(Beginning Comment: This is a long post, one of my longest in a while. It tells a story that I’ve told no one but my mother, grandmother, two high school/university boyfriends, and my partner. Even they don’t know the entire story. I’ve never publicly talked about this before. It’s dark matter; please proceed with caution.)
(Trigger/Content Warnings: sexual predation, including nonconsensual touching, fear, and strong suggestive conversation that gets graphic.)
It’s a peculiar feeling to be writing something like this on All Saints Day. Although I’ve long since left Catholicism, I was raised (somewhat) in that faith, and old roots have ways of lingering that occasionally prove to be inconvenient. An alternative term is All Souls Day, and since the perpetrator in this story is no “saint” but has probably passed away, the latter term is more appropriate.
Yes, this means he was an old man already at the time. But as many of us already know, advancing age does not always confer advancing wisdom, nor does it exempt one from being a perpetrator. Predators can come in all varieties, of course.
It helps to know that going in.
He appeared in our living room one day, alongside my maternal grandmother, who had met him at an elderly singles group at their nondenominational church a few weeks prior.
I was 18, about to graduate from high school in a few months. He was in his 70s, I’m sure, because my grandmother had brought him by for us to meet him, and vice versa. Given this, it never crossed my mind what he would become (already was, unbeknownst to everyone but himself).
The casual first-encounter chatter between my mom, my grandmother, and my grandmother’s new beau went smoothly enough. The conversation drifted, as it often does per social rules, toward interests and hobbies. The beau, Kurt (I think his last name was Anderson), was an artist. He sketched with charcoal, and apparently, my grandmother beamed, he was quite talented.
He mentioned that his work was usually based on the female form–the nude female form. But my mother and her mother are fairly open-minded, and this tidbit did not faze them much.
He casually let it slip that he was currently looking for a model, someone to sketch. He paid US$20 per hour, cash, off the record, and a typical session lasted about three hours. Not a bad gig in the mid-1990s for an 18-year-old weeks away from a high school diploma. Hell, that’s not a bad gig now, 20+ years later.
I was getting ready to move away from my childhood home and out on my own for the first time. I was in hoarding mode, saving up whatever items and money I possibly could. I was working my tail off at school, earning excellent grades, completing my extracurricular graduation requirements, and I was also working two other part-time jobs already. Nonetheless, I could certainly use this one.
It would be sporadic, possibly one session per week, and US$60 cash in my pocket at the end of the session. And all I had to do was lie comfortably on a couch, in an art studio in his home. Naked, but otherwise comfortable. Not exactly backbreaking work.
I haven’t yet mentioned that I was in the living room with them, because I voluntarily sidelined myself from the conversation, letting the older adults do the talking, while I smiled and nodded along. Thus far, about me, there hasn’t been much to say.
Kurt was eager to start working with me, though. I fit the bill. I possessed the youth and the figure he preferred. He promised my grandmother, mother, and me that the arrangement would be strictly professional, guaranteeing that there was absolutely no sexual aspect to the work. Art only.
At first, he held true to his word. There was nothing to fear. My grandmother would accompany me to his house, remaining in a different room, reading a book until the session was finished.
No harm, no foul.
Life swirled around me at that time, rendering my brain so busy that accurate recall is difficult. Sure, various snapshots of events thumb-tacked themselves to my memory bulletin board, but to give accurate detail forced me to review my handwritten journal entries from that time period.
Up came memories I had long and mercifully forgotten, no longer vaulted, and no longer merciful.
The arrangement began innocently enough. My grandmother did indeed drive me, she did indeed rest in a nearby room out of sight, and she did indeed occupy herself in a novel. Kurt played the gentlemanly role as a professional artist and treated me with respect and dignity, handing me three $20s at the end of the session.
It was the best money in the shortest time period that I’d ever made, and I reveled in it. Beat that, older adult generation! I just got paid $60, without taxes, for sitting on a couch for three hours.
My then-boyfriend at the time, a very nice and protective guy, accompanied me to my second session. Here, again, no problem. He met Kurt and then did what my grandmother had done, and when Kurt and I were finished, my boyfriend and I left.
On the way home, something was bothering my boyfriend. I asked him what was wrong, and he responded with the disclosure that he didn’t like Kurt. He felt that Kurt was too enthusiastic, too energetic. And this is coming from a high school kid with boundless energy and youth. He probably hadn’t chosen the right words, but the message was clear: my boyfriend had an uneasy feeling about Kurt.
Two weeks later, I did another session at Kurt’s house. Three hours allows for plenty of conversation, and when two people are working together in such intimate (even if professionally intimate) settings, care must be taken, caution that I never knew was necessary.
Those of you who know manipulators, know that they start in with compliments early on. They make you feel intelligent, beautiful, valuable. They make you feel good about yourself by telling you how significant you are, and if you’re young, how far you’ll go in life. They’ll make you think you’re going to be a rock star.
Some of these manipulators will also attempt to impress you with stories that accentuate their maturity, their rebelliousness, their worldliness.
Kurt’s modus operandi was to describe experiences of his younger days of times in which he’d been intoxicated, places he’s been, and recommendations of different drinks, along with a verbal recipe.
