Surviving… It Made Me Stronger

Jack Growing Up Circa 1972

Jack Growing Up
Circa 1972

Not only was I being sexually abused by Melvin, but both my mother and Melvin had decided to place me in the hands of another child molester.  Whether they knew that at the time, I couldn’t say.  It’s my hope that they didn’t. His name was Leroy and that’s all I knew about him.   He was somewhat tall, his hair was buzzed short, and he had a drifting eye. Thinking about it now, he looked like the lead singer from the band, Men at Work, Colin Hay.  I had never seen this man at our home before. The day that I was sent to Leroy’s apartment was the first time that I had seen or even met the man.

We lived in an apartment building on Sheridan Avenue, just off Irving Park Road in the early 1970’s, where I was around the age of 10 years old. I remember it being a warm summer afternoon and me, along with Steve, who was around 9 at the time, were outside behind our apartment building, playing.  We were suddenly called into the house to get ready, as it was decided that my brother, Steve, and I would spend the night at Leroy’s home, a strange man’s home that we had never seen before.  Steve and I were told that his wife would love to have two young children in the house for the weekend to help her cook and spend time with. I never understood why we were going over to this strange man’s apartment. Why was my mother sending us there? Not questioning my mother, we threw some clothes into a suitcase and off we went to Leroy’s apartment.

Leroy lived in a corner apartment building that was located in Uptown, an area that one day would be very familiar to my brother and me.  The same corner that Steve and I would, years later, drag two shopping carts of dirty clothes to, which was by the laundry mat that was located directly on the corner of Leland and Racine. However, it was also the same neighborhood where Leroy lived, the stranger, the man who would eventually try to rape me.

Leland & RacineChicago

Leland & Racine
Chicago

Arriving at Leroy’s apartment, which was located on the second floor, Steve and I hauled our suitcase that we were sharing up the back porch stairs and into his apartment. I immediately realized upon entering the kitchen that the apartment was not only small, but quite, empty.  Immediately, I questioned Leroy, asking where his wife was, as I didn’t see her in the apartment once we arrived.  He had told Steve and me that she was still at work and that she would be home very soon.  Feeling somewhat at ease by his words, I continued walking through the kitchen and into the living room, where Steve placed our suitcase.

Making small talk and getting us to settle in, it wasn’t long after we arrived at Leroy’s apartment that Leroy asked Steve to go to the store to get some ice cream, for later that evening, he said, for after dinner.  I knew then that I didn’t want Steve to leave the apartment.  I didn’t want to be left alone with a man that I didn’t know. I even said that I would go with Steve, but Leroy was reassuring that he would be right back. It was then that I tried another approach, saying that we didn’t need to have dessert; that it was okay, that Steve didn’t need to go to the store. However, Leroy was being adamant about Steve leaving to go and get ice cream, convincing me that the store was down the block and that Steve would be right back.  All I thought was… I lost; I had no more excuses to give Leroy. Handing Steve some money for the ice cream, Steve walked out the back door, heading to the store. As Steve leaves the apartment, Leroy immediately locked the door behind him and, with a twist of his hand, bolted the lock shut on the door.   Feeling uneasy, I made a comment that there was no reason to lock the door, as Steve would be right back, but Leroy said that he would unlock the door once Steve’s back from the store, letting him in. Instinctively, it was then that I started to feel uncomfortable, as I started to feel that something bad was going to happen. I still didn’t understand why we were there, with Leroy.

“Intuition is a spiritual faculty and does not explain, but simply points the way.” ~Florence Scovel Shinn

Making my way back to the living room, I pulled out paper and pencil from the suitcase we brought and sat in the armchair and started to draw. Anxiously, I sat there listening for Steve to knock on the back door, waiting for him to come back from the store.  Leroy was now sitting on the couch across from me. Scribbling on my paper, Leroy asked if he could see what I was drawing. Holding up my pad of paper to show him, he wasn’t satisfied, and asked me to come to him so he could see it closer. Now standing before him, I showed him once again what I was drawing. Looking at it, he tells me that he would show me how to draw better.  Picking me up, he places me on his lap. I knew I didn’t like what he was having me do. It reminded me of Melvin. But, I was taught not to question adults, so I kept myself quiet. Taking the pencil from my hand, he begins to draw on my paper, creating little hearts.  Leroy settled me more into a cradle position across his legs and, it wasn’t long after that, that he placed his lips on mine, kissing me. I told him that I didn’t like that and asked him to stop and said that I wanted to go sit back in the chair. I didn’t want to be there! C’mon Steve, where are you?  I immediately left his lap and walked back over to the chair where I was previously sitting.  I felt safer there, as the arms of the chair protected me. I sat there with my legs crossed, tightly closed, a position that I knew all too well.  I continued sitting, waiting for Steve to come home from the store, wondering why it was taking him so long. I sat there, quiet and continued to draw. Something inside me told me that Leroy had other intensions. I was scared. Once more, I asked when his wife was coming home, knowing I would feel much better, safer if a woman was in the apartment with us, with me.  Leroy kept telling me, soon… soon.

