But let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No.’ For whatever is more than these is from the evil one.
Because Grace had begun seeing her counselor weekly and we then added seeing a psychiatrist to monitor her medication every three weeks, Grace was missing part of school once a week and routinely having to do makeup work.
I felt like perhaps we were on the right path, at the very least. I had secured some help for her, her cutting is out in the open between us, and I am getting off of work early to take her to these appointments. I am taking measurable, active steps. I am in action mode. I am doing the right things.
I withhold what is going on with Grace from most of the family and only tell my boss because I needed to leave early once a week, and also every other week or so for the medication management appointments. Telling my boss was humiliating, humbling, and I was concerned my job might be on the line because I needed “special” conditions for my workday. And I needed my job. More on this, later.
Your pride will surprise you in that there are so many things it prevents you from doing: from being honest, from being truthful, from admitting to others that you have a serious problem. In the moment, you don’t recognize pride for what it is.
From Grace's journal, found years later
One day I arrive to pick up Grace after regular school dismissal time due to a makeup test from her missed classes because of the counseling appointments. Grace is late coming out. By about 20 minutes. In fact, Caroline was with me and suggested that it had been too long and that I should go inside. Right as I am getting ready to open my car door, she comes out. As she is walking to the car; she has an odd expression on her face. A mix of excitement and wonder and also one of confusion, like she is trying to figure something out. I note the expression, but we don’t talk about it, or really anything on the way home.
Later that night around 9:30 p.m., I am downstairs setting up my coffee for the next day and can hear Grace on a video chat upstairs in the room directly above me. I am expecting she will get off soon because she knows it's bedtime anyway.
But after a few seconds this thought passes; this night was different.
I felt literally pulled up the stairs.
I confess that when I have heard people say things like this - they were “called,” or “told” or “pulled,” I think... now, that's melodramatic. How can you feel "pulled" up the stairs? These are overly emotional people who are trying to sensationalize their spiritual experience. These are people who let emotion run their lives. I was skeptical. At my most gracious times, I thought maybe they had a much deeper walk than I would ever have, but God really never did anything like that with me. Oh sure, when I was still - like in the shower or just simply alone somewhere, could be anywhere, I would feel a thought that seemed to come from somewhere outside of me, and I could attribute that to the Holy Spirit. But I never could precisely pinpoint it and say with certainty: Ah, yes. Thank you, Lord. I got that message loud and clear. It was just not part of my experienced faith.
But, here I am, telling you.
I was pulled up the stairs.
I stopped prepping my coffee for the next morning. I started going quietly up each stair so I would not be heard, and got to the door of the bedroom. My heart was pounding. I was trying not to breathe or move quickly for fear of her knowing I am there, and then stopping her conversation. And I heard things like:
“he pushed me against a wall….. he put his hand up my shirt and under my bra... we left because the bell rang.... later I texted him to come back, he did..... he took my phone and put it down his pants ....I straddled him to get it back... he told me to get it myself.... I unzipped his pants and got the phone" (the person on the other end, a male, says to her... you liked it, I bet, didn't you? to which she replies.... “yeah,” with a giggle).
This explained Grace’s odd expression when she came out of school, late. I could not tolerate hearing any more. I was shaking. I burst in the room. I told her to hang up. I demanded her phone to read her texts. There weren't many, but there were some. Boys she had been texting would say things in the middle of a bland text conversation like, “I’m gonna go masturbate. Be right back.” And Grace would reply: “Ok.”
As I stood there with her phone in my hand, I told her, “You are special. You deserve to be treated much better than what I am reading here and what I overheard!” I was just given a glimpse into part of her life that I had no idea even existed. “Your life is not supposed to be like this!” I added.
In hindsight, I wish I would have thought through what I was going to say. My declaration of “your life is not supposed to be like this,” is so broad. What exactly was I trying to say to her? I wanted everything I had just heard to stop and go away. I wanted her to be in her bed, maybe reading and settling down for the night not relaying some story about a guy putting his hand up her shirt while simultaneously texting with another in between his masturbation.
She was surprised at me bursting in the room; I caught her off guard. Yet, she roared back at me with the force of someone who had been holding something in for far too long, as if pressure had been building up and she could no longer contain it.
