug. That day, my trauma became a secret.”

Sexual assault isn’t something that just happens and then it’s over. It isn’t just one event – it’s a series of events. Like an earthquake that tears apart the earth. The magnitude of destruction does not stop at ground zero. The vibrations thereafter strike down and rip apart everything in their path. The surrounding structures, falling like dominoes – even those seemingly at a far enough distance to safely avoid the chaos.

The rape I experienced in 2017 caused a destruction of my soul, of my heart, and of the very building blocks that composed my then 28-year-old self. I was no longer the me I knew myself to be. Each brick I had built shattered: confidence, purpose, pride, my place in this world, and who I conceptualized myself to be. I was left standing amongst the dusty piles of rubble, mourning the structure I once was. I stood there in the vast expanse of gray not knowing where to start. I had a long road ahead of me.

As I started to piece my life back together, I began one brick at a time. Some bricks were lost forever. Some, I was able to reconstruct and fashion back together. Some, I had to start over and build from scratch. Picking up my life after this tragedy has taken every ounce of strength I have within me. It has been a painstaking process. From the ashes, I had to find my fire again. I had to build my fire again.

The act of rape is only a piece to a 1,000 piece puzzle. It is a book of many chapters. The story begins with the act, yes. But the act is merely a catalyst to the chapters thereafter, each chapter contributes equally to the story as a whole. My life is forever changed, forever altered – as are the lives of those around me. To this day, the chapters are still being written. As they will be for the rest of my life.

As was true of the chapter before, this chapter will also be difficult for my family to read. Yet, I feel called and compelled to be honest – even if it hurts, even if it causes feelings of discomfort or guilt. My hope is that from this, other families might heal by learning through the mistakes of our journey as we navigated this unchartered territory.


After several hours at the hospital, followed by even more at the police department, I was in my father’s car as he drove me home. Home. Back to ground zero where I could see His house from my front door. I remember being very short with my father in the car. I didn’t want to be around him, I didn’t want to talk to him. Yet, I felt too guilty to say it out loud. My Daddy. The strong man he was – awkwardly fumbling over his words and the steering wheel as he drove. He was still a crumbled, broken, and confused mess. How dare I hurt him even more? I couldn’t tell him out loud what I was feeling on the inside. I couldn’t tell him my brain was in survival mode and his very presence made me uncomfortable. So, I sat there silently. Pressing my body as far against the passenger-side door as I could. Using my body language to communicate as best I could – please leave me alone. Writing that hurts my heart.

But the truth is, I didn’t want to be alone. I wanted the warm embrace of my mother’s arms. I wanted to hear her sweet, soothing voice telling me, “Everything is going to be ok, sweetheart.” I wanted to feel her arms wrapped around me, one hand on my forehead, the other wiping away my tears as they fell. My mom has always been my source of comfort. Her warmth is the essence of her being. My Mommy. Who wiped away my tears as a child sobbing over stinging, skinned knees. Who held me when my feelings were hurt at school by the not-so-nice ‘cool’ girl who didn’t understand the tomboy I was. Who cheered me on and sat on the edge of her seat at every gymnastics meet, covering her eyes and unable to watch as my body contorted, flipped, and maneuvered in admittedly – quite dangerous ways. Who jumped up and down clapping with each of my successes. Who cried with me at every failure. My mommy who still runs to me with open arms after we’ve only been apart for a few days. My mommy who has loved me with every breath I’ve taken – unwavering, steady, gentle, warm.

I wanted my girlfriend. I needed her. She was out of town and claimed she was too traumatized by what had happened to come to my aid – as she regurgitated lingo about boundaries her favorite research professor had just touted in a recent speech. At that time, I felt I couldn’t refute the words of someone with a doctorate degree. I was stuck in a position where I had to accept and understand her inability to be there. It brings frustration to my soul even to this day. And it’s something I am still deeply scarred by.

I strategically left voicemails on her phone when she didn’t answer, hoping to leave a trail of breadcrumbs – possible evidence should this go to trial. My distant voice telling him no, captured through the phone I held in my right hand as my arm hung over the side of His bed. I can’t imagine the pain I would feel if the shoe was ever on the other foot. How I would feel if I ever heard her desperate voice on the other end of the phone while being sexually assaulted. But. I would have been on the next plane. If I had to, I would have walked. I would have done whatever it took to be there and nothing would have stopped me. Yet, it was too hard for her. She failed me.

My father dropped me off at my house. I went inside. He got back on the road and drove to the beach. I walked straight upstairs and got in my bed, laying in the numbing silence of my house, swallowed in the sheets covering my body as I clung the edges to my neck. I cried. My body trembled. Shock. Terror. Sadness. I was broken and I was alone.

Later that day, when my mom told my brother what had happened, he said to her, “I’m going to her right now.” He called me immediately afterward and we cried together. I told him I was ok, that I didn’t want to ruin his weekend fun. I reassured him, repeatedly, to go to the beach with the family anyway. That I was fine. But I wasn’t fine. I wanted him but I couldn’t find a way to tell him. I was too broken to be assertive, too broken to be selfish – even though I knew I needed to be. I had just heard from my girlfriend that my pain was too much for her. Maybe it was too much for everyone. For once in my life I needed someone to show up for me – to step up and carry the weight of my broken body. To fight for me. And no one did. This still deeply haunts my brother. It still causes tears to stream down his face as he recounts his decision to listen to me and ignore his instincts, “My sister. My sister. My sister was raped and I went to the beach pretending with Mom and Dad that everything was fine. Kelly, I’ll never forgive myself.”

My family failed me, too.

