There are two choices I made that have shaped my character more than any other: the moment I decided to lie about how my piano teacher had molested me when I was 10, and the moment, almost 12 years later, when I decided to speak out about it. I hadn’t been this man’s only victim; some of his students came forward and told the truth during the investigation in 1991 — and others, like me, chose to stay silent. My small Pennsylvania hometown was rocked by the accusations, and many people just couldn’t believe that a man they’d trusted with their children could do something so terrible. Instead, they chose to believe that the young girls who had agreed to testify had been led astray somehow. Maybe they were confused. Maybe they’d exaggerated. Maybe they were liars. That was easier to believe, easier to control, than a pedophile in our midst. I decided to lie on a sunny afternoon when two policemen came to my house to interview me for the investigation. I'll never forget sitting at the kitchen table with my father, squirming with fear and embarrassment as the police asked me to detail how, exactly, my piano teacher kept the beat during my lessons. It didn't matter how they phrased it. I knew what they were after, even if they weren't asking it outright. They wanted to know if he'd touched my breasts or put his hand between my legs. "Did he use a metronome?" They asked. "Yes," I answered. That much was true. "Did he touch your thigh?" They wanted to know. "Your back?" I nodded. He'd done those things, too. "Anywhere else?" I shook my head and did my best to focus on the sunshine streaming through the window. Soon, the interview ended, and the detectives returned to their squad car and drove away. Even before they'd come to interrogate me, I promised myself I'd never say a word. I was only in fifth grade, and even then, I knew the police couldn't protect me. I was desperate for a way to keep myself from further harm. I didn’t want to be gossiped about or ostracized. I remember girls getting called names in the hallway at school and getting scoffed at during recess.
I did my best to look at the ground and pretend like I hadn't heard, and I kept pretending for the next 12 years.
"You know Molly is one of the liars, right?" I heard kids whisper to each other before the morning's first bell. "Laura, too," someone else would say beneath the basketball hoop in gym class. "She's always been bad."
I did my best to look at the ground and pretend like I hadn't heard, and I kept pretending for the next 12 years. Even though I didn’t want to be called a liar, the secret lie I kept to myself still came to define me in so many ways — until I was 22 and finally found the courage to tell someone about it. I told my best friend, Layne, one of the young women who had been brave enough to testify about what our piano teacher had done to her. I thought she'd be angry that I'd lied, but the opposite was true. When I told her, we cried together. She was the one person who could understand. I didn't go to the police, because by the time I was ready to speak out about what had happened, it was too late for my testimony to make any difference. Still, telling Layne felt like a waterfall rushing out of me. It was the first step of a long journey I took toward forgiving myself. It doesn’t weigh me down anymore, but I still carry the lie with me. It reminds me of the danger I felt and the regret that came later. I have since written a memoir, Cinderland, which explores the fallout of my decision — my decision to stay quiet, to not speak out about what happened to me. My book has prompted other young women who have been sexually assaulted to ask me many questions: Was writing about it cathartic? Was telling the truth scary? Did I shut down emotionally when I got backlash? What they don’t ask is why the victims weren’t believed by so many in my town, why I lied, or why I feared for my safety and acceptance in my community. They don’t ask because they already know. They understand why I felt the need to lie and why I came to regret it later. They understand that sometimes, we don’t have much of a choice at all in the choices we have to make. People often want to know if my piano teacher went to jail. He did, for about a year. After that, most of his victims, myself included, saw him around town all the time.
I’ll never know if my piano teacher read my memoir, and I don’t spend much time thinking about it. His days of being able to harm me have long passed. Still, the fear of retaliation is an ever-present reality for so many of us. This is what victims face daily — the choice between concealing pain to spare family and loved ones, and speaking out and risking the unknown. So often, both choices seem wrong, and they also seem right. Many women have written to me and confided that they’ve never told anyone of the abuse they endured because it would implode their families. Others have been burdened by guilt for not reporting their assailants — all this in addition to the grief of the violence itself. Abuse makes its victims so small, and yet living with it asks us to be so large. We think about the welfare of others before ourselves; we weigh the cost of our own health against our fears of how others will respond to the truth. It can be a lonely path. Even though I used a pseudonym in my memoir, my piano teacher’s name still appears in the corners of my mind. His name always represented authority. A distant intimate to all his students, he went by “Mr. Lotte” and called us by our first names. His title concealed him while we bared our fresh hearts. We were Morgans and Rachels and Lilas and Stephanies. His name, not mine, was written into each of my piano books. It could be found on his answering machine, in yearbooks, and drawn on his chalkboard on the first day of school. Now, it’s displayed in indictments and court documents and letters to the judge. His story is finished, and mine is still being told — even if I wasn’t able to tell it for so long. It doesn’t matter whether I reveal his name or not. There has always been one name that mattered, and it’s never been his. It’s mine.