“My daughter would like to press charges on my husband for raping her.”
The words my mother spoke to the officer who sat behind the glass window were instilled in my head permanently. I knew they would never leave.
The time since those words had been uttered was just a blur. Luke, my mother and I had been escorted to a private reporting room where a female officer spent over an hour asking me the most invasive, awkward and humiliating questions about the last seven and a half years of my life.
It wasn’t her fault I was feeling that way. She was just doing her job. It was her responsibility to get all the facts and record them accurately to pass on to her boss, so a proper investigation could be opened.
It was simple. Just a standard process.
But that standard process was turning my life upside down and inside out in every possible direction.
“I think we have everything we need for now. But there is an issue that needs to be addressed,” the officer announced as she gathered the various papers that made up my long report.
“What’s that?” my mother asked hollowly. The look of shock that took over her face when I first opened my mouth had yet to subside even a little.
“Cassie, you are seventeen, which makes you a minor. Legally, I can’t let you go home as long as that man is still there.”
The situation the officer described had a simple fix. Jim had to go. If he left, I could go home to my brother and mother and try to begin the process of unraveling the countless layers of brokenness my life had become.
I only wished that was what happened.
“Is there somewhere you can stay for a while?” the officer asked when silence maintained its stay in the small reporting room.
“It’s not going to come to that,” I answered.
I turned and looked at my mother with intensity.
“Is it? Mom, you’re going to have him arrested tonight so I can come home, right?”
Her eyes drifted toward the floor. When she managed to pull them back toward me, they looked about ready to spill over with the heaviest of tears.
“Cassie,” she said through stuttered speech. “I love you so much.”
“But,” I continued.
“But I’ve already made arrangements for you to stay with someone for a few nights. It’s for—”
“The best? Is that what you were going to say? Do you think that sending me off to some stranger’s house on a night like this is for the best? How is that possibly the best?” I asked with growing anger.
“Cassie, just listen to me,” she practically begged.
“No, the time for listening is over. I thought I could trust you. I thought you were the one parent I could rely on!” I shouted. I bent down and ran my hands through my hair. Luke knelt beside me in a frenzy.
“Cassie? Are you okay?”
I looked up at him with tears staining my cheeks with streaks of cried out mascara.
“Just get the information from her. I can’t fight anymore,” I said with weakness in my voice.
He helped me to my feet and approached both my mother and the waiting officer. After a moment, he stepped away from them with a small piece of paper in his hand. My mother looked at me with hope, but I had none to offer her. I allowed myself to be swallowed by Luke’s embrace and we walked out of the police station together.
He helped me climb into his truck and stood beside me before closing the door.
“Cass? Are you okay?”
I looked up at him, fresh tears staining my skin once again.
“How am I ever supposed to be okay again? Luke, I thought I could beat this, all of it. But, I can’t. I’m just not strong enough.”
I hated that I was crumbling. I’d promised myself on the way to the police station that I would stay strong no matter how hard this whole thing became—but I was failing at that. Miserably.
I couldn’t help but think back to that fateful day when Jim first became a part of my life. Nine years old felt so different from seventeen. Eight years separated me from that day but it felt like so many more. I grew up the first time anything happened. I had no choice.
“Cassie, you are strong enough. I promise you that. You will get through this, all of it. And I will be right here to help you through every step.”
“How can you possibly know that?” I asked as I wiped my tears away.
“I have faith. In you. In God to heal you. Cassie, this is the time to have faith.”
I looked into Luke’s eyes with the most intense coldness I’d ever felt.
“God left me a long time ago,” I said through gritted teeth.
I felt terrible seeing Luke’s shoulders drop in such defeat. But I wasn’t in the mood to hide any ounce of the hopelessness I was feeling.
“Just take me to my new home, please,” I whispered.
“Okay,” he answered quietly.
The drive wasn’t long. Apparently, my mother thought that keeping me close to her would somehow make me more inclined to forgive her abandonment and betrayal. When Luke pulled onto the street and parked across from the house I was to stay at, I couldn’t help but feel surprised at my recognition.
“You know who lives here?”
“Yeah. Her name is Audrey Stevens. She and her husband go to my church with their kids. I think she has like seven of them. I don’t understand how she can possibly be making room for me too.”
“Well, it’s a pretty big house. I’m sure there’s plenty of room.”
Luke was trying so hard to be encouraging. I appreciated his efforts but there was nothing that was going to lift my spirits after what I’d just been through. It was hard enough for me to accept the events of the last twenty-four hours, let alone embrace what my rocky future might now hold.
I rested my head on Luke’s shoulder.
