The Monster Will Never Win

Deanne Fitzmaurice for the Players' Tribune

Content warning: This essay deals with the topic of sexual abuse. This may be triggering for some readers.

My family found out about the monster one night at the dinner table.

It wasn’t planned out. I had no intention of telling them. But sometimes that’s how it goes, right?

I was about 12 at the time. My sisters were 3, 10 and 15, and my brother was 13. This was back home in Chico, and my mom had just cooked up a batch of her world-famous spaghetti. We were all sitting there at the table ready to chow down when, out of nowhere, my brother mentioned the monster’s name.

“I miss him,” he said. “He hasn’t been around in a while. When can we see him again?”

In an instant, chills shot up and down my body.

When I heard those words — his name, the mention of actually wanting him around — I absolutely lost it. Without even thinking, I slammed my fork down on the table, sending my spaghetti flying through the air, big drops of sauce splatting onto my baby sister’s face.

“Stop saying his name in this house!” I screamed. “I don’t want to hear it anymore! You understand me? No more!!!”

Then … complete silence.

Everyone at the table was just looking at each other in that way where you stay completely still and don’t move your head, but you use your eyes to peer in different people’s directions. No one made a peep. You could hear a pin drop. 

In a rage, I stormed off to my room. Slamming the door behind me, I buried my face in the pillow on my bed. At that point, an anger erupted that had been boiling inside me for years. As I was sobbing, I began violently swinging my arms in all directions. I just couldn’t take it anymore. I had been holding onto a huge secret that was killing me inside. I was hurting and afraid and feeling lower than low, and for the longest time I had felt like there weren’t any options for me to make things better in any way.

I mean, what can you do when the monster who crept into your room on multiple occasions and stripped away your innocence, your childhood, starting all the way back when you were five years old — back when you’d wear the pajamas with the Disney characters on them — is someone your family members … actually care for? Someone they like. Someone they admire.

I mean, seriously, for real, think about it. What do you do?

Courtesy of Peanut Tuitele

What do you do when your family cares about the monster. When they don’t even know he is the monster? When they’re asking for more visits from the person who is your literal nightmare?

This man, always smiling and laughing and having fun, was someone who was close with my family, someone we all knew well. Someone my brother and sisters would see occasionally and trusted. None of them suspected anything. Same for my parents.

But I knew the truth. I had lived it. And … I was stuck.

Over and over again, in my head, I’d ask God if it would be fair of me to tell on this man, and, in the process, strip away someone from my siblings’ lives who they held dear. I begged God to give me the strength to persevere and not to ruin things for my brother and my sisters.

And that … was basically my entire life. It was all encompassing. I had lived like that for a long time. For years.

But by that evening’s dinner, I had taken all that I could. My heart could only endure so much pain. It had reached its limit, you know what I mean? Too many times throughout my childhood I had heard this man spoken about as if he was someone who was admirable, like he was a wonderful person….

And that needed to end.

Too many times throughout my childhood I had heard this man spoken about as if he was someone who was admirable, like he was a wonderful person…. And that needed to end.

Peanut Tuitele

I was still swinging my arms around and screaming when, five minutes later, there was a knock on my bedroom door. I quieted down and heard a soft voice coming from the other side. It was my brother, whispering through the crack.

“I’m sorry, Peanut. We’re all sorry. But, ummmm … can you please tell us what happened? Can you tell us what’s going on?”

I opened the door and headed downstairs. Everyone was still sitting in front of their plates. Tears filled my eyes as I scanned the room.

They were all waiting for me to speak. 

I didn’t go into a lot of detail when I started talking. They were still young. All of us were at that point. But I did say that this man had hurt me, and violated my body, in ways that never should have happened. It wasn’t easy to get the words out, but I did what I could.

As I talked, I was looking directly at my younger sister, and I could see the shock and disbelief on her face that something so terrible had happened. Her eyes, innocent and gentle, were the same ones I had before the monster came into my room. Her eyes were so absolutely beautiful.

At one point, though, I remember looking over at my brother and seeing a completely different set of eyes. His eyes were filled with hatred. They turned black. His smile had disappeared. And those eyes, which once lit up at the name of my abuser, became lifeless. They were now filled with anger at each mention of the man’s name. It was like his world had been turned upside down. 

