Book Excerpt: 'Coming Home to Myself'

Once inside the party, I realized that I had forgotten my purse and went back out to the car to get it. One of the boys followed me. What a gentleman, I thought. But the minute we got to the car, he shoved me into the backseat, got in and locked the door. Then he held me down, and started taking off his belt. He pressed his hand over my mouth so hard that my braces cut the whole inside of my mouth. When he demanded oral sex and I declined, he slugged me.

I agreed to do whatever he wanted; then, when he calmed down and was off his guard, I punched him in the face as hard as I could. I shoved the driver's seat forward, unlocked the door and opened it. Thank God the car was old and the locks were manual. I ran inside, got my girlfriend, and we called the police. By the time a patrol car arrived, the two boys we'd come to the party with had already left, so nobody was arrested. The police drove us back to my girlfriend's car. It was a terrible experience that could have been much worse.

Because of experiences like this one, I was a late bloomer. I was a senior in high school before I had my first real boyfriend. His name was Stephen Mc- Cord, and I met him at a party at a friend's house.

We couldn't have been more different. He liked the all-American blond babe types, and I was a redhead with a guitar. He wore blue jeans and T-shirts, and drove a truck. I wore dresses and heels, and drove a '57 Chevy. He drank beer, smoked cigarettes and liked to party. I liked to hang out, listen to music and practice my guitar.

I'd been around enough beer and cigarettes when Mom and I were hanging out with musicians in Austin. I didn't think it was so cool. I guess hanging out with older people who partied a lot allowed me to see the reality of what drugs and alcohol do to people. The biggest change I saw alcohol make in those musicians had to do with the way they treated women. (And I'm certainly not talking about all of them!) Some guys were gentlemen until about the third beer; then they would come on to anyone – even an underage girl like me. It seemed to me that "alcohol" promoted "disrespect."

I made a decision when I was a teenager that cigarette smoke would damage my voice, and I was not going to allow that to happen. I challenged Stephen one night when we were sitting at a stoplight, telling him to put out the cigarette or I'd walk home. He did put that one out, but he didn't stop smoking. Stephen was one of the best-looking guys at Franklin High School. He was pure Southern good ole boy – ran with the popular crowd, had the body of a Greek god, was a bit of a hell-raiser, yet loved his mama and went to church with her every Sunday. He treated her with respect.

Stephen's mother was one of the most important influences in my teenage life. I'm not sure who I was more in love with, Stephen or his family, so much so that when Stephen and I finally broke up I felt like I lost five people instead of one. The very first time I met Mrs. McCord, I was enthralled with her faith and dedication to her family. Her husband and children meant everything to her – she lives for them. (I wanted her to be my mom!) I did feel like I was a part of the family. I went fishing with Stephen and his dad. Mr. McCord was a real "man's man." He was always working on his boat, wearing his signature ball cap.

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