I was astute enough to know that the situation was escalating to levels that were uncomfortable and potentially dangerous, but I kept this from everyone else. The financial aspect was a draw, and surprisingly, even though I sensed that I was being manipulated and potentially groomed for victimization, there was a part of me that lapped up the attention like a thirsty deer coming across a fresh, clean stream. Kurt himself was anything but fresh and clean, but I was a thirsty deer just the same, and I drank the mirage.
Because everyone else in my life was none the wiser, during this time, my grandmother began to develop romantic feelings for Kurt.
Manipulators will also make you feel inferior. Perhaps not overtly at first, but on a subtle plane. Kurt’s method was to describe how American women make a big mistake compared to European women. Our mistake is that we don’t take much time to learn about men and how to satisfy them sexually and make an encounter especially meaningful.
He went on to explain how in Europe, females about my age will go off alone with an older male (usually old enough to be her father), who fills the role of a “teacher”. He was quick to say that they don’t actually have penetrating sex, but that the female does come away from the experience with the basic idea of how to treat a man. And according to Kurt, by the end of this journey, the females are fairly knowledgable; they have this Satisfying Your Man thing down pat.
For those of you paying attention, that was the setup.
Now comes the sucker-punch. Kurt then asked me if I would like to learn.
I was half-taken-aback, and half-expecting it. Looking back now, it was more than predictable. Still, I didn’t know how to answer, but didn’t want to appear slow on the draw. To buy myself some cognitive processing time (spot the undiagnosed Asperger’s/autistic female in this picture), I asked him, “to learn about what?”
The dreaded words came pelting in, one by one. “About a male’s sex organs.”
I paused and then, to my credit, I diplomatically but point-blank said, “no.” Score one for Aspie/autistic “bluntness”. (If only I could’ve maintained that.)
Kurt looked disappointed to say the least, but, looking away, he said, “OK”, and dropped the subject.
I won’t give him karmic credit for the apology that followed five to ten minutes later, because I’m sure he was doing that only to save face so that I wouldn’t run for the hills and never come back.
Manipulators always attempt to ensure a Next Time.
They only strike after they’ve gained your trust. I’d had some experiences with being deceived and screwed over, but I still wanted to believe the best, and I still tended to take statements made by others literally.
Then I made a horrible mistake.
Kurt had a book that had various questions in it. To pass the time, say, while he was sketching my feet (and thus leaving my arms free to move without disturbing his artwork), we read each other questions from this book.
It devolved into a twisted informal game of “Truth or Dare” without the “Dare”.
Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I was not trying to seduce this man. Some men would call me a “tease” for what I did then, and people of all genders might fight the urge to violently crucify me for it. I promise Your Honor, that what I was doing was not intended to confuse or hurt anyone.
In fact, with hindsight at my disposal, the conversation that would take place then makes perfect sense.
Consider someone with a history of sexual or intimate harassment or other mistreatment. My massage therapy instructors gently and compassionately advised us that some of the massage therapy clients we would serve–both male and female–who have been survivors of some kind of abuse or trauma in the past, can tend to “push” the boundaries of a massage therapist.
Think about it. The perpetrator in their lives might have come off as charming, caring, protective, exciting, flattering, maybe even nurturing–eliciting all sorts of glorious emotions…only to drop the axe later, coming in with a punch from the side that the victim never saw coming because it never should have been there.
Now put that survivor in a room, lying unclothed under a sheet and blanket, lying on their stomachs and unable to see anything, with a massage therapist they just met. This therapist, too, is caring, nurturing, and personable. But the survivor doesn’t know that; they’ve been duped before. What makes this therapist any different? What’s to stop them from pulling the same bait-and-switch? Why should the survivor be any less cautious of one person than another? The ultimate goal, after all, is for the traumatic event to never repeat itself.
In situations like that, our massage therapy instructor explained, there is a subset of survivors who may try to push your boundaries. They may try to come on to you (you = the massage therapist). Subconsciously, the survivor figures that if you don’t respond to their advances, and instead you say, “no, that’s not appropriate”, the survivor will feel safe with them. They now know that the boundary is firm.
If you think about it, I was subconsciously doing the same thing. I had already had a few unpleasant encounters with certain males involving my femaleness. These situations happened to me because I am female and because I was around these particular males.
And, I was only 18. The higher decision-making centers of my brain would not yet be completely developed for seven more years.
With all of this in mind, it might be easier to understand the question I chose from Kurt’s book: “if you knew that your next sexual encounter would be your last, when, where, and with whom would it be?”
I wasn’t prepared for his answer. It was a question posed back to me: “would she be willing/ready?”
As nonchalantly as possible, I replied, “yeah, she’d have to be.”
I wasn’t prepared for his next answer, either: “well, it would be with you, then.”
Immediate regret, on my part. Some might say I “asked for it”. Maybe even in the literal sense, because I literally asked the question.
God(dess) only knows why. I suspect the aforementioned background information given above.
People of the jury, I also committed another no-no: I actually showed him some of the poetry I’d recently written in those days.