And me? Well, I said what I had to say, what I could. Then I did what I always did….

I headed outside to shoot some hoops and try to forget about the monster for a while.

I fell in love with basketball when I was six.

I remember the moment like it was yesterday. Snack break at preschool. I’m standing in front of one of those plastic hoops for little kids — black base and pole, white backboard with a square outlined in red, bright red rim. I picked up the small orange basketball, feeling the grooves and bumps on the ball to become familiar with it before drawing my arms back and tossing it toward the hoop.

Immediately after seeing the ball drop through the net, I was hooked.

That same day, my parents received a call from my teacher. She told them they needed to invest and put me into basketball. So they did. And from there, I never looked back. 

To this day, I can still remember when my mom took me to BIG 5 and walked me up and down the aisles to pick out the sneakers I would wear for the upcoming season. When I found the exact pair I wanted — some black and gray Adidas high-tops — I immediately started envisioning all the different combination moves I could create off the dribble. I envisioned the ball swishing through the net, and how far I could go.

It was love. For sure.

Courtesy of Peanut Tuitele

And you know what, yeah, it does feel a little weird to say you’re in love with a game. But for me, over the years, basketball has been my everything. So I don’t think love is too big of a word for what I’ve experienced. Basketball has been my safe haven. It has allowed me to express positive emotions and to temporarily escape from things I was hoping to forget forever. And, for as long as I can remember, it was something that brought pure joy to a little girl who just wanted more than anything to be a kid again.

A little girl who was broken.

Since the age of five, all I have been doing is fighting. Fighting for a chance at a better life, fighting to survive, and fighting to overcome the demon that was generated by the man who robbed me of my childhood and changed my life forever.

Before that, before the monster came around, things were different. I’d skip down the sidewalk singing Hannah Montana songs and acting as if nothing else mattered in the world. My siblings and I would play and run around together outside every day until it got dark and the street lights turned on. There were epic hide-and-seek games, huge family water balloon battles, all sorts of basketball games. Just thinking back to it all, and all that fun, makes me smile. I was so happy. So content. So full of energy.

But when the monster appeared, and did what he did, it was like a part of me just fell away. What was once a vibrant, inclusive, adventurous little girl, completely changed. I was forced to grow up fast, to realize the cruelty of the world. And I had to somehow figure out how to keep going. How to carry on.

That’s where basketball came up so huge for me.

What was once a vibrant, inclusive, adventurous little girl, completely changed.

Peanut Tuitele

Basketball has been an integral part of my life for as long as I can remember, and it has cultivated within me a sense of belonging. Ever since my first time making a travel basketball team in elementary school, I trained endlessly. I was always outside working on my handles, or my finishes. I loved the process of becoming a good basketball player. I craved the aching pain that coursed through my muscles when I was fully exhausted.

By the time I got to high school, I was good enough that it didn’t take long freshman year for the coaches to move me up to varsity. And that instilled within me an amazing faith and self-confidence. I knew that I belonged, and that I was respected by my older teammates. I observed the team to see how they interacted with one another, how they created a space where everyone spoke to one another knowing that what was said was coming from a place of acceptance. I started to see myself as part of a team driven by love. I genuinely cared for my teammates and celebrated any successes they achieved. I learned that there was nothing more rewarding for me than team success. It brought me true joy — like a bundle of warm lights that flutter through my entire body, creating a euphoric feeling.

So basketball has truly meant the world to me. It’s almost impossible to put into words. But the game helped me to think that maybe, somehow, some way, things actually could get better for me in time.

Basketball gave me hope.

A year or so before that infamous spaghetti dinner, I’d actually told my mom and dad about the abuse.

It took me several years to work up the courage. I agonized over doing it, and I was only able to get to that point after the monster moved away and was no longer around. I went to my mom first. 

The two of us were sitting in our brand new green Suburban, outside of Target, eating Jack in the Box, when I felt a sudden urge to tell my mother about everything that had happened. Tears immediately began streaming down my face when I tried to get the words out. After what felt like hours of crying, I was finally able to share the dark, ugly truth about what had been done to me.

I’ll never forget the look on my mom’s face. Her bright, vibrant, beautiful smile changed as soon as the words left my mouth. Her eyes were no longer glistening. Her lips started quivering.