Leroy noticed that the suitcase we brought was lying on the living room floor, just outside the bedroom door.  He asked me to pick it up and take it inside the bedroom so that it was out of the way.  Knowing that I didn’t want to step foot into that bedroom, let alone get out of my safety chair, I gave him an excuse. “Oh, Steve will probably want to get something out of it once he gets back from the store. I’ll move it to the bedroom then.”  Leroy was pressing though, as he kept insisting that I take the suitcase and place it inside the bedroom. Again, I was taught to listen to adults, so my mind started thinking fast. Something inside me told me that I should NOT go into that bedroom. Again, this time more demanding, Leroy tells me to move the suitcase.  I told myself that if I quickly pick up the suitcase, I can toss it inside the bedroom and I will be out of there in no time.  Hesitant, I said, “Okay.” Tucking my paper and pencil within the folds of the chair, I got up from the chair and walked directly to the suitcase.  Picking it up, I walked as swiftly as I could, taking the suitcase directly toward the bedroom, which was only a few feet from my chair.  Standing in the doorway of the bedroom, lights were off, it was dark, but I was able to see enough to know where I could place the suitcase.   I stepped a few feet inside and literally tossed the suitcase onto the floor. I was trying to make it a quick trip, within seconds, to put the suitcase down and get out, unfortunately, I wasn’t quick enough because as I was about to turn around, Leroy had his right hand over my mouth, making sure that I couldn’t scream, along with his left hand around my waist.

“Trust instinct to the end, even though you can give no reason.”  ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

Leroy pushed me further into his bedroom. My hands are now trying to pry his away from my face, my mouth. I definitely knew what his intentions were now and that was to rape me. I was struggling with him, as he tried to gain control of my body.  I stood at the foot of his bed, which had a vintage rod iron footboard, the kind that if you hit your head would surely leave a lasting impression.  Leroy managed to grab me tighter around the waist, lifting me, he throws me onto the bed, where I bounced a couple times, landing on my back.  The back of my calves hit hard against the iron frame, stinging with pain.  I use the same iron footboard to slide myself away from Leroy but, within seconds, he was making his way on top of me.  I felt like I was in a one of those dreams where you try to scream, but nothing comes out of your mouth, no noise whatsoever, just silence. I tried to catch my breath, so that I could let out a scream, a cry for help.  With my legs above me, I started kicking Leroy as hard as I could in his chest.  I wore shoes that looked like Oxfords, where the heal was thick; something that looked like a nun would wear. I kept kicking him to keep him off me.  It was at that moment that I felt something warm, something wet.  I had lost control of my bladder. I urinated all over myself, as well as his bed.  I was crying hysterically, screaming very loudly, still kicking his chest, fighting for my life.  In my mind, it appeared as if everything was happening in slow motion, but knew it was all taking place within seconds.  As I continued to scream at him, yelling, “No! Leave me alone!” it was at this point that I heard Steve at the backdoor, knocking, banging on the kitchen door to be let in.

Steve had heard my screams all the way from the bedroom.  He was home from the grocery store.  As Steve banging harder on the backdoor, the glass in the door was rattling, making his pounding sound louder.  Leroy stopped what he was doing to listen to the banging at the back door.  With one last kick into the chest, he rolled off me. I scooted as fast as I could to the end of the bed, where I made my way over the hard iron footboard, the same footboard where just moments before I was being flung onto the bed to be raped.   I made my way to the kitchen, running to the back door, trying to get the door open.  Crying hysterically, I can see Steve through the door window, holding a container of ice cream, watching me.  Steve’s frantically turning the doorknob, screaming back at me to unlock the door, to let him, but I wasn’t able to unlock the door. I see Steve’s eyes drifting away from mine, only to stare at what’s above me, behind me, which was Leroy.  He was now standing behind me. I take a step back and through numerous tears and sobs, I scream at him, demanding him to unlock the door.  Thinking back, this is why Leroy locked the door behind Steve as he left to go buy ice cream.  He wanted to make sure that Steve was locked out, incapable of entering the apartment while he raped me.  Leroy had it all planned.

