I wrote this for you.

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I don’t know if you will ever see this.

I have a feeling you won’t – I’ve taken a lot of measures in the last few weeks, let alone the last year, to make sure you have no way of contacting me ever again.

I have severely questioned whether or not I would name you. For legal purposes, I’m keeping you anonymous. But if you ever wonder what happened to the curly-haired chick from Atlanta and why she never reached back out, and you stumble across this post, this is for you.

I’m not sure if you remember the date or if it has since then faded from your memory.

But I do.

I’ve dreaded this day coming up on the calendar for a few months now, particularly the last 30 days. I went to Nashville a few weeks ago, and I felt sick realizing I’d happened to go back to the city a few weeks before the one year mark.

And to be honest, I’m not even sure where to begin this. I could start chronologically – tell the story of how I discovered your novels in middle school, how you were the reason I started wearing Buckle jeans and black, edgy clothes. How I’d draw your symbol on my ankle and wrist because I wanted a tattoo like yours. How I had dreams of meeting you, having coffee with you one day. My name, known by you.

Or maybe I should cut the BS and introduce my readers to that day five years later, when I was standing on your doorstep and you opened the door and your eyes glided over my body, and I realized you hadn’t seen me in five years, realized you were probably expecting a 14 year old girl, not a 20 year old woman, standing in front of you.

That’d make for a good first paragraph. You always talked about hooking the reader from the start.

And I almost kept it a secret, you know. You told me to never tell anyone what we talked about, that “most people wouldn’t understand.” That most people still had you in a “bubble” and they just wouldn’t understand you the way “I” could understand you.

But here’s the thing: this day has kept me awake at night for long enough. I’ve watched enough old videos of you, trying to figure out if I was fooled from the start or if something had massively shifted since I started reading your books to when I went to your house last year.

I’ve had enough conversations with people telling them I feel crazy for thinking I had any right to tell this story other than over a casual cup of coffee. You would think with the Me Too and Time’s Up movement, I would feel empowered. I am “brave”, am I not? That’s my word, that’s a part of my brand. The girl with the lion’s mane and a lion’s heart. That that girl would have enough courage to write about it, vlog about it, whatever she needed to do to bring her story to the light.

But my friend asked me in January what I thought about the allegations coming out about various celebrities, about women standing up as forces to be reckoned with and exposing the darkness. He asked me how that made me feel in regards to my story. I told him it made me feel more helpless, that somehow it felt like it even more so took away my ability to tell my story. I wasn’t raped, I wasn’t assaulted, and I would absolutely never paint this into something it wasn’t. I’ve had too many friends sit across from me in the last six months, tears in their eyes, and tell me they’ve been raped, they’ve been assaulted. I’ve watched friends break over their PTSD, watched friends try to tell me why they were in the wrong and not the perpetrator, why they wanted to forgive the person over taking it to court, why they would lose in court if they ever took their case further.

And it breaks my heart because I have to argue back to try to convince them that it wasn’t their fault. That it didn’t matter what they wore, if they were drunk, if their friends were close by, if it was someone they trusted.

They were taken advantage of, period.

And here arises my conflict. I’ve never felt like I had true ground to be completely honest about this because nothing “really” happened. Objectively, some things were said. Some things were done. But I still accepted your invitation. I walked into your house. I sat in your office. I rode in your car. I went to lunch.

And while those things are true, that’s only half the story.

And maybe this will never reach your eyes. There’s a part of me that hopes you never will. I fear repercussions. But then the other part of me hopes you will, that one day you’ll wonder what happened to the girl from Atlanta and you’ll return to her blog. You’ll want to see what she’s up to.

So here is what I am up to. I may not have a story that will make the front cover of a magazine or get thousands of retweets on Twitter. But I do have a story, period.

And though I’m writing this to you, I’m really writing this for the rest. For the girls who feel like they don’t have a voice. Who feel like their story isn’t worth sharing, who feel like they didn’t go through something bad enough to ever write about it. Because for the ones who feel silenced by fear or shame, I just want them to know they have permission to do whatever they need to do to get it off their chest. Be it writing it, naming them, taking it to court, or even telling just one person. You have my permission.

The words below are a compilation of words I wrote throughout the entirety of this year, mashed up into one post. This isn’t something that I faced once and washed my hands of. No, this is something I’ve agonized over for 12 months, leaving behind hundreds of words in journals and word documents about how today last year affected me.

You severely underestimated me, and I hope you know your secrets are not safe with me.

. . .

Ever since we met up over a month ago, I’ve periodically scrolled his feed, wondering if he’s always been this way, and I just didn’t see it.

I was 13 when I started reading his stories. I’d already wanted to be an author.