“God isn’t even real so just be quiet!” she shouted at me with utter disgust.
I didn't take the bait but persisted, “Don’t talk that way to me and you’re certainly not to behave like what I’m seeing and hearing here!” I yell back.
I think she and I were both so shocked at what had just happened. My shock was what I overheard, hers was in being overheard.
I was still standing at the threshold of the doorway from where I had swung open the door; she was still sitting on the floor where she had been talking. We said nothing for probably only thirty seconds, but it was those thirty seconds that might as well have been 30 minutes.
Out of nowhere, and a complete change in direction for her, she broke down and cried.
In between sobs, she asked me, “What if I inherited some kind of gene from my dad that makes me want to do this with boys? What if I am just this way?”
“What exactly is going on with this boy?” I asked.
She tried to catch her breath. “He pushed me up against a wall in the stairwell at school. Then, he put his hand up my shirt.”
I was trying to be calm at this information because I wanted her to continue.
“He took my phone and put it down his pants! He made me come and get it from him!” she said through tears.
I asked her if she told anyone and asked if there were cameras in the stairwell. She said there was no one around.
“I just wanted my phone back,” she said. “I told him ‘no’ several times, but he didn’t listen. I didn’t know what to do.”
I now have a place to focus my anger. A boy took advantage of my child, and she told him no. Repeatedly. The phone conversation was her way of rationalizing it, by talking about it casually, it made this assault less of an actual assault for her. I told her we were going to the school the next day to tell the administration about this boy. I could tell she was a little tentative with this but I understood that; I would have been too. I tried to comfort Grace by sitting next to her on the floor and I could feel some resistance to me being so close to her, but she didn’t move away. We were both exhausted. Sustained high emotion can exhaust a person as if they had had a strenuous physical workout.
We arrive at the school the next morning and are led in the principal’s office by a side room so that Grace does not have to see anyone because it is surely all over school by now since I had a made a phone call first thing to alert them that I needed an emergency meeting, and I was sure Grace had probably told people. The school police officer, the principal, the vice-principal, and a counselor were all assembled when we arrived. This is a big deal; the mood in the room is serious. Grace is nervous but relays her story:
She was in the stairwell with this boy because they were going to work on homework together. Then, the boy pushed her against the wall. He put his hand up her shirt. She told him to stop. He didn’t. She tried to fight him off. He then took her phone. Then, he left. Grace had to go get the phone after school and he had put it down his pants. He made her unzip his pants to get the phone.
All in the room were quiet. The counselor spoke first and told Grace she did nothing wrong; this was not her fault. We all re-affirmed her. I could file suit against the boy if I desired. We considered our options of punishment for this boy. They would talk to the boy and his parents and get back with me. In the meantime, I needed to decide if I wanted to press charges. We told Grace she did the right thing by coming forward.
After the meeting, I spent my day rallying support. I called her two older siblings. I called stepdad. I can’t tell her grandfather for fear he will resolve the issue himself. Think how you would feel to discover your child had been sexually harassed – abused, even. Especially a child you were working so hard to get to a better mental, physical and spiritual spot. This punk kid who did this to Grace would not undo everything I had been working toward.
I begin to think that the school was a bad choice for Grace; she clearly can't handle the life choices yet. And who are these kids anyway? Where are their parents? Do this boy’s parents know he did this yet? The lack of oversight is just like that dance I chaperoned. How can we contact this kid? Will Grace be strong enough to file a complaint? We can’t let him get away with this; what if he does it to other girls? I praise Grace telling her that she is courageous for talking about this. I tell her that by her telling on this boy, she probably will save other girls. I end the day reflecting on Grace’s inner strength to tackle this issue with this boy.
The next day, Grace had gone to school, and I was fretting over how her day was going. I was concerned she was going to be bullied because she had told on this boy. She would be made fun of. It would send her into another cutting episode. My mind is at the total whim of my thoughts. I am consumed. The vice-principal calls me around mid-morning.
