It probably started back when I was about seven years old. That’s where it all began, you know?
At seven years old, I was raped and I pretty much just kind of shut down. Nobody knew what was going on. It happened, you know, every week for two years. Just started one guy, then it was another—his best friend, who happened to be the babysitter’s oldest brother. It was just an ongoing thing, and when we moved out of that area, I felt great, but I never told my mom. My sister actually had seen it happen and told my mom, but she really didn’t do much about it. As a result, we don’t talk anymore.
Fast forward, I have a child. Throughout the years of raising him, I’m going through these extreme highs and lows and crying in the shower, but never letting anybody see what was going on. Raising a kid and working took my mind off of that part. That went on for about 38 years. I pretty much hid the constant depression that I had. Everybody saw me as this really happy, joking person that they could all come to and talk about their problems.
The trigger was an argument I had with my son. He was 19, and he and I are extremely close. When he wouldn’t talk to me or wouldn’t even call me “Mom,” just moved away and wouldn’t return my calls. If I saw him in the street, he would just walk by. That triggered the depression that I’d been holding in all that time and I sunk into an extremely deep depression. I was having nightmares, night terrors, thought about suicide all the time. I finally decided, “I just don’t want to be around anymore.”
My son and I, during that time, actually did mend our relationship, but the depression was still there. I thought it would go away, but it wasn’t him. It wasn’t that. That was part of it, a small part, but the larger part was the 38 years of living in silence with PTSD and bipolarness, because of those highs and lows I would have. I was really confused as to why I just wanted to die.
I tried to go see a therapist. I was like, “I really should go.” I did give it an effort. You have to find the right therapist, you know?
I had one who, when I told her my story, she began to cry, and I was like, “You need somebody that’s going to be strong.” So, I tried that and it just wasn’t working. When you’re just so depressed, things are just hitting you from left and right, you don’t know what’s going on.
I decided on suicide and… I had started laying out all the plans of what I was going to do… It so happened that a friend of mine called me, and I picked up.
She goes, “Something’s wrong.”
I said, I tried to say, “Well, I’m just in the office trying to get everything squared away before I leave,” which was exactly what I was trying to do.
She said, “I’m coming down there,” so she came down and she took me to the hospital.
I spent two weeks in the psych ward—the Johnson Unit, here in Eugene. Obviously, they used meds and stuff like that and therapy one-on-one and assigned you your psychologist, you know, meeting every day. I was in there for about two, two and a half weeks. They set me up with the social worker and a therapist here in town who’s just fantastic. She is the best therapist that I’ve ever had. She kicks you in your ass when you need it. I’m the type who [wants someone to] just tell it like it is, you know?
I was going to therapy regularly. Things started getting overwhelming again. There was one day I went to Corvallis with one of my close friends and went to the farmer’s market to see my sister. We were coming back, and I was being bombarded with things that were going wrong, and it was just a bad day and I said, “Just one more thing. Just one more thing, then I’m done.” And one more thing happened. This time, as soon as I got back from the farmer’s market…[I attempted suicide].
…There was just all this chaos going on in my head. I couldn’t handle it. It was so much chaos… And the next thing I know I woke up and I was in the hospital, and I was pissed. I was so pissed… I spent some time in ICU. My best friend, who’s an attorney, she made all the decisions as far as, “You can’t let her leave.”
She’s a lawyer, so she was able to say, “If you release her, she will do this, and she will succeed.”
I had to stay there until they found a bed for me in the Johnson unit again. I was able to take a one day leave and go see my therapist. She sat me down and she said she couldn’t believe what happened.
She says, “Natalie, I’m in this for the long haul. I can’t do this without you, so you’re either in or you’re out.”
I said, “I’m in. I don’t want to live this way anymore.”
That started four years of intensive therapy, and it wasn’t all a rose garden. You still hit your highs and you still hit your lows, and you still have those moments of thoughts of suicide. Those are the times she called the cops on me. They showed up at my work. I was like, “Oh.” But she cared, you know? She cared enough to make herself available to me on the weekend. We’ll go to a movie, we’ll have a coffee. She’ll call and check in on me—text. She went above and beyond any therapist, I think, would. She tried all different therapies, because they just weren’t working.
I wasn’t coming out of that slump, and I’m like, “Be honest with me. How long does this normally take for a person to get better?”
She goes, “Two years.”
I said, “I’m coming up on four.”
We did a lot of work with—is it neuro-optics? It’s almost like biofeedback. It kind of aligns your thoughts and your feelings and your brain and the way it thinks into a straighter pattern, instead of all scattered all over the place. I didn’t feel it work. We tried EMDR and just a lot of things, and there were times we had to hit evening sessions that were long, because I’m a very controlled person as far as my emotions.
