A while ago I wrote two Pick of the Weeks for our Blog. One was for a book called Affliction, it was a memoir and the other was for a book called The Damage which was fiction. Both of these books gave me much to think about. Affliction was about secrets and The Damage was about feeling powerless.
So many things happen to us throughout our lives that we often forget or choose not to remember but the effects of these events become a part of us. There were two events in my life that although I put them out of my memory and try not to dwell on them I know they are there. One was being sexually abused as a child and the other was being sexually abused as an adult.
Growing up for me was not fun. I hated my childhood and try to think of it as little as possible. My parents were good people but both lacked any skill or knowledge when it came to being a good parent.
My mother came from a privileged background. In addition to being beautiful she was smart. She graduated from a prestigious private high school at 16 and from the University of Chicago at 18. She spent summers in Europe or volunteering at overnight camps for underprivileged kids. Her parents adored each other and my mother never heard a raised voice in her life until she married. At this point her life began to fall apart.
My father was from a very poor family of immigrants from Russia. He was able to go to college only because of the GI Bill. Marrying my mother was an impossible dream come true for him. But like my mother his life also began to unravel. They were not meant for each other. I can’t place fault with either one of them but until their divorce they also caused mayhem for their children and probably should have been jailed.
I don’t know why but as early as nursery school I seemed not to play with others. Even my nursery school report card said I preferred to play alone with the building blocks and did not interact with the other kids. Can you believe it report cards in nursery school. As I grew older I still preferred my own company, older being age 8. I was an avid reader starting out with the Hardy Boys. They may have been an escape for me.
I do not know why but it bugged my mother to no end that I did not want to play with the other kids. Although she was seldom at home. (tennis, bridge, volunteering, traveling all those things mothers did back then.) If she was home I would hide from her rather than face her wrath. We had a backyard of woods and I spent endless hours there just thinking horrible thoughts and counting. I often thought I had arithmomania, which is a mental illness related to obsessive compulsive disorder where you count your actions or objects in your surroundings. When I lived in New York as an adult I could tell you how many seconds were between many subway stops. Aaron will vouch for my OCD tendencies.
If my mother did find me at home after school and not out playing with the other kids the yelling started. Whats wrong with you? Why don’t you have any friends? Why can’t you find someone to play with? Why don’t you like sports? Can you imagine ever being normal when you had to listen to that all the time when your 10 years old. No wonder I hid. It can do a real number on your head. Although I cannot imagine being happier than I am today I sometimes wonder what I could have become if I had parents who nurtured who I was rather than constantly degrading me and telling me I was no good. They had no idea how to deal with different.
When my father was angry by something my mother or us kids had done he gave us the silent treatment, sometimes for months at a time. If you have never experienced the silent treatment trust me you do not want to. Her response was to take it out on the two of us older kids by hitting us which puts it pretty mildly, slamming everything in sight, driving like a maniac and scaring the shit out of my sister and I, or some other way she thought might reduce the stress and anger my father caused her. Forget the damage she was causing her kids.Today she would have been jailed. The police became quite familiar with her as she got so many speeding tickets or were called to the house because my parents did not play well together.
I am just trying to give a little background here, When my mother died we had healed all of our wounds and had a nice relationship. She was very sorry that she was so ill equipped to be a mother, tried to make it up to all her children and continued to be kind, loving and caring to all her friends and made many contributions in time and money to many charitable organizations to help other people. We spent many hours in her therapist office together to straighten out our past. I discovered also that despite her beauty and intelligence she thought she could never be as smart, beautiful or talented as her mother. A valuable lesson I have learned along the way is that until we stop blaming other people for our problems or shortcomings we cannot heal ourselves. Also do not measure who you are by comparing yourself to other people.
Back to me. When I was growing up the streets were much safer for kids then they are today and we were allowed to roam just about anywhere we wanted to go without supervision. Large groups of kids of many ages also played together. I think I was about 11 or 12 years old at this point. Many of our homes abutted the woods. We were adventurous kids and the woods besides being my hideout from my mother was also our playground. It was here that all the kids would smoke cigarettes and play strip poker and other games.
Mike makes a friend. My mother was so happy. I wish and I don’t wish that I knew how it came about but one of the older kids took some sort of liking to me. I can remember having many sleepovers at his house In my memory it goes on for months but I am not sure. I don’t know how my parents or his allowed it due to the age difference. I still remember what his room looked like. He also always locked his bedroom door. I never remember doing any boy things in that room like watching TV or other boy stuff. The only thing I can remember is the sex. I am not talking about show me yours and I’ll show you mine or even doctor unless it was doctor to the Nth degree. He may have been 14 or 15 but he knew too much to be a novice. I am sure beyond a doubt. Having learned a little about abuse I think he must have been abused too. I always thought he was old beyond his years. Another odd thing is that as I grew older about 20 or so I would see him on the street and he became very religious. I found that odd as his family was not religious at all. Could he be hiding from something? Anyway...
