Not all Childhood Stories are Rated G
I left my job writing and producing for TV right before it was time to produce a kid.
The labor pains began one frosty February morning in New York City, 1992, and three days later, our first son was born. My feeling then—one I’ve maintained these many years—is that I didn’t want to hire someone to do that which I dearly longed to do: raise the little guy myself. Happily, my husband was all in with that idea.
Four years and one week after our first, we had another. Though I did do some freelance work during this nine-year-span, I didn’t return to the workforce full time until our younger son went off to kindergarten.
Yeah, we hired the occasional babysitter, but purely on an ad hoc basis. My husband and I never had “date nights.” And for our yearly trips to Nantucket—as well as our three vacations abroad—the kids were right there with us. We loved being with them, and wanted to share the world—our world—with them.
The Salient Back Story
When I was a little kid, about seven or eight years old, I was the victim of sexual abuse. It happened during one of the annual summer visits to my dad at our home in Hialeah, Florida. (Back-back story: Mom and Dad had divorced a couple of years earlier, at which point she and I moved to New York. I was their only child.)
I guess that Dad’s photography/film business and camera store weren't paying too well, because he began taking in boarders as a way to make money. Strangers.
Dad parking his cool little car in front of the store. He also made film trailers that played at drive-in movies.
I had an unanticipated interaction with one of those folks, Glenn. Luckily for me, Glenn never fully achieved his initial goal. He did, however, succeed in scaring the memory of that unseemly encounter clear out of my consciousness—for nearly a decade.
Before the portcullis of memory crashed down—that is, as Glenn made his slow, soft-spoken opening moves—I was both initially calmed and unnerved by the setting: my childhood bedroom. For whatever reason, Dad had given it to Glenn. During my summer sojourns, I stayed in the third bedroom, which housed Dad’s audio and film equipment; some not-so-well-hidden portfolios of his not-quite-kosher portraits of women; and a little plastic wheel I mistook for being a spy contraption, not realizing it was contraceptive contraption. (D'oh.)
At that point, the small house was kept pretty much as it had been. There in my old bedroom remained the tiny black piano, a matching letter above each key. Also the stuffed animals I couldn’t bring to New York. The window looked out onto my little wooden playhouse, where I used to catch and release salamanders and woolly-bear caterpillars. Just beyond was our somewhat decrepit aboveground pool.
As far as I knew, there were no firearms in that room. Nor in my bedroom. (Dad loved guns.)
Dad’s stationery, camera store, everything, was adorned with his rifle-wielding avatar, Rebel. (He even named one of his Dobermans Rebel.)
Glenn was doing his best to assume the role of patient pedagogic narrator as opposed to pedophilic protagonist. But we were on my bed. I was on my back. It struck me that this scene was absolutely, totally wrong. Fearing frightening repercussions if I tried to escape, my body nonetheless ignored the fervent requests of my prefrontal cortex to appear calm. Yanking up my shorts and simultaneously trying to bolt for the door, Glenn pulled up his pants, reached the door first, and slammed it shut. Hand on the knob, I looked up. In a hoarse, harsh whisper, he stuck his face unnervingly close to mine, threatening to kill me if I ever told anyone. I nodded in silence. I mean, we’re talking seven, eight years old. What would you do?
Photo of Me, circa That Summer, by Dad
He removed his weight from the door and I left. The room. The house. Our block? I don’t recall. Nor can I now envision Glenn’s face, which is undoubtedly for the best. The only additional things I do recall is that he was a Vietnam vet, and he taught me how to fold socks military style, which I still do.
Now, what I’m about to reveal will undoubtedly make me sound like the left-wing liberal that I am. But when I became an adult myself, I actually felt sorry for the guy. Truly. My sense was that, as with any sexual proclivity, it is hard-wired. I do not believe we choose our sexuality. This viewpoint is definitely not meant to condone nor excuse rape.
But I think—okay, I project—that people who sexually abuse children—children—simply must be full of self-loathing, yet devoid of an “off” switch. Therefore, I believe that pedophiles should either be locked up or put under some kind of surveillance. Not so liberal, I know.
The same goes for adults who take advantage of disadvantaged peers (who are, say, drugged or drunk)—males often being the malefactors. For example: a darling cousin of mine married a man who was later found guilty of having sexually abused his patient while the latter was under anesthesia. His medical license was revoked, and he left New York for Florida. (What is it with that state, anyhow?) There he taught at a college. Not cool; not okay. Again: put him away or under surveillance. It’s safer for everyone that way.
So. Aside from protecting would-be future victims, why care about what happens to perpetrators?
I was a 16-year-old in a soundproof booth in high school with one of my best friends when the memory slammed back. For whatever reason, she and I were discussing which was worse: having to be a model for a pornographic magazine featuring children, or actually being sexually molested as a kid. I thought about all the magazines (and films, and even playing cards) back home in Hialeah. And then I went down the hallway where my door was half open, and saw the piano.
About a year after the event with Glenn re-coalesced in my brain, I told Dad what had happened. His reaction was beyond the pale. Years after that disclosure, he informed me that he had tracked down Glenn in California. Shot him dead. Thus, if he really had killed Glenn, Dad could have been found guilty of murder.
The Hidden Truth
What I didn’t realize before this heretofore-hidden history unfolded on the page—writing is an amazing vector of recovery—is that there was an until-now unseen connection between what happened to me that summer afternoon down south, and how I chose to raise our kids up north.
I had always seen their upbringing as a conscious choice, one I made to give them the stability and support I didn’t have. However, what I truly didn’t realize ‘til this late stage in the game, is that I was probably hard-wired. Or rather, subconsciously re-wired, to ensure that our kids didn’t suffer the same abuse I had. As much as I trust people, and I very much do, some primordial part of me didn’t want to take that rose-colored-glasses approach to life when it came to our children.
And I’m quite glad for having taken that stance. Our sons are outstanding individuals. Truly. Notably. Wounded by the trials and tribulations of life? Sure. Who isn’t?
But not violated.