When I was 6 years old, I learned that my family would be moving out of the small country town in Northwest Ohio we had spent the last 3 years in, and into the suburbs of Akron. I only vaguely remember this point in time, but I do remember the excitement I felt over meeting new people, and the sadness of leaving my few friends behind. We moved halfway through the school year, so I began the second half of my first grade year with new classmates and no friends. Being the new kid on the first day of school is always hard, but being the new kid in the middle of the year can be much more difficult. Friendships had already been made, and everyone generally knew where they stood on the social ladder. I am, and have always been, a shy person by nature, and that made forming new friendships very difficult. I met a few neighbors who happened to be my age, and we spent some time together, but most of my time was spent at the library, or at home, reading my books. I loved to read, and I was fascinated with learning new things, or escaping into another world. I wouldn't consider myself to be anti-social, but I was interested in other things than many of the other kids my age. It might have been my shy demeanor, or my high grades, or the fact that I was short and scrawny, that made me stand out. Perhaps it was a combination of all of those things. But, I was singled out by some of the other kids at school, very quickly, as a target for bullying. I don't remember what started it, or even when exactly it began, but I became an enormous target. Before long, my seemingly short walk home from school became an increasingly daunting task. There were three boys in my class who began bullying me on a regular basis. It started with name calling, and then progressed into shoving me down, pushing me off my bike, and sometimes taking my backpack away from me, dumping the contents out, and throwing my things around, or keeping them from me, laughing at me as I tried to get them back. That escalated pretty quickly into some more serious physical abuse. They would regularly throw rocks or other objects at me, hold me down and kick and punch me, and even hit me with foreign objects. Two of the boys were brothers, and the older of them was two years older than us, but had been held back a couple of years in school. He would bring homemade weapons to school and would frequently try them out on me. I was hit with lead pipes, strapped together with bungee cords, baseball bats with thumb tacks and nails driven into them, and even metal chains with various objects attached to them. When I eventually shared these stories with some of my close friends, people would often ask how it was possible for my parents to not know about this, and the truth is that I was a very good liar. I would hide as many bruises and cuts as I could, and the ones that I couldn't hide, I would make up stories about falling off my bike, or getting hurt on the playground, or getting hurt during soccer practice. I made a habit of wearing long sleeved shirts, long pants, and even turtlenecks as often as possible. The kids who were bullying me usually stayed away from my face, so that made it easier to hide the marks. They threatened to kill me and members of my family if I ever told anyone, and I was scared that they would. I know now that I could have sought help, but at the time it didn't seem like a viable option. At first, I was so angry about what was happening to me. I would try to run away or even fight back sometimes, but even if I got away, or temporarily fought them off, it just seemed to make things worse the next time. One day, the two brothers' cousin met up with them after school. I think he was a freshman in high school. I do not remember his name, and I'm not even sure if I ever knew his name. They showed me to him, like I was some toy of theirs that they were showing off. After chasing me into the woods, they eventually caught me, and began beating me up. Then at some point, the older boy told the three of them to hold me down. He got on top of me and pulled out his penis, and made me put it in my mouth. I didn't know what was going on, or what to do. I was just so scared that I kept doing whatever he would tell me to do. After that, he took off my pants and underwear, and he anally raped me. I didn't know what any of these things meant. That was the first time it happened, but it became a frequent occurrence over the next year or more. At one point, I threatened to tell someone about it, and they held me down and attacked me with a knife. My arms and chest were slashed and the older brother held the knife to my throat and told me that he was going to kill me. He sliced down my throat, and they ran away, leaving me to die. I thought that I would die. I lied there for what seemed like hours, but was probably only a few minutes. The blade had been dull and the cut wasn't very deep. When I finally realized that I wasn't dying, I got up and ran deep into the woods. I sat down under a tree and held my hand over my neck until the bleeding stopped. I threw away my shirt, which was covered in blood, and I put my coat on over my bare chest and zipped it all the way up. I was terrified at what would happen when they found out that I was still alive, and even more terrified at what would happen if I told