That was one thing she said, “When you come in here, I want you to be able to feel like you can talk and just be. Feel safe that you can cry in here.”
I had never done that. When I was seven years old and I was being raped, I called out. I remember, because there was a guy on the other side of the fence, and he was standing there. I was calling out for help from him, and he didn’t do anything. That was the day that I just kind of sunk into myself and I just closed off to everything. I lived that way for 38 years.
I didn’t even know what PTSD was. I didn’t even know what night terrors were. I thought I was going crazy. My eyes are wide open and I see some guy crawling through the window, and it looks real. You’re sitting up in bed and your eyes are wide open and you shake your head and then it goes away, but I really thought I was going crazy.
I did get a psychiatrist too. I know a lot of people sometimes worry about what people think about that, but what I tell everybody else is not what I say to myself. If it gets you through what you need to get through and keeps you alive and keeps you from going through these great highs and these terrible lows, which are longer than the highs, then do it. I have no judgment when people do that. Currently, I am on antidepressants to help with bipolar.
I finally reached the point that I started off on four years ago—the journey I started off on. I remember driving in my car one day and thinking to myself, “Something changed,” and I didn’t even know it. You just walk around through life and something changes, and it was so subtle, but it’s a big change and you don’t take notice, but I’m very happy. I’ve never experienced such happiness now that I’ve gone through all that. I’m in a better place.
Can I say, “Well, I won’t be suicidal tomorrow”? No. I don’t know. To tell you the truth, yesterday I thought about it. I have to just take one day at a time, and it might sound cliché, but that’s really what you have to do.
Natalie: Like I said, today is a good day. That’s the way I’ve got to take it, but I just never knew that there could be this type of happiness where I’m at now. For all those years, all those 38 fucking years in a horrible state of depression, hiding it from my son. I also had cancer when that was going on. It was huge. In a way, I was like, “Oh, good. It will take my mind off of that.” It’s weird the way you think, you know? Things now are good.
Natalie: I remember the first time I went in [to the hospital] on Memorial Day. You really find out who your friends are when that happens. I had heard all these stories that some of my friends who I thought were friends were so distraught that they had to take time off when they heard about it, but never once did they come and see me in the hospital. Never once did they come visit and lend any kind of support. It was just all about them. I really got to learn who’s really in my corner.
The secretary at the school I was working at came to see me at the hospital, and she started crying.
When I got out and went back to work, she came into my office, she goes, “I want you to come and stay with me for awhile.”
“Well wouldn’t it be kind of odd?” I said, “I’ve never met your husband. I know your daughter.”
Her and I weren’t very close, but she came up and she opened up her home to me and she sat in my office and she was crying, and she says, “You never know what’s going on around you because you just go about your life, and you don’t know what’s going on with anybody.” She said, “I never knew anything about what was going on with you.” She goes, “That just hit me really hard,” she says, “and I want to help you. If I can at least have a safe environment for you to stay in.”
So I did. I went and lived with her for a few weeks. The family took me in. It was good. Those are the kind of people—I didn’t know her, really, that much, but she opened up her home to me.
To this day she’s one of my best friends. You really get to know who is your friend and who’s not.
Natalie: I was in San Jose in—I think it was April or something—International Ms. Leather competition. Got to go every year, you know? Anyway, Mountain View, where I grew up and all that had happened, was just 12 miles away. I drove over there and went back to the old house, which had been torn down. A new one was built up, but they still had the same apartments that we used to live in, the alleyway where all this [happened]. I went back to just bring some closure to everything because I was in a good place. I went back and I videotaped it and I walked through the alleyway, and the house that the main guy who abused me lived in is still there, and the same house that [his] best friend down the road lived in is still there. It was a closure thing for me.
When I got back to the hotel, I wanted to mark it some way. A friend of mine was there. She’s incredible. She does cuttings.
She did an ouroboros on my back. Beautiful. Beautiful. We talk before we do it, you know? We talked about it, why I wanted it, where I was at, and I said, “I just feel like this has come full circle and it’s time now to move on.” It’s still there.
Des: I’m covered in tattoos, but I don’t know, that just freaks me out. I was a cutter for a long time.
Des: So that kind of stuff is just like, “Ahh!”
Natalie: You know what? I actually tried doing that. Because I would get so angry during… in the four years. There would be days I would get so angry and I didn’t know what to do with that anger. I’m a cyclist, but here, where it rains eight months out of the year—I went home and I was just so pissed, and I couldn’t even pinpoint what I was pissed about.