“I know what I have to do, but I’m afraid to do it,” I whispered with new tears breaking up my words.
“Hey,” Luke said and placed his hand under my chin. “You can do this. This is one small step toward a better future.”
“How am I ever supposed to move on from any of this? How am I supposed to just forget everything he did to me? Everything that my mom just did? I mean, how could she choose him over me? How does a mother do that to her child? Doesn’t she believe me?” My words were more than disjointed. Fresh streams of tears were making their way down my cheeks and I was powerless to stop them.
“Cassie, listen to me. Your mother does believe you. You will find a way to work things out with her in time. But that time has yet to arrive. Right now, your only concern is taking care of yourself.”
“Why even bother?” I asked with dejection as I looked down at my partially exposed forearm.
Self-harm had been an ongoing issue of mine for nearly five years; courtesy of someone who no longer played a role in my life. There had been times the addiction was stronger and times it was weaker.
Lately, it had been stronger than ever.
I had plenty of scars from previous indulgences. Nothing that ever required more intervention than clever bandaging and alcohol. But, I feared my most recent partaking might break that trend.
I’d usually been loyal to my promise to tell Luke when I was struggling with the temptation to give in. It was only through his encouragement that I’d seen my longest length of time without giving in—six months to be exact. But that victory was long gone now.
In recent weeks the desire had been building. And I’d chosen to stay silent. Not out of a desire to deceive Luke, but out of a desire to protect him. In the time since he’d met me, I’d been full of nothing more than abuse and guardedness. I was hesitant to let him in in the first place and even when I did, it took me far longer to truly trust him.
And even now that I did fully trust him, I still struggled to be honest with him when things got tough. And now, they were tougher than ever.
A few days ago, I was celebrating that wonderful victory of six months clean. In the moments of celebration, the growing desire to go back on my progress didn’t seem to matter. It wasn’t until the darkness returned and I was alone in my bed again with all the thoughts—and my weapon of choice, that the progress suddenly weighed heavily on my mind.
On one hand, I had every reason to be proud of myself and celebrate. Six months was a long time to go without giving in to your greatest enemy. But, on the other hand, I knew that not having my vice to fall back on was costing me dearly when it came to my sanity. Cutting, for me, was never about getting attention for bad behavior. It was about control. Jim had found a way to gain control over me in so many wrong and terrible ways all those years; I had to find some way to give myself something to cling to.
My former stepmother teaching me her wayward ways was only a stepping stone toward what I truly wanted. She gave me the tools I needed to reclaim some control in my life and I clung to it with more strength than I knew I had in me.
It wasn’t as so many outsiders thought. Cutting, really any form of self-harm is something that must be exacted with precision. It wasn’t simply a matter of passing a blade over your skin until you felt satisfied. It was an art. You had to decide where to do it so as not to be caught in the act. You had to decide what part of your body to use so as not to be discovered. You had to choose your tool ever so carefully as certain things could cause heavier damage than you were willing to pay the price for. And you had to be cautious in the actual act. One slip and all your efforts to be careful and hide your secret were suddenly in vain and beyond your control.
Some of my worse scars were results of my young, overeager days when the habit was first forming. It took many months for me to perfect my art. But, once I figured out my method and perfected my ways, I felt unstoppable. Suddenly, I had somewhere to pour my pent-up anger and hurt over being abused. His secret wasn’t so hard to keep anymore because I had a new one of my own to govern. I cared less about what he was doing to my body because I was damaging mine in my own ways.
But then Luke came along. I’d never loved anyone before him—not in that way anyway. I’d never imagined myself capable of loving someone the way I quickly fell for him. It was an accident when he found out about my secret addiction. I hadn’t wanted anyone to know, much less him. I thought for sure he would leave me. But he didn’t. He drew closer to me and promised to be the strength I needed.
“Promise me, you’ll come to me before you return to this. I’m here now. You don’t have to choose that any longer.”
He’d made it so simple. Lean on him. I finally had someone to rely on. Someone whose interests were aligned with mine and my well-being. It was such an odd feeling; being on my own was something I’d grown to embrace over the years. I’d had the option to reveal what was happening to me far sooner than I had—but fear was a nasty master. It had kept me captive for many years. And I didn’t see that changing anytime soon.
I felt terrible. Lying to Luke felt like drinking poison. He was the one person in this world that I could truly trust, and I constantly gave him so many reasons to doubt my loyalty to him. Yet, he never wavered. It was as though he knew something I didn’t. I always got this sense that he knew something bigger was on the horizon. I knew it was foolish to believe in something like that, but my head was not always a logical place.
