What it felt like to face the man who sexually abused me in court

It felt strong. It felt brave. It felt powerful.

It also felt sad. Unexpectedly, desolately sad.

I’ve always said “When I have an emotion, I’m usually last to know.” That’s not really true of me anymore, but for years I was always reacting to Big Feelings but almost never knowing which feelings, or why.

I’m sure the reasons are as mixed as any other complex human thing… autism, toughness, pride, and shame are a few… but “Coach Mike” Spiller was the biggest reason to be sure. When you’re a kid, adults are supposed to be trustworthy and take care of you, and when they don’t, it’s a sick spiral from there to complete self-alienation. From then on, I learned to ignore my feelings, no matter how big, and especially the bad ones. Those hurt!

Feelings, I learned, were confusing. Feelings would take you places you didn’t want to go. Feelings upset other people. They made people not like you, or they made you vulnerable to other people too, or both. What’s more, I learned from Coach Mike, feelings are not to be trusted. In fact, if feelings are unreliable, why not just cut them off altogether?

Here I stood, forty years later, in a courtroom, directly in front of this person who changed the course of my life. To his sad-eyed yet steely face and to the faces of strangers in the courtroom, I explained right out loud– in public and in detail!– exactly how his actions affected my life.

Having spent most of the years since his crime telling myself that it hadn’t really affected me much at all, this was all-new material. I stood there and listed problem after problem.
My personal record of fuckups and long-ways-around.
A CV of failures.
My litany of lament.

I stood and read this aloud, less than twenty feet away from this old man in prison stripes and a brand-new cheap haircut. This man who told little me I was special (the words I still most long to hear) when he really meant I was an object he would soon be using.

I’m a professor, and in my years teaching writing, I’ve learned the power of reading your writing aloud. I have students do this all the time. There’s nothing like it. This magic thing can happen when you read, audibly and straight from the page, something that you have written. When you hear your words aloud in your own embodied voice, they sound different than they did in your mind’s voice. They’re your words, written by you, and yet hearing yourself read them makes them “other” somehow. Reading your own writing aloud makes you be an audience-you along with the author-you. What’s extra weird about this is that author-you knows things that audience-you does not. Eerily, you then can hear yourself saying things to yourself that feel like new information; you realize things about your topic that you didn’t understand until you wrote them. To yourself.

Last week in the Kendall County courthouse, I heard myself saying words that I had tried so hard for so long to pretend were untrue. I heard myself counting all at once the total price, costs I have long known about and talked about but never had quite laid out in one itemized bill.

I heard myself say “I have been profoundly harmed.” That “life has been harder than it should have been.” And that I would have liked to know who I would have grown up to become otherwise.

I love me, but damn, I would have liked to know that person. And I never will. I am sad about that.

[Here’s a short recap of the day from KHOU Houston. And here’s other media from court and from before that.]

Convicted. At last. For now.

Yesterday I and a few other people abused by my childhood coach saw him sentenced to prison in Texas.

Ricardo Delgado’s story in the San Antonio Express-News here.

Zachary Taylor Wright’s story in MySA here.

I gave an impact statement, right to his face, and will need some time to know exactly how I feel about it… except proud. The proud part is easy.

Also, KENS-5 put a tired, frowny and wrinkled me on its 10pm broadcast:


Writing hangover

I have a writing hangover. It’s that feeling I get when there’s been something I wanted to write, or needed to write, and haven’t been able to, and then I finally do. It felt SO good to complete and send it off, but MAN I feel hung over.  Do you get writing hangovers?

I do, especially with big and important pieces of writing. Some pieces of writing really fight to stay unwritten. At least mine do.