I thought to myself, “People cut. What has that got for me?” So I went in [and] I just started cutting myself. After I was done, I was exhausted. And it was over. That anger was over. I talked to one of my closest friends who lives in San Francisco, and I told her what I had done.
She goes, “Did you get the release you needed?”
I said, “Yes.”
She goes, “Did you take care of the wound?”
I said, “Yeah.” She wanted to make sure I used a clean knife every time, and I said, “Yes.”
She goes, “Well, if it relieved you and you’re taking care of the wound, then there’s no harm. For me. I don’t know about other people.”
My girlfriend at the time actually told my therapist. My therapist made me give her two people that she could contact if I was ever in a bad place. So my girlfriend texted… my therapist that I had been cutting. When I went to see my therapist, she danced around it, but she wasn’t all negative about it, because there are far more worse things that I have done because of that anger.
I used to go to drugs. That was me. Speedballs. And I didn’t give a shit if it was going to kill me or not. I really didn’t. That’s how I would escape all this crap. It was harder once my son moved out, because it was just me and there wasn’t anything else to focus my attention on. Yeah, I used to go those places.
There were sleazy friends and all different kinds of drugs, and they’re just like, “Take your pick.”
I never cared. I did get thrown in the emergency room one time—dropped off at emergency—but I made it. When I would get in those places, I was like, “That’s where I’m going. Escape and I don’t give a shit if I OD on this.”
Now I have no contact with those people anymore. It’s not a vice for me anymore. Cycling. I’ve tried to use cycling as my addiction.
Natalie: Yeah! It was a long journey. The last four years were the toughest. Getting to that point where you had to face certain people, too. Like my mother.
Corresponding with her, I had asked her, “Did [my sister] tell you about what happened?”
She goes, “Yeah she did. She told me she saw [him] with you, and he was on top of you.” I remained very calm. I was starting to cry because I was like—I didn’t want to get mad because I wanted to get the answers from her that I needed to hear. So I asked.
She goes, “I called the cops, but things were different back then in the 70’s. You guys would always push me to let you go play with Roger’s little sister because you were all friends. You would hound me so I would let you go over there.”
I remember calmly hanging up the phone, but it bothered me for months after that. I feel like my therapy had kind of stalled, and when I was in therapy I looked at my therapist and I said, “I need to confront my mom, don’t I?”
She goes, “That’s your final step.”
I said, “I always hate therapists who say, “It’s always the mom’s fault. It’s all the mother’s fault!”” I said, “Well, how should I do it?” I said, “If I talk to her, she’ll yell or whatever. I know she will.”
She goes, “If I were you, I would just write it all down so that you get everything in that you want to. Wait a day, read it again, and then e-mail it to her when you’re comfortable.”
So I did that, asking her why she didn’t protect me?
I looked exactly like my father, and that was one thing I always used to hear all the time: “Don’t look at me that way. You look just like your father.”
They divorced when I was five. I didn’t talk for a year. One whole year, I didn’t talk. I was five years old.
Des: At all?
Natalie: Not at all.
Des: To anyone?
Natalie: No. I had a counselor. I’d go see her a couple times every week. That’s why they kept me back one year in school, because I wasn’t talking. But I look like my father. I’d be reminded of that every day.
I asked her, “Why didn’t you protect me? Why didn’t you do more?” I said, “I remember that first time. I tried to struggle and nothing was going to happen, so I just laid there and sunk into myself and said, “Just lay here. It’s going to be fine. It will be done and then you can get up and you can go home and you can have dinner with your sisters.””
I remember going home and changing. Throwing my underwear away in the outside garbage.
It did affect me. My sisters say they noticed things, that I was doing a lot more of just laying on the couch and not doing much. I don’t remember too much about that. I was an emotional child, of course. As my mom would say, I was an emotional child.
But in the letter, the response to me from the letter was basically blaming me for the whole thing: “If he was doing that, why did you keep going over to his house to see his sister?”
I said, “Well, also, the babysitter’s older brother was one of the guys too.”
It was a hard letter to read. When I read it, I was at work, and I couldn’t stay. I was so upset, to the point where I thought I was going to throw up.
I forwarded it to my therapist, and I remember her texting me back, saying, “Just breathe.” She was in Mexico. She was on vacation. She goes, “Just breathe.” She goes, “I’ll be back on Monday and we’ll go over this.”
It was basically blaming me for all the abuse that happened, and then trying to make it seem like we were so hard on her: “You guys were so horrible to me,” and, you know, trying to shift that focus. It was martyr syndrome.