Much like the night I decided to break my promise to Luke, and to myself. The logical side of my head knew that the sacrifice I was preparing to make was one I would regret almost as soon as the deed was done. But the illogical, sick side just didn’t care anymore. That part of me was simply tired of waiting for the sweet feeling of indulging after so long.
“When?” Luke asked with sadness in his voice.
I could hear the disappointment. It was clear as day. I’d done what I do best—let down the love of my life. Only this time, the regret was nearly unbearable.
“Three days ago,…and the next morning,” I answered keeping my head drooped.
“We celebrated that night. You were beating this.”
“Physically, yes. But I’ve never been able to conquer it mentally. And lately, it’s been all I could think about.”
I sounded like a drug addict reminiscing their last hit. I hated that the thing I’d chosen to return my ability to control my life had turned out to have a stronger hold on me than anything else.
“Why didn’t you come to me? I could have helped you.”
“Yeah, just like all the other times. Luke, when are you going to realize that I’m not this great person you seem to think I am?”
More tears were escaping, and I no longer cared to hide them.
“Cassie, what I see in you isn’t about greatness. It’s strength. You are one of the strongest people I have ever met. Someday, I will get you to believe that about yourself.”
“Look, Luke. I am so happy that you believe that about me. That you see this—this strength or whatever in me,” I stopped to wipe my tears and took a stronghold of his hand. “But, you have to understand. I’m not some broken thing you can fix. There’s no cure for what’s wrong with me. Trauma changes people. Permanently. Maybe I had that strength as a child before he was a part of my life. But not anymore.”
The silence that consumed the space between Luke and me in his truck was palpable.
“Cassie, you have to believe there is still hope for you. I promise you there is,” Luke said almost sounding as though he was pleading with me.
I sighed heavily. “I’m not saying I think things are completely hopeless. I just don’t understand how I’m supposed come away from all of this any less than damaged.”
Luke returned my sigh. “Then, I suppose I’ll have to show you,” he answered with hope returning to his voice.
I smiled and wrapped an arm around him.
“I wish I could just stay with you and your family. I’ve met these people before, but I haven’t spent a ton of time with them.”
“I’m sure they’re nice people. And you can always call or message me if you need me. I can be here whenever you need me.”
“Thank you,” I said with sincerity. “I guess there’s just one thing left to do.”
“Get out of the truck and go knock on their door. I’m sure she’s wondering where I am by now.”
The fear in my voice was stronger than it had been all evening. I was never good at dealing with new people; let alone people who were opening their home to me at a time like this.
“Do you want me to go up there with you?” Luke offered.
“No,” I said after thinking for a moment. “As much as I would love to bring you with me as my guard dog, eventually I have to start doing some things on my own, right?”
I hadn’t a clue where my courage had just come from, but I was going to ride with it as long as my mind would allow.
“Cassie, you continue to amaze me in so many ways. Call me before you go to bed tonight? I want to hear everything about this family.”
“Will do,” I said and kissed Luke.
Walking up to the door of what would be my new home for who knows how long was more than a little intimidating. I’d barely laid my hand against the wood of the red door before it swung open and an overly eager Audrey welcomed me in with open arms.
“I am so excited to have you with us, Cassie. Please, come in and make yourself at home. Your mother had some of your things brought over earlier. They’re upstairs in your room.”
“My room? I’m fine sleeping on the floor, really,” I said cautiously. It felt hard to breathe with how tight my chest was from the fear.
“Nonsense. A guest in my home does not receive anything less than the best. Besides, you’re more than a guest. You’re a daughter now.”
Daughter? I’d barely spent any time with this woman since first meeting her a few years ago and now she was already willing to call me her daughter? I didn’t know if I should be warmed by that sentiment or alarmed.
“Are you hungry, hun? I saved you a plate from dinner. It’s in the oven.”
“Uh, sure.” The reality was that I hadn’t eaten for well over twenty-four hours. I was starving.
After dinner, Audrey showed me to my room. It, like much of the rest of the house, was grand. It could easily sleep five or six people and had enough beds for such. The walls were painted a dull burgundy and there was scripture bordering the walls; most notably was the verse about family above my bed. The tan, wooden floors were warm against my bare feet as I changed into sweats.
My mother had taken care to have two bags worth of clothing packed and brought over. Plus, she’d had all my school books taken over. I was only a few weeks from graduation, but that celebration was the furthest thing from my mind.
As happy as I was to have a place to go for safety and have Luke in my life, there was one other person I wanted to tell about everything that was going on—Angela. She’d been my best friend for years but ever since I spilled everything to her a few months back, she’d been distant. It didn’t seem appropriate to message her with something like this breaking the ice.
