To The Man Who Molested Me When I Turned 17

You are my art, my theatre, my story, my growth, my lesson learned. But you are not my secret.

My mother always used to say our secrets made us sick. If I told a little white lie about the latest cafeteria meal, she’d tell me that my body was really the one who’d be sorry if I didn’t eat the steamed vegetable trio of carrots, peas, and cauliflower that kept Wednesday’s magic meatloaf company. If I told her I had done my chores when I was really diving head-first into the latest Harry Potter novel, she’d tell me I’d have to live with that guilt when she ended up having to do yesterday’s laundry. When I didn’t tell her what my friend had called me when I came home from school with a sniffly red nose and tears lining my eyelids, my mother said it’s not good for my soul to bottle up feelings so tightly.

My father keeps a secret. A secret he doesn’t know we know. When our family goes to New York, my father will drive, in secret, to a street uptown, pacing up and down for hours.

My family keeps a lot of secrets. When I was 8, one of my brothers had a manic attack and we came home to a house completely covered in writing. My family worked together tirelessly to scrub every offensive phrase off the tiles, every scribble on the doors, every trace of upset from our home.

Another brother dated two women because he was afraid of what the family would think if he settled down with someone who someone who wasn’t Jewish. My grandmother survived Auschwitz at 18 years old, and was forced to wear Nazi uniforms. The rest of her story is a secret, confined to a worn, frozen gaze in her eyes and a gently shaking tone behind her sighs.

If we didn’t talk about things, they didn’t happen.

I keep secrets too. When I was 17, my voice teacher started molesting me after promising to be my mentor, my godfather, and a man I could always trust. I didn’t mean to keep it a secret, but I was so naïve that I didn’t even realize what a pedophile was. I had no idea I was being molested and couldn’t fathom the idea of such a tremendous betrayal. I was just confused. Our family just didn’t talk about things like that.

When I was betrayed by someone who I really trusted, I didn’t know what to do. I was hurt, confused, and afraid to tell anyone about these frantic feelings that were suddenly tormenting every waking second.

I learned that our secrets do keep us sick. We lock emotions, memories—any terrible things we might try to suppress—in our fragile, mortal frames. For months I kept that secret inside—the secret of something so horrific, I couldn’t even comprehend it.

All that anger, guilt, and confusion, I felt in my stomach. And two weeks after I turned 18 years old, my stomach exploded due to a blood clot, which later was hypothesized to be caused from a stress ulcer. My molestation was a very stressful secret.

Suddenly, my family could keep no secrets. When the glowing baby girl of the family suddenly ends up in a coma for months and lands on the cover of every local news story, it’s hard to keep everything quiet. If you don’t share your secrets, people will tell your secrets for you, even if they’re the wrong secrets. As my health worsened, the whispers of others grew louder. In an effort to stomp out theories and rumors about everything from anorexia to cancer to getting hit by a bus, my mother spoke the secret I had told her in confidence just two weeks before.

Amy was molested.

My secret leaked when I was in a coma. In my sedated, comatose trance, it was too late for my disclosed secret to heal me. When I awoke months later and my ventilator was finally removed, the first words I breathlessly shouted were, “It was him!” This radical realization was overshadowed by the surgeon’s subsequent disclosure: I had no stomach anymore, I couldn’t eat or drink, and he didn’t know when or if I’d ever be able to again. They had kept this secret from me as long as they could, but decided to tell me when I appeared “healthy enough” to hear it.

But I was too afflicted by my own secrets to be saved at that point. My secrets had made me sick. Now it was up to me to start speaking up.

As soon as I was discharged from the hospital, although weak and still unable to eat or drink, my parents took me to a lawyer to bring some kind of closure to the massive traumas that had happened.

As we explained my complicated case and asked about testifying in court against my molester, the lawyer looked at me compassionately and explained to my parents that I had been through so much, testifying would be a terribly emotional, grueling process. What was important was that I heal physically.

So this secret was put on the back burner until I got “healthy.”

Ten years have passed since my stomach exploded and the headlines have slowly changed from “surgical disaster” to “medical miracle.” I’ve changed from a Ms. to a Mrs., from starving for nutrition to hungry for life. But I still have secrets and so does my family.

Every time my father drove us to a doctor’s appointment at my hospital in New York, my dad would leave my mother and I for an hour or two. Then he’d pick us up and we’d never ask a word, until he started going back to the city more and more, like a secret compulsion.

After a bit of spying, we learned that my father drove right back to my voice teacher’s street every week, just pacing up and down the sidewalk, waiting for that one moment when my molester would come out of hiding and my father would, well, I’m not sure. That’s one secret I’ll hopefully never have to find out.

My father is waiting for that final confrontation, which I had given up on years ago. I don’t think he’ll give up until my molester finally comes back to that street.

I still get asked why I don’t try to testify in court now, or why I don’t try to confront him, or attempt to expose the sociopath who changed my life forever. I don’t think of it as a secret anymore. I know it in my heart, and it’s my truth. I haven’t shared his name, or confronted him directly, but I will send this message out into the universe…

To the man who molested me when I turned 17:

I am not going to tell the world who you are. I am not even going to tell you this directly, or look for a way to get my message to you. I’ve shared my story. I’ve told my husband about you. I’ve written a one-woman musical about my life. I’ve painted it, sang it, yelled it, danced it, know it, feel it, mourn it, accept it, move through it.

You are my art, my theatre, my story, my growth, my lesson learned. But you are not my secret.

As my mother said, our secrets keep us sick.

And your secret will keep you sick.

Amy Oestreicher is a PTSD peer-to-peer specialist, speaker, artist, author, actress, playwright and performer. After “thriving” through 27 surgeries, coma and decade of medical trauma, Amy has written and starred in “Gutless & Grateful”, her one-woman musical autobiography, and shares the gifts of her “beautiful detour” through her art, speaking and workshops. For more information:

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