Somehow I knew what we were doing was wrong even though I kind of had no idea what we were doing. So I did what any good kid does I told my mother. Instead of being livid and angry at this person she essentially told me I was lucky to have a friend and basically to stop exaggerating. In hindsight I think another reason I told her was that he found someone to take my place and I was hurt and angry. Crazy, huh.
I know what happened was abuse, however I loved every second of it. Now does that sound sick or what? It was the only time I can remember being held. I longed for it. I felt loved. I was never hugged or touched by my parents only beaten. I have read a bit about child abuse and experts say that sometimes the abused becomes the abuser. i have thought about this long and hard and as sad a fact as that may be I think I might be able to understand what they are talking about.
Since my mother did not believe me I had to live with this secret. I had no one else to talk to. I obviously survived this and realize how much worse other people have it. I do think it played a part in fucking up my head and my sexuality, I believe you are born gay but growing up I did not have this knowledge.
For many years I thought and prayed that maybe the only reason I liked men was because of the feelings I had with this kid when he fucked with me. ( I wanted to say played with me but he was not playing with me, he was abusing me.) For many years I tried with women thinking if only I could feel with them the way I felt like when I was 10 with that boy. For many years I was conflicted because I loved what he did to me. It was the only time I felt good. Then I wondered could it be considered abuse when the abuser is only 15? For years I kept this all bottled up in me. What was wrong with me? Did I want it? Did I ask for it? If he had not stopped wanting me how long would I have let it go on? But being true to my parents I honored their motto of, “What goes on in this house never goes out of it.” Are there any good secrets?
Michael grows up continuing to be a great secret keeper. I always had friends being sure to reveal very little about myself. In high school I spent as little time as possible at my house. I considered it a hell hole. Somehow I managed to graduate high school and get accepted at an excellent college.
It is obvious to me now why I trusted no one with my secrets or revealed so little of myself to people. It is funny that despite this people usually wanted to be my friend. I never lied but hid behind a wall I had built up over many years plus a healthy diet of drugs. Unfortunately the wall I built was so high it took me many years to tear it down and learn to trust people.
In college I still had recurring thoughts about what the neighborhood kid did to me. I didn’t hate or want to kill him as I should have. I was still this small kid wanting to be loved and asking myself what I did wrong. I was fortunate my family had a bit of money and I was able to seek therapy but even that failed. I was to afraid of being judged by the shrink who I was paying not to judge me. I was a joke.
I don’t know how I did it but I managed to finish college. I guess miracles really do happen. I had no business being there. I had too many problems. I still carried the burden of not living up to my parents expectations of who I should be. Always wondering what was wrong with me not yet realizing they were the fucked up ones. Sadly they passed away. Funnily enough I became their favorite child. I did not know how to take this. I was certainly the kindest and most empathetic of their children. I also think I am quite funny and have a great personality. But I ask myself sometimes if I’m not like the dog that keeps getting reprimanded and keeps coming back with his tail between his legs.
I had one aunt who was really my best friend. If not for her I don’t think I would have become the me I really love and enjoy. She filled me with confidence and was always telling me how wonderful I was, how funny I was etc, She was the only person who I could let hug me or kiss me without stiffening up like a board. She was my best friend until she died. Amazingly enough when I was about 17 my parents asked what she found in me to like.
Right out of collage I miraculously got a job,. I did well at it. It was my first summer after I started work and I had no one to vacation with and my younger sister asked me to meet her in Europe. Paris, Barcelona and the South of France, how could I say no.
Feeling Powerless in Monte Carlo
I had been to Paris once before and loved it. It was especially nice with my sister and her friends. My language skills are not good and my French consisted of C;’est la vie. While my sister and her friends were fluent in many languages, always making traveling so much more interesting when you can mingle with the natives.
After a few days in Paris we took the train to Barcelona. I had never been there before. I loved it. However The World Cup was going on and it was too hot and crowded for me. We looked at a map, (actually there were still paper maps back then if you can believe it,) and the closest beach town was Sitges. At the time I was still,”unsure,” of my sexuality and had no idea that Sitges was considered one of the gay hotspots of Europe. It was a real eye opener. We had a blast for a few days and then it was time to leave for the South of France.
