Tuesday, July 26, 2011

It Happens.

Pillar of Davidson - Live (mp3)
Message In a Bottle (cover) - 30 Seconds to Mars (mp3)

The rough estimate is something like this: One in every six men were sexually abused as children.

For some, the abuse is an ongoing endless nightmare from a trusted mentor, loved one, relative. For others, it is a lightning flash nightmare that happens so briefly in the history of their lives that it’s almost easier to convince yourself it never happened.

The subject has become slightly less verboten of late.

The scandal of the Catholic church started to open this door. Lately, a handful of celebrities have emerged to admit their own history of victimization. Sugar Ray Leonard, Tyler Perry, CNN anchor Don Lemon -- all African-American, but more of a coincidence than anything of statistical relevance -- have all come out recently to share their stories of sexual abuse at the hands of another older man.

Tyler Perry joined 199 other men who stood together on an episode of Oprah last fall in the hopes of making it clear that the problem is all too frequent and too easily swept under rugs.

I don’t remember how old I was when I finally told my mother I’d been sexually abused. Maybe 28. Maybe 30. I think I’d already become a father. We were in a hospital cafeteria, I think waiting for my father in ICU. But I couldn’t tell you the year or the season.

What I do recall was the feeling in my body. That this horrible volcano of truth was about to come out of me and rock her world in ways that would be altogether different from the way it rocked my own.

I’d told probably a dozen people by that point, including my wife only a few months into our relationship, but telling my mom was the toughest of all, and there wasn’t a close second.

The experience of being sexually abused is not a story anyone is excited to tell to anyone -- much less a parent who had no way of knowing, no way of preventing, no way of protecting. It’s a story that was bound to leave my mother conflicted with haunting thoughts of her own and, therefore, a story that for the longest time I thought best never to share.

I was hardly a defenseless toddler when it happened. I was 16. But in matters of sex and intimacy, I might as well have been 9, because I was completely inexperienced and naive beyond belief.

It happened at a summer church camp where I was a first-time counselor. I was as much an odd bird then as now, but far less comfortable in my skin. The other counselors, some of whom were classmates of mine, all came from two other churches in town. They were mostly the cool and attractive kids, and I was just me, desperate to fit in, over-eager to please, eager to be some flashlight device shining The Light of Jesus on kids.

Translation: I was easy pickins.

The most charismatic man at camp took me under his wing. His name was David, and everyone thought he was this amazing mixture of cool and warm. He carried himself with such ease and grace, yet he also was able to make you feel like he genuinely cared about every person who crossed his path. The first few times we spoke, it was daylight. They were Jesus talks. About my faith and my life. And we’d be walking down a sidewalk, passing all these kids, and all of them treated David like a rock star.

Then one night he asked me to walk the grounds with him after lights out, when the counselors were a little more free, and we talked more. I felt special that he’d singled me out for this honor. I remember him sitting on a stairwell. It was on the outside of a building, but covered and lighted, and I stood leaning back with my arm extended and hand on the rail, swaying back and forth while we talked about the miseries of teenage-dom.

I remember him concluding our talk by hugging me. I remember thinking of that hug over the years, realizing that I had, with the allowance of a simple hug, invited him like some vampire into some other realm of my existence.

All the counselors slept in a single room, on sleeping bags on the floor. And this is the part that is the most surreal. We got back from that walk, and everyone was asleep, and I went to my sleeping bag. I was on the verge of sleep when he crawled next to me. Was it an hour? Twenty minutes? Half the night? I have no idea. I only know we were in a very dark room with perhaps eight, 10 other teenagers sleeping all around me.

Did any of them wake up? Did they just not say anything? Why didn’t I scream? Why didn’t I fight? Did it go on all night, or just a few hours? How many Bible verses could I recite from memory, over and over, in the hopes of pretending I was somewhere else, pretending this wasn’t happening?

The next morning was a fog, as were the mornings after that. The rest of camp became two sharply-divided stories. The first story was daylight, a time when I zombie-walked past people, trying to figure out what was happening while not giving away my fears, my experiences, my attempts to somehow connect all of it to my faith. In the daylight, there were several days when I truly thought it might not have happened, that it might actually be some weird recurring dream. And I was freaked out by how easily I could separate what was happening to me from the daily act of living.

