I got my first hate mail from an adult when I was 14, and it relates to some almost-sex I had.
I was dating a much older guy (my mother was sometimes an idiot to permit things like that), and he was far more ready for sex than I was. We did some petting, and that’s as far as it went. One day, we were both off school for some reason, and his parents were at work. He drove me to his family’s small country house, and no one else was there. His room was the house’s former living room (they had expanded), so it was on the front of the house with the former front door as his own personal entrance. It had those three little square windows at eye level on the door where visitors could peek in. That’s an important detail to remember for the rest of this story.
I’d gotten boobs pretty fast, and — as some girls do — I got stretch marks on them when I went rapidly from a flat-chested kid to a C-cup. The marks were dark at first and eventually faded to faint lines over the years. That mortified me, so I flatly refused to take my bra off. But panties? No problem. I thought I looked fine down there, although all that pubic hair was kind of weird to me. He could touch but nothing else. He took all his clothes off, and I took off everything but my bra. (I can’t imagine how insane that looked, lol.)
It was my first time to see a boy totally naked, and it was gross and funny and sexy and fascinating. Anything I did was AWESOME, from his point of view. I didn’t go down on him, because that was not something I did yet. But I did touch with my hands, which is what we did that day. I felt sexy and powerful and turned on. He was on his back, and my back was to the door, and I saw his gaze flicker to the door for a moment. I looked over my shoulder and thought for a second I saw something at the door’s tiny window, but I covered up with a sheet and glanced again — and it was gone. I was uneasy, and we got dressed and left the house pretty damned quickly.
A few days later, I was in the car with my mother at the end of our long gravel driveway. She told me to get out and get the mail. When I handed her what looked like a letter to her instead of bills, she asked me to open and read it to her since she was driving.
I read it, and I started screaming. And screaming and screaming and screaming.
It remains one of the most hateful letters I’ve ever read. There was a lot of talk about whores and Jezebels and sluts and trashy girls like me. The letter said that she was an awful mother and that she should be “ridden out of town on a rail” and “tarred and feathered” for being immoral and raising an immoral nasty diseased slut of a daughter. It went on that way for a page or two.
I wanted the world to fold up around me and crush me to death. It’s true that in moments of extreme shock the flood of adrenaline makes a person feel as if her “blood ran cold,” because that’s just how I felt — on the razor’s edge of control and flooded with ice. Whole icebergs. Permafrost under my skin.
One of the first things my mother said was, “Is this true?” I told her OF COURSE NOT, even though my little Southern Baptist church-going ass was racked with guilt and shame for being a sexual person despite being young and single and very, very inexperienced. I kept telling myself we had NOT had sex, so what the letter said was not true. I could tell my mother doubted me, and the fact that this was what she focused on, instead of my pain, still hurts me to this day.
I knew immediately who had written it, too. His maternal grandfather. His was the only home close enough for someone to have seen me and the boy walking into the home alone a few days earlier. I suspect his was the face I thought I glimpsed at the little window in the door. Apparently it wasn’t my imagination after all, although my boyfriend tried to assure me that it was. The grandfather changed toward me after that, too. He also attended my small rural church. Their family, in fact, was a backbone of the congregation, and he had known me literally all my life. He suddenly because very cool, serious and standoffish.
He was also mean.
A few weeks after getting that hateful anonymous letter, I got badly sunburned. You know what I mean — the kind of sunburn that young idiots sometimes get on the first day of the pool being open for the summer, where you’re burned so badly you almost look tanned in one day. Awful. I was so miserable that all I could stand to wear was a soft cotton orange sundress with thin straps and a low back. I wanted as little fabric as possible touching all the burned spots, and I went to church that night despite feeling bad. His grandfather made a point to come up to me in the after-church crowd and slap me on the back like someone might heartily clap an old friend in greeting. He saw my gasp of pain and laughed and laughed and laughed. It was a HARD slap.
I looked right into his eyes and his mean soul, and that’s when I knew. He was the letter writer. I hope my eyes silently told him, “I know who you are, you mean old fucker.” Then I lifted my chin, smiled and left.
Time went by, and I kept asking my mother about the hate mail I’d gotten. We lived out in the county, not the city, and she had promised me she would submit it to the sheriff’s office for investigation and fingerprinting. I was eager to see if it had fingerprints and to find out if it was from that old man. If he was going to sow hatred and pain, he should be forced to take responsibility for it publicly, I thought. I wanted to press charges.
My mother kept putting me off and putting me off when I asked about the progress in my case, saying that “these things take time.” Well, one day, I picked up the house phone and said I would call the sheriff’s office myself to check on it. That’s when she confessed to me that she had just thrown the letter away and never reported it — and that I should “just forget it.”
The phone just kind of fell from my hands. I was dumbfounded. And so angry at her that I couldn’t breathe or speak for a few moments. It was like being violated by the letter all over again, but this time by my own mother.
She was unrepentant and remained convinced she had done the right thing — or if she had erred, that it wasn’t a big deal. She was not troubled about lying to me or discarding the letter without letting it be my choice, and she shrugged and waved away my protests. I wasn’t four; I was 14 — still a child, but not a toddler. I should have had a choice or at least not been lied to. I believe she meant well, but I also believe part of her decision was that SHE didn’t want to bother with it.
I lost a lot of trust for my mother that day, and it didn’t return.
It took me a couple more years, but I also stopped attending that church. My boyfriend and his grandfather were not the kind of people I wanted to be around. If that kind of hatefulness lurked behind the faces of faithful Christians I had known and trusted all my life, I couldn’t trust anyone. I didn’t even trust my own judgment.
I’ll be clear on this one additional point: They are not the reason I eventually walked away from my Christian faith; I know there are bad people everywhere that humans go. My apostasy happened years later, and it was largely unrelated to any church-people abuse. I acknowledged I was an atheist when I was about 50, after many years of the faith not making sense to me and after never hearing anything back when I prayed. (Silence is not what a loving father gives when his child is hurting. But silence is what I got. Motherhood taught me that a heavenly father like that wasn’t much of a father at all.)
I’m comfortable with who I am, with bad memories and good memories and religion and atheism and all the other experiences and decisions that make up who I am. I’m glad I had years of experience as a church-goer, because I feel like I’ve made an informed choice, and the Christian faith is something important to understand to function in American society, even if you don’t believe.
I also now believe that knowing evil, weak and vicious people — even those who go to church regularly — is important. I learned to identify some of them at age 14.