Those who have read my poetry and essays in my journal blog know that I lived a childhood of physical and sexual abuse from both parents. My mother was a victim too, but it was years later before I knew that the comfort she wanted from me was equally wrong as what my father was doing. It didn’t seem equal to me then; he hurt me, she didn’t.
One of the hardest things for me to process, let alone admit to a living soul outside of therapy, is the fact that not everything my father did hurt. Now I’m told that is part of a pedophile’s plan, to make the victim feel as though they are also at fault somehow. He didn’t buy me gifts or take me to special events to lure me though, because he didn’t have to. As his son, he could raise me as he chose and he chose to raise me to believe that I was his property and that I had no say or any rights to my own body, mind, or feelings. I believed it, too, and survival became a matter of learning how to avoid making him angry. Of course that was next to impossible, because whatever was mentally wrong with him allowed him to be angry at nothing, at any time.
One of the most traumatic nights of my life began as a boy who wanted his mother. She was in the hospital after a beating, but she had “fallen down the stairs”, officially. I kept asking my father where she was, afraid she wouldn’t come back. He told me to be quiet, but I didn’t listen. He was peeling an apple with a long kitchen knife, and he could make the peel come off in one long curling piece. It fascinated me, so I got closer than I normally would have on my own. When I asked about my mother again, he slashed my face with the knife. The blade cut my cheeks and nearly severed my tongue. He waited too long to take me to the hospital, and the tongue healed badly. I was left with scars in the form of a Glascow Smile, and a speech impediment that seems to get worse if I’m emotionally stressed. I collected many more scars over the years, in skin and in the mind. At sixteen, for defiance, my father blinded my left eye with his cigar. Yet I was raised to accept these things as normal punishments for bad behavior and disobedience. The world outside was given excuses and nobody asked. If they did ask, I lied – as I was taught to do.
As a child (the sexual abuse began when I was four), I was desperate to believe that he loved me. Anytime he didn’t hit me, I would take it as proof of love. When he came to my room at night, I tried to obey and be “good” so he would be kind instead of hateful. I never had any other example to tell me that it was all wrong, sick, and horribly damaging. I was raised to think that this was the relationship between all fathers and sons. Through it all, I believed that he loved me. When his illness gave him the belief that he was a god, he taught me to worship him. I was four, and I wanted to be loved – so I never questioned it.
When I turned five, everything changed. I had defied my father by hiding a puppy he had told me to get rid of. He got rid of it in front of me, and I was punished. Soon after, he brought a strange man home and told me to go with him into the downstairs guestroom. I was terrified and confused when I realized this stranger wanted the same things my father had always said were just for him. I tried to fight, thinking the man had tricked my father and I’d be in trouble, but it was useless. When the man left the room, they spoke like friends, and that confused me even more. My mother came to take care of me and when my father came in, I got in trouble for crying, and for fighting the man. I was told I’d better obey next time. The next time was only a few weeks later, but it was a different man. We also had a new television, but I didn’t understand what was going on then.
There were others, and sometimes they wanted to do things I’d never done before and a few of them terrified me. My mother would protest after seeing the bruises and marks, but she just got hit for defiance. The only time my father got angry at one of these men was when a pair of them came over at the same time, and one of them tried to touch my mother. Years later, I realized that she was the one he wouldn’t share with anybody, but the rules were different for me. I tried to lie to myself, any lie that came along, that it didn’t mean he didn’t care.
Indoctrinated from a child to never tell and that other people would only harm me, I never told, and I never ran away. My home life was just how the world was, and all little children owed sex to their parents. If I ran away, my father said he would punish my mother, and some other man would just do the same things to me. Once or twice, away from home, and once when I was in a hospital for a time, that happened just like he said, so I believed it all. I began to believe my father was actually some sort of protector, and I never knew that some people would have helped me, and would never have hurt me. That was fantasy to me, and it didn’t exist in my world.
I overheard a handful of conversations downstairs when I was twelve that finally made me realize my father was being paid money, a lot of it, so that these men could do what they wanted. He had sought them out, discovered their secrets, and provided a safe way for them to experience what they wanted, without fear of being caught. I knew the word for what he had turned me into, and it made me feel devastated and used, made me feel dirty. I wanted to die, but I didn’t know how.
