See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains. - James 5:7

Sunday, February 24, 2008

The Story: Chapter Three, Part Two (Sex in the city)



Chapter Three, Part Two

It occurs to me the house in my dream had to be the Bates house, and it makes no difference whatsoever if one believes in dreams or not, the imagery was definitely file footage from my unconscious. I suspect my search throughout the house is exactly what this memoir is about, my search for meaning in life – or more specifically, in what happened to me. As I mentioned, it was at that address I arrived at the age of reason, I learned the difference between good and evil, and although I was overwhelmingly attracted to all that was good and holy, evil robbed me of my innocence.

In the mid-1980’s, shortly after my mother died, I began to see a doctor for therapy. I wasn’t having any breakdown or crises, although I had some difficulties understanding certain behaviors. I kept it secret from friends and family simply because I was ashamed of seeing a psychologist, and I was afraid others would think I was crazy and “needed” psychiatric help. I also did private pay so that there would be no insurance record. Interestingly, the psychologist offered me medications almost immediately, although I refused, I knew I didn’t need them. Anyway, everyone knows how in the past, mental illness was a stigmatized disease, although that attitude has changed dramatically in the past couple of decades. Today, we recognize many illnesses, clinical depression, bi-polar, and others, that can be controlled with medication and therapy. Today, it seems a good portion of the population is on some form of anti-depressant or mood enhancing drug, so mental illness is pretty much out in the open. Therefore, discriminatory feelings against anyone seeking psychiatric help should be quite rare today.

That said, my therapist helped me immensely when he explained to me I had been sexualized at an early age, something I never even thought about until he said it. Certainly sexual things went on before the family had moved to Bates, although I’m not sure witnessing my parents making love while I was still an infant counts. (I'm sure it must have happened to countless kids who slept with their parents.) Of course, fondling a neighbor, the husband of a woman who happened to be a friend of my mom’s, as well as being molested by an older neighbor boy would fit the doctor's diagnosis. Being four years old at the time of these encounters certainly fits the description of, ‘sexualized at an early age’.

Something must have been very odd in that neighborhood, since it seems to have been a rather sexually active place. The boy who molested me, most likely had been abused by his dad, since some of the things he wanted to do to me fit the profile of adult on child sexual activity. The family lived next door to our building in a single family dwelling – with a garage – where it happened to me. My dad disliked the father, calling him a “god damned D.P.” – which stood for Displaced Person after the war. My dad referred to him as a “fruitcake” (another term for homosexual) and was clearly jealous of his immigrant status as well as the benefits he received from the Government. My brother Skip played with the son, although I have no idea if his friend Rudy molested him too. (After my brother died, Beth told me Skip had been molested in New Richmond. The subject only came up when I mentioned I thought he had been sexually abused as a child.)

My relationship with my brother was confusing at best. On one hand, he emerged as my protector against physical abuse from my parents, yet at the same time, he seemed to resent me. He made fun of everything I did; mocking my piety, my intelligence – I could read simple comic strips before I was 5 years old - and he made fun of my attempts at drawing. He never wanted me to play with his friends, and refused to let me do anything except sit on the sidelines when they played sports. (Privately, Skip could be very good to me. I honestly think his negative behavior towards me was the result of how mom and dad neglected him – something I’ll discuss later.) Feeling somewhat inferior to Skip and his friends became the perfect set up for his boyfriend to exploit me. When Rudy was kind to me, and seemed interested in playing with me, I was flattered and fell right into the trap. And I never told anyone about it – because I thought it had been my fault.

Of course, Beth wasn’t exempt from abuse either. One day Skip and I had been locked out of our apartment by the high school boy my parents hired as our babysitter. Beth was inside. Strangely, both of us knew something was going on, although Beth has no recollection of it. We told mom and dad what happened and they fired the boy for locking us out – but we never mentioned Beth had been inside, nor our suspicions of sexual abuse, for fear of what would happen to Beth. Looking back, it seems to me the kids in that neighborhood were exposed to sexual activity everywhere they turned.

The same can be said for the parents, remember all of these things happened before the sexual revolution of the 1960’s, and I’m fairly certain that when my parents were kids, things were pretty much the same for them. (I have reason to believe they too had been sexually abused at some point in their childhood – but that’s another story.) Obviously, as adults, sex was a big deal for my parents; I mentioned seeing/hearing them late at night, and witnessing other “inappropriate” behavior during the day. (Appropriate for marriage, inappropriate in front of kids.) Typically, when some of their friends visited, the conversation veered in that direction; not just jokes, but stories about sexual misconduct. For instance, once the parents of one of Beth’s girlfriends came over to talk to Betty and Kenny about the parish school. After a few beers, Mr. Rabbet, a door to door salesman, began telling stories of housewives who answered the door naked. It sounds rather juvenile, nevertheless for the time, these were titillating conversations, and totally inappropriate in front of children.

Naturally, everything wasn’t always dark and tawdry, there are a few funny “coming of age” stories related to all of the depravity as well. (I call one of them, "Jill on the window sill.")

To be continued.

8 comments:

  1. Wow. Tough neighborhood, Terry. Sorry you and your siblings had to endure such treatment.

    You are correct in saying that mental illness has been - for the most part - destigmatized since it's so prevalent in today's society. If we ache physically, needless to say our minds will need attention sooner or later.

    The sexual abuse you wrote about also touches upon the abuse that the Church has had to address in recent years. I would argue, however, that instead of labeling the abuse scandals as a "Catholic thing", I would point out that these abuses took place during a time when they weren't so easily confronted due to shame, scandal, and fear in the part of the victim. It wasn’t a “Catholic thing.” It was a widespread societal problem that stretched beyond the Catholic Church. Same demographics apply today.

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  2. i don't know, terry, but reading your bio makes me feel like a peepin'-tom ... an interloper ... a fly-on-the-wall - how would you rate [g - pg - pg14 - r - x] this piece?

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  3. Tom - good observation - I guess I made one of my points.

    Uncle Jim - I hope I'm not offending anyone... I hope the grace of God will shine through the narrative.

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  4. Your story is so moving, so heartbreaking, and an amazing social commentary. I am at a loss for words.

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  5. Georgette6:36 AM

    Bless your heart, Terry. I'm sorry for how you have suffered.

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  6. No shame Terry, no shame.
    God's light has poured into the darkness---all will be made new.

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  7. Thank you for sharing it, Terry. My life hasn't been as eventful as yours, but it wasn't until I started to share some of my life with others that I began to emotionally mature.

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  8. Althought perhaps the replies you have received thus far may not show it, I believe abuse among the general population to be far more widespread than is generally acknowledged.

    I was once part of a women's group who shared their life stories with each other... greater than half of the women there (all ages, walks of life) had been molested as children or had suffered spousal abuse as adults.

    I'm sorry you suffered so as a child and wish you well...

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