** Possible Triggers **
I have a couple dogs now. One is this old yellow lab named Casey. We don’t really know how old she is and she’s not saying. We’ve had her for four or five years but she’s got to be at least twelve. When we took her in she was 125+ and clearly the victim of long-term pernicious neglect. Her owners had moved out of their apartment and left her all alone to fend for herself, locked on an upstairs balcony surrounded by piles of her own shit . Fast forward to today. She lives on an acre not a balcony. She’s 50 pounds lighter and she’s never alone (the other dog makes sure of that.) She’s also totally messed up from all those years of abuse. Her knees and hips are bad. She’s only got one speed. She has a hell of a time getting anywhere and can’t do stairs. I know she’s hurting; it’s clear by her limping gait. The Rimadyl only does so much. Nonetheless, Casey is my hero. She’s a survivor. Up every morning at the crack of 8, wagging her broken tail, excited about life and ready for the world. Regardless of the ugliness she’s endured in her past. She’s still here and she’s still strong and she’s still smiling.
Casey embodies all those qualities that I strive for as a childhood sexual abuse survivor.
My story starts during the Nixon administration. The country was in a tumult over the increasingly bloody and unpopular war in Viet Nam. But my mother was in love. With a handsome man. From a rich family. Who was also married. But he was in love, too. So Howard dumped his wife and kids and married my mother and they made me, born in November of ‘72. Then Howard fell in love again and dumped mom just as quick. I’m not sure if it was even 1973 yet. Mom freaked out, told him if he was leaving he should never ever come back and he did until he took me to lunch one time on my 18th birthday. She found work and tried to pull her life back together and I lived with my maternal grandmother. She was the only thing stable in my tumultuous world. My first memory is sitting in the morning sun on her redwood patio furniture. It was stained a deep Roanoke Red. It was coarse to the touch. She was serene while my mother was an emotional mess entering my life evenings and weekends but making little or no lasting impact. In 1979 she’d procured a new man who was everything my biological father was not: stable, responsible, monogamous. We became a nuclear family and moved to a quiet beach community in Southern California called Laguna. I started the first grade.
Immediately, I was singled out for bullying by this tow headed punk named David. He took pride in climbing the structure on the playground to relay horrific stories featuring his father’s leather belt and his brother’s fists. He wore dysfunction like a badge. As an only child whose primary role model was an elderly woman into Lawrence Welk and Pat Sajak I was wholly unprepared for male posturing and rough housing and threatening comments uttered on the playground. One day he scared me so much I felt I had to flee. I knew it was a mistake but I took the bus home anyway. I think he’d promised to beat me up that day at the Methodist day care where they only coddled David and encouraged his bad behavior. When I got off the bus the house was locked and the windows wouldn’t budge. Lacking any direction or anything resembling clear thinking, I took to wandering the streets. I imagined I was a secret agent, behind enemy lines, pursued by the Russians. By dusk I’d wandered a mile or so from home to Pacific Coast Highway. Hundreds of cars went zooming past every hour. I thought any minute I’d see my new dad’s car pass by and he’d take me home.
I soon noticed a car but not his. There was this strange car that passed and then passed again, much slower than a regular commuter. It was terrifying to feel his eyes on me, stalking me like small prey. I turned and ran a quarter mile toward the Alpha Beta. But the car was there in front of me. I spun around and ran back to where I was. Now the car was there, too. In a panic, I sprinted off again past houses and shops and any number of strangers who could’ve helped me. I ran for my life. I tripped and I fell. The man that chased me was there helping me up, offering me a “ride home.” Defeated, I got into his car. . It was over. I was dead. He was going to kill me. Why else would a grown man want to stalk and kidnap a small, lonesome boy except to murder him?