That was the hardest step, and it was the last step I had to take. As a result, we don’t talk anymore. She’s not somebody that’s healthy to have in my life. So, yeah.
I have my son who lives here… and we’re extremely close.
Natalie: Yeah. So close. He calls me every week. We call each other.
He just calls to say, “Hi, how you doing? I love you.”
He was pretty distraught about what had happened to me the first time he came and visited me. He was just crying, and he’s like me. He doesn’t cry. He says, “I don’t get it mom. I didn’t see this coming. You’re the strongest person I know. You don’t belong here.”
I said, “I do. I have to be here. It’s keeping me from doing something I don’t want to do, and I need to get the help I need.”
I just remember him crying, and it’s my son. It’s very emotional because we’re so close. Any time, if I’m feeling a little down or whatever, I’ll just get myself some time [with him]. He’s my light.
Des: Do you think that you’re done with this fight, this struggle? Will you ever be done?
Natalie: No, I don’t think so. It’s a thought that I seem to lean towards quickly. It may just be a flash or a thought or whatever, but it’s almost every day. Every day is a struggle in itself. Like today, I’m good. Yesterday was a struggle, and yes, I did think about it. That’s the way it is for me. I don’t think it’s ever not going to be a struggle.
Des: What is that struggle like? What is it like to live with this and to cope with it and to keep going?
Natalie: It’s not easy. I have to wake up in the morning and I have to decide, “Am I going to let things push me to the point to where I just start thinking about suicide?” Yesterday was a really bad day. I have to convince myself, “No, you’re stronger than that. You can get through this. You’ve gotten through a whole pile of shit. You can get through this,” so I got through yesterday and it was fine. I don’t like to live like that, when my mind goes to suicide immediately. Part of it, honestly, is that I don’t fear it anymore, because I had a taste of it… it doesn’t scare me, and I’m not sure if that’s bad or good.
Des: Can you ever go back?
Natalie: …I have to make a choice every day, and I have to fight with my thoughts, and I have to call a friend and they and they either come over, sit with me, or—it’s an every day struggle to some more than others. …It might not be that big of a thing, but sometimes it’s that one extra thing that just—it’s just enough, you know? In those times, I force myself to get on my bike, put the iPod on, and just go for 30-40 mile ride.
Des: Wait, is this a regular bicycle, though?
Natalie: Like in the Tour de France. You know those? Road bikes.
Des: That’s a long ride.
Natalie: Oh, it’s not too far.
I primarily ride alone because it’s part of my therapy. It works for me. I’ll ride in groups every once in a while, but I just pretty much just like to put my iPod on, and just forget about everything. That helps a lot.
So, if you have something like that that you can do… I’m so passionate about cycling, so I’m glad I have that vice. Instead of speedballs or cocaine, all that other shit.
Natalie: Yeah! This is the one, um— (Ed. note: The tattoo on Natalie’s right arm reads, “At eight life had taught me undeniably that surrender, in its place, was as honorable as resistance, especially if one had no choice.”)
Des: Who is it?
Natalie: Maya Angelou. Hers said “At 15,” because it was at 15, but I’ve changed mine to 8, ’cause that’s more [appropriate for me]. I saw it, and I’m like, “That’s perfect.”
Des: How long have you had these?
Natalie: I got this probably about six months ago. I had to put this one on. (Ed. note: The tattoo reads, “If I have a monument in this world, it is my son.”) I just—that was one of her quotes too, and it’s so true. My son is just my monument, you know?
…That one’s a little harder to read, but it’s, “I can be changed by what happens to me, but I refuse to be reduced by it.”
…It was my birthday. I guess I was a little drunk. I was like, “Let’s get a tattoo!”
Des: I know that feeling.
Natalie: I’ve experienced a lot of crap. When I was nine years old, I saw a murder happen at the local park… It was the Fourth of July, 1976, the Bicentennial one. It’s just a big park. Kids here, running around. I was riding on my normal path, up this hill with these big trees, and down on the road was this big white car, and there was these two guys arguing. Back then, there was this gang rivalry going on… They were arguing, and then the guy just pulls out a knife and just stabbed the other guy to death.
I was lucky that someone else had seen it, was involved, and was able to testify because I would have had to testify.
When that happened, my mom said, “We’re out of here. We’re done.” She moved us up here to Oregon.
Des: He could’ve come after you.
Natalie: Oh yeah, I was real scared. I was hiding behind the tree, and I was trying to be real quiet, because I was scared shitless.
Des: Funny, the things that come out in these interviews.
Natalie: The sexual abuse and the rape—I remember talking with my friend about it.
