It was the summer of 1972. We moved from a condo in a new city our family had lived in for a year to a house in a new neighborhood.
The summer started off busy with street football and hanging out. The new neighborhood was teeming with kids in an age range around mine. It was a refreshing change from the summer before when I had had an abundance of babysitting jobs but no friends.
I was 15 years old.
The guy who now lived next door to me was, shall we say, creepy. He barely spoke and had an unsettling stare. He was apparently the youngest son of older parents we seldom saw. A “late in life” kid, his brothers were already grown, married, and gone.
There was also one older guy in the neighborhood a few doors down. He was a recent high school graduate, living at home and working as a car mechanic at a nearby gas station. He was amused by the creepy guy’s antics and egged him on. And I’m sure the creepy guy obliged to please the older dude.
Hanging out with others on our street was very short-lived for me. I can’t remember how soon after we had moved in that it ended. Maybe only days, maybe a couple of weeks. But I remember why.
It was a night that a small group gathered in the older dude’s den to hang out and watch television. Everything was fine until someone inexplicably turned off the lights. I felt someone’s fist violently thrust between my legs. I screamed. The lights went back on, and the older dude and the creepy guy were laughing. I bolted and never went back.
It didn’t end there. But I don’t remember when it exactly started. Creepy guy attended the all-boys high school of my comparable all-girls high school. He rode a different school bus and, too often, his bus arrived at the same time or slightly ahead of mine. When it did, he sprinted from his bus to arrive at his house before I passed. His garage door was raised as he stood inside, eyes covered with his hand, pants dropped, exposing himself to me.
I had no choice but to walk by his garage to reach my house right next door. I knew to look straight ahead. Garage door up? Straight ahead. Straight ahead. Quick pace, house keys ready. Eyes straight ahead.
Scared to death it might escalate, I quickly locked myself in our unoccupied house and did not go back out.
It didn’t end until probably two years later when my father and uncle finally went after him. He had exposed himself to someone other than me on my sister’s wedding day. They never found him but it must have scared him because it stopped.
I had been traumatized once that night, and every day I stepped off my school bus, not knowing whether he had made it home before me, terrified whether his garage door would already be up.
I can’t explain why he was creepy, why he exposed himself, or why it was not handled sooner. I told. But I know I never said a word at the time to anyone about the incident in the den. I handled it. I changed. I hid.
But I can promise you, if this guy were nominated for a powerful position that is intended to represent and enforce the exceptional values of our nation, I would come forward. All these years later. Without a doubt. I would speak truth to power.
I am no longer 15 years old.
And I am no longer willing to hide. Or to look straight ahead and quicken my pace. It’s time to slow things down and speak our truths. And by doing so, maybe we will help someone else speak theirs. And then another. And another.
And then maybe we can have an honest conversation about ourselves.
Because there is just too much damn silence from the wrong people.