Tuesday, November 28, 2017 1:00 am
What it's like to live life as a lottery winner
Samantha Ettus is the author of “The Pie Life: A Guilt-Free Recipe For Success and Satisfaction.” She wrote this for the Washington Post.
For years as a child, I struggled to make my parents hear me when I told them my tennis coach was crazy. I knew something was wrong with him, but I didn't have the words to describe the icky feeling he gave me inside. At 13, I somehow found the strength to fire him. My parents did not support my decision, so they made me do it myself.
I broke the news to my coach over the phone. A week later, I received a package from him at our apartment in New York. The box contained photos of me, newspaper clippings about my tennis accolades and a long letter. He had crafted the letter carefully, switching colors with every sentence, like a desperate rainbow.
The box was labeled “A friendship package.” That afternoon, my mom came into my room to say my coach was on the line. She told me I had to thank him for the package. When I protested, she said: “He just wants to be friends.” I will never forget looking at her and saying, “I am 13. I don't need a 45-year-old friend.” I packed everything back up in the box and threw it down the garbage chute.
When I was 20, I experienced the greatest (though most painful) validation of my life when this coach, Gary Wilensky, was exposed as a violent sexual predator. He had tried to kidnap his latest student and take her to a remote cabin he had outfitted as a sex cave, with torture devices and boarded-up windows. Wilensky attacked with a cattle prod, but the victim's mom battled him off her 17-year-old daughter. He killed himself as police chased after him.
When interviewed on television, Wilensky's father would blame his undoing on “the breakup with the Ettus girl.” Reporters called my college dorm incessantly.
I was the subject of Wilensky's obsession for years, yet as far as I recall, he never touched me. I keep hoping that I have passed the statute of limitations on memory suppression. Only time will tell, but I have a feeling that I was the lottery winner. A predator had locked onto me, but I escaped without physical harm.
We all have our secret stories, the ones that populate our timelines against our will and stay etched in our memories. During my freshman year at Harvard College, I spent a night with a handsome senior. I was still a virgin and made sure that though our shirts were off, there would be nothing more. He was kissing my chest, but it hurt tremendously, and I kept telling him so. Yet in my inexperience I thought, maybe this is what it's supposed to feel like. In the morning, I woke up covered in yellow bruises. I didn't tell a soul.
Only last year did his name come up again. It was over drinks with a friend who went to his high school, who said she shudders when she thinks of him. “He raped my best friend in high school and she has never fully recovered,” she said. I was not penetrated by this predator. I am a lottery winner.
During my sophomore year, I ran into someone who had gone to the same college as my “Club Med boyfriend.” This was the boy I spent a week kissing during a family vacation my senior year in high school. When I asked whether she knew him, she said, “He was kicked out last year for rape.” I am a lottery winner.
The next fall, one of my closest friends was raped by her boyfriend. Two other friends shared their rape stories with me that year, too. In my 20s, the stories continued. It was as though a dam broke and was never repaired. But those are not my stories. You see, I am a lottery winner.
When I was 22, living in the San Francisco suburbs, every morning my boyfriend would drive me to the train before he went off to graduate school. One day a disheveled, middle-age man sat across the aisle and stared at me for the entire 45-minute commute. I ran off the train when we arrived in the city. In the days that followed, I changed cars, but he always reappeared. My boyfriend watched helplessly as the train departed and the creep walked between the cars to find me.
The police said that there was nothing they could do unless the man touched me. They suggested we switch stations, but he still found me again. That was the day I began driving to work. The man stole the train from me, but he never touched me. I was a lottery winner.
In January, a Facebook “friend” whom I had never met began writing me increasingly demeaning and threatening messages. He said he was coming across the country to see me. One minute he said he loved me, the next he called me a pig. On the advice of a private investigator, I ignored him and unfriended him, and he went away. Once again, I am a lottery winner.
Now, I am raising two daughters and a son. What can I do to protect them? There is so much that is out of my control, and theirs. I am working to teach all three to be feminists, to be confident, to know that they can speak out against injustice whenever they see it or experience it. That is what I can give them. That, and a prayer that they will win the lottery, like me.