I said, “You know what? What really pisses me off is that I feel that my body betrayed me.”
She goes, “I know exactly what you’re talking about. You’re talking about what your body reacted to, to what he was doing.”
I said, “Yes. My body reacted to what he was doing, and that pisses me off. I feel like it betrayed me.”
It’s not even pleasure. I don’t know what to call it, but that was the hardest pill to swallow, that my body reacted to what he was doing.
Des: And that there’s shame—the shame involved in that. That’s not a thing to talk about.
Des: But we will shame someone for it. Easily.
Natalie: Yeah, exactly. Like, “Why didn’t you tell anybody?”
And it’s weird the way your abuser will set it up. They’ll say, “Don’t say anything. If you do, I’m gonna tell everybody what’s going on.”
It’s like, “You’re gonna tell everybody that you’re doing this to me?” So, I didn’t want that to happen because I would feel like it was my fault, like a slut. I couldn’t believe how they could use that psychology, you know, “You’re gonna tell. You’re doing something wrong. But in the end, I’m the one that’s going to be embarrassed by the whole neighborhood.”
Des: You were just a little kid.
Natalie: Yeah. Yeah, I was seven. It happened for a couple years.
Des: How did that affect you as a teenager and getting involved in sexual activity, figuring out what you wanted, who you wanted?
Natalie: I was pretty reckless with sex, yeah. My sisters were the cheerleaders; I was the one in the smoking area at school. They actually had a smoking area at school back then. And, you know, doing all the drugs. Doing all the mushrooms, acid, whatever. Going to all the Iron Maiden, Black Sabbath concerts. I was just reckless, and my scores were horrible. My grades were horrible. So, like I said, I was reckless with sex. It was just a fuck for me, you know? That was it. A lot of times, the guys would think that I was a whore and I was basically using them. I think that was a way of trying to get back…
The last two years, I think it was the last two years, I started to buckle down and study, ’cause I was like, “I don’t want to be here. Again.” My last year, my GPA was started off with a four point. It was funny, ’cause I happened to be in the principal’s office—and I can’t remember why it was—when my mother called him.
She said, “Um. I just got Nat—my daughter’s—um, uh, report card.” She goes, “And I think you must have it, um, I think you must have it confused with somebody else’s, or given me somebody else’s.” She goes, “‘Cause this says four point zero.”
He goes, “Nope. That’s very accurate.”
I happened to be sitting there, like, “My mom couldn’t believe I could pull a four point. She’s calling the principal. I can’t believe that.”
Des: That’s funny.
Natalie: But yeah, I got out of there. I went to college. That’s when I really just realized that my sexuality was—I had been trying to keep that all a secret, ’cause I’m gay ever since I knew. I used to have the biggest crush on Farrah Fawcett. Those were the posters I had up in my bedroom.
It was never something that was really, um… I was like, “I am who I am, and I happen to be gay.” I never had any of these coming out things when people gotta go to every gay event. It was just who I was. I consider myself a mother first. All that, and just happen to be gay.
Des: Why do you think we don’t talk about this?
Natalie: I don’t know why suicide is so embarrassing. I mean, is it because you failed as a person? You failed in life? Is it okay for me to say, “[So-and-so] failed in life. She couldn’t handle life.” I think that’s why it’s looked down upon. You can’t handle this, you can’t handle that. I didn’t fail in life. Depression and being bipolar, I mean, it’s a real thing, and people don’t really understand how it affects you.
If they don’t have it, they can’t fathom the highs and the extreme lows that you go through. Those lows were crying in my bed, crying every morning, and keeping it from my son, and just getting through the day. Bipolarness and everything, the way they project it in the movies and stuff, it’s like you’re fucking looney, and I don’t want to be associated with that.
…I think it’s because you’re seen as not being able to handle life, not being strong enough to handle life, and failing at it. And that’s not it at all.
I didn’t fail in life. I have a wonderful son.
Des: He’s your monument.
Connect more with the people around you, because you have no idea that they may not be there the next day, because they are not getting the help they need.
Des: What would you say to someone who was reading your story or looking at your portrait? What would you say to someone who maybe went through the same stuff you did, or something similar?
Natalie: Funny, the first thing that came to my head was like, “There’s no shame in your game,” you know?
You gotta get over that hump, because it is okay. It is okay. That’s the way you were made…
We all have our lives and we all go about life, in this day and age, not really connecting with anybody anymore because of all the electronics. Nobody picks up the phone to call or anything anymore, so you don’t know how a person’s doing. What I would say—you know what? Connect more with the people around you, because you have no idea that they may not be there the next day, because they are not getting the help they need.