A part of my story I have not yet told, and which you may be about to read, was much harder to write about than what I have always considered to be the “real” sexual abuse chapter of my life. This was only a single encounter, and I remember very, very little of the details. Although I can reconstruct the events that led up to it, the few memories and vague impressions that remain can only help me surmise what happened. However, knowing what I now know about predators, I have a pretty good idea.
Please allow me to fill in the background first?
The sexual abuse I endured during my senior year of high school was evidently “alive and well” in my psyche and influencing my behavior even though I thought I had buried it the day I graduated. Knowing I never had to go back to that school or see Frank Lind ever again helped me believe it was entirely behind me. Even so, as I’ve written elsewhere, the years that followed were a kaleidoscope of false starts and abject failures. Whether it was my attempt to attend college or my fiascos trying to remain gainfully employed, the result was the same. Crash and burn. So late in 1972, I decided to enlist in the military.
That didn’t go any better than anything else had up till then and lasted only nine months, the final half of which contained going AWOL three successive times (for 29 days each) and spending the last month in the “barb wire Hilton” before getting an undesirable discharge.
That’s how I ended up at Marymount College of Virginia, a Catholic, all-girl junior college in Arlington, VA. I guess it was arranged to be a mercy job and help me get back on my feet again. Two of my mother’s cousins, who both were nuns, worked there. One was the head of the art department, and the other the president of the college. I got a job driving a school bus/van, ferrying nursing students back and forth to their off-campus vocational classes.
I lived on campus, in a converted utility room in the basement of a building that held some classrooms, departmental offices, and the cafeteria. I was the only male living on campus besides the caretaker and the campus chaplain, a Catholic priest, and as such a bit of a novelty to the students.
I have very few concrete memories of that time. I couldn’t even tell you how long I was there, but it couldn’t have been long. After the work day, I would sit out on the steps that went down to my room and play my guitar as students and faculty entered and left the main entrance. The only song I remember playing from that time was “You’re So Vain” by Carly Simon. I probably thought the song was about me. On top of the fact that my aunt was running the place, it was strictly against the rules for me to go out with any of the students. But I was flirted with, nonetheless. I’m sure I was probably on the shy side.
I don’t remember much about the priest. He must have stopped by to welcome me to the school at some point and after that to chat. He eventually invited me out to dinner and made a reservation at a fancy-ish restaurant in Georgetown. I distinctly remember crossing Key Bridge as he drove us there and that the restaurant had a great view overlooking the Potomac.
Foolishly I welcomed the alcohol he kept pushing on me. I can’t say what or how much I drank but I was eventually so drunk I could hardly walk. I vaguely recall trying not to be sick during the drive back across the bridge. I have a persistent visual image from that evening of kneeling on the floor alongside his bed trying to keep my balance and not topple over. Embedded in that image is a fragment of memory that has him attempting to get me to perform fellatio on him. I remember nothing else until waking up the next morning, in the same spot on the floor, and being snuck out of the building before anyone could discover I had spent the night in his room.
It didn’t take very long after that night before my sabotage instinct kicked in and I got caught “dating” one of the students. My aunt, the president of the college, had to let me go to avoid scandal. I hung out for a few days, secretly living in a sleeping bag in a cluster of trees behind one of the buildings. My “girlfriend” joined me one night, and she got caught sneaking back into her dorm early the next morning. She believed someone ratted on her. After she was suspended (or maybe expelled, I don’t know), we both went back to Long Island. I never saw or spoke to her again after I left her at her parent’s house on Long Island. That’s how I avoided intimacy back in those days. I returned home with yet another failure under my belt.
I don’t know how to feel about this page in the book of my life. I do not know with certainty what happened, or what, if anything, I did to bring it on. I don’t even remember the priest’s name. I have no clue how I felt about it then or genuinely feel about it now. I do know that the memory went underground even faster and stayed under longer than those of my year-long sexual abuse at Chaminade.
For some reason, I still feel responsible for and much more ashamed of this episode than about what happened in school at age 16. I was 19 and no longer an innocent kid. How could I have let this happen again? I should have known. Yes, I was shit-faced drunk and likely could have had no impact on what happened to me that night, but still, it feels like I should write it off as a non-event and not even give it a second thought.
But that can’t be right. I know it was a violation and something about it very much haunts me, even after 45 years. I’m not sure what it is, but I know from experience that hearing myself say it out loud (even figuratively) can set something free that I didn’t even realize was locked up. Perhaps this part of my story is surfacing now for self-forgiving and potentially healing reasons. Maybe it will expose the lie behind the false beliefs about myself that I’m discovering still lurk below the surface.
For instance, . . .
. . . after I first went public with my story of sexual abuse and became an advocate for the Child Victims Act in New York, I was cautious not to go after the Catholic Church directly. I didn’t want my activism diminished by being branded anti-Catholic, and no priest had abused me (I didn’t yet recall the events in Virginia). But, after two years on the front lines, I’ve learned that the deceit and hypocrisy of the Catholic Church’s hierarchy know no bounds. And I am beyond outraged.
It made sense to me (and many experts) that sexual abuse at the hands of a “man of God,” can harm a child, beyond how an “ordinary” sexual predator would. What I didn’t realize was how this belief would distort into regarding myself like a second-class survivor, less deserving of compassion or respect. After all, what right did I have to be so angry at the Church when all they did to me was put a perpetrator in my path by hiring him without first vetting him? He wasn’t a priest!
Sad, I know. But this is how recovering survivors of child sex abuse can think when their feelings of betrayal and abandonment are too painful to accept and they must deny reality. Until one can come to terms with the lasting effects and damage done at the deepest levels (and even then), there is much more work to do.
I guess that is why I found myself in a place where because I was so public and “out there” with my story and had my writing published and opinions quoted in the media or interviews, I believed I must be healed and out of the woods. I’ve even heard myself say, on network TV, that I was one of the rare but lucky survivors to have made it through the dark tunnel and look back from the other side.
I am indeed lucky to have gotten the help I did and been able to do the work required. But, as I am now able to see from this new vantage point, this tunnel is way longer than I thought it was.