During adolescence, ten or eleven years old, I began to remember just what had happened, believing that my neighbor’s adult son had molested me. It was a confusing feeling because I was also dealing with biological sexual development, sexuality, and my own identity.
The acts kicked around in my brain, torturing me at times, usually when I was at my lowest. I had the good fortune of meeting someone in college who I finally felt I could trust so one night not long after my twenty-first birthday as we sat in the darkness by a body of water I confided in him. I told him that when I was young I had been molested.
What I didn’t know then was that he didn’t understand fully what I meant. Quite the opposite I felt as if I had expressed myself to him. I felt as if he understood. That night and the next few days emotionally I was very raw and vulnerable. I was at college taking several part-time classes and working a work study job. I just remember being in my room most of the time if I didn’t have class or work and when I went out I was in a daze, a fugue state.
As I recovered, a teacher I knew personally remarked that she thought I had been doing drugs. I felt like I had. I felt like I was on a bender (something I’d do later in life). I felt like I had done something terrible that had left me vulnerable. But it was out there. I had released something from myself, something that had become a part of me and in some way I even made part of my identity.
It was the sense of betrayal, feeling like I couldn’t trust anyone, because as I would eventually come to terms with what happened I found myself not so much bothered by the act but the reaction. I thought about how society blamed the victim. I thought about how society talked about virginity, purity and said that anything else was wrong. And I found myself deeply angry with my parents because yes, in some part they could have protected me, not trusted me in his care, but also the reaction was to not talk about it, hide it, and in effect cause me to feel as if I had made something up, something that I could never tell anyone, especially them.
I was only ever to feel, to identify, and to process through stories. I remember watching Lifetime and other original movies in secret when I was teen. I identified with any character who had been victimized. Yet it was all so distant.
In college I was given the opportunity to create something my first year in the Spring semester so I chose a book, a novella. The story I wrote was about a boy who had been abused physically, emotionally, and sexually though mostly implied because the actual plot was about him being taken in by a pimp then a prostitute, sent to a mental facility that he escaped, and then eventually to a boy’s house who he met at the mental facility. The second boy had been sent there because he was gay and his mother had found pornography under his bed (this happened before everything was on the internet). The story ended sadly with the second boy’s younger brother accidentally telling his parents he had seen them kiss so they kicked the first boy out of the house then theoretically would have the second boy committed again. It ended with the first boy sitting on the curb and muttering the words, "I am not a victim."
It was one of many times I sat down to write and the first time I felt like I had really completed something even though it had many mistakes. My grammar was poor, not that it’s improved greatly, and my sense of writing was off too. I had little working knowledge about fictional writing.
About four or five months later, my second year of college, by chance I found the Manhood Ceremony in the library as I was walking through the stacks. A thin book, short on depth, it was about a boy who had been kidnapped. There had been other books, other stories, I read, that dealt with the subject, but this book was half focused on the abduction in much of the child’s point of view. I remember beginning to read it and having such a visceral reaction I threw it across the room and began to cry.
Moments later I picked it up to make sure it wasn’t damaged then went to my bed. It was one of the few times in my life I prayed. I prayed for understanding. I prayed for help. I can’t say that any prayers were answered but taking the moment to calm myself I was able to try and read the book again. I found the place where I had stopped and had another gut wrenching reaction so I put away for the night.
Days later I decided to try again and this time I was able to get through pages then over the course of a few days I read the whole thing. I felt like I had ripped a scab off. It hurt, there was figurative blood, but it also meant it would heal differently.
The same feeling happened years later when I read Mysterious Skin so I set it down and didn’t read it for a long time but then I picked it up and read. There was much that was different, much that was too graphic, and gave me pause but I pushed through it. I read as much as I could in a sitting then did something else.
I remember a few things from the book, a few lines, but it felt too much like I was ripping open the wound again to commit anything to memory. Some time after that I got the Mysterious Skin DVD to watch.
Right at the beginning of the film as Neil, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, looks up into the camera I turned it off. My emotions were raw. I returned the DVD without watching the rest of it. A few years later I sat down again to watch it. This time I found myself able to deal with the content, remembering passages from the book, but also feeling as if the wound was being sewn closed.
The movie, more extreme than what had happened to me, was becoming negligible, not something I ignored but something that had healed. About a year or more after watching the movie I had the chance to go see the play in downtown Los Angeles performed by the East-West Acting company.
I bought the ticket on an impulse to dare myself to confront this reaction I had to the content. I was excited at first then I began to dread going. The day before I was nervous. I limited my contact with other people because I knew I wasn’t in a good mood.
That morning I woke late in the morning, I believe it was the last Sunday performance, and I made myself a small breakfast. I had my fears about going. But I decided to push through so I had a shot of whiskey around noon then drove into the city. I don’t recommend ever doing this and I can’t say I was actually impaired beyond the legal limit. It was one shot and I’m a big guy.
The audience members were all different types of people but mostly single, gay men. I did notice a few straight couples and there was one gay couple. I remember as the play began there was an extremely handsome man beside me but I soon forgot about him. I was quickly enthralled by the play and I no feelings like from the books or even the movie.
That’s not to say it was poorly done just the opposite. The play was intense. I felt different about what I was watching. I felt calm, objective about the play until the break. I made my way out from the chairs, down the aisle, and out into the harsh sunlight. I followed behind everyone else to the parking lot where I separated from the group because I was beginning to lose my patience about what I had seen.
Out in the parking lot I remember people milling around, but especially the gay couple I had mentioned who were hugging on each other, one of them trying to comfort the other. But I digress because it wasn’t long before we were signaled to return. I didn’t go back to my seat and instead I sat in the back row where there were plenty of empty seats.
What happened next I can only think of as in terms like Herman Hesse, in I believe Steppenwolf, where the character goes into a dark space then he sees everything played out before him as if a live action film that he can feel.
Everything was there but it felt objective, as if I were seeing something else on stage in my mind’s eye. I remember thinking something like, oh that’s what it looks like as I watched the end of the play. I felt as if something had been ripped from me, placed on the stage, objectified before me and it gave me the greatest comfort, the greatest joy.
I walked from the theater feeling confident and when I got a phone call from my brother I answered it then joined him for late lunch. For once I didn’t feel as if I had been wounded after some fictional representation, no I felt healed.
Afterwards, and even now as I have learned more, grown more, I felt like those series of events that culminated with the stage performance allowed me to leave something in the past, something I hated carrying with me. Even as I write this I feel joy about the play as if it were an operation, possibly an exorcism.