Artwork: Justin Winkel

The story my parents told the rest of my family was – I was sick. Sick. My mom drove to see me the following morning. She told everyone she had to drive home for a day to check on me. The mother I needed, however, didn’t show up. The calming embrace every atom of my broken being craved and anticipated, never came. As I sit here typing this, I can feel the hot salt from my tears as they burn my cheeks. I was met with fury, with rage. With an anger I had never seen in her prior. And let me tell you something. My mother and I never fight. My mother has always been my best friend, my leader-by-example, my pride, my aspiration, my role model. I always wanted to be just like her when I grew up. The stunningly beautiful, soft, caring, smiling, radiating heart – that is my mother. We have always had the easiest, most gentle, effortlessly positive relationship. 

That day I was blamed. She was irate. I was told I was partially to blame. That I got drunk and it was my fault for putting myself in a vulnerable position. “And that shirt, Kelly. Your Father told me you were wearing that shirt.” A loose tank top with no bra – a combination she and my father were clearly not fans of.

My sexual assault broke my mother, too. Looking back, as they say, hindsight is always 20/20. I now know that she was mad at the world. She was mad at Him. That deep, dark, raging fire within her was zeroed in on me – but it wasn’t really because of me. She had just been diagnosed with cancer, her world was already upside down. Now, her little girl, her little angel, her heart, just had the worst thing happen to her that could ever happen to a woman. And she was human with a human response. How often we forget that our parents are actually just human. The expansive guilt she feels now for how she reacted that day – cannot even be explained with words. I can feel it when I look in her eyes and I can hear it in the despair in her voice. How my heart breaks for her. But then, on that day, she failed me. She drove back to the beach.

You see, my family is very private. My parents worried what others would think. They worried I would be judged, they worried my hurt would cause more hurt to those around me. In their panic, they worried about everyone else and less about me. What would your grandparents think? This would be far too painful for them. And your cousins? Kelly, it’s all too much. So, they told everyone I was sick and was staying home. The events of that 4th of July weekend began without me. My trauma was hidden and swept under the rug. That day, my trauma became a secret.

I needed my parents to step up that day. If they weren’t ready to tell everyone what had happened to me, fine. That’s undoubtedly fair. But, they should have at least said something along the lines of: Something has happened to Kelly. We are not ready to talk about it yet. But right now, we need to go home to be with our daughter. That didn’t happen. Although we know better now – that doesn’t change the events that took place at the time. It doesn’t erase my hurt. 

The focal point of error within my parents was a societal concept deeply embedded within them: victim blaming. And it was completely unintentional. Victim blaming is woven so deep within the substance of our culture that we don’t realize it’s there morphing our thoughts – we don’t even realize it exists in our psyche. That is, until something like this happens, unearths it, and makes us question everything we think we know to be true. When conflicting evidence touches our lives directly – such as sexual assault – our old ways of thought are flipped upside down. This happened to my parents. And not until further personal exploration of the topic and a process of unlearning, were they able to see the error of their thoughts. 

Victim blaming means: a victim is blamed fully or partially for a crime committed against them. In other parts of the world, women who fall victim of rape are ostracized by society. They are viewed as tainted, dirty and unworthy. In the western world, although seemingly less severe, misogyny is so deep within our societal norms that we are completely ignorant to the damage it causes behind the scenes. We don’t realize it’s within us until we are forced to challenge the thought process behind it. My parents did not fully blame me for being raped, they stood by the fact that He committed a crime against me. BUT they fervently believed I was partially to blame. Because I put myself in a vulnerable position by being drunk and because of what I was wearing. That is where their anger came from that day – a mindset based upon invalid, deeply embedded information we read, see, and hear repeatedly in this country from the moment we are born.

Let me be clear. There is NOTHING a woman can do to make her fully or partially to blame for being raped. NOTHING. Neither my drunkenness nor what I was wearing that evening had anything to do with me being sexually assaulted. A man knowingly committed a crime against me and violated my body. That is the only sentence that matters.

I stayed in my bed for days following my assault. Days. Unable to sleep. And eventually, unable to cry. By then my PTSD had kicked in terribly. I couldn’t even bring myself to go outside. What if I see Him? What if He sees me? Is he going to come find me and kill me? I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t sleep. I lost 15 pounds in 5 days. I was all alone. Alone while my entire family was at the beach. Boating, fishing, laughing, cooking meals together, playing games, enjoying each other’s company.

Before the release of “Me too. Part two.” I had to revisit all of this with my family. I had to relive all of its pain. We had to relive it. We hadn’t talked about it in years – not since it happened. I had to expose the secret that had been hidden since that 4th of July weekend. I had to call my grandparents, I had to talk to my cousins. I wound up having some of the most special and meaningful conversations of my life. I thought I was close to my family before, but our love has now reached a deeper, truer level. All of it was hard but we dug deep and did what needed to be done. I told my parents of the pain I still carry from feeling failed by them. I watched as their hearts broke, again. I have forgiven them though and we are all stronger than ever before. 

The thing about healing is that you have to break and you have to break fully. Attempting to rebuild a dilapidated structure will only produce problems that resurface later – as ours did. The rotted wood and cracked foundation – you so tirelessly try to cover and hide with new pretty materials – will eventually cause another devastating collapse. Learn from our errors and build your new structure the right way. Pull out all of the rot, all of the pain, and start fresh.

I am not sharing this part of my story to shame my family in any way whatsoever. I am sharing this part of my story – our story – so that others might learn from the mistakes of those who have gone before them. That, other mothers and fathers out there might read this and react differently. That their thought processes regarding victim blaming might change. I hope that through my family’s pain, the world might grow. That the deep, dark, dirt of our mistakes may cause flowers to sprout in the life of someone else. That is my hope, that is my agenda, that is my purpose.

To those who have gone through this, whose lives are still a smoldering pile of destruction, do not give up. One day, I promise you, you will be a roaring fire again.

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