Every day, this man would stand up in front of hundreds of children and talk about the love of Jesus, and his words held sway. He was, I truly believed, girding the faith of a lot of kids, possibly even getting them to rededicating themselves to their faith. Surely he wasn’t doing these things to me. Surely it was a dream.

Night, however, was a time of paralytic fear, where I felt almost like a prisoner incapable of realizing the only bars and restraints were ones I permitted, were ones in my own innocent and frightened mind. I’m pretty sure it happened four nights. Maybe three. Maybe five.

The fact that I can’t remember details is, oddly, what makes me all the more accepting of the reality. If I remembered everything, I’d somehow worry that I’d crafted the entire tale.

The story has an oddly almost-happy ending.

The last day of camp, as everyone was packing and preparing to return home, David dragged me away to a place I suspect he had scouted and picked for just this moment. David asked if he could drive me home, and we could stay here and help clean up the camp before heading back. It was clear what he was asking, and I remember my entire body almost convulsing with fear.

Although I had allowed it to go on for several nights, somehow in this instant I found the courage to say no, to push him away, to find some deep and intense resolution to stand ground. Had David gotten truly violent, I would not have succeeded in walking away that day, but he didn’t, because he was ultimately a coward. And I managed to get this sense that I'd ended the experience with some miniscule sense of control and power.

I’m not writing this pushing for a book deal, nor am I writing it to create in my friends or acquaintances who read BOTG a sense of awkwardness or guilt. Most of the folks who read this and know me have known me long enough now to, I think, get beyond that kind of reaction, at least eventually.

I’m writing this because a lot of semi-famous and brave people have recently added their names to the long list of men who were, at some point in their lives, taken advantage of. I’m writing this because surely for every man who carries these experiences with him into adulthood, at least two women can match him.

In college, I told four female friends about my abuse, and three of the four had been raped or molested, and they told me their stories in return, and I remember feeling so humbled by their experience.

A hundred million bottles, lost upon the shore...
A hundred million castaways, looking for a home...

I just finished the disturbing book ROOM this week. At one point in the book (SPOILER ALERT) the abducted woman at the book’s center is being interviewed on national television, and she says: “I wish people would stop treating us like we’re the only ones who ever lived through something terrible.”

This was precisely the feeling (except my experience was by comparison a drop in the wasabi bucket). You don’t want people thinking you feel special or unique in your suffering. You don’t want sympathy when a tsunami can wipe out entire areas of Japan.

Over the years, I’ve tried providing my information to key people in the hopes this man could be tracked down. I’ve never worried about wanting punishment for his crimes against me, but I occasionally still worry about others he might have abused because I didn’t step up and report or accuse. My Google searches and my reports to several web sites and my sharing information with several people in law enforcement led almost nowhere. Too little, too late, too bad, so sad.

Oh yeah, and David was black. Which added, you know, a whole ‘nother layer of confusion and challenge to the experience.

Anyway, I can’t stop him. He could be arrested or dead by now for all I know, or he could still be working in a religious setting with children, still seeking out the vulnerable and lost sheep.

But at least I can write out some of the basics. At least I can add my name to the long and disturbing list of men who carry this with them. At least I can, hopefully, serve as an example to others who go through it that you can lead a fairly normal adult life, that it’s possible to heal and recover and carry on.

Sure, you have moments when it’s there. Certain things trigger the experience in one way or another. For example, everytime I hear “Pillar of Davidson,” for some reason I think back on it, even though the song wasn’t out until I was in college.

Funny how you can spend two months trying to write this, and you can take 1,700 words, and you still can’t get it organized, you still can’t get it all to come together. Maybe because all of that would be a great excuse to continue delaying the act of getting it out there.

So I’m not delaying anymore.

I was sexually molested as a teenager. I survived. The experience and the memory is as messy and disorganized as this attempt at explaining it.

But it happened. And it happens every day to boys all over this country, all over the world. And we really ought to start figuring out a way to make it less shameful for the victims to come out and admit it, even if I don’t have the first clue where to start on doing that.


Daisy said...

I have known for a long time that you are a man of depth, strength and courage. I did not know the exact nature of the internal demons you conquered, merely that you emerged victorious. My heart breaks for you and all the years you suffered in silence, but is filled with pride and hope that you have chosen to share your story in an effort to help others.

BeckEye said...

It's very brave of you to share your story, Billy. You never know how many people silently looking for help will find it and find the same courage.

cinderkeys said...

I'm sorry this happened to you. It shouldn't happen to anyone.