anyone. As soon as I got home, I ran to the bathroom and bandaged my neck. I threw a turtleneck on before going downstairs, and I only wore turtlenecks for the next few weeks until the cut had healed well enough to not look serious. When my parents finally saw it, it only looked like a slight scratch. I told them that I was wrestling with our dog and one of her claws caught me. They believed me, and I was in the clear. Those boys continued to beat me up, and their cousin continued molesting and assaulting me. Things didn't get any better, but thankfully they didn't get any worse either. That one encounter was perhaps the most traumatic event out of it all. I was 8 years old and I thought that I was going to die. Being confronted with my own mortality at such a young age had major effects. I lost interest in many things, and became even more of a recluse than I already was. I didn't want to play with friends or even my brother, and I would prefer to sit alone in my room, reading my books. I believed in god at the time, but I hated him. I begged him to just take my life while I slept so that my nightmare could be over. Eventually, I just decided that he wasn't real. Just a few months after my ninth birthday I found out that we were moving to Texas because my dad was offered a new position within his company. My brother was devastated to leave his friends behind again, but I was thrilled. When we left Ohio, I left the memories there too. I blocked everything out, and for years I never even thought about it. I was still shy and quiet, and I had a few problems at school. My first day of school in Texas, a boy in my class made fun of me for being the new kid. I threw him down on the playground and punched him until the teachers pulled me off. I didn't even know why I was doing it. I was called into the principal's office and then my parents were called. I was in so much trouble for something that I thought was normal. Later that year a kid stole some of my art supplies and I told him that I was going to kill him. Again, I was in the principal's office, and my parents were called. I had buried my past down so deep that I didn't even know where these things were coming from. After I had been suspended from school for 3 days for threatening that kid, I learned to control my anger. My anger turned to sadness then, and I would stay in my room most nights, crying without knowing why. It wasn't until high school that the memories came flooding back. I don't know what did it. It might have been triggered by me becoming sexually active, or looking at the scar on my neck in the mirror and trying to remember why it was there. One night, I began having these vivid nightmares and I couldn't figure out if they were real or not. New memories would come flooding back into my mind. I fought with it for years, thinking that these were nothing more than dreams, but I had kept a shoebox full of keepsakes from Ohio, and I had never opened it. It sat in my closet for nearly 10 years, and I never even thought about opening it, but when the nightmares began, I decided to open it. Mostly it was just birthday cards from relatives, some pictures, and things I had drawn for art class. But there was a small notebook in there, and when I started reading it, I was devastated. There was page after page of poetry that I had written, but I didn't even remember writing it. I read those poems, which seemed like they had been written by a completely different person. They were depressing, angry, and violent. They talked about suicide, self-loathing, intense fear and hatred. These were not words that should have been written by an 8 year old boy. I began to realize that these nightmares weren't simply dreams, but flashbacks. I refused to tell anyone about them, as I was scared of what it all meant. I started to be afraid that I might be gay, because of what had happened to me, even though I had dated girls, and certainly enjoyed being with them and had no attraction to men. I was afraid that people would think I was weak, or stupid. I thought that if I had just been stronger or faster, that those things wouldn't have happened to me. I was afraid that if any girls found out that they would think I was gay and they wouldn't want to be with me, and that if any boys found out, they would make fun of me. I was ashamed of what had happened to me. My relationships throughout high school and college suffered as I tried to put together the pieces of my past. I became attached very quickly and I took break-ups very hard. Each time I was broken up with, I blamed myself, and thought that there was something inherently wrong with me. There was some reason that those boys did what they did, and it must have been that same reason that girls didn't want to be with me. I began to suffer from terrible insomnia, and the flashbacks got worse. When I began having more serious relationships, and I would spend the night with my girlfriend, I would sometimes wake them up from twitching or randomly screaming in my sleep. I never knew how to explain it to them, and I would just say that I had bad nightmares and didn't really know why. I began smoking and drinking heavily to escape the pain that I felt on a daily basis. I tried to remain distant from the girls I would date, but I couldn't help getting attached