Share Stories, Change Lives

#MeToo is a women’s movement to raise awareness about sexual harassment and assault. But I felt compelled to share my story.

Why? Because it is a weight I have been carrying since I was 15 years old.  A weight that could have been lifted — if somebody, anybody, made me feel safe to share the story, and lessen my load.

I was what you might call a late bloomer. I watched my classmates “mature” in junior high, and I felt a little behind. My legs were still bald, my armpits and face had no hair — I was small, under-developed, and more than a little insecure.

Photo: David Parrish

That’s not to say I felt bad about myself entirely. I was in excellent physical shape, loved running and soccer, loved music— and was generally excited about high school.

A saxophone player, I was not in the top band my freshman year of high school, but I ranked high in the lower band. During marching season — we all played together, so I liked that a lot. Everybody was a star-bellied sneetch.

Before summer, a senior suggested I audition for a scholarship for a jazz band camp at Michigan State. I did, won the scholarship, and this person and I were in the paper. I was pretty excited — a week away at a local college. Living in the dorms, eating in the cafeteria — all that big kid stuff.

For the most part, the week went great. I was a little stressed in some of the theory classes, and I was never really sure jazz was my thang — but I was a competent saxophone player and pushed myself to be better. I saw all of this as a good thing.

Each night of the summer camp, we slept in bunk beds. I was on the bottom. For some reason, the last night of the event — the night before our big concert — my roommate, the senior who had encouraged me to come to camp, told me he needed to disassemble the bunks. He put his on the floor next to mine, said it was too hot up there.

I said I understood, and helped him take the bed down. He knew better than me — about everything. As I tried to go to sleep I felt a sickening sensation.

A cold hand on my bare chest.  Then over my underwear.  Then … my underwear was removed. I froze. I was asleep. This was not happening. I had never been with a girl.  Never kissed a girl.  And here I was being manhandled by a senior. A man.  I wanted to throw up.

Later that school year, which I spent completely ignoring this person, we all had to go on a band trip to Washington, D.C.  Hotel rooms were assigned, and I got stuck with the same senior from jazz camp. I thought sleeping fully clothed would protect me, but to my complete shock and horror, the last night of the trip, I woke to find his hand over my shorts once again. I ran out of the hotel in the middle of the night.  I stood out in the cold, throwing M&Ms down two flights of stairs onto the ground below, watching them explode.  Just like my life.  I had no idea what to do.

But here is what I didn’t do.  I didn’t care about myself.  I didn’t rat out this evil abuser.  I didn’t study or do homework.  I didn’t get good grades.  I didn’t have a functional relationship with my parents — or frankly, anyone.  I no longer trusted men — doctors, authority figures, my dad.  I was not accepted into the college I wanted to go to, and I really didn’t care.

I also did not forget.

This abuse, this unaddressed case of having my soul destroyed damaged me for life.  I was never assertive again.  I was a doormat.  I figured whatever I got, good or bad, I had coming.

Somehow, later, I became a success at life—if not at happiness.  I worked my way up to executive producer at CBS in Chicago.  I married my dream girl, had twins, and protect them each and every day of my life with all I have.

I donate my time to local universities, to make sure students about to graduate know what to do to try to find a job.  Instead of being beaten down, I was beaten up.

Doesn’t sound better, right?  But it is better.  I am an advocate for the less fortunate. I am a listener for the wounded.  And yet, I am still damaged goods, still working on my own repair.

Could anything have been done to help me?  It was the early 1980s, so it’s not like there were posters on the wall saying, “If you are abused, call this number.”

In fact, at the time, I didn’t consider myself abused. I considered myself a freak who must have asked for it. I didn’t ask for it. But if schools, churches and workplaces could make it simple to find somebody to talk to when something wrong happens to you, I believe a life could change for the better. I wish mine had.

I am a happy person now — I do love my life. But I wasted decades in the darkness, alone, and nobody deserves that.  Nobody.



David Parrish
 is executive producer at CBS in Chicago. He’s a graduate of Central Michigan and a guest lecturer at Notre Dame’s Mendoza College of Business.

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