We drove a ways down a side street and he faked a break down that even at aged seven I didn’t buy. He careened the car into a secluded lot and lay me down under a group of dark pines. He took my pants off and he was surprised. I’d worn two pairs of Toughskins that day because it was really cold out that morning. Sensing his shock I helpfully explained this to him. He removed both pairs and did the craziest thing anyone would ever want to do with an inch long dick. He put it in his mouth. I gagged on his when it was time for me to return the favor. To this day, 33 years later, I can still hear myself saying, “as long as you don’ pish in mah mou…”. I don’t know how long the oral sex lasted. I went into shock.
When he was done with me he tightened up his belt and issued the prototypical predator’s warning: he knew where I lived. I couldn’t tell anyone. He drove off into the city without taking me home. I remember being a little pissed about that, thinking after all this the least you could do is drive me up the hill like you said. But, of course I was just a thing to be used and then discarded. I lay there a while outside in the dark wondering, am I dead? Did he kill me without me realizing? Yes. Yes he did.
I wandered home in the night, uphill, all by myself. Shock and adrenaline got me home. My parents were visibly upset and I told them as best I could what had happened. It was hard to find the words. Describing what I’d done with a man’s penis was embarrassing. Next I told some cops what had happened. Then I told some doctors at the hospital. Then I told some more cops. We looked at pages of mug shots in big giant books downtown. I went to school the next day and decided at show- and- tell I’d talk about meeting all these police detectives with big giant picture books. When I stood at the front of my first grade classroom and looked out at all the wide eyes staring up at me, not understanding, I knew at that second I was no longer one of them. For the next few years I’d talk to a string of useless child psychologists who were more concerned with pointing out my personality flaws than helping me process my emotions. With each re-telling and re-examination I felt more broken, more ashamed, more stigmatized.
But there was one person I was forbidden to tell: My grandmother. Since day one, mother told me that grandma mustn’t ever know. So my abuse was hidden in plain sight. My folks knew. Hell, at some point it seemed like everyone in town knew because my mother wouldn’t shut the fuck up about it on the telephone. My sexual abuse was hers now. Co-opted to fill her need to tell her friends and bask in their sympathy. That was for her. But as for me my sexual abuse was shaming. It was an embarrassment to the family and it wasn’t mine to talk about or work through with my family. That’s what the shrinks were for. Once a week we’d drive out to see one. And they did a bang-up job on me. I was unbalanced and an underachiever and I needed more physical activity, certainly a team sport, and my IQ test showed I lacked an aptitude to process spatial relationships. Spatial relationships? How does arranging triangles into a pattern help a young boy overcome the crippling emotional effect of a kidnapping and sexual molestation? It’s a question that only a trained mental health professional can answer. I hope a trained mental health professional is reading this now and he or she can tell me, you fucking quack.
I withdrew and became distant as my feelings of inadequacy and worthlessness grew. I became bitter about the world and receded deep into myself unable to feel like I belonged anywhere. My mother constantly yelled at me for failing her. She’d scream at me in the car, exasperated by my attitude. I should be happy, gregarious, respectful, athletic. I became the symbol for everything that had gone wrong: her idea of marriage, her idea of family, her idea of a son. I was constantly failing to meet expectations and she was pissed. It always amazed me that she could stand there screaming at me, belittling me in our living room then a phone would ring and she’d answer Hello? like she’d just put down her knitting. She threatened to put me in soccer or Little League or anything with a team. I was absolutely mortified. Why didn’t I have any friends? Why didn’t I want to play sports? Why didn’t I care about school? I was ten. I had no answers, just my growing feelings of alienation and self-loathing. I was learning to tune her out. Tune everything hurtful out. The child was dead. Murdered in a vacant lot. Only his body survived.