to them, and I continued to take rejection very hard on myself. I dated one girl for 3 years through college and we planned on getting married, but she was attending medical school on the other side of the state, and I was trying to finish my architecture degree. I ended up failing a class that I would have to wait a year to retake, and would delay my graduation. My girlfriend said that she couldn't wait any longer for me, and she broke up with me. I begged her to give me another chance, and in doing so, I blurted out what had happened to me in my past. It wasn't the right way to divulge that information, and she just thought I was making a desperate attempt to keep her. I thought that if she knew what had happened to me, she might understand some of my behaviors, but it was too late. I was even more ashamed for what had happened. I spiraled into a deep depression that carried into my next year of school. I believed that I was going nowhere, and that I was unable to make any sort of success out of my life. I started skipping classes frequently, and not doing homework or assignments. My last semester, I failed every single class. I racked up $10,000 in credit card debt, thinking that I would probably just kill myself once it got too out of control. I dated a few more girls, and eventually fell in love again. When I was 24, I found out that my girlfriend was pregnant. I wanted to get married and have the child, but she wanted to terminate the pregnancy. We fought about it so badly until it was finally too late and she had the abortion. I thought that it was my fault. Whatever those kids saw in me that made them target me, she must have seen in me too, and didn't want to pass that on to her children. We stayed together, but I was crushed. I had an argument with my boss one day at work and I walked out on my job. Now I was jobless and a college dropout, in debt, with no foreseeable future. I was almost right where I thought I deserved to be. I started drinking heavily again, and would sit around at home all day doing nothing. I couldn't pay my credit card bills, so I just stopped. The collection calls started coming through. I couldn't find a job, and didn't have much desire to look for one. I knew that soon enough, I wouldn't be able to pay my rent, or buy food. I wanted my girlfriend to leave me because I knew that she deserved better, and I couldn't bring myself to break up with her. I tried to get her to leave me by becoming more distant and apathetic, but she stayed. I shared my story with her, and she didn't care. A large part of my fears had been alleviated. I decided that I needed to stop feeling sorry for myself and do something. I found 2 minimum wage jobs, and that kept me going for a few months, but I was barely keeping my head above water. I still couldn't afford to pay my credit card bills, and I was just making enough money to live off of. I finally decided that I would have to make a massive change. I went to the Air Force recruiter's office and I enlisted. I had to lose 60 pounds in order to make the cutoff to get in, and I did that in 2 months. In January, I signed my enlistment papers, and by July I was off to basic training. At my first duty assignment, I went to see the doctor for my insomnia, and he referred me to mental health. After a couple sessions with the psychologist, talking about general stress, anxiety and sleep problems, I became comfortable enough to talk about my past. She put me on anti-depressants and sleeping pills, and I continued to see her once a week. Eventually, I was able to see her once every other week. Talking about what had happened to me, and working through those issues was a lifesaver. The medication helped to control my anxiety, and I was able to sleep a little bit better. When I moved to a new base, I met with another therapist, and continued my counseling sessions. It was difficult to start fresh with someone new, but not as hard as the first time. When I got orders to move again, I decided to not start seeing someone new. I was content with the progress I had made, and determined that I could keep working through my issues on my own. I have since told a few close friends about what happened to me. I got married and had 2 kids. My wife knows about my past, and she is supportive. I still have nightmares sometimes, and I get anxious on occasion, but it's mostly under control. I have volunteered with abused children, and found it very rewarding to give something to those kids that I never had. I have never told my family about what happened to me, and I still think it is for the best. I might change my mind eventually, but it's not the right time now. I want to tell my story because maybe someone will read this and they can relate to it in some way. There have been multiple moments in my life where I thought that I would die, either by someone else's hands, or my own. Now I am happily married, with 2 beautiful girls, and a career. I am nearly completely out of debt as well. Just over 5 years ago, I would have never thought that any of this was possible. I didn't think that I deserved to be happy. I imagine that I will always feel some of the pain from my past, but it gets easier as more time passes. I have learned that I deserve better than that.
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