I was just over twenty-one, newly married, and living in Staunton, Virginia. In the original plan I was to have returned to college after the wedding but that didn’t happen. Instead, I went to work. My first job was at a Dunkin Donuts, which, for a variety of reasons, didn’t last long. I’ll just say that I didn’t eat there for years and years after my experience.

However, I went on to find a job as an Office Assistant at the local YMCA. It was housed in a lovely old four-story red brick building downtown that had been around since 1914. The building itself was designed by a Chicago firm noted for its YMCA buildings. Cyrus McCormick, Jr. who lived in a neighboring county and was the son of the inventor of the mechanical reaper, had provided half of the building’s budget. It seemed quite formal to me – a Renaissance Revival with paired Tuscan columns framing the entrance.  And it was “old school” YMCA – the kind that rented out rooms to young men.  By the time I was employed there the renters were both young and old. And the membership had opened its doors to women and girls as well. It had become family oriented.  Despite its formidable look, it was a delightful place.  Folks came and went happily all through the day and evening.  They played handball, basketball, and volleyball.  They learned to swim, came just to swim laps, and belonged to swim teams. They used the exercise room, the steam room, the sauna, and got massages.  There were day camps, summer camps, tournaments, and special classes. It was a busy, friendly environment for a young person to work and I thoroughly enjoyed it. The main staff consisted of an Executive Director, Physical Director, Membership Director, and an Office Manager. There were folks on staff 24/7 – mostly to attend to the comings and goings of renters but also to buzz in visitors for night swims, ball games, and the like.

I worked Monday through Friday from nine to five. The location was perfectly situated for me to walk to and from work – only a few blocks. I could eat lunch downtown at various locations offering soup, sandwiches, and salads if I didn’t pack my lunch.  Or I could spend my lunch hour browsing in a variety of shops – clothing, news stand and books, jewelry (window shopping only in my case), sundries, furniture, and antiques. A hobby shop was right across the street.  I made friends with the owner of the shop and worked on little projects here and there – decoupage was “big” then and I did my share of tacky stuff that didn’t survive to the next decade.

My closest workmate was the Office Manager, Miss Ruth Lee, the sweetest human that ever breathed. She had worked there for fifty years – and that is no exaggeration. Miss Lee’s mother had died when she was in high school. She had several younger siblings and it fell her lot to keep house and care for her brothers and sisters. When she graduated from high school she began working at the YMCA keeping their books and there she had stayed. Miss Lee was a pixie of a woman – not even five feet tall. She had a pixie hair cut to match and sparkling blue eyes.  She tenderly carried the spirit of that institution within her loyal heart – trudging in no matter the weather or her own health. She had never married and soon after my arrival she adopted me.  This was supremely lucky for me as she often brought me goodies from her kitchen or something from her handiwork – knitting, crocheting, or tatting.  If we weren’t busy she would shoo me off to visit my friend across the street or to loiter in the newsstand or grab a cup of coffee with a friend.  I adored her.

The Executive Director was an ambitious man who made it his business to come out of his office to personally greet any member with status or wealth in the community.  He often played handball or golf with Board Members. He had a pretty wife who was a stay at home mom to their five children. They were both active in their church and civic affairs.

The Physical Director was a young man only about five years my senior. He was full of life, energy and good humor. He and his gorgeous wife had a new baby not long after my arrival and he loved to show off pictures of his young son.

The Membership Director was an older gentleman who had retired from his life’s work as a well-known Insurance Agent in town. He only worked a few days a week. The rest of the time he spent playing handball, swimming, golfing, or working in his yard with his beloved wife of many years. His son was running the Insurance Agency and his daughter was a young wife and mother. He was very old fashioned and it had taken some time and careful molding to get him to embrace the YMCA’s new idea of a family model that included women and young girls.  I imagine he had been quite handsome in his youth for he still retained his physique and good looks. He was a tall, imposing figure and he had eyes that seemed to look right through you. Yet he could flash the most charming smile and it always caught me a bit off guard.  When I first arrived I felt his keen eyes judging me constantly and I often wondered if I passed muster. 

