Amanda Pagliarini wrote “How Could He Just Stand There?” in the November issue of The Washingtonian. In the story, Pagliarini, a freelance writer based in Charlotte, recounts her experience of being raped in middle school by her boyfriend’s two friends. Her boyfriend—we gave him the pseudonym Juan—did nothing to help her.
Thirteen years later, Pagliarini found Juan on Facebook and started a conversation with him about what happened. She writes about what she learned, how she recovered, and why she doesn’t want to press charges. You can read her story here.
Pagliarini will chat live about her story on Wednesday, October 28, at 11 AM. You can submit questions in advance.
What advice do you wish someone had give you at age 13?
Amanda: I've been asked this quite a bit and thought a lot about it myself. I really don't know if I was reachable. I sometimes wonder if I had had someone who sat me down and talked to me, instead of at me, if I would have been responsive.
Have you had any more contact with Juan since this article came out? I wonder what his reaction was.
Amanda: I spoke to him just before it came out to let him know that I was changing his name. I don't believe he's read it yet. I'm fairly certain I would have heard from him if he had. I am a little concerned that it's going to upset him. Not that he would become angry, but that it will make him feel bad about himself. He's come a long way from the person he was and I don't think he really has anyone in his life that gives him credit for that.
I think you're very brave for writing this. What kind of reactions have you gotten?
Amanda: Thank you. Most of the reactions have been positive. I've been very touched by what some readers have shared with me about their own lives. I've riled a few others up. Some people think I have a personality disorder and that I was complicit. I appreciate hearing different perspectives.
Hello Mrs. Pagliarini, I was entranced by your article. I saw myself in the same young girl who you described. I was raised in a middle class family with a loving and supportive family. At the age of 14 my hormones raged and I despised my parents simply for being my parents. I got myself in a mountain engaged in many dangerous situations that I managed to escape without the wounds that were inflicted on you. I have emerged a strong, well educated person who soaks up every moment of life trying to make up for the time I lost damaging myself. However, there is never a day that goes by that I am reminded of this crazed and angry teenager I had been. I have never been able to solve the mystery. How does this type of episode come to plague young teens? is it hormonally related or due to the feeling of independence and self-awareness which develops at this age? Thank you. Colleen
Amanda: Thanks Colleen. Wow, I wish I had the answers to those questions. I really don't know. I've spent a lot of my life wondering why and how some people veer off course and others do not.
For me, it almost felt as if I hit my teenage years needing an answer. Teenagers don't know who they are yet, or what's important to them, or the person they want to be – and for some reason, that just didn't settle with me. It was too taxing living in the limbo of not being a child who was completely dependent and not yet being an independent adult. While this natural life process is obviously gradual for a reason, it made me very uncomfortable living in the in between.
I just remember feeling angry all of the time, and in the moments of reprieve, just collapsing in frustration. They were entirely too afraid for me, as they should have been, but it might have helped calm me down if my parents had just looked at me and said, "This is ok. You're ok for feeling this way."
When you talked to Juan, did he know what became of the two guys who raped you?
Amanda: We didn't really talk about it. I don't think either of us wanted to talk about them. He had made a point to say that he didn't speak to or associate with the driver anymore. I don't think much has changed in his life. From the little I know about him, I don't think he ever really had much of a shot.
It's funny – I don't even know the other guy's name. If he was standing in front of me right now I wouldn't know who he was. I did run into the driver at a Blockbuster when I was in college. We looked each other dead in the eyes and I spun on my heels and got out of there.
Thank you for writing your article and especially for publishing it. I was amazed by what you said about realizing that you could have had love without paying for it with pain – it was a revelation to me. Your comment about giving your loyalty to the people who deserve it… without sounding melodramatic, I do want to say that your words have made a profound impact on me. thank you for being so brave and generous in spirit.
Amanda: Thank you for your generosity. Hearing comments like yours helps dispell the anxiety I had in publishing this story.
That's all the time Amanda has right now, though she may answer some already-submitted questions later today. Thanks for reading!
I liked your story but had a hard time understanding why you weren't angry with Juan.