Maybe this happens because I’m swamped with life maintenance activities, which I am terrible at and get overwhelmed by, so even sitting to write at all is hard. Maybe it’s because I am distracted, distractible. Really distractible. I distract myself from most of my ideas by having more ideas! And while I haven’t finished the important thing, I also want to dive into the new thing, and sometimes I do. This means that for every big-ish piece of writing I complete, I have usually started at least three other pieces along the way. (How do people sometimes find themselves without ideas? This has never happened to me.) Or, even more frustratingly, even when I am strong and responsible and stop myself—dodge another rabbit hole!—I still am basically fried now by the interruption anyway. What kind of victory is it if fighting for it renders me unable to enjoy the spoils?

So that was happening, has been happening, much more than usual for the last couple of months. During the past two months, I have been needing to write the “victim impact statement” I will give in court next Thursday at the sentencing hearing of the person who sexually abused me in childhood. (More on that soon!)  It was hard to write, so very hard. Of course it would be—what one statement could ever summarize the effect of any one event, a traumatic event in this case, especially forty years after it happened? It has had lots of time to stew. Or for a less yummy metaphor, it has been festering and oozing for four decades, its putrescence seeping and spreading along all my inner cracks and crannies. While regular cleaning and occasional blasts of strong disinfectant can do a lot, there’s still a real buildup after forty years.

So the statement was hard to write, and I kept writing parts of it in my head and on paper and in computers, rehearsing it and reframing it. While I was doing this, of course time outside of the writing continued to elapse, and life went right on life-ing. So, while I was not-writing the statement I was also returning to work, caring for children, handling medical needs for multiple people, fighting insurance companies, cooking, cleaning, dealing with money, making appointments, going to meetings, filling out forms, doing all my side gigs, home repairing… I know that only some of these things are unusually taxing for most people. For me, even getting the mail, opening it, and dealing with anything needed within it can sometimes take me a week—and all the while, more mail comes every day. My whole life feels like that now.

But now I have written it!! It exists! I have written it and it exists, and I have sent it to the DA’s office, and I shall read it in court. After sending it I shut my laptop, greeted my son who was just getting off the school bus, and immediately set out to buy a disco ball and mount it on a pole (long story), purchase food from a drive-through against my better judgment (received all the wrong food), contend with boss-level traffic and parking issues (these are of the devil!) and delivered my son to a parade float. And had a full-on meltdown which I spilled right onto a loved one. And watched a three-hour parade and was literally pelted by three pounds of candy. And ate candy.

And this is why today I have a hangover, without drinking or drugs or anything. It is in fact a writing hangover.

(but hey! I am writing!)


The last thing I ever thought I’d be doing on TV news is talking about this! Usually it’s students of mine doing a cute performance, or maybe photos of them eating ice cream at a festival or something!

A story about telling my story

When I decided in spring 2022 to make sure that the man who had sexually abused me in 1983 had actually been officially reported to law enforcement, I did so for my own peace of mind if nothing else. I had no real sense of the places it would lead. Now Mike Spiller, a gymnastics coach who sexually abused me and who is accused by many others, has been arrested, and Danielle Lerner of the Houston Chronicle has written this loving and precisely researched story. With more to come.

Here’s a quote from the top of the full story, as it’s most personal to me:

Anne Elrod Whitney had only recently joined a girls gymnastics team at Rowland’s Northwest when she was invited to attend a team sleepover at the gym’s building in northwest Houston. It was 1983. She was 10.

What should have been a safe, fun-filled event in a familiar space instead became corrupted. 

The sleepover had the atmosphere of a school lock-in with loosely organized games, sleeping bags splayed across the floor and pizza ordered in for dinner. Kids played on the gym equipment normally reserved for rigorous instruction. Some people propped blue vinyl gym mats up against the wall to construct lean-to forts. 

At some point Whitney found herself alone in one of the forts with Mike Spiller, who she knew as a charismatic man and one of the gym’s primary coaches, out of sight between the mats and the wall. 

There, she says, Spiller snuggled with her on top of sleeping bags and began massaging her thighs and hip while commenting on her muscles. Then Spiller put his hand inside Whitney’s underwear and massaged the outside of her vagina. 

