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Thursday, October 2, 2014

My super-cool boyfriend: The most important post I've ever written

Note: This post is difficult for me to share. This post is not about my current boyfriend, although he IS super cool. Sorry to disappoint y'all. Honestly, writing about him would be much more pleasant. Maybe next time.


The year I turned fourteen it was 1998. I was a loner-freak with braces and a recent car accident had left me with a bald spot on my already gigantic, zit-filled forehead and scar above my left eyebrow. To say I was awkward would be an incredible understatement.

I had a very small group of friends, and several acquaintances who tolerated me. My siblings (all older) had moved out, gotten married, and were working on making their own families. My parents' marriage was a bit of a nightmare at that point, both parents were working more than full time to pay the bills, and I felt entirely ALONE.

I had, however, one place where I could go for attention. The Internet was still brand new, and full of freaks like me, looking for a connection to other living souls. People were just starting to have dial-up Internet in their homes, and we still had to share the phone line with the actual phone. The Spice Girls were my very favorite band, I saw Titanic 300 times, and cried every time. Google was founded, and the iMac came out that year.

I can't recall where I "met" Tommy. He was in a chat room somewhere, or perhaps just an AOL profile I came across. There were two hours between school and when my parents came home, if I walked home fast enough, so I was able to meet a lot of people online. I had girl friends in Wisconsin and Oregon, guy friends in Washington and Hawaii. I had people I talked to every single day, about EVERYTHING. These friends were more real to me than anyone in my every day life. They didn't judge me, they didn't see me, they just listened and told me their stories. I remember staying up all night one night to talk my good friend Lauren out of suicide.

I was a smart little girl. I knew I shouldn't tell people who I really was or where I lived. When I met Tommy I gave him an alias, like I did with everyone at first. It was fun, I got to play a 17-year-old red-headed up-and-coming actress with blue eyes and a sparkling personality. Who cares what he thought I looked like or how old I was, he would never know the difference anyway. As I recall I found a generic picture of some redhead on the Internet and claimed it was me.

We spent hours talking via ICQ, which he could access from work. Very soon, Tommy and I were talking on the phone. We were having long, deep conversations about life and future plans, and we began to feel an attraction to each other. Soon it became too real not to admit that I had lied to him. He needed to know that I wasn't actually approaching my 18th birthday, as he thought. Tommy was mature and refined, and he had money. He wanted to fly me out to see him in San Francisco. Obviously that wasn't going to work, and I was running out of excuses as to why I couldn't get on a plane alone and go meet this man of my dreams.

Tommy cared for me. He wanted to take care of me and help me; he wanted to hold me and kiss away my tears. He was the only man in the world who really wanted to make me happy. I cried as I wrote the e-mail telling him the truth.

"I'm not 17. I'm so sorry I lied to you. Please don't hate me. I'm still the same person I was..."

I braced myself for the hate mail in return. None came. His response was a pleasant surprise.

He wasn't mad! He was relieved, actually, because he had told ME a lie, and had been wanting to come clean. He wasn't 25, he was actually 28. Well, that's not so bad! And he wasn't angry with me! Score! (I was 14 years old. Give me a break.)

And guess what... he even thought I was pretty. He asked for a real picture of me, so I had a friend take one, got it developed, scanned it in, e-mailed it to him... this was a complicated process at that point, getting him a picture of my real face. (I probably don't need to point out to you that teens only need fifteen seconds to accomplish this now.)

Tommy wanted to send me a birthday card. I was so excited. I gave him my address without hesitation. (I don't recall ever receiving anything in the mail from him.)

I told my friends about my amazing boyfriend. I was so happy and felt so special! They thought it was weird and creepy that he was twice my age. They were so unsupportive! I just told them they didn't understand me like he did; I'm "very mature for my age". After all, "age is just a number anyway."

We had long conversations on the phone. For hours we would talk (back when long distance charges were a thing). We would pre-arrange a time for him to call (with a calling card), and I'd be sure to answer on the first ring, so no one else would hear his voice. He thought my voice was "cute" and said I sounded very young.

We had big plans. We were going to wait until my 16th birthday, then I would run away to California and I'd live with him until I turned eighteen and we could get married. He told me he wanted me to have his baby, and we'd buy a house, and I could pursue my dream of being an actress. What a beautiful dream for a troubled, lonely girl with no friends and no interest in teenage life. Every time life got difficult, I could run away to my room and live a whole other dream life with my super-cool, grown-up boyfriend.

I never actually met Tommy. I saw a picture once, which he claimed to be a picture of his face. Many times he said he was coming to see me, but something always came up. He kind of just disappeared one day, and I didn't really notice, because I got my braces off and met a real, live boy who liked me (which is a much better story than this one).