The vice principal’s voice faltered on the phone. He said they pulled the boy in and talked to him and they got his phone. I was welling up with righteous anger in anticipation. I had no doubt he had done this exact thing to many, many other girls. But what he read to me over the phone blew me away. Grace had texted this boy things like, “I would like for you to put your hands down my pants,” among far, far cruder comments that I won’t even replicate here, including asking him to meet her.
Grace, on her own, had pursued the boy after school. She texted him and asked him where he was. He said he was in the gym. So, Grace went to the gym to see him, and that’s when he got her phone and put it in his pants. And that’s when she straddled him to get it back.
I felt for the vice-principal, having to read her texts over the phone to me. How awful for him. The hallway incident? Didn’t happen quite like Grace had reported. In the texts, they talked about the hallway incident. He did not push her up against the wall, he did put his hand up her shirt, and she told him via text after the fact that she just wasn't "ready" for that yet. He asked her if she was jealous because now, this same day, he was talking to another girl.
Grace had misrepresented what had happened, to me, to the school officials, and in turn, I to everyone else. This explained the conversation I heard with the boy on the phone the night I felt pulled upstairs; it explains her casual tone in relating the events to him.
Remember the analogy with the rollercoaster earlier? It was like that, again.
Her duplicity took up all my mental headspace for the rest of the day. I was consumed with anger and with playing it all out over and over. I addressed it with Grace when she got home from school.
I pointedly confronted her on painting a picture that made her seem as if she was entirely innocent. Her reply?
I was dumbfounded. Without words.
Grace let me go to that school and make a case for her when she KNEW she had not told me the full truth. She took advantage of me. And what about the boy? She sat in that room and listened to the police officer talk about our options for lawsuits! She played me for a fool. And I was.
I thought I was doing the things I was supposed to be doing. I clearly failed as a parent and now as a role model that my daughter would think this behavior is acceptable and desirable. I did not know specifically what do or how to fix. The only thing I did know was that I needed to do something else, some different.
I began to think that if I could give her a clean slate, she could make better choices, because that’s how popular parenting is, you give your child choices, right? I think about fresh starts: how can I get her out of this environment?
It is clear to me now, years later, that I was pulled up those stairs to reveal to me that there were other problems. The self-harm was not just simply an issue in a vacuum with a side of depression thrown in, as I had thought it was.
I changed Grace's phone number on her phone the next day, and she was in favor of that change. I went through and blocked the numbers of the multiple boys whose nasty texts I had read. She said people who she didn't even know were texting her. Why did she text back, I asked? She said, “In case it’s someone I know. Or know of.”
Our children, and certainly Grace at this age, cannot handle the technology they are given with their smart phones. They have instant access to anything, and they cannot self-regulate. Think of the adults who have difficulty with this, who have difficulty with making the right decision to not visit a porn site or go to chat room or re-connect with an ex-boyfriend or girlfriend. And, these adults have much more at stake and still struggle with the temptation. Now imagine a 14-year-old. With not much at stake at all.
Further, our teenagers do not distinguish between a real friend and a person they just met. In their world, someone who is nice to them in the hall is a friend and therefore is to be trusted. None of this is new information, especially as I write this now, some seven or eight years later.
I had not wanted to burden my parents with the full information of Grace cutting herself, or the full extent of the behaviors, so I told them little. I felt like now, things had changed. Grace was at serious risk. In addition to cutting, she was now on anti-depressants; she was finding value in herself through her body and the attention she could get from the boys by using it, she was blatantly lying. I called my step-mother and told her about everything. It actually felt a bit of a relief to finally tell someone everything. I don’t recall the specifics of the conversation, only that we agreed my father, Grace’s grandfather, did not need to know all of it.
My step-mother calls me the next day and asks what it would take to get Grace into the parochial school, the one Grace’s older siblings went to, the one that I declined at the start of her freshman year because of the cost. I told her they did not take mid-year submissions and that the ONLY time they did admissions was at Christmas, when there was a natural break, and this was February. She convinced me it was worth attempting reasoning that Grace would be back with her friend group, back in a school where there was a bit more control over student conduct, back in a school that I knew.
