There’s a thing going around Facebook lately: Ruin a Musical with one letter. I saw this pop up in my feed from an old friend from camp and dashed off a quick response, “Fiddled on the Roof.” I was pretty proud of my clever response. I was in Fiddler on the Roof at camp. I played Tzeitel. I went to one of those intense theater camps where we are all sang and danced and sought attention. And mostly after 6 years there, I got it.
There’s another thing going around lately, Amber Tamblyn has written about James Woods trying to pick her up and take her to Vegas when she was 16 and of her being tired of not being believed through the years when men hit on her inappropriately. Combine these two things together and I couldn’t stop thinking about something that happened to me at camp.
Well, that isn’t exactly true. I think about it all the time. I was violated at camp by a counselor. Now I want to be super clear, I was not fiddled with at camp. Not at camp at least and not by this counselor. This counselor never touched me (other than a quick and uncomfortable back rub that I quickly walked away from) but he hurt me deeply and it is a hurt that has lingered.
But that isn’t to say I haven’t been violated and fiddled with. Find a woman and most of us have a story or two. There are the comments and stares at my chest (34DD for the record) by teachers through the years. The stranger who grabbed under and up my skirt through my underwear while I was out for drinks with co-workers from work. I was about 19, shy and only an intern in the office. Shocked, I kept walking and kept quiet, unsure what to do. I didn’t want to disrupt my standing in my first non babysitting/waitressing/scooping ice cream job. Or the stranger who followed me home when I did scoop ice cream and told me he had seen me on the beach in my hot pink bathing suit. I ran and lost him. Or the guy who declared his love for me in an acting class after knowing me for an hour and would call me at home incessantly. Even though I told the teacher, I was one to drop the class, not him. Or the guy I liked who I kissed goodnight after a date but who clearly wanted more. As I struggled to say goodnight and leave alone I knew that was not going to be respected. He wasn’t letting me go. In an instant I assessed the situation and invited him in, hoping he would pass out actually, knowing he was stronger than me. I said yes to ensure I wouldn’t get hurt by saying no.
Like Amber Tamblyn, I am tired of keeping quiet. To keep the peace. And so when I saw this topic popup in my twitter feed I posted about it for all to see. It felt scary. And freeing.
I have two sons. If I had daughters, I am not sure how I would approach telling them how to navigate the world. I fear I have done it wrong. When my 7 year old son grabs me and begs me not to leave him at bedtime and won’t let go, I try to tell him about respecting my body and not holding on to people keeping them from leaving. He’s 7, he just wants his mommy in the dark. Sometimes my ‘teachable parenting moments’ may be too much, but I will not have my sons feel that someone else’s body is theirs to take.
But back to the camp counselor.
The last night of camp. I was about 16. We snuck out of the girls’ cabin and went down to the boys’ cabins. Pretty typical stuff. He was my director and friend. A close friend. He had cast me in leads in the musicals. I felt elevated and special by his attention. I know now that is how this usually plays out. And there he was in the dark on the porch of the older boys’ bunk. I was there to visit and flirt with the boys my age, but there he was rubbing my back, telling me he was going to miss me. His energy was different and I was grateful others were around. I stepped away quickly. It felt weird and icky. I did not seek him out the next day as I got on the bus home to say goodbye. In fact, I avoided him. At home a few days later a letter arrived declaring his love for me. Remember I was 16 and he was in his 30’s. I did not know what to do with this information. I should have told my mother. We were close. I still have no idea why I never told her. I should have given her the letter and let an adult handle it. I was not an adult. And that was the point. I was a child.
I showed the letter to my girlfriend and gave her the letter to keep. If it was out of my home then it didn’t exist. In the letter, he talked about all the wonderful things he saw in me that had caused him to fall in love me. As if it he had no control of it and it was my fault. All I saw was a questioning of any talent I had to be cast as Tzeitel or as Maria in West Side Story. Could I sing or did he just want to sleep with me? I stopped acting not too long after that.
I cut his image out of any photographs from camp. I attempted to never think of him and it again.
And then Facebook happened.
And friends from camp came out of the woodwork. He has never attempted to friend me. He knows better. If he thought he hadn’t done anything wrong he would have sent me a friend request years ago. I have certainly never tried to friend request him. I can see he is friends with my other camp friends. We have even commented on the same posts. I have clicked over and I see that he has spent the 30 years since he sent that letter continuing to work with children and I feel devastated all over again.
Did my silence allow him to “fall in love” with another girl? Did he cross more boundaries than that? Did I let down other women by trying to protect myself, by trying to pretend it didn’t happen? I have thought about telling my camp friends now, but to what point? As Amber Tamblyn has attempted to explain, these experiences become our burdens, our secrets. Why should it be that way? Have I failed as a woman, a mother, a feminist because I chose to try to forget? Does ripping an image from a picture rip the memory away as if it did not happen?
Well, it happened, and I am hoping it didn’t happen to anybody else. At 16 I didn’t even consider that possibility. Now at 46, it is all I can think about.
I still haven’t spoken up about a favorite “esteemed” counselor at my camp when I was younger. You are awesome. I am awesome. They are not.
— Rachel Schinderman (@mommie_brain) 13 de septiembre de 2017
Rachel Zients Schinderman is a writer, teacher, and mother (but not always in that order). As a writer she has been published in The Manifest Station, The Nervous Breakdown, and The Los Angeles Jewish Journal to name a few. She had a parenting column in The Santa Monica Daily Press for a couple of years called Mommie Brain. As a teacher she is finishing up a teaching credential from Antioch University and runs writing groups under the same name (Mommiebrain.com). As a mom, she has two sons. You can read more at rachelschinderman.journoportfolio.com.