I began to disobey and the beatings got worse. Sometimes I tried to provoke my father into killing me, but he always stopped. He was also angry because I was growing up, and I slowly understood that the men didn’t want a man, they wanted a little boy. My father found ways to work around that problem by adding a few new faces to his now organized group of “clients”, and my life did not improve. Most of that time, writing poetry was my only escape. It became the only place I could admit to myself that my life was wrong. Poetry was also the only thing that could convince me that I was human at all.
I escaped my abusive home at the age of nineteen and lived homeless for a time. I ended up doing the only thing I knew in order to eat, or to buy the drugs I’d gotten hooked on to cope with the abuse – I took money for sex. I had no sense of self, let alone any self-worth, and deep down, I was just hoping somebody would kill me. I almost committed suicide many times as a boy, teen, and young man; but something inside me didn’t want to die. I didn’t know how to live, but I knew I wanted something better, a way out. Eventually, I stopped hustling and became a dancer. When I met the beginnings of my current loving and supportive family, they talked me into stopping all of these nightlife pursuits and letting them take care of me. I had always been a rapid cycle bipolar since childhood, but living on the streets and my life of abuse had given me PTSD and a growing list of debilitating phobias. Recurring panic attacks in public introduced me to a few nights in jail here and there, and I slowly started to see that if I wanted to save my own life, I would have to let the people who loved me take me in and try to help. My new family got me more stable than I’ve ever been, got me into therapy and on medication for bipolar and anxiety, all of which help. Yet the best thing in my life is my new family, these people who love and care for me. Every day, they show me that I’m worthy of love, and work to convince me that I’m stronger than I think I am. They also put up with my reclusive nature and the rules I’ve created for myself so that I can feel safe, limiting how much I interact with the world and others.
My home situation is not a typical one. The abuse left me very mixed up regarding orientation, and I identify now as a bisexual, though I never had the simple ability to discover for myself what I am. I have adopted a gay couple as my new parents, because they saved my life. I have a boyfriend I’ve loved since high school and a girlfriend who was a single mother when we met years ago. She and I have four children. My children have never known abuse of any kind, except that they are aware on a level they can handle that their father was abused. Because of my medical and mental issues, they have to be aware of some things, but we don’t tell them details. The Penn State child sexual abuse case broke, and my oldest, at nine, asked me if that was like what happened to me. I told her it was similar, and that those boys would need a lot of help to heal. We also assure our children that they can tell us anything, and if anybody ever makes them uncomfortable, they are to tell us right away and we’ll stop it.
Many people don’t want to look at these things, but Penn State’s situation and the Catholic Church cases, among others, have made them look, more and more. Some pedophiles are solitary, barricaded by lies and excuses; but others run in packs. When I learned about a national group called NAMBLA, the North American Man-Boy Love Association, a group that believes child rape is a “consensual relationship”, I had to be sick. It brought up too many terrible, ugly memories of my father’s friends and their “private club”.
As an adult in my thirties now, I’ve tried to understand my abuse by understanding the sort of people my father gathered to him. They came from all walks of life and most of them were influential in their communities. They were rich businessmen, professionals in different areas, and two of them were doctors. One of those men put me on Zoloft when I was nine, and now I’ve found studies that show that may be a cause of turning bipolar into rapid cycling, one of the biggest handicaps of my life. I never knew their names; as a child I invented names for them. When I became an older teen, they began to drift away. I can only assume they found other children to target, since these people don’t want to stop.
Some people have asked me how I can talk about my abuse, or why I do. Silence kills. Illusions enslave. I have the support of a loving family now and they have helped me to be strong enough to try to help others. There are those who need to pull their heads out of the sand and help children around them who are being abused. There are children who need to know they can tell and ask for help. There are also survivors who never told a soul, and their secrets have almost destroyed their adult lives.
We must break the silence, and shatter the illusions. We must help child victims and adult survivors. We must prevent and break the ugly cycle of abuse. If I don’t speak out, having fought for the strength to be able to do so, then my story can’t help anybody else in pain, and it can’t help educate those who need to understand in order to choose to help.
My voice was shattered, but I can still reach others, and I have made the choice to help in the way that I am able. If my words can help even one other person or child, the pain and anxiety of reliving my past will be worth it.
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© W.R.R. 11/28/2011
For those who have been abused, and those who want to help.