I loved my job. There wasn’t a single task I minded even when it was something as mundane as filing. I was also given various tasks that were just plain fun – sometimes I helped with swim classes or the Women’s Exercise Group. Or I might just help to stock towels in the reception area, the women’s dressing room, or the upstairs residence area.  I met many local people and enjoyed the congenial atmosphere. I never minded going into work and, in fact, I looked forward to it.  Even the walk to and from was an adventure – no matter the weather – rain or snow or blustery winds.  On my way, I passed St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church and, although I was not Catholic, I began to join the nuns for Mass every morning in the graceful parish. The building was an elegant Gothic revival built in the late 1800s that seemed to beckon me. It was a pleasant, meditative way to begin my day and the priest was happy to have me – Catholic or no. The grand stained glass windows streamed light in with a tenderness that felt welcoming. I was especially fond of Saint Cecilia (the saint of music), Saint Catherine, and the Virgin Mary of the Immaculate Conception who stood on a crescent moon. Her gown was the traditional blue but her cloak was blue, white, and gold. Her sweet, slightly bowed head was surrounded by stars. Sometimes on my way home I would stop by the church and light a candle for various reasons – and sometimes just because it felt good.

After working there for some time I was called to the Director’s office and offered the position of Membership Secretary. It was a promotion and in addition to other duties I would be assisting the Membership Director – yes, the older gentleman who seemed to be always deciding about me. It seems that I had indeed passed muster!  Later I learned that he would be fully retiring in a short while and he would be mentoring me for his position. I was not only shocked but also thrilled by this news. I knew the position would be just doing more of what I already enjoyed so much – meeting new people, mingling with old members, and promoting the “Y”. It could not have been a more perfect fit for me.  As I stepped into my new role as Membership Secretary I sensed a softening in the Membership Director’s attitude toward me. He remained his reserved, stoic self but he did not appear to be constantly glaring and judging me. Instead he treated me as if I were a colleague, which served to bolster my confidence in my ability as well as my own opinion of myself in general.  Working at the Y had never been in my consciousness as a career so it seemed to have arrived as a delightful surprise. I began to see my future unfolding there within those walls and among those people.  I was happy.

Unfortunately, my home life was not going so well.  It was often tumultuous and unpredictable. It didn’t help that I was immature, unprepared for such situations, and lacked the skills to cope with what was happening.  And to make matters worse I had no one to share this with. My closest friends were at least a couple of hundred miles away. Those people that were physically close were not much more than acquaintances and I felt too awkward about my own feelings to share them. And some of the incidents that could have used some talking about were too embarrassing to share with people I didn’t know well. For sure there was no way I was spreading this unpleasantness into my happy work world. Besides, my best friend there was Miss Lee – and, bless her heart, she’d never been married and as far as I could tell she’d never even had a boyfriend. No way was I telling her any of my problems. Besides I couldn’t bear the thought of her worrying about me.  And so I took my problems to the feet of the Blessed Virgin often – knowing she alone would keep my secrets and my sorrows. I struggled alone in that way for what seemed an eternity. My heart was heavy but I could rise above it at work and ignore the painful reality of my marriage.  And the reality was that my marriage that had set sail so hopefully in the beginning was taking on water and sinking faster than I could bail. In the end it went down with barely a sigh. I was alone and adrift. For several days after the initial separation I was reluctant to speak of it at work. However, it became necessary to reveal the truth of my private life since in my current situation I could no longer walk to work and driving a car meant I needed to find a parking situation. Plus there was all the messy work of relocating belongings that cannot always be handled in an evening after work or on a weekend.  I cannot recall what I summoned up the courage to say – first to Miss Lee and then to the Executive Director.  I didn’t want to burden them with my problems nor did I want in any way to indicate that I wasn’t completely happy with my work situation.  What I said or how I said it are a blank space in my mind but I know they happened.  Miss Lee and the Director were both very kind and that was enough for me at that juncture.

I continued my work and it seemed my promising future there would remain in place.  The Membership Director did not mention my new marital status to me – although I know he was aware of it – nor did I mention it to him. Frankly, that was a huge relief.  I was aware that there was, for lack of a better analogy, a Scarlet Letter often placed on the breast plate of a “Divorced Woman” during that time. Nowadays folks are not burdened by such judgment – in fact, its almost blasé.  But that was a different time. I had feared that my predecessor, steeped in his old world views, would see my new status as a negative. If he did he didn’t say so to me and eventually he completely retired as he had planned. I was named the new Membership Director and continued on course.  As sad as I was in my private life, I was balanced by the positive of my work life.  Even so I felt exposed and raw much of the time but I was managing.  Day by day I put one foot in front of the other and moved on. 

The days passed and I began to adjust to my current situation.  I had certainly never prepared myself to be a divorced person. That was something that happened to other people.  Had I put those people in a “bad” category heretofore?  I don’t think so.  It’s just that I had never thought I would be in that “category”.  And, Lord knows! We want to label and categorize everything, don’t we?  Sigh……being human is hard. 