But he made me an author. I finished my first novel my freshman year of high school because of him.

He was everything to me. Our photos together, I had all five in frames and hanging on my wall. The last time I went to one of his book signings, it was spring 2013, and he walked through the door of the bookstore and saw me at the front of the crowd. He pointed at me and smiled and said, “Hey Emily.”

He remembered me.

Not just my hair, not just my face, not just the novel I wrote.

My name.

 

One time at a book signing, he pulled me into a hug and whispered in my ear, “You’re beautiful” and told my mom to never let my spirit die.

There was silence for four years, until one day months after turning 20, and I remembered something he’d told me when I was 14.

One day you’re going to be 20, and we’re going to meet again. I get to watch you grow up. And we’ll see where we’re at.”

Forgotten in my memory for years, now being retrieved into the light, I emailed his manager and his manager forwarded the email to his personal email.

He responded.

I felt like 14 year old me emerged and I screamed.

And soon he was asking for my phone number, and we exchanged numbers so we could meet up for coffee. I’d make a trip up to visit and to visit some old family-friends as well.

And then he called me.

 

“How old are you now?”

I’m 20,” I said. “And I don’t know if you remember, but there was one time you told me, at one of your book signings, ‘One day you’ll be 20, and we’ll meet again, and we’ll see where we’re at.’ So here I am. Almost 21.”

“Wait, I actually said that?? Word for word?”

“I have it in writing on a photo caption. Word for word.”

“Wait that’s actually so fucking cool. ‘We’ll see where we’re at.’ That blows my mind.”

We decided on the day I would come to Nashville and hung up the phone.

Those two weeks leading up to our meeting up, I was ecstatic. I felt myself returning to a part of me I had shut down for years. I started making amends with her; I wrote a blog post about her. You read the blog post and texted me your response.

You asked if I wanted to read an early copy of your novel that was coming out next year; how could I say no?

I think if there was one phrase that could encompass what would happen next, it would be that.

How could I say no.

It was my dream. Coming to life.

I was too in love with watching my dream come to life to realize the texts becoming weirder, as you called me “dear one” and texted long paragraphs about “our true selves and who we really are” out of the blue.

And then came the weekend. The weekend I had been anticipating for years.

I texted you to confirm our time, and you responded by inviting me to your house.

The 14 year old in me flipped again.

His house.

An open invitation to his house.

At first I said yes. Yes 100%.

And then I felt something tug on me. That something wasn’t right. I talked with both of my parents and they agreed, so I countered with just meeting up for lunch or coffee.

But I don’t think you were down for that. You said for me to come by the house at noon anyway.

I finally conceded and you said, “Perfect! Come to my house at 10AM? I feel like an excited boy because this is a first for me. Strange as that sounds. I’m a very private person generally and keep to my sacred space for many reasons. I’ve actually never invited a reader to my house like this. But then you’re not a reader – you’re Emily!”

Oh I should have fled then.

I was caught in the middle, though, and didn’t feel like I had a way of saying no. I wanted too badly to say I had gone to your house and sat in your presence once more as a young adult and not just a nervous teenager. I wanted the story more than I wanted my safety.

So I went.

You texted me your address and I texted it to my parents, the family I was staying with, and my friend. I shared my location with my friend who was over four hours away. I made a game plan in case something got weird.

The fact I went through all of that trouble, knowing something wasn’t right but going anyway, is proof alone I should never have gone. But what I could have never imagined was the level of insanity and darkness I was stepping into.

 

I walked up to the door and rang the doorbell and texted my friend and my parents I’d arrived.

You opened the door and peeked out, and your eyes glided over my body. You reached out your arms (I was very aware I was several inches taller than you) and you gave me a huge hug. I stepped into the house and my very first question was where was your wife. You said she was getting ready and would be down soon.

My palms began to sweat. What if you were lying? What if I’d just walked into a trap?

Shut up, Emily, you’ve watched too many movies.

You led me through the house, showed me the library, the living room, and stopped in the kitchen. I kept the island between us as a barrier. You kept looking at my breasts and up and down my legs. You asked for another hug and tried to lift me off the ground.

Let me show you my office,” you said as we headed up the stairs and rounded the corner. I stood in the doorway, unmoving as you stepped in. The first thing I noticed was the smell, the incense burning. And then the soft tribal music in the background.

You pointed out several pieces of art and artifacts from the country your parents were missionaries in, and I’d be surprised if you didn’t sense my hesitation. I don’t care.

At one point you asked me how tall I was, then proceeded to put your arm around my waist and bring me into your side, trying to see our height difference.

We sat down, you on the couch and me in a chair, and I remember nothing of what we talked about. Your wife came in shortly after and I made sure to keep her talking because she was the only barrier between you and I.