Amanda: I don't blame you – it's hard to understand myself. I've just never been a person that has the ability to stay angry. I'm fascinated by people and by human nature and tend to look at people with curiosity rather than skepticism or judgment. I believe everyone lives the best they can in the world that they live in. Juan and I lived, and continue to live in, very different worlds. Overall, Juan has had a much more difficult life than I have. I turned myself around, got back on the right path. He got himself out, carved his own path.
I know this might send people into a tizzy, but I love Juan very much. We won't be apart of each other's regular lives but I would do anything I could for him if he needed me.
What does your future hold in terms of dreams and aspirations?
Amanda: I am presently pursuing my writing career. I am putting the finishing touches on a memoir manuscript that discusses my teenage years in greater detail. Whether a publisher would want it or not is another story.
With my experiences as a teenager, coupled with what I read and hear about teenagers today, I'd really like to go into high schools and talk with teenage girls. I think it would be important to do so sooner rather than later simply because I think I'm at an age where teenagers won't perceive me as an "old person" who they can't connect with. But my time is running short on that status!
what was it like going back to the place where it happened?
Amanda: It was tough. As cliche as this sounds, it felt like there were ghosts around me. I was amazed at how close we were to people's homes. Some of the neighbors were outside watching us shoot and apart of me wanted to shout, "Where were you?!" But it wasn't their fault, or responsibility.
I would rather go to the dentist than have my picture taken, so combining that with the setting was a bit daunting. One of my best friends came along which helped a great deal. And in the spirit of full disclosure, so did the two beers I had while we were shooting.
In retrospect, do you think there's anything your parents could/should have done differently?
Amanda: That's so hard to say. They were admittedly very overprotective of me. I sometimes wonder if they had tried to get to know Juan and welcomed him into our home, rather than just act in accordance to their intuition (which was dead on by the way), if I wouldn't have felt a need to be so defiant. Perhaps if sides hadn't been made and I didn't feel a need to defend him from the get go, I would have seen on my own who Juan was.
Regardless, I know that without question, my parents' overprotection and overreacting is the only reason I'm above ground today.
Thanks for a very moving account. What made you decide to write this story?
Amanda: I started to ask myself the same thing as the publishing date moved closer and closer! C.S. Lewis once said that we read to know we aren't alone. During some of the hardest and loneliest pockets of my life, I have felt comforted by someone else baring their soul, seemingly without concern for their autonomy. Writing this story gave me a new appreciation for the many writers who write to the point of embarrassment for the world to read, nevermind for one city like I did. If I could help ease another's loneliness, even for a moment, then that gives my otherwise little, insignificant life some real meaning.
how did your parents react to this article?
Amanda: It was tough for them to read. They didn't know any of the details of that night, nor did they really need to. But they were very proud of me and completely supportive. By exposing myself I was exposing them and I wanted them to be ok with that. While I don't think it was anything they were excited about, they continue to tell me how proud they are of me and what I've become.
I read your article on my flight to a friend's house in a nice community in the South. My friend's sister is adopted, and is currently going through a similar rebellious streak (which I witnessed firsthand this weekend). Her parents have given her every opportunity, but she is still acting out, not finding a job, drinking a lot, etc. How did you ultimately come to straighten things out with your parents? Your advice may be helpful to my friends so they can get the other perspective!
Amanda: I grew up. I wish I had a better or more immediate answer for you. Like I said in the article, my parents and I continued to butt heads until I graduated from college. It was a big battle of what I wanted for myself (which changed with the wind) versus what they wanted for me.
My parents never just let me off the hook in life. It was never a question whether I would be an active participant in my own life or contribute something to the world – it was an expectation. Their "nagging" was never fruitless, it was specific. And fight it or not, it is the only reason I am who I am today.
I read your story in this month's Washingtonian issue, and was really intrigued by your story. It's amazing that Facebook is how you reconnected with Juan. What if social media hadn't existed? Do you think you would have sought him out still via address or phone to get the closure you needed?
Amanda: No, I don't think I would have sought him out. It was one of those things that I thought about over the years and figured when and if I was suppose to reconnect with him, I would.
Could you imagine if we had social media back when Juan and I were teenagers? Or cell phones for that matter? Would I have rebelled less because I would have had so many alternative means to connect with him? Or would I have rebelled more because my parents wouldn't have been able to control our contact as effectively? It's an interesting concept to think about.