One of the things about being young is exploring all the possibilities there are in life.  Exploring might mean experiencing things or just reading or talking about them.  And one of the things that I really liked about my job was that there were lots of people in my life – workmates, friends, and even regular visitors and members of the “Y” –  who knew lots of things – different things, different ways of being. They had read, seen, and had experiences that were unfamiliar to me.  Those things might be worth a satisfactory nod or they might be completely compelling. I reveled in coming across some fascinating subject with whomever and wandering around inside their brain to glean whatever I could. Sometimes that would send me off to see more and know more. Sometimes the conversation was adequate and I was done.  Or it meant more delicious interchange on whatever subject. 

One such subject was Neuro-Linguistic Programming or NLP. Otherwise known more commonly as hypnotism.  I happened to mention my interest in a passing conversation with the Director who told me that he had some training in this field.  My curiosity was immediately piqued and when he invited me to sit down in his office to talk about it more in depth I was keenly open to what he had to say.  After a brief overview and some name dropping – E.g: Satir, Erikson, Chomsky, and Castaneda – regarding methods, theories and techniques I was impressed and eager to hear more. He promised to give me a sample session on a day when we were not too busy, which happened one blustery, snowy day soon thereafter.  He sat at his imposing desk in his large office while I sat across from him ready, willing and excited to begin. It began with a meditative progressive relaxation exercise with my eyes closed. I felt peaceful and open, awaiting more. He urged me to continue to relax, deeper and deeper. I seemed to have melted into the chair. I remember being told to touch my cheek, my throat, my arm. There were more words but I felt warm and sleepy and couldn’t grasp everything he was saying. I remember being told to hug myself. And then I was to touch my breasts. Huh? Did I? Did I hear that correctly? What was he saying? There was more but I cannot recount it.  Although I felt sluggish, a dawning horror crept through me. I kept my eyes closed but I was no longer sleepy. I was wide awake. Horrified. Completely undone and unsure of what to do.  You might think I should have known what to do. And in the retrospect of fifty years I know what I wish I had done. But I did none of those grand things that would have lifted me out of that awful moment in time.  Instead I sat there in a physical state of catatonia – unable to speak or move – although my mind was whirling at such a speed that I could not grasp a single solid thought.  I would like to tell you that I told him what for and left his office but that isn’t what happened. The fact is I can’t really tell you what exactly happened.  Somehow the session ended and I went back to my own desk – weak and shaken. I realize now that he had chosen a day when Miss Lee was not in the office and, truth to tell, I was glad of it. I don’t know what I would have done if I would have had to face her sweet, innocent face in the aftermath of that ugly experience.  Somehow the day ended and I left. I felt bruised and beaten by the encounter. I got into my car and wept. I was more alone than I had ever been in my entire life. There was not a single soul that I felt I could tell and Lord knows! I could have used a sympathetic ear. The rest of the day is a mystery. I suppose I went home and went to bed. I certainly didn’t have the energy for anything else. If I appeared downcast folks probably assumed it was my shattered marriage plaguing my mind.

In the following days the Director seemed to be constantly arranging ways for us to be alone – taking notes in his office or helping him to go through old files in a large storage room connected to his office.  I felt sure these were contrived and I became adept at dodging any physical contact and changing the subject if it seemed to be sliding downhill.  After a couple of weeks of these exhausting exercises I knew I needed a comrade and since it could not possibly be naïve Miss Lee I decided that the young Physical Director who was near my age might be employed to sympathize and help me to strategize.  I looked for an opportunity to talk with him without being overheard.  We were upstairs in an empty residence hall when that time came. However, instead of me pouring my heart out to him it turned out that he proposed a plan for me to be rid of the ache in my heart. Yep. He thought he could “help” me since I must be very lonely – “you know, without your husband and all”.  Really? I was momentarily stunned by his suggestion and then I laughed and acted as if I thought he was joking. I knew full well he wasn’t but it broke the seriousness of the moment and I slipped out the door and back to the safety of my office.  I cannot tell you every thought that went through my mind in the days and weeks that followed but they were all pretty terrible. And all of them pointed to ME as the problem. I must have done something wrong to make these men think I was “that kind of girl”. I must have misspoken in some way. Perhaps I laughed inappropriately at some point in time. Should I rethink my wardrobe? I was filled with shame and guilt.  I was also a nervous wreck. I no longer felt comfortable in that beloved building or even in my office.  My visions for the future began to crumble. Just when I thought I had survived the worst that could happen I found out there was more to endure. I was young – what did I know? I had no one I could confide in. And what would I confide? I felt dirty, foul, stained, and bad. The only thing I knew for sure was that I could not stay in that place any longer. I had to leave the job that I loved, the dreams that I had held. Of course, by then I was getting used to shattered dreams. What was one more? And so I resigned. I found a job as an Assistant to the Director of Computer Services in a company in another town. Saying good-bye to Miss Lee nearly broke my heart. She was stunned that I would leave my job in light of my new position. She knew how happy I had been there. She’d heard me fairly singing it on occasion.  And what could I say to her?  What could I say to anyone?  You want to know what I said?  Nothing. Not a single word. Well, not the truth, anyway. Not to a single soul.  For years. And I kept this whole story to myself until the “Me Too” of recent years when it revealed scores of other women who had encountered similar treatment in the workplace – some of it way worse than what happened to me. And sometimes those poor women didn’t have a way out. They were stuck. As I listened to interview after interview that played out on countless TV shows my heart broke open. I was at last able to release the guilt and shame that I had kept hidden for so long.  I have joined the multitude of women – my sisters in spirit who know that awful pain, the disgrace, the humiliation.  And with a chorus of “Me, too!” we have risen together.  I hope my sisters have learned some of what I have also learned about acceptance and being human. It took years for me to understand the truth of being human.  That truth could not be said more perfectly than by these words from Rumi – one of my favorite poets:

The Guest House

This being human is a guest house.

Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,

Some momentary awareness comes

As an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!

Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,

Who violently sweep your house

Empty of its furniture,

Still treat each guest honorably.

He may be clearing you out

For some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,

Meet them at the door laughing,

And invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes

Because each has been sent

As a guide from beyond.


  1. heimdalco says:

    Reading this I just wanted to reach out & hug you. Once you find out that you’re really NOT alone there is so much comfort in the numbers. When it happened to me I was able to go immediately to a female anesthesiologist & at least have someone to talk to. I didn’t take it farther because it would have ended up my word against his & that would have been a mess. But I was so grateful for a caring, listening ear.

    The Me, Too Movement has been quite a turning point & an eye-opener & put the fear of God in some men that needed to know that fear. What a blessing.

    Thanks for sharing your trauma. Me, Too … you are not alone.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. One more thing we have in common. I should have known. Sigh.
      I’m glad you had someone to talk to. Living with the weight of that for so many years was certainly not healthy but I survived it. And once I released my own guilt and shame I moved on wiser and stronger. I suspect I am not alone in carrying such a secret. I rejoice in the ME TOO movement. It was time to give women a voice that had been silenced for too long.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. How my heart ached for you! I never had any experience like that and am very grateful.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m glad that this never happened to you but perhaps me sharing this experience will help others to understand that it can and does happen. And if so there are others who understand that it is not your fault. Thank you for reading and sharing your compassionate thoughts.


      1. A favorite aunt said men were very forward toward her when she was divorced. That must have been in the early 60’s. It seemed like a divorcee was considered fair game. What a horrible assumption!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Yes. I think the thinking was not much different in the early 70’s. Sadly. It was a difficult road.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. You had little choice but to leave the Y. I wonder if the Director abused other ladies at the Y or elsewhere. He likely did.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You know, that never occurred to me! Wow.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. catterel says:

    I believe most working women have been in some kind of difficult or embarrassing situation involving a form of sexual harassment at work. Yours was particularly mean and traumatising. But glad you can now talk about it. Thank you for this.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for your compassion.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. quiall says:

    Strength, compassion and courage. That’s what I’m reading. You have become a beacon to those who do not understand and who do not know. I am sad for what you had to endure but I see the strengthen you now and I am in awe.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Bless you and this very kind response.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. heimdalco says:

    I KNOW beyond a shadow of a doubt that there are many more of us that have just kept quiet for so many reasons … & not being believed if it was a well-respected man (as was the case with you & with me) is among the top ones. My step-sister had it happen to her by a teacher her senior year in high school … sigh.

    If you haven’t been FORCED to do a fully-physical thing, which is rape, then there often is very little guilt assigned to the perpetrator. But not suffering actual rape doesn’t make it less traumatic in so many ways that society (male society) just doesn’t seem to understand … unless it happens to them &, sadly, it does happen to men … just less often.

    I will always be grateful to my friend, the female anesthesiologist for taking her valuable time to listen to me & understanding my reasons for not pursuing it.

    Sending a virtual hug to all our sister survivors

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes! I join you virtually, my friend.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Celia Hales says:

    Linda, I am so sorry. I’ve saved your Rumi poem in one of my documents so that I can reread it.

    Love, Celia

    Liked by 1 person

    1. No apology necessary. Rumi is for everyone. ♥️


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