When I came back downstairs with a notebook and pen in my hand, Audrey offered me a fresh cup of coffee and a seat beside her in the living room.
I hadn’t taken notice of anyone else in the house while I was eating, but now there were a few other people with Audrey. I recognized Caleb, her husband sitting on the other side of her and two of her younger children, maybe five and seven were playing across the room. There were two other girls sitting on the loveseat placed across from the couch having a conversation amongst themselves.
“Come sit, Cassie. I’ll introduce you to everyone. I trust you know my husband, Caleb.”
I nodded and waved at him.
“And those two over there are my youngest, Lucy and Alexander.”
The children stopped playing for a moment and smiled and waved at me. I was surprised to see such manners out of young children. Any other kids would have just kept playing and ignored their mother’s introductions.
“The other five are somewhere around here. I’ll introduce you to them later. And those two lovely ladies quietly whispering to themselves can speak for themselves,” Audrey said with expectation.
The girls both looked up with surprise and turned toward Audrey, Caleb and me.
“My name is Taylor,” the brunette said.
“And I’m Lisbeth,” the other girl with reddish blonde hair answered.
Both girls looked to be close to my age. I figured they were from another school because I’d never seen either of them before.
“Nice to meet you,” I said softly. “I’m Cassie.”
The girls smiled and turned back to their conversation.
“They’ll warm up to you soon. They’re just shy around new people,” Audrey insisted.
I nodded and took a seat in the farthest corner of the couch with Audrey and Caleb on it. I tucked my legs up toward my chest and wrapped my arms around them. I was suddenly a million miles away mentally.
“Cassie, I’ve seen you at church every week and talked to your mother on occasion, but I’ve never gotten to talk to you that much. Tell me about yourself,” Audrey said breaking the silence in the room.
“Uh, I wouldn’t know where to begin,” I said with stuttered speech.
“Well, what grade are you in?”
“I’m a senior,” I mumbled.
“Oh, wow. Are you excited about graduation?”
I nodded. “I guess, yeah. I don’t have any plans though.”
“What are you interested in?”
“Um, I like art. And writing. I’ve always loved to write little stories and poems.”
“That’s awesome,” Audrey enthused. “Do you want to go to college?”
I shrugged. “Sort of. I just want out of Ohio. I hate it here,” I admitted.
“I said the same thing when I was your age. But God has a funny way of working. He’s kept me here this long. I don’t know what his plan is, but I trust him to lead me and my family.”
I nodded but didn’t say anything. I wasn’t in any position to challenge this woman in her faith. I’d lost interest in God a long time ago and I figured he’d lost interest in me too.
Audrey did her best to keep the conversation going for a while longer. It was slow going at first, mostly because I was afraid to give any answers that delved deeper than the surface. Trust was not something that came easily to me.
But when she started to ask me about what brought me to her, I felt the walls begin to drop. During the entire time of being abused, I’d been threatened against talking about what was happening to me. I was told it was just part of life you didn’t talk about and that was it.
Ever since I’d told Luke and then Angela and now my mother and the officer, I was dying to talk more about it. I couldn’t understand why, but I was. I needed someone to help me analyze it. Luke would be more than happy to do that, but I also wanted an outsider’s help. Audrey barely knew Jim outside of his façade at the church.
We spent the better part of three hours talking about him and his deception. She was dumbfounded by the things he’d done to me and the lies he’d told me. Even Lisbeth and Taylor perked up as I told my story.
I hadn’t expected much of anything when I knocked on Audrey’s door. In fact, I’d expected to feel entirely awkward the entire time I was to stay with her. But, by the time I retreated to my room for the night and got on the phone with Luke, I was more than relieved.
I told him all about her warmth and how welcome I felt. And most of all, how I felt like I truly belonged to her.
“Luke, I called her mom by accident. She just laughed and told me to call her Mama Audrey. I guess it’s her adopted name from all the girls she’s taken in,”
“So, you’re not the only one she’s helped out?”
“No, there are two other girls here with me and she talked about a few others that have moved out now but still visit often. They’re all like this big adopted family. It’s kind of cool.”
“Cassie, I am so happy for you. It is nice to hear the joy return to your voice,” Luke said with his own joy.
“It feels good to have it back. I love you.”
“I love you too. I’ll pick you up tomorrow morning.”
As I lay down for the night, my heart was full of joy for the first time in a long time. I’d fully expected to struggle with temptation again with everything going on, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that self-harm was nowhere near my mind.