“As we grew up, my brothers acted like they didn’t care,
but I always knew they looked out for me and were there!” ~Catherine Pulsifer

 Steve, who is still on the other side of the door looking in, is now as hysterical as I am. I scream again at Leroy to open the door.  Reaching past me, Leroy makes a few turns of the deadbolt, unlocking the door.  Steve taking only a few steps into the kitchen and asked me what had happened. As Leroy stood before us, I shared through my sobs that Leroy was trying to have sex with me in the bedroom and that he wouldn’t let me go.  All of a sudden, Leroy asked me what was the matter with me and why was I screaming like I was.  I told him that he knew what was going on and why I was screaming, reminding him that he had asked me to put the suitcase into the bedroom and, when I did, he was behind me, placing his hands over my mouth so that I couldn’t scream for help. As if protecting himself, Leroy commented that he was in the bedroom because he wanted to grab the radio from the shelf.  I asked him, “Why did you put your hands over my mouth then?” He said, “so that you wouldn’t scream.”  At this point, Steve instructed me to head toward the door so we can leave the apartment, so that we can find our way home.  As I was walking to the kitchen door to leave, the radio that Leroy was claiming to grab off the shelf in his bedroom was actually sitting underneath a utility shelf in the kitchen the whole time.  It never was in the bedroom.  Leroy lied.  His intention was to try to get me into the bedroom and he succeeded.  Steve and I left our suitcase behind and we literally ran all the way home from Leland and Racine all the way to Sheridan, where we lived. We rushed home, running for blocks as fast as we could.  My clothes were soaked from urine, from when I got so scared and peed all over myself.  I was hoping that nobody noticed the stain on the back of my dress.

Finally making it back to our building, we run up the front steps. As my mom stood in the doorway to our apartment, she was surprised to see us. I felt such a relief to see her, I now felt safe. Although, upon seeing mom standing there, I started to cry uncontrollably, where she couldn’t understand a word I was trying to say. It was one of those deep cries where you had trouble controlling your breath, as your lungs try to suck in as much air as possible between every frantic sob you let escape.  I tried to get closer to my mother, where I was hoping she would take me into her arms to console me, to make me feel safe, to reassure me that all will be well. However, instead, she got very angry with me, shaking me and then slapping me across my face, hard, where I felt the sting against my wet tears that rolled down my face.  It was then that I was commanded to be silent. Perhaps, the slap was mom’s way of getting me under control.  It worked. I stood there before her feeling as if I was the one who had done something wrong. Mom asked me why I was home and not with Leroy and his wife.  I told her the whole story, where Leroy’s wife was never there and that he tried to have sex with me in the bedroom.  Steve shared his side of the story, too, where Leroy made him go to the store to buy ice cream, leaving me alone with Leroy. Now standing inside my own living room, I explained everything in detail to now both mom and Melvin. I was still half hoping that mom was going to scoop me up into her arms, to embrace me, telling me that everything would be all right, but mom being herself, she never did. I was instructed to go wash up and change my clothes.

The next morning, I was told by Melvin that we were taking a ride, heading back over to Leroy’s apartment, where he could confront him about what had happened, as well as to pick up the suitcase that Steve and I had left behind. I told mom that I didn’t want to go back there, that I was afraid and to please don’t make me go.  I didn’t want to see the man again, face-to-face, who tried so hard to rape me. I asked, “Why do I have to go back there?”  Mom simply said, “Because Melvin said so.” What about what she thought? Did she not have any protective instincts for her children? Did Melvin want to prove my word over Leroy’s?

Driving back over to Leroy’s apartment, I felt myself getting nervous sitting in the backseat of Melvin’s car, as the images of just the day before were forcefully being replayed in my head.

