What I describe here was the first of several more s/a incidents, involving him and one other, that have made up part of who I am today - a former drunk and a long-term survivor of HIV/AIDS (since 1989). I'll add new insights to the end as they come.

'Hawaiian Tropic' Secret

I was lying naked on a large rock, one of hundreds which lined both shores. I loved the sense of adventure in daring to be outside with no clothes on. I was out of sight of the gravel road which made its way along the shoreline to where the canal seamlessly became the lake. "I could always cover up when a ship happened along," I thought.

I stood up to re-align myself toward the changing afternoon sun. As I did so I noticed him, also standing up, also completely naked, on a ridge that overlooked the rocky fields, the roadway, the water and me.

He cupped his hand over his sun-glasses to see me better. His slicked back, black hair glistened. Then he touched himself. My heart raced with feelings that were at once strange and yet oddly familiar. (I had already discovered I liked boys, and had played around with my best friend but, like me, he was just another pubescent boy.)

I sat back down on my boulder, out of the man’s sight again, and pulled on my shorts and running shoes. Then I lifted my bike out of the bushes and began making my way along the bumpy road toward him, my legs still stretching to reach the pedals of this new, adult-sized ‘ten-speed’ I had paid for with earnings from my newspaper route.

I noticed that the man had driven his car – a big, brown, fairly new Pontiac, probably a '71 or '72 model – off the main road and parked it on a path which snaked its way up the small ridge to where he still stood, still touching himself.

My heart seemingly in my throat, which was parched from the afternoon’s sun-bathing, I walked up the man’s path, noticing a Crucifix – perhaps a Rosary, too – dangling from the car’s rear-view mirror.

“Salut”, he said softly, smiling as he rubbed his hand over a large belly and again touched himself. I could smell the strong scent of tanning oil.

I stood silently, completely unsure of myself.

“Salut”, I replied, hoping that my limited French would help me talk to him.

“Veux-tu…?” he asked, without saying any more, pointing to a large blanket he had stretched over the grass behind his car.

I hesitated, almost panicked really.

He looked as old as my Dad, even older, and he was quite fat. He sat down on the blanket and again spoke softly.

“Viens ‘ci”, he said, patting a spot beside him on the blanket. He pushed aside a brown bottle labelled “Hawaiian Tropic Suntan Oil”.

I set my bike on its side in the mixture of wild wheat, thistles and tall grass.

I awkwardly pulled my shorts down and over my shoes, then peeled my shirt over my head. I stood silently, looking around to see how hidden we were. From this vantage point I could not see the road, and yet I could see the water. He had a good hiding place.

The man didn’t say much but he hummed in an “Ooh-la-la” fashion. My heart was thumping as my instincts raced between boyish curiosity and terror. Again he touched himself and then took my hand and placed it on his privates. Mine was like his at this point and he gripped it with a firmness that felt good. He pulled us together and I felt his oily skin on my chest, arms and legs.

Before long I felt a very strange twitch. I turned away from his touch, thinking I suddenly needed to pee, but it wasn't piss that came out. This surprise weakened my legs momentarily.

As I recovered my breath the man began talking quickly, almost shouting really, and I didn’t understand what he was saying. His anger, though, was unmistakable. As I quickly pulled my shorts back on he seemed to be asking why I had turned away from him. Obviously he had wanted to see what I had been doing. I didn’t know how to react to his anger. I was disappointed, though, and filled with a sense of shame. Then he said something to the effect of not telling anyone that we had met here. The way I felt at that point there was no reason, in my mind, for him to be concerned.

I scraped my shin on a pedal of my bike, hopping on as fast as I could. Tears welled up as I bumped along the road, wishing that I didn’t have a half hour ride across town, along some busy streets, before I would be home. As frightened as I was, though, it seemed like I had better just come up with a fictitious cycling route to describe to Mom and Dad. Somehow I would have to lie when I accounted for my afternoon – and a long, sweaty ride home would, at least, call for an immediate shower.

Like I said, this was the first incident with this man, not the last. The rest were similar, and there was one time with a different man - younger than this guy but still too old to be with a teenager like me.

It is now more than thirty years since that first incident. I have only been able to look back at it, off and on, for the past fifteen years - having wet my brain (and my psyche) with alcohol, other drugs and meaningless sex over the first decade-and-a-half.

During a recent emergency hospital stay, so "last-minute" that I didn't even have phone numbers of people to call (except Mom's which is embedded quite deep in my brain \:\) ), I laid in bed thinking, "This is the last straw! How much more can I take?"

It was in that moment of boredom and despair, as my life flashed before my eyes (or "flushed", as my psychiatrist aptly joked later) that I connected all the dots.

Eureka! Life as I "know" it - and everything I have done in response, or reaction, to it - began (or at least was reset) that first time I was abused.

The fact is I could not handle it. So I lied. I hated myself. I drank. I drugged. I had meaningless sex. I had careless sex. I caught HIV. I thought I deserved it. I fought back. I have survived with HIV and AIDS since 1989. I've been in therapy, of one kind or another, most of the time ever since. But that message had not changed, "I deserved it."

It took this most recent illness, not even AIDS-related and quite mild by comparison, to re-traumatize me. Only this time I was 44, not 12 or 13. This time I felt compassion for myself. Everything I have done, and thought about myself, began on that sunny summer day over thirty years ago when my innocence was grabbed and stolen by a pervert for his pleasure.

I am taking myself back!

Kenn

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"This above all; to thine own self be true."

William Shakespeare, Hamlet