It was several years before I realized Tommy probably didn't exist at all, and was probably a very bad man. It finally hit me that I had put myself in the worst kind of danger, and if I had disappeared out of my bedroom one day, or off school grounds, not a soul would have known where to begin looking for me.

He talked to me about things I didn't even understand at that time. He asked me questions I couldn't comprehend, but I wasn't going to tell him I didn't know what he was talking about. I said "yes" whenever he'd asked me if I'd ever done something, for fear of sounding young and stupid. He'd talk about how I made him feel, and it excited me, but I had HONESTLY NO CLUE what it meant.

I had no idea I was talking to a man probably much older than me, who KNEW I was only a child, and was exploiting and violating my innocence.

All I can say is Thank God for whatever took his attention off me. I hope and pray whatever (whoever?) it was that caught his attention wasn't a victim of something much worse.

The point of this story is that we simply cannot expect our young girls (or boys) to know the difference between a friend and a threat. Our kids are not equipped to distinguish between attention and affection. We are releasing them into the world of EVERY IMAGINABLE TECHNOLOGY, with the assumption that a little talk about Internet Safety will be enough for them to know what is good and what is danger. The smart phone they "absolutely MUST have" has countless capabilities you likely don't even know of, and more are coming available each day. They (we) have NO IDEA how many people use it for evil.

All these kids know is that somebody, somewhere, is paying attention to them. Someone thinks she's pretty. Someone thinks she's mature. Someone wants to know what it's like to kiss her tears away and touch her body.

That someone is somebody's 50-year-old husband. Or worse.

For the love of God, please don't underestimate how badly she needs to hear she's beautiful, valued, and worth while. This is ESPECIALLY important from her father!

Don't ever think "not my kid". 

Check those cell phones EVERY DAMN NIGHT. 

Don't let them charge their phones and their ipods and their 3DS in their bedroom. (Do you know their ipod touch and 3DS have the same capabilities as a smart phone??)

Read up on the latest apps. Try them out so you know how they work!

ASK QUESTIONS. 

Snoop! No, you don't owe your child privacy. He or she NEEDS you to find early warning signs before it's too late. (Tell your child you'll be snooping, so hopefully they will avoid the stuff in the first place.)

Do what you must to keep your little girl (or boy) safely in her bed where she belongs. You must understand that it's better for your child or teen to be angry with you than it would be to lose them to a sexual predator.

Did you know that in the state of Utah (and a few other states), a minor who sends naked pictures of his/herself can be charged as a sexual predator for distribution of pornography? Me neither, until it affected someone close to me. Now you know. Tell your kids. Share my story. Tell facebook, tell your church group, your daughter's friends, your granddaughters, your nieces, and your sons...

Our girls don't know the consequences of their actions when they say yes to that older guy who wants to see what she looks like without her shirt on.

Some other resources to share:
ENOUGH IS ENOUGH - Online predator statistics
National Center for Missing and Exploited Children
Safe Teens.com
National CAC Internet Safety for Kids
Kids Live Safe





8 comments:

  1. Your "boyfriend" didn't just disappear on his own. It was suggested to him that it would be in his best interest never to contact you again or allow you to contact him. You were not completely abandoned by your parents.

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    1. I was not trying to imply that I was abandoned by my parents. I was simply saying that I FELT alone, as most teenagers do.

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    2. I understood the point of your message. I wanted parents to know that they can do something about this kind of relationship after they discover it. I also wanted whatever young person who might read your post to understand that a parent ending this kind of relationship, against the wishes of their child, actually turns out to be a good thing. Their child will hate them for it when they are still a child, but later on they may appreciate it.

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  2. It's not fun to put your mistakes on the internet for your family and complete strangers to read. But if it will help someone, somewhere, perhaps it's worth it.

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  3. Courage is written all through this post. Whether the words are there or not. It took serious courage for you to post this! I am proud of you.

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    1. Thank you so much Katelyn! I really appreciate it, you have no idea.

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  4. So courageous of you to post this. I have many similar stories from that time in my life, and some from when I was not much older that involved actually meeting older guys from the internet in person, late at night, after sneaking out of my house. I can not tell you how incredibly lucky I am that nothing happened to me beyond underage drinking with guys in their early 20s. The fact that nothing more happened is incredible. A blessing. Someone was watching out for me (on one occasion in particular that got very scary.) I completely support your message here and it is SUCH an incredibly important one! Good for you for you for being brave enough to share this story in detail.

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    Replies
    1. I know, how did we make it this far??? lol Glad we did, but I don't even know how we survived the reckless things we did! Hopefully as parents we will be able to catch the warning signs ...

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