Those early years were filled with anxiety, were often depressing, and peppered with moments of joy. Dad’s greed and anger left me with a lack of self-confidence, but filled me with determination and toughness that enabled me to face life’s problems I might not have had otherwise. Sometime in my teens I decided that when I lay on my deathbed I did not want to regret the way I had lived. I wanted to live an adventurous life, no matter the risks. I wanted to experience what I read about in books. That dream was a major part of what enabled me to get past what I faced in the present.
He never knew, no one did, how strong that dream was. Years later, days after I graduated from Kent State University, refused a local teaching job, and prepared to leave for Colorado, Dad said to my friend, Mary, “I didn’t think she’d really do it.”
It was in the summer when I couldn’t take Dad’s sexual abuse any longer, when that black bubble growing inside burst the first time.
He’d done it again, downstairs because I recall running upstairs and making it as far as Diann’s bed, not my own and not being able to stop the tears. More than tears as it all came up, everything I had been holding onto, all of it coming out and he followed up after me. Maybe he kneeled on the floor at the side of the bed or sat on it. I don’t know but he was there and he must have been scared. I recall most clearly him saying, “I wanted you to know what boys do. It was so you would know.”
That was the end of it.
Except for the way he teased my girlfriend Janet and Diann’s new friend, Millie, who was a flirt. And the fear of riding in the car alone with him, the silence, not knowing what to say, what he might say. The way he drove, on the next car’s bumper, not being able to say a thing. Sitting there, stiffly, hands at your side on the chair, holding your breath. Or, how he’d say to Mom, “What is the matter with you, stupid? Can’t you do anything right?”
This is the same man who was chief of the Portage Lakes Volunteer Fire Department for several years.
I must push through a series of plateaus, one risk after the other.
I had to prove myself to myself in order to build up confidence, and that took years, and therapy. But it can be done. I did it.
Looking back, puberty and junior high was the first plateau and one of the worst I faced.
Though it appeared Dad’s sexual predation had ended, nothing else about him had changed, and I felt more guilty than ever, was overweight, and overwhelmed with fear and anger about him and my entire situation. I hated getting “periods” and I hated getting breasts because I was no longer comfortable sleeping on my stomach. Turning into a woman was nothing but trouble. Look what had happened to Mom? Women were prissy and used by men. In tight situations they did nothing but scream and faint and act silly and I would never do that. It was stupid.
What saved me were the stories Mary and I put together where I was always a man.
Now I was old enough to ride my trusty bike six miles to her house on weekends where we would talk our tales for hours. I often stayed overnight and we played our characters into the wee hours of the morning until I could no longer remain awake. I never realized how our altered selves saved Mary as well as me.
Sometimes her Mom or Dad brought her to our house, and in the summer we slept on cots in the backyard with Maverick as guard. I developed a love of lying out under the stars, of the soft air drifting across my face, the sounds of night all around, the smells. If I can make it happen, I would like to die like that, outside, lying under the stars.
That was summer. The rest was the new Erwine Junior High School.
Horrible. I have never been “sick” as much as I was those two years of Junior High School. The first year we wore saddle shoes and wide crinoline skirts. Those skirts came in handy since we had a math teacher who loved paddling girls. The second year we wore straight skirts and warm hose. No such thing as girls wearing jeans or pants in those days.
I had a tough time keeping up with my school work because I was bored with most of it. I would rather read a good book, and I did half the time. Or gab with Mary on the phone, anything to separate from the real world. One semester I received an “F” in a math class. When I saw that report card I knew I was in big trouble. Dad only had to raise his voice once. His attention was enough to terrify me and Diann. The following semester I came home with an “A.” I can focus when I have to. That lesson has remained with me.
Supposedly, that first year in school we were allowed to choose an instrument to play, but only if that particular instrument was still needed by the band. I wanted to play the flute but, the band leader, Mr. Hadgis, had previously chosen his flute players. This was the story of my life in that local district. I, Mary, students like us, were perennially too late. The popular students always got the best book, the instrument they wanted, the tutors they needed. We received what was left. Funny how it happened that way. Ironically, some of those students quit the marching band to be cheerleaders anyway. Mary ended up with saxophone; I ended up with clarinet, Janet learned trumpet.
Poor Maverick—how he’d run when I picked up that cheap, silver clarinet. Squeak, squeak! Determination won the day, though, and I learned to play the thing.
Dick Clark’s Bandstand was the hottest thing on television. Dad bought a stereo player but not for rock-and-roll. He played Mitch Miller records and classical music. I was weird because I liked classical music. Mary and I played it as emotional background for our imaginations in the basement of her house.
These were also the days of TV westerns. “Gunsmoke” was a family favorite. In the evenings we watched what Dad watched, same on weekend afternoons, which meant football, even if he fell asleep—no touching that channel. During the week there was just enough time to pick up Mom from work and be home by 4:00 and put on our ears for “Mickey Mouse Club.” Fortunately, nothing else was on at that time that Dad wanted to watch.
Right before my high school years we lost the house on Pillar Avenue, as Dad couldn’t keep up the mortgage payments even with Mom’s contribution. Maybe he shouldn’t have bought the TV, the stereo, the rabbits, the trains, who knows what else. All the time he’d spent at Uncle George and Aunt Betty’s working on their house instead of ours—now he had to finish our house so it would sell. Finally. Mom would miss her kitchen. I never said, but I would not miss a thing about that house, except the backyard and woods.
I was thrilled when we rented a house on Dusty’s Road within walking distance of Mary’s house a couple miles away, across West Turkeyfoot Lake Road (619). Our stories became “walking” stories, miles and miles of walking the neighborhoods and down to Rex Lake at the end of Dusty’s Road and back.
A new start. A new house, closer to Mary. I would begin high school and get into the locally famous Coventry High School Band. I decided to lose those extra pounds I had put on. Everything would be different here. Wouldn’t it?