10/02/2012 02:36 pm ET Updated Dec 02, 2012

A Gun, a Girl and a Choice

"He was standing outside your window with a gun. I saved you."

You are next to your mailbox, your mother's letter in your hand, leaning against the wall for support. You read this sentence again. The sentence about the man she brought home from the locked psych ward all those years ago. The man who terrorized you.

"He was standing outside your window with a gun. I saved you."


Your mind races back 22 years. You remember the first time you saw him, in the locked psych ward. She is there because you discovered her in bed at 5:40 p.m. She was supposed to pick you up after junior varsity basketball practice. There are two empty Advil bottles by her bed.

Panicked, you try to remember your peer leadership suicide-training workshop. You struggle to keep her awake and call an ambulance. You remember the dark charcoal stains around her mouth at the ER after they pumped her stomach. She looks scared. You have just turned 16.

From the ER, she is transferred to that locked psych ward. You drive 45 minutes to visit her every day after school. You have no license, no insurance and no car registration. You are alone for more than a week. Not one person in your family calls to see how you are. A friend's mother, who doesn't know the whole story, gives you $20 to buy food.

You see him watching her as you walk down the hallway, but you try not to pay attention. You find out from her that he is there as part of his parole agreement, the parole he received after serving more than five years in prison for raping his girlfriend and smashing almost every bone in her face.

He moves into your house a few weeks later. You try to ignore him. You try to ignore the disgusting porn you find barely hidden behind the TV stand and the even more disgusting Vaseline container under the dingy brown chair in the even dingier basement family room. You are struck by how ironic that word is. Family.

Soon, you know that he is watching you. That he is in fact stalking you in your very own home, though at 16 you do not understand the concept of stalking, or voyeurism or sexual abuse. You sleep with a knife under your pillow. You tell your mother he is watching you. When she isn't ignoring your pleas, she laughs in your face.

You fall asleep terrified every night, hearing him in the shadows. He has spray painted the windows of the family room, leaving six little holes to watch you. He pulls up the blinds in your bathroom and your bedroom, hoping you'll forget to pull them down. Hoping you'll be exposed.

You know from the traps you set up in your room that he's rifling through your things. That he's going through your underwear drawer during the day, when you're at school and he's between construction jobs, which is mostly always. Again, you cry out to her for help. Again, you are met with nothing more than an empty stare or a dismissive guffaw.

You hear him beat her. Then you hear her groaning during sex with him. Once when a friend was over she heard it too. You try turning up the volume of the cheap radio in the kitchen. You try yelling that you can hear them. Nothing works.

You know if you don't get out you'll be even more permanently broken. Thanks to others' kindness and perhaps pity, you escape, moving out in high school. But not before the terror and shame seep permanently into your bones.

There is no trial. There is no reckoning. There is nothing, only the rage and the knowledge that you weren't important enough to protect. You were simply the meat to throw at the hungry wolf.

You hear he got sent back to jail, after a police chase that ended on your front lawn. The news makes you recall the time the police officer stood on the porch and said to her, "Just shake your head, ma'am. Just shake your head yes and we will take him back to prison for violating his parole." No headshake followed, just a black eye from where a TV had not accidentally fallen on her face.

You try to move on. You get help, you have people who nurture and believe in you and you eventually blossom. Yet he is still there when you close your eyes or when you see a man on the street who is 6'5" and a beefy 250 lbs from years of a prison fitness regime. In many of your nightmares, she's still standing next to him, laughing.

You cut her off, finally and permanently. You're free and have never felt the sun more gently on your cheeks. You live and breathe, and you wonder if someday you'll find the courage to tell your story. Because you know you're not alone in your pain.

She is angry at you that you are gone. Angry that you dare call yourself a victim, for she believes she suffered far, far worse. How dare you shun her. Thus the letter, the vile letter touting how she bravely saved your life when he was standing outside your window with a gun.

For weeks after the letter, you are unable to sleep. You are sure he is coming back to finish things off. The past is present, sneering at you day and night.

She and the rest of the family accuse you of being hard-hearted. They tell you to forgive, that it didn't happen, that you need to stop living in the past and that you need to stop playing the victim. You cannot comply with their demands. They are furious or, worse, indifferent. You lose them too.

And inside your heart breaks yet again, but you say nothing. Until now, when you finally realize you no longer have anything to hide.