A couple of months following my sixth birthday our family moved from our small community of Brownsville in the California foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains to the Northern California coastal community of Fortuna. Within that first year a neighborhood bully named Jimmy began sexually abusing first my next older brother and then myself not long after.
The abuse occurred sporadically over the next three years, going in spurts of several events of abuse in a short time period with long gaps separating these clustered incidents. Sometimes it was my brother and I together, especially early on, but mostly it was done separately. Jimmy was manipulative and knew how to pit my brother and I against each other in order to maintain his power over us. He was also a master at making you feel wanted and needed, even loved while at the same time using bully tactics to coerce you into keeping the secret.
It ended for me when I got fed up and threatened to tell. His Mother, incidentally, had at some point begun working in our home taking care of our aged grandmother so there may have been some fear on his part that she might lose her job if I told. Once it was over I vowed in my heart that no one would ever touch me like that again until I was ready to initiate sex with someone I loved.
Things went better for me for a couple of years then. I was able to make some friends at school, which was something I had been unable to accomplish prior to that. I began to feel almost as if I fitted in with the rest of the kids, but now quite. There was always that unsettling feeling of never measuring up.
When school let out following my fourth grade year there was no one home to take care of me for a couple weeks and my mother wouldn’t let me stay home without an adult present. Every morning for those two week she would drop me off at my cousin’s place. For some reason my cousin was not there during that time, or at least I don’t recall her being there, but her husband was. Both of them worked out of their home doing various things, one of which was dispatch for the local Yellow Cab franchise which consisted of one taxi and one driver, Tom.
That first Monday morning Tom came bustling into the house all happy and whistling. He looked at me and said, “Well hello there, Peanuts!” I immediately to a shine to him and we became inseparable. Everywhere he was I was. When he went out on a taxi run he would take me along with him riding “shotgun”. He bought me candy bars, ice cream, french fries, and even took me out to the beach on one occasion to watch the waves. On a couple of occasions he took me out to our little airport to watch the planes take off and land. I thought he was the greatest thing since sliced bread.
Part way into the second week Tom took me to his home one morning on the pretense of one thing or another and somehow I knew in my gut that things had taken a bad turn. I was right. He dunked me clothes and all into his bathtub on the pretense of play. He threw my clothes in the drier and while we waited for them to dry he offered me nothing with which to cover myself. I was left naked and exposed attempting as best I could to cover my privates with my hands or crossing my legs on the couch. At some point he took me into his bedroom and began to fondle me.
I was scared to death at that point but resigned myself to once again be used and abused like so much trash. He was much bigger than me and there was simply nothing I could do. Strangely enough all he did at that point was to touch me a couple of times and ask me if anyone had ever touched me like that before.
When my clothes were dry he allowed me to put them back on and we got back in his cab and headed out to the airport. This time instead of going out to watch the planes he stopped at a little corrugated tin shack no bigger than perhaps 12’x12’ if that, and said that he was an officer in the local Civil Air Patrol and needed to check the radio equipment inside the building. Thinking any improper conduct on his part was over with I gladly went inside with him so I could see the equipment myself. Once inside I noticed again that he was acting nervous and strange.
Sure enough, he soon sat in an old wood straight-backed chair and pulled me onto his lap, undoing the button and zipper on my pants and reaching his filthy hands into my underwear. This time it simply angered me. I was furious that someone who till that morning had been my friend should try to violate me. I tried to pull away but he held me there against my will, continuing to reach for my privates.
That made me absolutely furious. I was livid. I yanked myself out of his lap and began yelling at the top of my eleven-year-old voice, “YOU LEAVE ME ALONE! YOU LEAVE ME ALONE!” All the while I was yelling I was beating him on the chest with my little fists.
I’m certain my actions seriously frightened him. There was a small shantytown no more than fifty yards away on the other side of the road, and certainly my yelling could be heard from that distance. More than that however was that I’m sure he was convinced that I would tell someone and his gig would be up.
He then did something that I’m certain he calculated out to insure my silence. He allowed me to zip and button up my pants once more and said we were going. We left the shack and I once again got in the car with him. Instead of heading back to my cousin’s place however, we headed out into the country. As we drove he asked me questions. Sexual questions. Questions like if I had ever known of anyone other boys who liked to do sexual things. He just kept questioning and in my child mind I was so relieved to be let off the hook that I was happy to answer those questions in exchange for my “freedom”.
We eventually ended up on an old logging road and when we reached the end he stopped the car and we got out. We threw some rocks and stuff but I began to get yet another of those sinking feelings. A county health nurse had mysteriously vanished some while previously and this was the area in which her body had been found, buried in a shallow grave. It had been all over the local news and everyone knew of the location.
I began to fear for my life. I berated myself for fighting back. I wondered why I just didn’t let him have his way with me and get it over with. Certainly that option would have far surpassed ending up dead. We got back in the car and I was relieved, thinking it was over with but I was so wrong. He sat there looking at me for a while and finally spoke. Basically he gave me two options leaving a third option unspoken for my fertile imagination to figure out.
One of the choices he gave me was that I could cooperate with him and go back to his place for sex. He said that it might hurt a bit at first but that it would be fun for both of us. The other option he told me about was that I could give him the name of one those other kids who I had talked about earlier having done sexual things and who I thought might be willing to have sex with him.
I remember him looking around us at the brush and trees where we were parked and shrugging his shoulders as he said, “Or... Who knows what might happen?” I got the message.
I had always looked up to my older brother my brother. He was over three years older than I and was really smart, in my little brother opinion. In the options Tom gave me I saw an out. I figured I could name my brother and he would know what to do to get out of that kind of a situation so I gave Tom his name and the name of the neighbor who had abused us previously.
When I had done that we returned to my cousin’s place and that was it. I have no further memory of what may have transpired between then and sometime that fall when Tom approached my mother with the proposal that my brother be allowed to join the Civil Air Patrol as a cub member. That contact resulted in my mother’s consent and eventually my brother’s rape at Tom’s hands. I did not know of the rape at the time but figured they had done something sexual together because I remember Mom and him having a long discussion behind a closed bedroom door the last evening he was ever allowed to go to the “Civil Air Patrol” meetings.
Decades later, in early November of 2005, my brother and I began to talk about the past via AOL instant messenger. That conversation led to us getting together to talk face to face and to compare notes. It was then that I discovered that Tom had raped him in that same shack where he had tried to seduce me and where I had turned on him in anger. I was devastated by that news but we hugged and cried and generally did a lot of healing during our time together.
In retrospect I believe Tom took the only course of action open to him by the circumstances. I believe he had no intention of killing me and that he only wanted me to believe he would, but that’s pure conjecture. I do believe that either of the first two options was okay with him but that he probably preferred the second option because in forcing me into that choice he could guarantee my silence by involving me in his guilt. It’s a simple equation. The guilty don’t talk, and I believed myself to be guilty. Tom was a master at manipulation as most abusers are.
“Life’s journey is not to arrive at the grave safely in a well preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways, totally worn out, shouting ‘Holy ____…! What a ride!’” ~Hunter S. Thompson