I was in Los Angeles recently to shoot a video interview with a client. My excitement level was very high, as I love doing interviews and tapping into my “inner Oprah.”
Little did I know that I would end up interviewing myself as I reconnected with old friends, especially people I first met in my days modeling for catalogs.
I expected the trip to be fun. It was, after all, LA, and I was traveling with my favorite videographer. When I boarded the plane, however, I was burdened by luggage no one else could see. I’m quite sure if the airlines had known about all the weight I carried on that flight out to California from West Virginia, they would have charged me extra.
Hollywood is the land of dreams for aspiring models and actors, and as I boarded the plane I was awash with memories of why I stopped modeling years ago. When I left the modeling profession, I was haunted by the abuse and neglect I had endured as a child. Those ghosts were fading now, and as an adult I found that my new freedom came with new responsibility. I had become consumed with the possibility that the perpetrator had never been held accountable for his abuse of me and of other children.
As the plane took off, I thought of the many incremental adjustments I had made over the years. These small shifts served me well in the short-term, but they had also added up to major redirection in my life. In California, an old friend would reveal this truth to me in ways both painful and liberating.
We arrived in LA and it seemed as if all of my old friends had production companies, Rolexes, Maybachs, black cards, and were making movies with “A” listers. As I watched the realities of their lives unfold around me, I wondered who I seemed to be to them. It didn’t take long to find out.
I was the girl who got away.
A man I dated in Atlanta years ago and who once brought me home to his Momma in the 1990’s just dropped his day’s plans when he found out I was in town. “The girl who got away,” he called me when he came to visit me poolside at the Roosevelt Hotel.
What happened next felt like a true Hollywood moment. He gave me the most cinematic, dreamy, magical kiss with a hug that must have lasted twenty minutes, and then he proclaimed, “I LOVED THIS WOMAN.”
I didn’t know that he had loved me.
We smiled and I looked into his bright, familiar eyes, and then we had the “catch-up on life conversations.” He was still the same, cocky and confident even though he had lost all his hair. He wore it well. I was comfortable in my own skin, too, and I realized I wasn’t worrying about the way my body has changed after having three children, or about the lines on my face.
I had one mystery in my mind: Why? Why did I not see this solid, beautiful man as a potential “boyfriend” back when he loved me?
In our conversation, I started to disclose a long-held secret. I started to tell him that I was a victim of child abuse, that I had taken my abuser to court, and that there was a trial in process. I started to tell him that my life was upside down and inside out.
I wanted to tell this man about what was going on, but I was still afraid. I was afraid even after all this time, even after all the changes in our lives. I was afraid to open my mouth and say the words, to disclose the reality that I was abused.
In that moment of hesitation, I remembered why I didn’t know all those years ago that this man cared for me. I did know. I just didn’t think that a solid man with a good family and with potential for a successful life would accept me. I needed someone flawed, someone from a family as dysfunctional as mine. At the very least, I couldn’t be open and honest with anyone who had what I call “Huxtable” qualities. It was impossible to imagine that his mother, a smart, educated woman, would accept me or that she would encourage her son to embrace a woman who had been sexually abused.
Leaving the big city all those years ago was something I had to do. I had a mission to seek justice, to heal my past, but I didn’t know how to tell him that. I believed I would be judged and rejected. It had happened before.
I decided to take a chance now, in that moment. I seized the opportunity as we talked about a child abuse scandal that was on every network that week.
I told my friend that I was abused. I told him I had a trial coming up, and that I hoped the high-profile child abuse that was on every channel and in every paper that week would bring awareness to how prevalent these crimes are.
By my friend’s reaction, I could see that he never would have rejected me years ago, and he did not reject me in that moment. We may not have been a lasting love connection, but there is no doubt I would have had a friend that could have offered solid guidance and support, even conversation with his caring mother. Instead, I had slipped off to West Virginia for safety and familiarity.
Though I went back to the mountain state in quiet and in retreat long ago, I made a new decision the day I disclosed my past to my friend. I would return to West Virginia this time with conviction and purpose.
I am pursuing my dream, the one I have had since second grade, the one I had when I first met this man, who is now jeans and T-shirt Hollywood fly. I am pursuing the dream I never told him about back then, my dream to become a writer.
I told my friend, “I’m going to write and create. Check back with me in another ten or so years.” I claimed it.
He smiled. We said our good-byes.
Life gave me this moment to define and direct my path. There was no escaping the truth. I was no longer the girl who got away. I was a woman who found herself.
I knew that if I were ever to leave West Virginia, if I were ever to reclaim anything lost to me, that I had to do the right thing. I was, and I knew that I had to write my way out.
I came home to right, and then write, my way.