Mom used to yell at me for having low self-esteem. Chew on that logic. What’s your problem, she’d ask. Why are you so angry? In my teens I became increasingly obnoxious and defiant. She begged me to go see a shrink, just one more time and I did to shut her up. Come to find out a client’s confidentiality didn’t apply to me. He was a hired stooge brought in to report on my drug use. A day later I overheard her talking to him about his findings over the phone. Glad I lied. Mother had never protected me, never validated me so I didn’t care when she got breast cancer. I was busy living it up. Finally, I had friends. Friends to get numb with. We would skip school and get high and pound 40s and pop pills and drink Nyquil. We’d do acid in Life Science and pound beers in cars at lunch and blast Maiden, Metallica and Slayer. It seemed like so much fucking fun but looking back it was horrendous. (If my kid ever ended up a wastoid like I was I’d send her off to some Academy in BFE). I pretty much got Ds in high school. I think I got an A in ceramics because the bongs and stash boxes I made were so artful. By age 18 I was swinging for the fences because I was pretty damn sure I’d never see 21. But there were a couple events that kept me alive. Senior year was a cake-walk and teachers gave you a B+ just for showing up. We came together as a class and for the first time during the entire time I was in school I felt like I was part of something to be proud of.
I took the SAT and I limped into a state school with high test scores and my C minus GPA. I transferred out of science and took all the humanities courses I could. It was time to get a handle on things. Was it me or was it was the world that was fucked up? I took Anthropology, History, Logic, Philosophy. I had many a dark day, some of the bleakest yet, but I read the Tao and I meditated. I tried out esoteric religions. I declared myself officially enlightened. But of course I was still drinking and doing drugs and failing to form meaningful relationships and acting out in incredibly dysfunctional and anti-social ways. Of course, I told myself I was fine and the world was the problem. My family was almost non-existent except when I needed to mooch a few hundred bucks with some lame-ass excuse. Once I bought like a quarter pound of Humboldt weed with the intent to sell but I never bought a scale so I ended up smoking like 90 percent of it over a summer. That was my mentality.
That’s pretty much what went on for decades. I bounced around without a plan or a goal or plans to get a goal. I ended up broke and homeless. I lived in my car until the car was dead. I split for Oregon where I was broke and homeless again. I’d find flop houses and rent a room on the cheap. One winter I found a basement I could flop in but the woman who rented to all the other floppers decided she didn’t like me staying down there. I tried to hang myself with a leather belt but the ceilings were less than six feet and I’m five foot ten. I was failing at everything including my own suicide. I had a college degree and I worked as a janitor, a bakery truck driver, a grocery clerk, anything I could get. I worked for the phone company and got fired for showing up drunk on DEC 31st. I was preparing myself to become homeless again, perhaps permanently when mom called. She was getting married again. Moving out of her flat. And she was worried about me living hand to mouth. Wouldn’t I come and stay at her place? I caught a break so I moved back to Laguna. I hit the bar scene where all my drug addicted high school buddies were now bartenders. That was bad for me and my liver. But one night I did meet an amazing woman who’d later agree to be my wife. She’d gone through dark, damaging times too, so my weird and moody even bizarre behavior was not exactly a shock to her. Still, all my drinking buddies were shocked to learn someone would have me as a husband. Now, I can see what they mean.
I’ve been doing the same shit to my wife I’ve done my whole life: medicating, pushing away, testing the human limits of tolerance. I have self-worth issues and trust issues and sex issues. Love and sex are opposites. Love is a comfort. Sex is a weapon. And now porn is my latest demon, thank you Comcast cable internet. I’ll read a book or have an epiphany or spend twelve weeks in court ordered anger management and say, that really clicked. I think I’m all better now. Bullshit. The breaking point came when that asshole Sandusky got busted. You couldn’t escape the news. The stories haunted be and dredged up the emotions I’d buried for three decades with alcohol, drugs and industrial strength denial. I got stupid drunk and ended up breaking down. I lay on the floor of our bedroom in a fetal position, weeping and worthless sounding like the distorted echo of that terrified little boy under those dark pines. My wife said, that’s it. I can’t take it anymore. You’re destructive behavior has got to end and I agreed. From Sandusky’s big bust till now I’ve sought counseling from a cognitive behavioral therapist. It’s helped me connect the dots of my dysfunction. I understand the negative patterns I was mired in and I’ve learned to see my world, my relationships and myself in new positive ways. I even get a long with mom. Mostly. But it’s still a struggle. I’m still striving to stay here and stay strong and stay smiling. Casey will help me.