“I actually, at that time, didn’t know anything bad had happened,” says Whitney, who is now 49 and resides in Pennsylvania. “I think I liked to be somebody’s favorite, you know? And I know now, that’s the thing that happens to a lot of kids where, you know, there’s (seeking) approval in a relationship, and even affection, from somebody that you care about.” 

Nearly 40 years later, on Nov. 18 of this year, Spiller turned himself in after police in Boerne, Texas, put out a warrant for his arrest. He was booked into the Kendall County jail, where he remains on a bond of $150,000, on a charge of indecency with a child.

Read it in one of these forms:

Full investigation (for Chronicle subscribers, 99 cent paywall): https://www.houstonchronicle.com/texas-sports-nation/general/article/texas-gymnastics-coach-arrest-sexual-abuse-17618101.php

Free version of need-to-know info: https://www.houstonchronicle.com/texas-sports-nation/general/article/Mike-Spiller-gymnastics-coach-sexual-abuse-Texas-17618279.php

Timeline of the allegations: https://www.houstonchronicle.com/texas-sports-nation/general/article/Gymnastics-coach-timeline-17618424.php

I’m not the first to say we’re made of stories. In fact, I have sometimes heard that kind of statement and thought, “blah, I’m sure that’s true, but how trite!” And on a slightly more articulate (but equally grumpy) day, I might have thought, “Stories are meaningful and good, BUT stories don’t get someone more money or medicine or a job or a loving advocate when hard times come. Or at least, they don’t work anywhere NEARLY as well as actual materials, resources, and actions do.

And yet. AND YET! Time after time, in my own life and in so many lives and spaces and communities, I keep seeing how it is true. Stories make shape out of the messy and incomprehensible flow of experiences and ideas. Stories make lives, they make communities, and they make selves.

It’s a beautiful idea and one that I’ve built a life’s work around. Even when I haven’t been aware of it, this idea about the meaning and power available in acts of in storying, storytelling, revising, etc. has threaded through all of my work in writing, research, teaching, teacher education, parenting, and faith.

We don’t make all the components of these stories. We don’t get to pick where and when we are born. Whether our ancestors or our current selves were or are oppressed and/or oppressing. What our bodies look like and the histories of how are bodies are seen in the places we find ourselves. The movements of populations, celestial bodies, revolutions. Diseases. So little is under our control.

And yet. We are always making and remaking the stories from which and into which these components flow. We string together events and feelings and wonderings and all the other bits and pieces into narratives. And as we grow, as we acquire additional story elements, or as our vision changes, we get to change the stories.

What a gift of power.

Abuser in jail. Boom.

They got him. This is Mike Spiller, the gymnastics coach who sexually abused me when I was 10. It took 39 years, but tonight there’s ONE LESS ABUSER out there getting away with it.

Thanks so much to the people who shared, retweeted, looked up old photos, etc. It took your help to turn up enough of my fellow victims/warriors to get here.

If you had interaction with Mike Spiller that in any way connects to his 40-year career as a gymnastics coach, camp leader, and pedophile, please get in touch with me and/or call the Crimestoppers number in the photo.

It’s never too late to tell the truth. We may not change the facts, we we sure can change the story!!

What memories and Webb telescope images have in common (TBW #2, #9, #10)

If you’re not excited about the Webb telescope images, you should be.

(Yeah, I said it! Should! I am telling you what to do, and I don’t even care if it’s polite. I’m right here. Go look. Seriously.)

They’re pictures of as far away as anyone has ever been able to see, and for that reason, they’re also pictures of as far back as anyone has ever been able to see. (Because light emitted far away has taken a long time to reach Webb to be photographed. Ask your science teacher!)

so much unexpected detail

They’re beautiful. So, to me, is their unfathomability. I want the universe to be deep and unknowable just as strongly as I want to know it deeply. But what what I most love about the Webb images is how they not only depict things we knew about in more detail, they also show many, many things we didn’t even know to look for. (Literally, many of the major scientific findings so far from Webb have been simply background stuff, small things off to the side of or behind something more dramatically centered in the image.)