“Are you sure this happened, Peanut?”

“Yes, Mom. Please believe me.”

“I do, P. But are you sure this happened?”

“Mom, I have been holding this in for years now!”

“O.K., O.K., come here.”

I could feel the warmth radiating from my mother's body against my face as we embraced in a hug. My mom’s response to what I told her, her reaction … I truly believe it’s what saved my life.

It meant everything to me.

One of the most important people in my life believed me. She validated my feelings. Without any judgment. She embraced my pain rather than pushing it aside, and most importantly….

She still loved me.

Deanne Fitzmaurice for the Players' Tribune

I told my dad a few months later.

I remember heading to my parents’ room, opening their bedroom door, and seeing my mom in her baby blue nightgown, cradled in my dad’s massive arms for comfort.

“Dad, you know what this is about, right?”

“Take a seat, Peanut,” my dad calmly said.

“Do you know what he did to me?” I said, while bawling my eyes out. And then, everything after that, to be honest with you … it has pretty much just vanished from my memory.

It’s gone.

The rest of the night, I do not clearly remember.

It’s very possible that I don’t recall the details of that conversation because my brain has blocked it out — that the memory is associated with such intense emotions that my brain has repressed the details. I do specifically remember my heart pounding out of my chest as the conversation began, and then endless tears flowing down my face. Beyond that, though, it’s just….


My mom’s response to what I told her, her reaction … I truly believe it’s what saved my life.

Peanut Tuitele

And look, I’d love to tell you that everything started to get better once my parents found out, or after I finally broke the news to my siblings. But that’s just not how it went, unfortunately. After telling my family about the monster, our household completely changed. It was like night and day.

Suddenly there was a gloomy mist that hovered over my family, almost like a ghost.

A rift grew between me and my siblings. We drifted further and further apart. I became more focused on my basketball while they devoted their time and attention to their own passions.

From that point forward, my nightmare and trauma was the elephant in the room. And after that spaghetti dinner, what I told them, what happened to me … it was never mentioned again. It was as if it never happened.

And since there was a lack of communication happening within my family, the only way I knew how to cope was through basketball. Because I didn’t really know how to talk about or rationalize what had happened to me, I turned to the one thing that had always helped me to navigate through my emotions and channel them in a positive direction.

Basketball allowed me to express my emotions in a healthy manner while working toward a realistic goal. It helped shape my attitude on life and to cope with everything I’d experienced. Accomplishing success with my team provided me a sense of tranquility within my life of chaos. And through the game of basketball I’ve been equipped with skills that are transferable to every sector of my life — everything from relationship building, to holding myself and others accountable, to time management, to discipline, and other valuable life assets that will help me succeed in the future.

So, believe me, I am beyond grateful for basketball.

Deanne Fitzmaurice for the Players' Tribune (2)

But hoops can’t possibly solve all your problems, you know what I mean? Basketball can help you to forget sometimes, or it can give you something to be happy about in the moment, but it can’t possibly make everything all better. At some point, one way or another, real life is going to come back around. Those things you were using basketball to get away from … they don’t just disappear for good. That’s just not how it works.  

With me, by the time I was a senior in high school, the sport had actually allowed me to find some real happiness. It was the first time in my life that I genuinely felt loved for who I was. And it was absolutely wonderful. But it wouldn’t last long.

When I verbally committed to the University of Colorado, it should have been something to celebrate — an amazing accomplishment and the lifting of a weight off my shoulders. It actually had the opposite effect, though.

The pressure I began to feel from my family, peers, coaches, and everyone involved in the process consumed me. That pressure, along with the fact that I’d still not dealt with or worked through my childhood trauma, combined to form a terrible mix. What I was feeling inside was so overwhelming that I resorted to making poor decisions. I started to go out more frequently, my consumption of alcohol increased, and I started to use marijuana more and more, to help alleviate my all-consuming thoughts.

At one point, my drinking began to result in vicious cycles of blackouts and forgotten nights, which led to unbearable moments of depression and spiked uncontrollable anxiety and PTSD episodes that carried into my freshman year of college. I’d hoped that moving away for school might alleviate some of the pressure I was struggling with. But things just snowballed after I left Chico.

I’d hoped that moving away for school might alleviate some of the pressure I was struggling with. But things just snowballed after I left Chico.

