I was 8 years old. Summer was my favorite time of year.
We lived in a two bedroom, one bathroom little white house on a lake. My childhood was spent in swimsuits and wet towels that would dry in the sunshine. Typical weekends were a combination of live music, large crowds, and record-breaking bonfires. My dad’s band would set up on the deck of our tiny house and play music to the dancing flames of tiki-torches. I’d sit on the mismatched yard furniture that mom purchased from the latest yard sale and watch them, mesmerized by how my dad could so perfectly move his drumsticks to the music. It was like a perfectly choreographed dance.
To blend in with fellow party-goers, Nikki (my older brother) and I always made sure we had a can of pop in our hands. I would follow his lead as he walked around the bonfire, playing it cool, sipping his drink just like the adults did.
When the music started to die down, I would make sure to tuck in early. Not because I was concerned with getting in trouble or getting the right amount of sleep each night, but because if I waited too long I may go to bed only to find that a stranger was passed out in it. That happened a lot on summer nights. I was 8 years old.
One day my parents introduced me to a new friend at one of the parties. He was a big man and reminded me of a Teddy Bear with his short curly hair. He played board games like my babysitters would and sat with me to watch the band play. My new friend started spending the night on the couch and would stay the whole weekend, instead of leaving like the other party-goers. One of our favorite games involved swimming out to the middle of the lake with our big inner tube. We would swim under it to hide from the big horse flies. Sometimes he would push me around like I was a princess on a water carriage. On special occasions, my new friend would babysit us instead of our usual babysitters. And instead of board games, he would bring me gifts and sweet treats.
I went into Mrs. Heins’s 3rdgrad class that fall. One day she humiliated me by asking in front of everyone a question about my being on the free lunch program. That also was the day that we had a guest visitor.
Miss Miller had come from the family services center. Using two large dolls named Jack, and Jane, she talked about the inappropriate and appropriate ways we could be touched. The entire class giggled at her presentation but I sat wide-eyed with my hands folded in my lap. She showed us where we were never to be touched by anyone other than our Mommies and Daddies.
My heart stopped.
Miss Miller explained that if our parents had to touch us there, that it should never hurt and we could always say no! The entire classroom practiced this over and over with her. No, no, no!
I didn’t participate. I was too busy trying to breathe.
My vision started to get very narrow and my head started to spin. It felt like someone was sitting on my chest and punching me in the heart. What did she mean no one was supposed to touch me there? That’s where my friend liked to touch me? I could feel the blood drain from my face and I looked around to see if any of my friends took notice. Thank goodness, everyone was still watching Miss Miller and giggling. As Miss Miller started to say goodbye, she said that anyone who thought that they had been “touched in the wrong way,” were free to come out to the hallway to speak with her.
I have to tell her, I thought to myself. But the other kids will see if I don’t go back to my desk. I don’t want anyone to know about this. What if I get into trouble? Certainly I will be grounded to my room. I won’t be able to go to Nonnie and Grandpa’s for my overnights. I think I will just sit down instead.
The rest of the day was a blur and I couldn’t seem to focus. I got off of the bus and went right to my room. I told my Mom that I had a headache and needed to lay down.
The next few weeks started to get really hard. I wasn’t sleeping, I wasn’t eating dinner, and I was falling behind at school.
One day, after I got off the bus, my Mom stopped me in the kitchen. “I have something that might cheer you up! Your friend is on his way over to visit you!” There it was again, that same feeling I got in the classroom when Miss Miller came to talk. The room started to get smaller, my head began to spin, and the familiar weight sat on my chest, punching my heart over and over again. My Mom noticed the blood drain from my face.
“Mekayla Fawn, what’s going on?”
I spilled my guts about the whole thing. I told her about Miss Miller and her two dolls, Jack and Jane, and that she showed us how we were supposed to keep our private parts private. I told her how my friend would touch me thereand how I didn’t know it was wrong. I told her that I was too scared to tell her because I didn’t want to get into trouble. My mother cried. She brought me in close to her chest and then we cried together.
I am now 29 years old and yet what happened at 8, still affects me. My life didn’t get easier after I told my parents. It felt like, after I told everything spiraled downhill. I never had to see my abuser again, but my father went to prison, and my mother, while evading prison, ran to an Indian reservation in Canada. By 11 years old I was a complete mess. I missed my parents, I felt totally abandoned, and I still had the trauma of sexual abuse to deal with.
Today I am married to an amazing, loving, Godly supportive man, and yet, there are still times when I just don’t want to be touched. That’s part of what happens to victims of abuse. Even intimacy with people we love can sometimes make us cringe. I have winced at the touch of my own husband.
Sometimes these spurts will last a few days, but other times they will go one for weeks. I know how blessed I am that my husband is understanding, but he is the one getting punished for the bad things other men did. How is that fair?
Right after we got married, I went through one of my personal rough times; I didn’t want to be touched. Newlyweds are supposed to be… well, like newlyweds! It got so bad that we hardly said three words to each other and my husband had enough. He did something that possibly saved our marriage and I will never forget his words. One night, he left the bedroom and sat down at his computer. He wrote me a letter that changed my entire perspective on sexual intimacy.
You see, sex has always been a tool for me. You can use it to get things from people, hurt people, and manipulate people. That’s what sex was for me and that’s how it was used against me; since the time I was 8 years old. I had no idea that it could be anything different until my husband shared what making love was from his perspective.
I am not going to share what he said because that’s very special to me and it was meant for my eyes only. The important message however, needs to be shared with everyone. My husband explained that sex is far more than a task. Here I was, just thinking it was my job as a wife to “put out” whenever he wanted it. It was an inconvenient task that I sometimes loved and sometimes hated.
To my husband, sex isn’t sex. He explained that each time we are intimate, it is a deep connection to him. He told me what he thinks about and the emotions that run through his head. He could explain, in detail, what each touch meant to him. His words showed me that there really is a difference in having sex and making love. Our culture has ruined sex for so many people. And sexual abuse takes years and years to overcome. That single letter changed everything and possibly saved our marriage.
All of these different experiences have shaped the person I am today, and how I view intimacy. Sexual abuse truly poisons you. It’s no wonder that each and every one of the counselors I saw told my teachers and grandparents to expect me to hit a downward spiral. I would probably end up in drugs or facilities, they would say. After all, my childhood consisted of sexual abuse, parental abandonment, and neglect. I was not allowed to be Mekayla, I was just another statistic.
I wanted so desperately to prove them wrong. I wanted to be a model or a beauty queen. When I was a little girl, I dreamed of being a princess. It was a far cry from the poverty and mental health struggles I actually dealt with. I started watching pageants, and saw these real-life princesses. I told myself that one day that would be me, and that I would be able to show other little girls on the free lunch program with absent parents and horrible trauma, that they could create their own future.
I wanted to be a radio broadcaster and an advocate. I wanted to be extraordinary and show everyone what God can do with broken things. I wanted to prove to them that despite the odds, God had a plan for me.
Despite whatever things have broken you, God still has a plan for you. I never imagined when I was an 8-year-old girl, crying in the bathroom, that I would grow up to be Mrs. America. God has the power to do things with you, that you can’t even fathom. Let’s make that the new mantra that’s trending. Someone tells you that God has a plan for them, and you can smile and say, #metoo.
-Mekayla Eppers, Mrs. America 2017
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