Another train ride back to Barcelona to catch a train to Juan-les-Pins. Juan-les-Pins is a small French town on the coast about mid-way between Nice and Cannes. It was full of young people as it was one of the less expensive town on the French Riviera. I was having a great time and so glad I had taken some extra time off work and extended an extra few days. I was a bit sad though when everyone left and it was just me.
After 30 years my memory of how exactly the following incident occurred has been diminished. It was always my greatest wish to forget it. One thing remains even today and that is the feeling of being completely POWERLESS!
I think it was the second afternoon of my being alone. I had spent the last two days on the beach by myself. It was late afternoon and I was walking up the main street from the beach looking for a place to have a drink when 2 guys started talking to me. I was 22 and was not the best at telling someones ages. I would assume the two of them were maybe mid thirties. We talked as we walked. If I had been a bit older I probably would have questioned why they wanted to hang out with such a young kid.
To make a long story short. I worked for a large financial company. They told me they worked for the same firm in Florida. There was no reason for me to doubt anything they said. It would never occur to me that someone would lie. They were staying in Monte Carlo and would I like them to show me around. Well it was on my list of places of go, they had a car so why not. It was an incredible drive up the coast.
When we got to Monte Carlo they parked at the hotel which was one I knew of and very nice. Had it been seedy, I might have wondered. Also no seedy hotels in Monte Carlo. I have no recollection of what they said but essentially we had to go by their room for something. Still I had no idea. Once in the room they said we would be getting some room service soon. At this point I felt things were a bit off. I just did not feel comfortable in this room with these two guys.
Now the bigger guy sits down in an armchair near the french doors looking out to the sea. The other guy is standing near the door with his arms crossed. I now knew something was indeed off,. I still don't think I exactly knew what.
I was not forced to do anything I was told. I was a pretty big guy after working out for about 4 years, but I was paralyzed. Unless you have been in a similar position I cannot imagine you being able to understand. I did as I was told. I could not move. I was completely immobile. I felt like my head and body were disconnected.
I can’t remember when my brain started to work or the order the thoughts started coming into my head. One of the first must have been. What have I done wrong? Did I let them think I wanted this? What should I do? How could I be so trusting? I was 22 and felt like I was a little kid, made to do something he had no desire to do. I felt completely trapped even though I probably could have fought with them and got away.
Finally the guy by the door came into the bedroom from the entry way and I went flying to the door and flew out. I have no idea if I was followed. I doubt it in hindsight as they pretty much got what they wanted and probably picked me out because they thought I was harmless.
I had no idea what to do. I was in a country where I barely spoke the language, in a city that I did not know. I had no passport with me, and hardly any money on me. When I got out of the hotel all I could think of was getting back to safety wherever that was. What could the police do for me and I was still thinking that I had somehow asked for it. Somehow I remembered seeing the train station and ran as fast as I could for it.
On the train I could hardly think about what had happened. I was in survival mode. I just tried as hard as I could to think about getting back to Paris from Juan-les-Pins. I don’t think I ever wanted to be back in Chicago so badly.
In that hotel room I felt completely powerless, weak, inadequate, like I wasn’t a man, like a victim, someone who could not take care of themself, embarrassed and humiliated. Worse than all of this was my feeling that I was totally alone. I had no one to talk to. One of the worse events in my life had taken place and there was no one I trusted enough to tell mainly because I felt I should have done something and I didn’t. It was years before I had the courage to talk to anyone about it. I still have only told a few people in my life. I blamed myself as always I thought I was the wrong one.
It took me many years to realize that I had taken care of myself. Yes, I had to do things I never wanted to do, but when I could, I got the fuck out of there. I saved myself from whatever else might have come. I hope this doesn’t sound melodramatic and it could always be worse. At this point in my life I wasn’t really paying attention to the news when women were raped etc. I am now in complete understanding of how they feel. I am also sure the number of guys this happens to is tremendous, but like me they are too ashamed to say anything. Nobody who has been violated should be hurt or ashamed. They should shout it from the rooftops and not let anyone get away with hurting them. It is about time that people are finally being made accountable for their actions. Remember that people have to earn your trust. It is not something you give away freely. Once you have people to trust in your life and are able to share your secrets you will feel so much lighter and liberated.
Today I look back on so many events in my life and realize I am a survivor. I may sound stupid but it makes me proud that there have been so many obstacles and I have come through them all and will continue to do so. Whenever I feel a bit burdened I try and remind myself that it only makes me stronger, more determined and able to appreciate all the good times so much more. Today I honestly feel like I am one of the luckiest and happiest people in the world.