Peanut Tutele

My first year at CU, 2018, was one of the worst years of my life.

Once I got to campus, all the unresolved trauma surfaced for me pretty much all at once. I experienced a series of mental breakdowns, and alcohol and substance abuse started to take over my life. I’d be pounding drinks on a nightly basis almost every weekend — around five shots and multiple White Claw vodka seltzers within an hour or so.

Once I started drinking, I wouldn’t stop until my head was on the pillow for bed. And every single time I got drunk, an episode of PTSD would pop up. I’d relive old memories, past trauma, in vivid detail. Every single time.

During those episodes, I’d become the helpless, hopeless, broken little girl trying to find someone to save me. Most of the time I’d wake up the next morning not knowing what the hell had happened. But those who were with me … they would sit me down and give me the details.

I’d basically be crying for help, while at the same time battling against internal voices and images of a little girl filled with rage, yelling at me, telling me, It’s your own fault! Or the man who abused me would pop up in my head to tell me that he was going to harm others in my family. The voices seemed to never stop. And I had no idea how to silence them. I lashed out instead. I made poor decisions, again and again.

Before I knew it, those blackout weekends had become part of my everyday life.

It was unsustainable.

The voices seemed to never stop. And I had no idea how to silence them.

Peanut Tuitele

The turning point for me came when the blackouts and my mental health struggles started to seep into basketball. I let it get to where things started to bleed out onto others who did not deserve to be bled on. In my mind, I thought I was doing good — or at least I would try to tell myself that — until I realized I was hurting my team.

At one point, after I’d messed up and broken a team rule, I went in and talked with my head coach, JR Payne. She put it to me straight, and from there we had a serious conversation about my substance abuse. Coach listened to me and showed that she was there to help in any way she could — with both the substance abuse problem and with the mental health issues I was experiencing.

I cannot thank her enough for that. It was another of those conversations that probably ended up saving my life.

Following our talk, I decided to attend an AA meeting, and it was absolutely life changing. Sitting in a room with a diverse group of individuals and hearing their stories of working to overcome alcoholism inspired me. From that point on, I became serious about controlling my substance consumption and never letting it interfere with basketball again.

That was more than a year ago, and I’m happy to say: Things have been better since.

I’m still a work in progress for sure. But I’m putting in the work. And I’m proud of how far I’ve come. I’m working on my Masters from the School of Education at Berkeley, and I have big plans for the future. Big dreams.

I want to become a woman of color activist through coaching. I want to help encourage social change by using a coaching platform. And I have no doubt that I’m going to reach those goals. 

My college experience has been far from easy, but over the past few years I have educated myself and continued to grow into the person I want to be by leaning on a network of caring and compassionate individuals who believe in me and want to see me succeed in life. I have a clear vision of the woman I want to become, thanks to the empowering women I have met and interacted with both during my time at CU and then at Cal.

And, looking ahead, I know for a fact that what I’m aiming to accomplish can be done. Because I have someone I can point to and say: What she did … that’s what I want to do.

My head coach at Cal, Charmin Smith, has shown me a path.

She’s the first Black female head coach at Cal, but what’s most inspiring about Charmin is her social activism and her efforts to spur change. Meeting Coach Smith helped me come to an understanding that my purpose in life is to be a servant leader, providing guiding hands to help young people navigate the challenges they face. And I can’t wait to get started on that journey.

I realize now that one of the truly beautiful things about life is that we have many opportunities to evolve and grow and learn about ourselves. And sometimes, if we persist through the tough times, we can even surprise ourselves with what we can do.

I mean, as a kid, I would’ve never dreamed I’d be able to earn an advanced degree from one of the top universities in the country. But here I am.

In a way, I don’t know … it’s kind of like a miracle.

Thurman James/CSM/ZUMA Press Wire/AP Images

Honestly though, earning that degree won’t hold a candle to the one thing I’m most proud of in life….

Being a sexual assault survivor.

In years past, I never would have been able to say or write those words. I was ashamed. And embarrassed. I couldn’t find the grace in my heart to forgive myself.

But I’m past that point now.

I couldn’t find the grace in my heart to forgive myself. But I’m past that point now.