I called the school and laid out where we were and what was happening in her life. They had her test scores from when we applied in the summer (when I was still trying to see if I could financially place her there); they knew her siblings, both were good students. They were not particularly encouraging for her chances to be admitted as the students at this school were on quarters and Grace was on semesters, and frankly, the curriculum was very different. They would talk about it. It would take a few days. Grace said she was ready to get out of her current school and start over.
In the meantime, and unknown to me, Grace's older sister Holly wrote a passionate email to the parochial school on Grace's behalf. It turns out that the new principal was Grace's older brother's math teacher, and Holly was a classmate of the principal's son.
Date: 2013, 10:19:10 PM CST
Subject: A Former Student!
I am hopeful that you'll remember me. I'm Holly, I was in the graduating class of 2009 with your son. and was on the cheer leading team for 3 years. I had multiple classes with you, and was not surprised to hear that you are now the principal! Congratulations!
I am emailing you in regards to my little sister Grace. She is currently a freshman student at Central High. Unfortunately, at the time of enrollment my mother was unable to afford St. Rita's, so Heights was a second choice. My whole family is extremely unhappy and even concerned about her well-being at this school. Grace is a wonderful girl and she deserves the best. I feel as though St. Rita's gave me the tools to reach my full potential and I would love nothing more than to see her at your school.
There was an incident that happened recently where a boy sexually harassed my little sister while she was trying to tutor him. Central High has bullied my sister down to her bottom, I have never seen her in such a sad, mental state and it breaks my heart everyday. She wakes up every morning not wanting to even go to school. I wish I could tell her I related, but I got to wake up and go to St. Rita's every morning. That incident is only one of many that has broken her down. Everyday she is at this school is a constant battle for her. Not only do I want her to go to St. Rita's because it is a fantastic school, but it also restored my faith. Ever since attending Central High, Grace has lost faith in God. I have a great deal of faith that if she could be enrolled in St. Rita's it would completely turn her life around to the way it used to be.
Grace is a very intelligent girl, she was in the Duke Talent search at All Saints, and thrives on academics as well as extracurricular activities such as basketball, soccer, and track. She is everything St. Rita's looks for in their students and would represent the school in a great way. Not only would she be a great asset, but I have no doubt in my mind that St. Rita's would help her reach her full potential.
All I ask of you, is to consider enrolling Grace. My older brother and I both went to and graduated from St. Rita's and have absolutely no regrets. This school is something our little sister needs and I feel as though it would be saving her.
I am aware that it takes certain circumstances to allow a child in mid-semester, but I truly believe this is one of those circumstances.
I hope that with this email you will take her into your deep consideration.
If there is anything I can do, please let me know!
Thank you so much for your time,
I did get a call from the principal after this email, but only to tell me that it would be a few more days. She said was trying really hard to get us in but that it just wasn't done. It was too difficult on the students and the teachers. And no, Holly did not know the real story about what happened with the boy when she wrote this email.
In the meantime, Grace was back at school on Monday morning. She got in a fight with the only friend she really hung out with there anymore, and she was not sure who all was hearing rumors about what happened with the boy. I left work and brought Grace's lunch to her for three days. Monday through Wednesday, we ate in the car together.
With the talk of a new school environment, the one I wanted her to attend in the first place, I am starting to feel hopeful just about Grace in general. A new start was coming, God willing.
On Thursday, I got a phone call from the private school principal that they would let Grace in, but she would need to come in the very next day. She would have to catch up, get a uniform Friday and her schedule would be tough but, come on.
We met with the principal the next day. I told Grace she needed to tell these people thank you and she did.
We also had to pay tuition up front to finish out the year. I could not pay it all and would need to figure something out. I paid 500.00 for books and 300.00 for uniform items. Her older sister had three sweaters left over - a savings to me of close to 100.00.
I happened to be off work that Friday and could take Grace to St. Rita's to register, and the uniform shop was open that day when they usually have seasonal hours. Additionally, I was given a raise, the amount would exactly cover tuition.
I saw these things as blessings from God and believe they truly were. I was convinced we were on the right path and these were just signs that I was correct. I don’t think Grace really fully understood the tremendous amount of work, luck and blessings that went into getting her accepted, paying for tuition, getting her books and uniform – all things to give her a fresh start.