These discoveries, in addition to being previously obscured by the brighter objects nearby, are challenging all kinds of things we “knew” about the cosmos: when heavier elements began to form, for example, or how many galaxies of what shape appeared when. I love the openness to this fundamental challenge that I see in so many of the scientists interviewed– like astronomer Allison Kirkpatrick of the University of Kansas, who responded to one field-busting finding by saying, “We’re going to have to figure that out.”

That’s the attitude I am trying to take as I experience a similar look at my own past. It’s one thing to deal with my own feelings about having been sexually abused by gymnastics coach/clown/camp games teacher Mike Spiller, which I have had close to 40 years to work on, along with professional help. I’m good! But it’s something new to look at those same memories and feelings, this time with my adult lens and with a completely different set of resources and allies, and see things i hadn’t even known were there. Through these new eyes at this new time, with the help of others looking into Mike Spiller’s past (where it intersects with my own but also beyond that), I see so much more. I see how much bigger the context was. How it fit in to a culture in gymnastics, in Houston, in 1983. How many others were around who had to have known and looked away. The other girls, maybe now grown-ass, pissed-off women like me, who thought we were alone, were believed and/or doubted and/or helped or not. It’s all bigger and broader than it felt when it was a private story. Like looking at your kindergarten class picture, and remembering this kid on the playground and that kid in math class, but also knowing for the first time what each kid was thinking, what was going on at home, how the teacher felt and what all of it showed about that time and place.

That’s what it feels like to be involved, however marginally, in current investigations of the man who sexually abused me when I was a kid. Lots of discoveries, big and small, some answering questions I hadn’t even known to ask. These are accidental discoveries, and some of them are not easy ones. Yet it’s as Dr. Kirkpatrick says: “We’re going to have to figure that out.”

You can have that open-minded feeling of acceptance and curiosity, like she seems to have about the outer space she’s scrutinized for her whole career and like I mostly do about the inner space I have scrutinized just as ardently. I can’t help wanting to hug Dr. Kirkpatrick, or maybe send her a stiff drink. The Nature piece ends:

“With Webb just at the beginning of a planned 20-plus years of work, astronomers know they have a lot of changes ahead. “Right now I find myself lying awake at three in the morning,” Kirkpatrick says, “wondering if everything I’ve ever done is wrong.”

Gymnastics coach Mike Spiller abused me in the 1980s and is still working with kids in Texas gymnastics, circus, and camps (TBW#1)

In 1983 and for a while after, the gymnastics center in Northwest Houston that I attended held sleepovers. These were fun extras, like the lock-ins a church youth group might have. But, beyond the normal kid fun of a sleepover my friends, something else happened. My coach, Mike Spiller, whom I adored and whose attention and approval I craved, sexually abused me.

And while I have many, many stories about that in my own life, THIS short post is really a LONG story about how almost 40 years later, he is still immersed in working with youth at camps and gyms. Finally, after almost 40 years, he is under investigation and is temporarily restricted from any contact with/in/via any USA Gymnastics-affiliated entity, as shown on the public database of USA Center for SafeSport.

Since child molesters have apparently been pretty welcome in American gyms, and since Mike Spiller went on from a gymnastics career to work with youth in countless camp and retreat settings along with gyms, I figure I am not alone.

In fact, I know I am not alone, since I am not the only complainant in the investigation.

Mike Spiller has most recently been working in Boerne, TX and the San Antonio area. He began his career at a University of Texas gymnast and then as a coach beginning in Houston, TX; since then he has worked all over Texas as well as New Mexico and outside the USA. If you remember him abusing you or someone else, or even had suspicion of such, please contact SafeSport, which you can do online with or without anonymity. Or, contact me using any of the means on this site.

Please consider sharing with every Texan, gymnast, journalist, or human being that you know!