Peanut Tuitele

Every day is still a constant battle, and I still struggle trying to understand why this happened to me. But each day, as I look in the mirror, I start to see myself a little clearer. I can see that little girl hidden inside of me who was stripped of her innocence … and I know, with every fiber of my being, that it was not his to take.

It may have taken me some time, but I’ve gotten to that place. And something unexpected that came along with that understanding was a desire to tell my story, and then do everything I can to help those dealing with some of the things I’ve dealt with. That’s why I decided to lay my story out on the table for everyone to read.

And, look, I’m not gonna lie: The process of writing this all out, and putting everything down on paper, it’s been extremely triggering for me. It has not been easy. But I did it because I believe my story might be meaningful to some people who are out there searching for some hope.

So, before I get out of here, I’d like to speak directly to those people reading this who are currently experiencing sexual abuse, or those who have dealt with abuse in the past. I’d like to share a few things, straight from my heart, for whatever it may be worth. 

First off, please just know: You are not alone. There are thousands of us out here. And if you need support, lots of us will be here for you. Please never ever feel ashamed or embarrassed for what has happened. Instead, to whatever extent you can, in whatever way you can, work to convince yourself that you are stronger and better than any monster who wants to take away your innocence or violate your body.

It’s not an easy journey — it took way too many drinks, several lost friendships, and lots of self-harm for me to realize that I am better than the monster in my life — but I’m here to tell you that healing is possible. There will be difficult times when you’re forced to deal with surges of intense emotions, confused thoughts, and terrible, terrible memories … but you can make it! You can push through. You have the inner strength to get there, and if you can somehow surround yourself with people who will propel your growth and be patient with your journey, that will make all the difference in the world.

In the more difficult moments, it can be easy to turn to alcohol or substances to help alleviate the pain and internal dialogue that consumes your thoughts. Do your best to work through those moments, and to give yourself grace. It’s hard to confront your own thoughts, but every step of the way please keep telling yourself that you are in control of your life. Do whatever you can to take your power back.

Most importantly, be kind to yourself. And please … forgive yourself. Know that you had no control of what happened. It is not your fault.

Step by step, moment to moment, just do the best you can. And know that there’s no guidebook for what you’re trying to do. There’s no hard and fast date you can mark down in terms of when you’re “getting better,” or when you’re “healed,” but I promise that you will feel so much peace of mind when those moments come to pass.

So do not give up! I believe in you all, and I will be supporting you all from afar.

Deanne Fitzmaurice for the Players' Tribune

Lastly, there is something that I’d like to state directly to my Polynesian community. It comes from a place of love, and of wanting the best for our people. It may not be something that everyone wants to hear, but in my opinion it is absolutely essential. Simply put: There is a bigger conversation that needs to happen immediately about the normalization of rape culture in the Polynesian community.

Inappropriate touching, and violating the bodies of those you spend time with, those you are close to, is not O.K. It’s not acceptable in any way. I have heard from too many people in our community who have endured the same pain that I have, and it breaks my heart every time. 

I’m fortunate enough to have a platform to tell my story and to speak my truth and to take some of the power back, but there are many who are silenced. And that is simply not right.

I am a proud Samoan. I love my heritage and my culture. But this is something that needs to change. Too many have been hurt, and not enough have been held accountable for their actions. There are long-lasting psychological effects that sexual abuse can have on individuals, and I am living proof of that. I consider myself very lucky to have found a passion and some guidance that has helped to save me, and has allowed me to move forward. But so many people out there haven’t been so lucky, and enough is enough. Let’s end this ongoing cycle, and instead normalize talking about this issue amongst each other.

It saddens me that I share the same pain with my family members across different generations. That there are so many similar stories out there. But, going forward, we can change things. We have the power to do that. It only takes one person to initiate change. And in my own little way, I hope that I’m helping make things better by sharing my story with you all.

I know there will be repercussions, and that people will have some not-so-kind things to say about me, but I’m ready for it. I can take it. I’m ready to be a voice for change, even if it means people get upset at me or I get called some names. This is too important for me to be silent anymore. This is my calling. 

I am no longer a victim. Or just a survivor. I feel like now, finally, I have a voice. And a story to tell.

And the thing is … my story isn’t over. It has only just begun.


For resources for sexual assault survivors and their loved ones, go to