I can only imagine that fueled his explanation of his choice of me as his theoretical final partner: “There’s a lot of power–in your writing, and in everything you say and do. Imagine what your drive would be like if and when unleashed! You’d be a real powerhouse.”
After that day, Your Honor, I did indeed disclose everything that had transpired to my mother, my grandmother, and my then-boyfriend. I stated that I would do another session (I know, I know), justifying it with the assumption that Kurt was probably safe, the situation is merely questionable right now, and given that nothing had happened yet, I would agree to another session on the condition that my grandmother would go with me again.
I should have known that he was bullshitting me when I asked the next question during our Twisted Truth without the Dare, “if you could have anyone’s mind, whose would it be?”, and he said, “yours–it’s a wealth of information and energy.”
Those more seasoned and astute would see through the flimsy gilding. The flattery job wasn’t even all that well done.
Of course, I only know all this now. I had to learn it somehow. For some, like me, the hard way is the route the learning process takes.
I began to realize just how manipulative he actually was, several sessions later (he had cooled down somewhat in between, only to ramp up again). He was subtle (in my perception) until the last minute, and then he pounced.
He had an idea for a new sketch. He suggested I pretend I was in a bikini or like a three-year-old–either way, carefree. Then he suggested some “wilder” poses. He wanted to see what I had always held dear to myself. He became quite explicit, words I won’t print here. He kept tweaking my position (“just a little to the right. OK. And your knee…” and so on). What I didn’t realize is that he was positioning me such that he now had a visual of exactly what I held near and dear to me.
This time, when we took our usual mid-session break that escalated into the twisted Truth “game”, Kurt gave a veiled suggestion: a variant on the “game” – “would you ever take a Dare?”
You can guess what nature the Dares would take. Hell, at that point, even I could guess.
Line crossed. I just smiled and said, “nope.”
“What about an ‘easy’ dare?”
I shouldn’t have answered with, “depends. What’s your version of ‘easy’?”
“Well, ‘hard’ would be like asking you to have intercourse.”
“Oh,” I said. “So define ‘easy’.”
I was challenging him, but what I didn’t realize is that he was also challenging me.
“Well, let me kiss your breasts.”
Try again, buster. “What’s another example?”
“Let me rub my p—s against your cheek.”
I think I looked at him funny. “That’s what you call ‘easy’?? No.”
“Well, let me touch your cr-tch.”
I should’ve just said “hell no” and bolted for the door, but although I still said no, I took the weak-willed cop-out: “I can’t do anything like that. I’m involved.” I was hoping that would put an end to any more Dare suggestions.
Some manipulators have a way of working you slowly, figuring out exactly where you’ll draw the line by determining what you’ll say “yes” to today, in order to push that line a little further next time, and turn more “no”s into “yes”s.
I continued to do a few more sessions. I can hear you hollering and wanting to punch your screen. Or me. Or both. Hell, the Adult Me wants to go back and grab 18-Year-Old Me and shake her by the shoulders and yell “what are you thinking?? Get the hell out of there.”
But no, the banter escalated further to his touching me, softly but quickly in my sacred regions, without my consent. Every time, I jumped.
Somehow he managed to get his hands on my chest and behind. He complimented both. How nice.
Of course, I was naked, laying on my stomach, with him sitting beside me. And I was saving for university. I didn’t feel I could just get up and leave, despite the sheer violation and subsequent seething resentment I felt.
I did begin to send frostier, more business-like signals, though. I was here for the art in exchange for the cash, and that was it. I didn’t tell him as much, but he’s not entirely stupid; he sensed it and caught on.
In turn, he treated me more coolly, too. Manipulators use that tactic as well. When you don’t give them what they want, they turn on you, either trying to make you feel sorry for them, or think small of yourself. They stop propping you up. They fall flat, fast. They try to spin you around, back into their invisible web.
“You’re not as playful as you used to be. That’s disappointing.”
He made noises, then, about arm wrestling, but I put the kibosh on that, too. I could see where that could lead: a demonstration of strength and power that one day escalates to him pinning me down. And/or an evaluation on his part of my strength, so he would know exactly how strong I was and what it would take to overpower me. Either way, losing battle. No, thanks.
I did make it out of there safe, by the graces of forces wiser and more intelligent than I was then. Knowing what I know now, reading those journals drains the blood from my face. How devastating the story ending could have been.
I was young, and a brown belt in karate by then. But despite his age, he was a large, muscular guy, and a master manipulator who knew just how to pluck 18-year-old strings.
I didn’t return his phone calls for several months. I moved out of the area and began university. I think one day I finally did pick up the phone when he called, informing him that I couldn’t “work” for him anymore.
I came away from the experience believing that sexual desires and activity are primitive and animalistic. I knew then that sexual relationships were not for me. Whatever intimacy I could have really enjoyed was suffocated before it could really begin. I was still a virgin, but I was already tired of the idea of sex, being touched against my will, and the surges of male hormones. Everything is OK, until it isn’t.
And thus, the Machine part of me, or the desire to be as such, was born.
(Thank you for reading my story. It’s one of the most painful secrets I carried.)
(Image Credit: Cyril Rolando)