As Melvin knocked on the kitchen door, we stood there waiting for Leroy to answer the door.  Peeking through the window, Leroy sees Melvin standing there, only to realize that I was falling directly behind. Leroy let us both in, where we walked into the living room. It was here that Melvin asked Leroy what had happened just the day before. Leroy tried to tell Melvin that when I went to put the suitcase in the bedroom I got scared when I realized that Leroy was standing behind me, therefore, he put his hands over my mouth so that I wouldn’t scream. Melvin turned to me, asking me if that’s what had happened, as if to suggest that I could be lying. I said no! I told Melvin that Leroy made me put the suitcase in the bedroom and when I did, he was behind me, covering up my mouth and then throwing me onto the bed. He said that he was looking for a radio, which I pointed out, that was actually in the kitchen, sitting underneath a cart. If the radio was in the kitchen, then why was he looking for it in the bedroom?  Melvin confronted Leroy and asked what he was trying to do with “his daughter,” which left me somewhat confused. It was as if Melvin was protecting me, like an animal guarding their young.  However, why was Melvin getting so angry and interrogating a man for almost raping me when he was doing the same thing himself, molesting a young and innocent child?  Perhaps, Melvin thought that someone was going to steal his prey away.  I felt as if Melvin was scolding Leroy more than threatening him. Needless to say, conversation was short, no yelling, no fist throwing, no authorities being called, no police to file a report, absolutely nothing was done to protect me, the victim. Sadly, they let another child abuser escape, only leaving him to hurt and abuse others. We walked out the door never to see Leroy again. We went back home and, as history always repeated itself in the Lambert-Acker home, not another word was ever said about this unpleasant experience.

I never did find out what my mother’s intentions were by having my brother and I stay overnight at Leroy’s apartment, placing us both in the hands of a complete stranger.

It was later that I found out that Leroy’s wife had left him. There were never any expectations of a wife coming home that night after work, while Steve and I were to stay over that fateful night.  My thoughts stem back to what could have happened if we stayed the whole night… what I know would have happened. Instinctively, I knew enough to fight off my attacker. I didn’t want this man to hurt me, rape me. But, why couldn’t I fight off my primary attacker, share with my mother that Melvin was doing the same? What Leroy aimed to do, Melvin was already doing. Was it different; was it the same? Was I afraid of losing the only home life I knew, afraid of being taken away from my mother, my grandparents, never to see any of them again? Is this why authorities were never called so that our own dirty family secrets wouldn’t come seeping out of the cracks, out of me, if I was talked to enough? Perhaps, my mother was just as fearful as I was, of something like this happening, therefore, both of us keeping our mouths shut.

I have learned from my horrible past. I have become stronger through my weaknesses.

I have learned to speak up when something isn’t right. I have learned to voice my issues and concerns. I have learned that I will never allow anyone else to physically or mentally hurt me again. I have instilled this same belief in my children.

“If you always watch the demons behind you, then you will never see the angels ahead.” ~ Author Unknown

Being a parent today, it’s my own responsibility, my deepest inner instinct to protect the ones that I love, my family, especially the lives of my innocent children. There’s nothing I wouldn’t do to protect my children from the hands of another person or a complete stranger. We instill in our children that nobody, under any circumstances should ever touch them and if so, to tell, to divulge, to share with us that that they are being violated. Teach them how to protect themselves. We are their teachers and if we don’t teach by example, then how can we expect our children to carry on the tradition of being strong, courageous and open individuals? We need to educate our children that it’s okay to speak up, to question, to scream. It’s more important for our children to question an adult and to tell someone than to have our children end up being another victim on a crime list, another statistic.

Was this potential rape to be one of my “learning lessons” in life? Was it meant for me to experience in order to learn to become stronger, to fight, to protect what was mine, what I loved and cherished close to my heart so that I could be the best person, the best parent there is?  Did I suffer so that I was taught to pay attention to my intuitiveness, to believe in my inner instincts when they speak to me?  Yes, I do believe so. I believe this experience taught me all the latter and then some. I am proud to say that I broke the mold. I broke the mold of sexual abuse, physical abuse, mental abuse. I broke the mold that was shaping me as I grew up in the unhealthy environment that I lived.

For those individuals who have also encountered such a tragic experience, the same as I, I’m sorry that you had to endure such violence, to go through such suffering.  My heart feels your pain.  But, please, know that it wasn’t at the fault of yourself, but from the fault of your attacker. We are never to blame ourselves for something that another was responsible for creating. We did not ask for it. As it can be devastating to our inner self, there must be something within you, me, all of us to learn to rise above, to conquer, to be stronger than our attacker. We must choose to be a survivor, to continue to exist in life and never succumb to defeat. Otherwise, our attackers, our abusers, are the ones that claim defeat and we can never allow that to happen, never giving them the satisfaction.  We must prove that we are capable of moving on, that we are stronger, that we are, indeed, survivors.  Because it’s up to us to teach and to share with others that they, too, will make it, that they, too, will get through it all, that they can and will survive, just as we have.

“Though I can’t change what happened, I can choose how to react. And I don’t want to spend the rest of my life being bitter and locked up.” ~Tori Amos

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