But as we kept talking, I realized I wasn’t necessarily safe around her either. Something never quite felt safe about her eyes.

I only remember bits and pieces from the 4 hours we were in your office. It was so emotionally draining, diving that deep into your mind, that I shut down really quickly. I never settled. I never let the walls down. I never relaxed.

I remember talking about beauty versus fame, how our struggle with both are so similar. You made several comments about how beautiful I’d become, how you couldn’t get over how grown up I looked.

I remember more about the way you talked, the way you used your hand motions so fluidly in a captivating way.

You were very touchy-feely and sometimes reached over the coffee table to touch my arm.

You said you and the co-author from years ago would talk about me often.

You said you’d felt a connection with me from the start. “I don’t do this – I don’t just invite readers into my home. But I felt something different about you from the beginning.”

You said you’d noticed me in line for the very first book signing ever, that it was like you could feel me even before I stepped up to the table. You remembered me touching his hands. When we finally went to lunch a few hours later, you grabbed both of my hands across the table and caressed them, asking if they felt the same as the first time.

In your office, you alluded to your wife and yourself having a very open relationship. I’m still not sure what you meant, but my gut instincts haven’t been wrong yet.

That’s one part of the story that still drives me mad, because I will never know. I will never know if this is simply how I perceived a very uncomfortable situation or if there was truly something more happening behind the scenes that I 100% believe God protected me from.

And then you brought up one of the most disgusting things I remember from our talk, something I absolutely hate repeating but speak out only for the world to know, for those who have already guessed who I’m talking about.

You talked about forcing yourself to develop feelings for a fat woman sitting next to you on a plane. You said, “I don’t know, I wouldn’t have fucked her. Or maybe I would have. I ran home afterwards to tell my wife, how excited I was that’d I’d changed my preferences for women and could see all types of women as attractive and beautiful.”

To this day, I wish I would have been courageous enough to slap you in the face and run out the door.

We went to lunch and you drove. You kept looking over at me as I curled one leg underneath me and scrolled my phone for a song I’d written in high school that you hadn’t heard yet. You’d just look at me, and laugh, and said, “You’re so cute.”

When we walked in, the hostess greeted us and said she recognized you. Our waitress said she’d asked to have our table because it’d been her dream to meet you. She turned to me, her eyes bright, and asked how does one get lunch with you.

I said I was still trying to figure that one out, but I wish I could have told her the truth. She had no idea.

No idea the man sitting across from me.

The rest of lunch and the drive back to the house were a blur. I was so emotionally spent and uncomfortable, and I was so ready to leave. This was when you made the comment about me never talking about what we’d talked about because no one else would understand.

“Don’t tell anyone or I’ll have to spank you,” you laughed. “Just kidding.”

We got back to the house and had your wife come downstairs so she could take our photo. I regret giving you my other copy of my novel, the one from years ago. The one where there’s only three in existence. I thought about not giving it to you, but in the moment I’d wanted you to have something you’d influenced in my life. Who knows what you’ve done with it at this point.

Your wife and I were finishing up our conversation when you started playing with my hair, and she laughed and said it was something you loved doing – playing with people’s hair, playing with people’s beards. But I can still feel the moment when you lifted my hair, your fingers lightly touching my skin, and slowly began to stroke the back of my neck.

You went to hug me goodbye and wrapped your arms around my waist, your wife five feet from us, and said, “Ahaha I remember how tight your hugs were when you were younger.”

You pulled back, took my face in both of your hands, and brought your lips to my forehead.

Your wife said I was welcome back at any time and you walked me out to my car and kissed my cheek before I left.

You turned to leave.

The last thing I saw was my makeup stain on your shirt.

 

. . .

I wish I had never emailed you.

Of course I don’t actually mean that; I would rather have this hindsight now than still believe you were the person I grew up thinking you were.

But there will always be a part of me that wishes I’d never reached back out, never had found out the real you.

Your new book released a month ago. I don’t remember where I was; all I remember was watching an email alert pop up in the corner of my laptop, the very mention of your name making my skin crawl.

I deleted the email.

You texted me on Thanksgiving, saying it’d been a while and had thought of me often and was wondering how I was doing.

I never responded.

I hope you got the message.

I think you did.

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2 Comments Add yours

  1. I’m proud of you! Thank you for speaking true. Speaking truth when you’re terrified IS brave. It’s so hard but I’m so glad you did. I’m also so sorry that you had to experience this, the huge disappointment and shame brought on by that experience. But here you have defied fear and defied darkness and I’m so proud that you did. I love you. Keep fighting.  Lauren Weiler

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Emily Dukes says:

      ahhh i love you so much friend. you’re the absolute best

      Liked by 1 person

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