The shark tank

 

“Don’t let our child alone with him, he is a child molester.”

My now ex-wife said that at my family house in NY more than twenty years ago. At the time I thought she was engaged in a bout of over statement; doubtless the “he” she spoke of was weird, certainly a drinker if not a drunk, but having grown up with him knowing all about his anger, moods, drinking, brash overstatement… but nothing sexual had ever happened to me. Still something itched at the back of my mind; “he” was predatory, catlike with eyes that seemed to follow every one, all the time. Other memories of my unusual childhood moved like large fish in still water but we had a party to attend, things to so and an inquisitive eighteen month old in a house full of antique glassware. My then fiance, or as I lake to say now my future former wife, was positive as if stating the sky is blue my skepticism persisted but I agreed to keep an eye on our son.

My memory of my ex saying that is pretty clear; where we were (the blue bedroom on the second floor) what she was wearing and our toddling son playing on the floor. Memories of the rest of the party are vaguer: “he” made punch, rum punch with a whiskey finish, drank half of it while talking loudly in the kitchen, going up to pass out before returning around midnight for more. He got into an argument with his brother, the whole room stopping until the fires were quenched. In short another holiday at the homestead.

Months later I relayed the story to a relative, now passed away of the whole party including my fiance’s assertions in a joking way; as in “haha we all know he is a jerk but my fiance said he looked like a child molester”.

“well actually” my relative started. He spoke in measured tones and told me the outline of a story, ending with his opinion that my fiance was pretty astute.

What I now know did not all come to me that day; that “he” had been molested as a child, by other boys, in the 1950’s. Back when the victim was assumed at fault and homosexuality was right up there with communism on the nations hit list. There was no help, no therapy; just an admonition to shut up and move on. That he had in turn had molested another child, and shortly after left for Europe for many years. No one wanted to say anything and only after much prodding did the pieces coming dripping out. But everyone knew something. My mom knew and entrusted us to this man for extended periods, and so on.

There was also what I already knew. For most of my childhood and adolescence there had been (besides the anger and drinking, and violence) there was a creepyness to him; really only as a parent of teens would I come to understand how inappropriate his inquiries into my sex life were. It is no secret kids explore sexually, and we all want then to do so in safe and positive ways but a big part of that is privacy; giving them privacy to go through it on their own, with the information to be safe. Time and again “he” would try to pry back that privacy and leave me feeling exposed and violated by these moments. Even at nine or ten I would try and escape them. At the time it seemed like poor boundaries; as an adult it’s pretty clear I was standing in the water as a shark periodically brushed against my thigh.

Probably my saving grace was the fact that I had a big mouth; I told my teachers he beat me. Which he talked his way out of… then beat me. Then one day he said straight out to a twelve-year-old me; “I am really going to enjoy beating the crap out of you.”. The other family member in the car said something about the autumn sunset being pretty. Something clicked in my mind.

This shit is fucked up.

Until that moment my mind had always tried  to normalize everything. Make excuses for him, my mom, the rest of the family. That moment ended that.

This shit is fucked up.

Sorry if those words offend you; if you made it this far realizing that a child (two actually) were raised with a predator. That their mother knew this and let it happen, that their entire extended family knew it and said nothing, then were aghast when I acted out in anger, when I yelled, broke things, drank, did drugs, ran away and weren’t offended until now. Well sorry if I have a hard time caring. It was fucked. Simple as that.

Four years later I was out for good; finally I reached escape velocity and hurtled out among the real world with a terrible tool box of people skills; I had finally gotten “him” off my back by threatening start a fight at Thanksgiving dinner. He had threatened me at fourteen but now I was over six feet and had a pretty high pain tolerance. My refusal to cower along with my willingness to escalate backed him off me for good. Lesson for a teen; violence works. This is not a good lesson for a teen.  Needless to say as a young man I was pretty much a mess.  It took years to dig my way out of the hole I found myself in. I buried a number of good people along the way, people who only tried to care for me including pretty much every woman I dated into my twenties. I didn’t have a good idea how to be family, partner or parent.  It has been a long road.

“He” drank himself to death by his sixties. His Victim only made it to fifty-six. Neither of them talked much and the darkness consumed them from within. When I heard the news of my former tormentor’s passing I was over forty, married divorced and remarried. My mother’s voice begged empathy, I told her she needed to look elsewhere. Far from being relieved the feeling was of nothing; a door closed on a dark room. Now I wonder how many people he may have assaulted after me. He worked with kids and teens his whole life, so who knows?  I tell these invisible people I tried in my own head because there is nowhere else to say it. My best efforts were nothing against the protection of his well spoken male whiteness. Eventually I fled; the house, the state, the East Coast. September of my twenty-second year found me at the edge of Puget sound with the mountains glowing purple in the autumn sunlight. The fear loosened and between the fingers of it my soul slipped. Not entirely or quickly, but surely and completely my life became my own.

This is not a cry for pity; this is a message. Maybe you reading this have found yourself in a fucked up place. Maybe just now you are realizing that you are in that place. I have two things for you:

It is not your fault. You are worthy of good wholesome love. Get out of that place and try not to shit on the people who give you a ride out of  crazy town.

Talk. Talk to a counselor, talk to a friend, talk to your teddy bear. Make it real, work it out. The predators dwell in shame and darkness; throw back the curtains and let the sun shine in on all of it good and bad, because in that light you will see you are not at fault. Silence is death, Burying your heart is death. Let it bleed, let it heal. Your heart is worth it.

This is not where my intentions in blogging lay. The news of the last week, while much of it hardly surprising has brought this back to mind. Because the stories told by my female friends remind me of one simple fact: maybe I was in the shark tank once, maybe for years and yes certainly it was horrid. But for women many of them are in there every day for their entire lives; going only certain places, at certain times in particular clothes because beneath the surface the who knows what abounds?

I have traveled far and wide in my life from Mexican beaches to Sub-Arctic forests and never felt fear like that again. Imagine a world truly set free of that fear, where we could all just do as we wished, explore as we liked and no one had to worry about sexual violation. Because that is the flip side of bringing all this to light is the idea that there is a better world out there and we can reach it someday. Maybe not this day, or this lifetime but someday the world can be a better place.

That change starts when we look at the way things are and realize in the stark clarity of the late autumn light:

This shit is fucked up.

Because that is when the journey begins.

 

 

 

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